Can Junior stay “Super” at Michigan?

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With his car bearing a scheme to promote Batman flick The Dark Knight Rises, Dale Earnhardt Jr. emerged from the darkness of a 143-race losing streak and triumphed at Michigan International Speedway last summer. Since then, Earnhardt has not returned to Victory Lane in the Sprint Cup Series – a problem he hopes to correct this weekend on MIS’ two-mile oval in a car that’s promoting the latest Superman film, Man of Steel.

Earnhardt is also hoping to start regaining ground in the Sprint Cup standings as well. While he’s solidly in a Chase spot right now at fourth in the table, he’s fallen off since charging to the points lead on the strength of five consecutive Top-10 finishes to start the 2013 season. His third-place run at Pocono last weekend was his first Top-5 finish in the last nine races, and he sits 82 points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate and championship leader Jimmie Johnson.

“We talked about it last week after the race, but we kind of had some misses here lately and not many hits,” Earnhardt said at MIS. “As far as showing up to the race track and being competitive and getting the job done putting together a full weekend, we haven’t been able to do that. We started the season off so promising – the best that I had ever started a season.

“It just seemed like things were going so perfectly and it’s the way it is in this sport: You will think you have everything going in the right direction and then odds and fate and everything else [gets] in the way.”

Earnhardt feels that his team has been working hard towards returning to more consistent performances like they had at the start of the year. But in his mind, there are still “some holes to fill” as they look to catch up with stablemate Johnson – and nothing less than becoming a regular contender for wins will do.

“We want to win more races,” Earnhardt said. “We want that to be the status quo. We want that to be the norm.”

He’ll start 12th in Sunday’s 400-miler.

F1: Sebastian Vettel incurs costly penalty during Friday’s U.S. Grand Prix practice

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Lewis Hamilton got a gift from F1 officials when Sebastian Vettel was penalized three places on the starting grid for Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix for not slowing down enough for a red flag during Friday’s morning practice at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Vettel insists he abided by the rules.

“I think I slowed down,” the Ferrari driver said. “I had a good look around at what was going on. The rules are clear so we know.

“They [the stewards] were very specific, saying I took 27.7 seconds to slow down. I saw the red flag, I slowed down, I had a look around where the car was potentially stuck in the wall or if there was one around Turn 9 or 10.

“Then I slowed down significantly to comply with the rules. … They found it too long. I think it was straightforward.

“On top of it there might have been an issue with the timing, the system. I don’t know. … I think it’s wrong.”

Vettel also said he was worried that “if there is a car right behind you, it might run into you. But it is more important you don’t get a penalty.”

Hamilton recorded the fastest lap in the morning session in his Mercedes. Vettel, meanwhile, is essentially in a win-or-else situation if he hopes to prevent Hamilton from clinching the 2018 F1 championship.

Being penalized makes Vettel’s chances all the more difficult. Short of winning Sunday, the only other way Vettel can keep Hamilton from winning his fifth F1 crown is if he finishes within seven points of Hamilton.

Hamilton currently leads Vettel by 67 points. If Hamilton doesn’t clinch the title this weekend, it’ll be on to Mexico City next weekend for another chance at sealing the championship deal.

Hamilton’s previous championships have come in three of the last four seasons (2014, 2015 and 2017), as well as his first in 2008.

Friday’s second practice was washed out, for all intents and purposes. Hamilton logged just eight minutes and couldn’t go faster than he did in the soggy conditions earlier in the morning, while Vettel managed just 12 minutes on-track in the second session.

Saturday’s forecast calls for more rain, but Sunday’s race day outlook calls for dry conditions.

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