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Regan Smith’s does well in fill-in role for Tony Stewart, but falls short due to late crash

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Regan Smith had one of the hardest tasks any driver can ever be asked to perform:

To replace a fellow driver at virtually the last minute and compete in a top-level NASCAR Sprint Cup race without any practice, qualifying or even much time to get adjusted to sitting in a strange race car.

And on the toughest type of track of all, namely, a twisting, turning road course.

Smith was tabbed early Sunday morning to return to Watkins Glen International to replace Tony Stewart, who decided to sit out the Cheez-It 355 at WGI due to the tragic sprint car accident he was involved in Saturday night.

Smith did a more than admirable job, starting 41st and getting as high as 11th on Lap 28.

Unfortunately, Smith’s fill-in role came to an early end eight laps from the scheduled finish when he was caught up in a multi-car wreck in Turn 1 of the nearly 2.5-mile road course.

The incident happened when it appeared on TV replays that Kyle Larson got into a slowing Matt Kenseth, who in turn got into the rear of and spun Jimmie Johnson.

Smith tried his best to avoid Johnson but ultimately couldn’t, wrecking the front end of Stewart’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

He finished 37th.

Earlier in the day, during a red flag period for guardrail repairs from a vicious multi-car wreck, Smith acknowledged the difficulty of essentially being thrown into the fray.

“I’d say the braking points are the toughest things for me today,” Smith told ESPN. “I feel like I’m good one lap and bad the next lap. The race car is fast and the guys at Stewart-Haas have great equipment and great cars. I’m just trying to catch up with the equipment.

“It’s a situation where the first 30 laps are just kind of practice and getting re-acclimated and realized I was burning the rear tires off and I needed to calm down just a little bit and protect stuff more than the Nationwide Series.”

Smith finished 17th in Saturday’s NNS race and was already back at his North Carolina home when SHR officials called and beckoned him to return back to upstate New York on Sunday morning. Ironically, Smith accompanied team owner Rick Hendrick on the flight and resulting helicopter ride to Watkins Glen.

Not only was it Smith’s first race in a Sprint Cup race since Dover in May, it was also his first Cup race on a road course since 2012, when – ironically enough – he finished ninth in the Cup race at WGI.

Smith didn’t have much time – about 15 minutes – to get fitted into Stewart’s car, but because he is of a similar physical height and stature as Stewart, the modifications were made with little difficulty.

“It’s close enough,” Smith said of his comfort behind the wheel of Stewart’s car. “It’s obviously not perfect, you’re never going to be perfect when you’re in somebody else’s race car. But it’s a similar seat mold to what I run, a similar height with drivers and stuff like that, so we didn’t have to do too much work there.

“I just want to finish the day off strong, avoid whatever wrecks are coming and try to get just whatever we can.”

Unfortunately, that would not be the case. Still, Smith should receive kudos for undertaking an already tough job that was made even tougher because of the circumstances of Saturday night’s tragedy.

“I don’t know that we really had any expectations, just to go out there and race and that’s it,” Smith said of what Stewart’s team hoped from him going into the race. “It’s obviously been a long day for everybody with the team, and we just go out and race and see what the day brings us and go from there. That’s about all the expectations you can have.”

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Vettel, Raikkonen complete hot laps in Ferrari F1 cars at Daytona

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed their final Formula 1 run-outs of 2016 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, taking part in a special demonstration for the Ferrari Finali Mondiali.

The Finali Mondiali acts as the world final for the continental Ferrari Challenge series, bringing together competitors from the North America, Europe and Asia Pacific championships.

As part of the weekend’s running, Vettel and Raikkonen were on hand to complete demonstration laps behind the wheel of recent Ferrari F1 cars, with Vettel also completing some donuts in front of the main granstand at Daytona.

Here are some of the videos and pictures from the event.

Sebastian Vettel dismisses suggestion he could replace Rosberg at Mercedes

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP is congratulated by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari on the podium during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel has brushed off suggestions that he could take Nico Rosberg’s vacant Formula 1 seat at Mercedes next year, saying his focus lies on working with Ferrari to improve on their 2016 season.

Rosberg sensationally announced on Friday that he would be retiring from F1 with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden World Championship.

Rosberg’s move has sent the driver market into a late flux, with Mercedes’ Niki Lauda claiming that half of the F1 grid has been in touch regarding the seat despite many of them having contracts.

Vettel has been named as a possible candidate for Rosberg’s seat despite having one year remaining on his Ferrari deal, but when speaking at the Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, the German stressed he is focused on his current commitments at Maranello.

“I think it’s no secret the fact that me and Kimi Raikkonen have a contract for next season,” Vettel is quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Kimi and I are already committed. In 2017 we will be competitive.

“We have not reached the goal this year, but now it will be important to do the job at the factory in the next two months.

“I am confident that we will definitely present an improved package.”

Vettel signed off with a message to Rosberg, wishing the retiring champion “happy holidays!”

Vettel finished 2016 fourth in the drivers’ championship without a win to his name as Ferrari struggled to keep up with Mercedes and Red Bull in the pecking order.

Mercedes is set to begin its search for a replacement on Monday, with the other big-name driver besides Vettel linked to the seat being McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

Should Mercedes want to promote one of its junior drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are both also available, although neither has more than a season of F1 experience.

Hamilton not chasing number one status at Mercedes after Rosberg exit

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the Paddock during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says he is not chasing number one driver status at Mercedes as the team begins its search for a replacement for Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg edged out Hamilton for the F1 drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi last Sunday before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from the sport five days later.

Mercedes has said it will take its time when looking for a replacement for Rosberg, with the majority of the F1 grid tied up contractually for 2017.

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have both been linked with the Mercedes drive in the wake of Rosberg’s departure, leading to questions about whether Hamilton would want another big-name star alongside him.

Mercedes has always stressed that it does not have a number one driver, and Hamilton said that he would not insist on that changing when his new teammate arrives.

“I’ve never been a driver to ever request that,” Hamilton said when asked about number one status.

“I know a lot of the other drivers Sebastian, Fernando make sure that’s in their contract.

“I’ve just always asked to have equal rights. As long as we’re treated fairly, it doesn’t really matter who’s alongside you.

“But of course, we’ve got great team bosses, who I’m sure will choose the right people to be representing the brand.”

Whoever replaces Rosberg will become Hamilton’s fifth teammate in F1, the Briton having previously worked with Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button during his time at McLaren before joining Mercedes in 2013.

Rosberg: Hamilton’s late-season form ‘the best Lewis I’ve ever seen’

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo neads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg believes that Lewis Hamilton produced some of the best performances of his career towards the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season when the Briton had nothing to lose in the championship fight.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 drivers’ championship by five points in Abu Dhabi last Sunday, defeating Hamilton for the first time during their time as teammates.

Rosberg closed out the season with four straight second place finishes, with Hamilton’s run of victories in the same period not being enough to catch up in the standings.

Speaking in a video produced by Mercedes after his championship win, Rosberg said that he felt the most pressure after his final win of the season in Japan, the result that meant he could wrap up the title without taking another victory.

“The changing moment was Suzuka for me, when all of a sudden I had the 33-point lead and that meant it was in my hands, and it’s mine to lose, because it was enough to do second-second-second and third,” Rosberg said.

“That’s when really the pressure started for me because it became real, the chance to win the championship and to beat Lewis. It was real.”

Rosberg was only assured of the title when he crossed the finish line in Abu Dhabi, with Hamilton going deliberately slow in a bid to back the German into the chasing pack.

“Abu Dhabi was intense. It was the most intense experience I’ve ever had in a race car,” Rosberg said.

“Even qualifying, the laps in qualifying, not easy really. And for sure it has an impact on your performance. It’s not possible that you do the same performance as if you’re in Lewis’ position where he has nothing to lose.”

Rosberg believes that the lack of pressure brought the very best out of Hamilton, as he closed out the campaign with four consecutive victories from pole position.

“That’s why he got the pole positions and why I was second in the last couple of races because he’s free, has no weight and nothing to lose,” Rosberg said.

“It was the best Lewis I’ve ever seen, the last few races, because not only was he completely free, but also the most determined and motivated ever, working as hard as ever.

“[It was] massively difficult to beat him in those circumstances.”

Rosberg announced on Friday that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, meaning we have likely seen the last of his rivalry with Hamilton in F1.