NASCAR: Team Penske sweeps Nationwide front row at the Glen

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Last year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series winner at Watkins Glen will try to make it two in a row from the pole position later this afternoon.

On his first lap of three in the final round of qualifying, Brad Keselowski (pictured) posted a time of 71.018 seconds to earn the pole for today’s Zippo 200 (2:15 p.m. ET, check local listings).

It marks the former Sprint Cup champion’s seventh front-row start in Nationwide this year. Keselowski has already converted three of them into wins at Las Vegas, New Hampshire, and Iowa.

He’ll be joined on the front row by Team Penske teammate Joey Logano, whose best lap this morning was a mere .079 of a second off of Keselowski’s best.

In addition to Logano, Row 2 should also provide Keselowski with stiff competition. Kyle Busch (71.285 seconds) will start third while Marcos Ambrose (71.317) – who holds a three-race Nationwide win streak at the Glen – is fourth on the grid.

“I think any one of the Top 4 cars can win the race,” Keselowski told ESPN. “Marcos has won three in a row here in ’08, ’09, and ’10; Kyle runs really well here and he won the Cup race last year; and my teammate, Joey Logano, is really coming into his own as well.

“Any one of those three could be the guy to beat. It’s hard to pick just one. But we know we’re definitely not in for a walk in the park.”

Nationwide title contender Regan Smith may have earned himself an advantage over points leader Chase Elliott going into today’s race.

Smith was able to crack the Top 12 and then post a final round time that was good for fifth, while Elliott did not advance from the first round and will start from 15th. Elliott holds just a slim, two-point lead over Smith.

Also looking to make ground up on Elliott are Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler, who are tied for third in the standings at 12 points back. Dillon will go off from eighth, while Sadler starts from 14th.

Brendan Gaughan, winner of the Nationwide Series’ first road race of the year at Road America, will start ninth today.

It bears noting that 16 of the 20 Nationwide races run at Watkins Glen have been won from a Top-10 starting position; the last time a driver won from beyond the Top 10 was in 2008, when Ambrose won this race from 12th.

NASCAR Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen – Starting Lineup
1. 22-Brad Keselowski
2. 12-Joey Logano
3. 54-Kyle Busch
4. 09-Marcos Ambrose
5. 7-Regan Smith
6. 33-Paul Menard
7. 2-Brian Scott
8. 3-Ty Dillon
9. 62-Brendan Gaughan
10. 20-Matt Kenseth
11. 31-Dylan Kwasniewski
12. 60-Chris Buescher
13. 42-Kyle Larson
14. 11-Elliott Sadler
15. 9-Chase Elliott
16. 6-Trevor Bayne
17. 99-James Buescher
18. 87-Stanton Barrett
19. 19-Mike Bliss
20. 44-Carlos Contreras
21. 43-Dakoda Armstrong
22. 40-Matt Dibenedetto
23. 01-Landon Cassill
24. 28-J.J. Yeley
25. 55-Brennan Newberry
26. 51-Jeremy Clements
27. 75-Kenny Habul
28. 16-Ryan Reed
29. 14-Eric McClure
30. 4-Jeffrey Earnhardt
31. 93-Tomy Drissi
32. 39-Ryan Sieg
33. 17-Tanner Berryhill
34. 23-Kevin O’Connell
35. 46-Josh Wise
36. 70-Derrike Cope
37. 52-Joey Gase
38. 74-Roger Reuse
39. 10-Blake Koch

Hamilton: McLaren could help create four-team F1 title fight in 2018

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team cannot afford to let up in its push to improve ahead of a fiercer fight at the front of the field in 2018 – potentially including former team McLaren.

Hamilton clinched his fourth F1 drivers’ title in Mexico at the end of October as Mercedes continued its perfect record of championships since the introduction of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014.

The team faced a stiffer challenge in 2017 thanks to a resurgent Ferrari, while Red Bull also posed a threat towards the end of the season, setting the stage for another close fight next year.

Hamilton is expecting both Ferrari and Red Bull to remain a force at the front of the pack, but also feels McLaren could join the fight after ditching Honda in favor of a Renault engine supply for 2018.

“When I’m training and preparing for a new season, I firmly believe that we can be contenders for the next championship. It may turn out to be not possible, but you have to have that mindset,” Hamilton said.

“If you go in with expectations of finishing fifth, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to gear yourself up to win.

“Next year, McLaren will have Renault engines, then we may see four teams fighting for the championship. I think Red Bull will be quicker and Ferrari for sure will be fast again.

“We can’t stand still – we have to keep moving forwards.”

Hamilton started his F1 career with McLaren back in 2007, winning his maiden world title in 2008 before leaving the team for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.