Auto Club 400 - Qualifying

NASCAR: Hendrick adds 3M for Gordon; so now what for Biffle, Roush?

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Big sponsor news from the world of NASCAR – 3M leaves Roush Fenway Racing and will join Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team as a primary sponsor in a multiyear deal, Hendrick announced Tuesday.

The new relationship will feature 3M as a primary sponsor in 11 Sprint Cup races annually and as an associate-level partner in all other events. The agreement covers the 2015, 2016 and 2017 NASCAR seasons.

“At 3M, we play to win, and we push hard every day to do just that,” Jesse Singh, senior vice president, 3M Global Sales and Marketing, said in a team release. “With this deal, we align with champion driver Jeff Gordon and an organization at the top of its game in Hendrick Motorsports. What they do in the garage and on the track exemplifies what we’re all about in our labs, plants and business teams around the world.”

This fills the remaining holes in the No. 24 car’s lineup alongside AARP Drive to End Hunger, Axalta, Pepsi and Panasonic among others.

Several things to note here: 3M makes a key point of noting “we are aligning with Jeff Gordon” – so that could imply the likely Chase Elliott full-time Cup leap, at least in what is now the 24 car, is several years away. Yes, Elliott has NAPA sponsorship with him and is likely to make Cup appearances next year.

But seeing Hendrick add another partner for the 24 is a sign both parties want Gordon to continue. And with Gordon at the top of his game this year, why stop now?

“Innovation is what 3M is known for,” said Gordon, 43, who has a lifetime contract with Hendrick Motorsports. “We’ve seen that approach throughout their involvement in NASCAR, and it’s a terrific fit for what we do at Hendrick Motorsports and with the No. 24 team. I’m personally excited about the opportunities and thrilled to represent a company that’s so passionately supported auto racing for such a long time.”

Secondly, it continues to show Hendrick’s marketing team is working diligently to prep for any sponsor holes. The status of the No. 88’s relationship with the National Guard remains to be seenthe Guard has said it’s drawing down but Hendrick claims it has a contract.

And third, now what for RFR and Greg Biffle? Biffle is on board as the team’s leader, but right now, the No. 16 Ford has some holes. We’ll see what RFR comes up with to replace.

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.