After Bristol problems, Kyle Busch needs good recovery at Atlanta

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Last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway was the nadir of a horrendous month for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.

The Irwin Tools Night Race had Busch penalized early for speeding, collected in a multi-car crash, and engaged in a spat over the radio with crew chief Dave Rogers before finishing 36th – his fourth consecutive finish outside of the Top 35.

Busch may already be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by virtue of his win earlier this season at Fontana.

But out of the 12 drivers that have clinched post-season berths, he may be the one in most need of a good performance this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

He got a good start on the weekend yesterday when he qualified eighth for Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500.

“Our first [run] was by far our best of the three we made in qualifying,” he said. “We just were wrecking loose out of the turns and it made it hard to be aggressive.

“It’s still a good effort…And definitely better than where we were in practice today.”

Busch can take confidence from the fact that he won at Atlanta last season, aided by a superb late pit stop that allowed him to take the lead.

The bad news is that JGR’s former Midas touch on 1.5-mile ovals is no longer so, thanks in part to a lack of engine performance compared to those teams with Hendrick engines and the Roush Yates-powered Team Penske.

That part was something Busch had noted during the week.

“We’re not quite where we need to be with our mile-and-a-half stuff, but Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen,” he said in a release.

“You have to have good grip, you have to have good fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else – so you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early or save a little and be there late.”

Grip, pace, and patience are all important, but after last week’s frustrations, the last one will be most critical for Busch.

He sometimes seem to thrive on the controversy he generates (and you’ve shown in the comments section this week that he can generate a lot).

But with two races to go before the Chase and with his team in a tailspin, now’s not the time for that.

Now is the time for him to put up a big result and get the 18 camp back on solid footing before the championship stakes are raised.

Di Resta to make shock F1 return in Hungary, replacing unwell Massa

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Paul di Resta will make a shock return to Formula 1 race action this weekend in Hungary, replacing Felipe Massa at Williams after the Brazilian was taken unwell.

Massa first showed signs of illness on Friday, visiting the local hospital in Budapest as a precaution before being given the go-ahead to take part in practice on Saturday morning.

Massa completed just 12 laps before coming into the garage and stopping, with doctors then reviewing him a second time and ruling him out.

This means di Resta, who has not started an F1 race in over three years and has never driven Williams’ 2017 car, will make a surprise return in qualifying and the race.

“After feeling unwell during practice in Budapest on Friday and Saturday, Felipe Massa will not drive for the remainder of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend,” a statement from Williams reads.

“Felipe visited the medical centre and the MH EK Honvedkorhaz hospital for precautionary tests on Friday, after feeling unwell and dizzy during FP2.

“He was cleared to take part in Saturday’s practice session by the FIA medical delegate, but he felt unwell again during FP3 and has made the decision to withdraw from the weekend.

“Williams supports Felipe’s decision and the team will work with him to ensure he makes a full recovery, with a view to return to the race track for the Belgian Grand Prix.

“Following this decision, the team’s Reserve Driver Paul di Resta will drive alongside Lance Stroll for the remainder of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend.”

More to follow.

Vasseur: ‘Good choice’ for Sauber to extend Ferrari F1 partnership

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Sauber Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur has explained the decision to cancel a planned technical partnership with Honda for 2018 and extend its long-running agreement with Ferrari.

Sauber has enjoyed an engine supply from Ferrari since 2010, but announced in April that it would be linking up with Honda for 2018 as part of an extensive technical partnership.

The deal hit the rocks following the departure of long-standing CEO and team boss Monisha Kaltenborn, with Sauber’s owners uneasy about teaming up with Honda given its public F1 struggles.

Ex-Renault F1 chief Vasseur was brought in to replace Kaltenborn, and moved to cancel the deal with Honda and secure a new agreement with Ferrari, as announced on Friday.

“Sauber and Honda signed a memorandum of understanding a couple of weeks ago but things move forward quite fast in our world,” Vasseur said.

“I think that the situation was a bit unclear also regarding the collaboration between McLaren and Honda and on our side the engine supplier had to find a solution for the gearbox. We had a deal with McLaren and the situation was a bit more complicated.

“On the other end, the collaboration with Ferrari is based on a long-term relationship and we had the opportunity to discuss with Ferrari to get the new-spec engine and I think it was a good choice and we found a mutual agreement with Honda to stop the collaboration.”

Vasseur believes the decision will help Sauber’s long-term growth, with the team currently lagging behind at the rear of the field following a period of uncertainty.

“The short term, that will be difficult to achieve something. It’s a long-term project for sure,” Vasseur said.

“But I think the basics are there. The facility is impressive compared to the other teams. I think we are in a good move. The wind tunnel is a good one and the team, I think that Sauber is still in F1 an iconic name and there is a real team spirit, quite comparable to the team spirit I had last year at Enstone.

“Everybody is really dedicated, pushy, and now that the financial structure is stabilized I think we can have some hope for the future.”

Vettel quickest as Ferrari pulls clear in final Hungary F1 practice

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Sebastian Vettel headed up a Ferrari one-two in final Formula 1 practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday morning, the Italian marque pulling clear of rivals Red Bull and Mercedes at the Hungaroring.

After seeing Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo lead both of Friday’s practice sessions, Vettel was able to vault to the front of the pack with an unofficial lap record, laying down an ominous pace heading into qualifying.

Vettel posted a fastest lap time of 1:17.017 to finish almost half a second clear of the pack, leading home Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen at the head of the timesheets.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton tried in vain to try and match Ferrari’s headline pace, lagging to third and fifth respectively.

While Bottas was able to finish nine-tenths of a second off Vettel’s time, Hamilton was 1.4 seconds back, the pair being split by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Friday pace-setter Ricciardo had a session to forget as he suffered a gearbox issue, forcing him to park up at the side of the track with just seven laps on the board, his time nevertheless good enough for P8.

Stoffel Vandoorne continued McLaren’s good weekend by finishing sixth-fastest, with teammate Fernando Alonso ninth overall. Renault also got both of its cars into the top 10 as Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer finished seventh and 10th respectively.

Felipe Massa was forced to halt his running halfway through the session after being taken unwell again, putting his participation in the remainder of the race weekend in doubt.

Williams has Paul di Resta on standby as its reserve driver should Massa be declared unfit.

Massa cleared for Hungary FP3 despite Friday hospital visit

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Felipe Massa received late clearance to take part in Saturday’s final Formula 1 practice session for the Hungarian Grand Prix after a visit to hospital on Friday.

Massa was taken to the local hospital in Budapest following second practice at the Hungaroring after feeling unwell, putting his participation in the rest of the weekend for Williams in doubt.

The Brazilian was ultimately cleared by the FIA medical delegate, allowing him to take part in FP3 on Saturday morning, but he will be subject to another check-up ahead of qualifying.