Milka Duno. (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson pace NNS practices; Milka Duno seeks to become first Latina to qualify for a NASCAR event

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Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson topped Thursday afternoon’s pair of Nationwide Series practice sessions at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Driving the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, Elliott was fastest in the first practice session with a top speed of 123.324 mph. He certainly worked for it, leading all drivers during the session with an almost race-like distance total of 106 laps.

It’s not totally surprising, though, as Elliott seeks to keep his current lead in the NNS standings a 10-point lead over teammate Regan Smith.

Kyle Busch, who wrecked late in Thursday morning’s Camping World Truck Series, finishing 24th and seeing his hopes of a weekend sweep of all three NASCAR touring series races at Bristol, was second-fastest in the first NNS practice at 122.898 mph.

Having won the last three NNS races at Bristol, the younger Busch brother will go for four-in-a-row in Friday’s Food City 300 (7:30 pm ET).

In a rarity, Brian Scott and Kevin Harvick tied for third-fastest speeds with identical marks of 122.178 mph.

Fifth-fastest was Ryan Blaney (122.084 mph).

Of note, former IndyCar driver Milka Duno (seen in above photo) recorded the 41st-fastest speed in the first session. A native of Venezuela, Duno is hoping to become the first Hispanic woman to qualify for a NASCAR national series event.

Duno will have to find more speed in qualifying Friday afternoon, as only 40 cars will make the field for the NNS race later that evening.

As for Thursday’s second practice session, Larson was nearly 2 mph faster than Elliott’s first practice best. Larson cranked off a best-speed of 125.313 mph.

Like Elliott in the first practice, Larson also logged considerable time on track, totaling 90 laps on the high-banked .533-mile short track.

Just like the first practice, Kyle Busch was second-fastest in the second practice, as well, with a best lap of 124.525 mph.

In addition to three straight, Busch has won seven NNS races in his last eight attempts at Bristol.

Brian Scott was third-fastest at 124.339 mph, followed by Blaney (124.242) and Elliott (124.050).

Just like in the first practice session, Elliott logged the most laps of any driver: 126.

Duno improved in the second practice session with a 36th-best speed of 118.598 mph.

A total of 44 cars took to the track in the final practice session.

Qualifying takes place Friday at 3:40 pm ET.

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Marko: Kvyat couldn’t handle pressure from Ricciardo

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14: Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Red Bull Racing and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sit on a track barrier during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 14, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Helmut Marko believes that Daniil Kvyat could not cope with the pressure of battling with Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, reasoning the decision to switch the Russian back to Toro Rosso from the Spanish Grand Prix.

Red Bull announced on Thursday that Kvyat would be returning to Toro Rosso, its B-team, in a swap deal that sees Max Verstappen join the senior operation.

The final straw for Kvyat came in Russia when he hit Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel twice in two corners, leading to crunch talks with team advisor Marko and team boss Christian Horner.

Speaking to Auto Bild, Marko said that he does not consider Kvyat returning to Toro Rosso to be a demotion, but instead a move that will allow him to race under less pressure.

“The decision was made after Russia. It has become increasingly clear that Daniil Kvyat could not withstand the pressure from Daniel Ricciardo, and he has been overdriving the car,” Marko explained.

“We wanted to take him out of the firing line and help his career, instead of harming it. Kvyat partly understands it. I don’t see this as a demotion. Toro Rosso is at a very good level this year.”

Marko said that Verstappen now has to prove himself against Ricciardo, while also hinting that there may be an opening for Toro Rosso’s second driver Carlos Sainz Jr. to move up to Red Bull at the end of the season.

“Max has to challenge Ricciardo now, which is not easy,” Marko said. “Daniel is very strong at the moment.

“At the end of the year the cards will be reshuffled. This also means that Carlos Sainz has a chance to step up.”

NBC F1 announce team to host “Inside F1 Racing” in Chicago, June 15

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On the heels of last year’s successful debut of “Inside F1,” which premiered in November at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut, the NBC Formula 1 announcing team will have an encore run this June in Chicago.

“Inside F1” with the F1 on NBC booth of lead announcer Leigh Diffey along with analysts David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be a live theater-style show at the Park West theater in Chicago, on June 15, at 8 p.m.

The show comes a few days after the NBC crew broadcasts the Canadian Grand Prix live from Montreal on June 12, before the first European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan takes place the following weekend.

“Steve, David & I really enjoy meeting the Formula 1 viewing audience,” Diffey said. “There’s a lot of passionate, knowledgeable F1 fans in America, so to get a theater full of them and discuss the sport we love, makes for a really fun night!”

Tickets are available at http://jamusa.com/events/inside-f1-racing/, or by calling 773-929-1322.

The event sold out last year in a smaller theater; Park West will be a bigger theater this go-around and offer more fans the chance to go.

Handful of Indy 500 sponsor announcements made on Thursday

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It’s Cinco de Mayo and the sponsor announcements for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil are flowing in a bit like margaritas will be later today around the country.

Get out your pen and paper, or laptop and spreadsheet, to add these names and figures to your entry list for the race. Because there’s a lot of companies and brands stepping up to the plate.

Four different teams have made sponsor announcements and here they are:

  • unnamed (1)Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) announced today that Lucas Oil and Jahia Solutions Group will co-sponsor the No. 77 SPM with Marotti Racing entry driven by Oriol Servia in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Lucas Oil is a longtime SPM partner. “My number one aim was to make sure I was participating in the 100th Indy 500 with a team that could give me a car to contend for the win, and I have no doubt that Sam Schmidt and all his group at SPM will do exactly that,” Servia said in a release. “Being sponsored by Lucas Oil and Jahia are just the cherry on the cake and I couldn’t be happier to represent companies with such high standards. I can’t wait for May 29th to hopefully make them proud.”
  • unnamed (27)Royal Purple announced its sponsorship of the Ed Carpenter Racing team for the 2016 race season. The lubricant will adorn the engine cover of Carpenter’s No. 20 Chevrolet. Additionally, Royal Purple is launching the 2016 Royal Purple Indy 500 Sweepstakes, offering race fans the opportunity to win a one-of-a-kind Royal Purple racing helmet signed by Ed Carpenter. From May 5 – June 1, fans can enter the sweepstakes by completing the online entry form at http://www.RoyalPurple.com. Following the close of the sweepstakes’ entry period, one winner will be chosen at random to receive the grand prize.
  • BANDITRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) announced today that Bandit Industries Inc., a premier global manufacturer of industrial wood chippers and wood processing equipment, will be an associate sponsor for the No. 16 Verizon IndyCar Series entry of reigning Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot in both events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pigot raced the season opener at St. Petersburg and is hopeful to run further races after the pair of events during the month of May.
  • contextdesignThe latest partner to adorn the No. 88 Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Honda driven by Bryan Clauson is Context Design, which was established in 1998 as a small, client-focused landscape architecture and land planning firm near Indianapolis, Indiana. Context’s award-winning site design studio is passionate about helping clients to create meaningful spaces and experiences that connect people to the land.

Wolff doubts Ferrari’s Sochi struggles will continue

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff thinks that Ferrari’s lack of pace in last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix was specific to the Sochi Autodrom circuit and not a sign of things to come in 2016.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to Mercedes after a strong showing in pre-season, only to struggle to keep up with the German marque in the first four races of the season.

The deficit was particularly worrying for Ferrari in Russia last weekend when Kimi Raikkonen finished as Ferrari’s lead driver but over 30 seconds down on race winner Nico Rosberg.

Talking to reporters after the race, Wolff refused to read too much into Ferrari’s pace, believing the deficit to be largely down to the nature of the track in Sochi.

“The track is very different with a very smooth surface, and we saw that the pace of many teams was different to the races before,” Wolff said.

“Williams was very strong, Red Bull weren’t, and Ferrari weren’t as good as expected. This is a circuit where you have to get it right in terms of mechanical grip and aerodynamic downforce – and engine power plays a role.

“I would say that the dent in the Ferrari performance is Sochi-specific. But that is only my guess.”

Mercedes’ advantage was perhaps even bigger than the 30-second gap between Rosberg and Raikkonen suggested, considering that the race winner was hindered by an issue on his power unit in the second half of the race.

Ferrari’s main problem so far this season has been with the reliability of its cars, as both Raikkonen and teammate Sebastian Vettel have hit trouble in the opening four races.