Ryan Blaney confirms talks with others, but loyalty to Penske through 2013

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Emerging NASCAR talent Ryan Blaney, who won his first Nationwide Series race last weekend in Kentucky, confirmed Wednesday he has talked to other teams in the NASCAR garage about his future. But for the rest of 2013, he’s committed to Penske Racing.

“Well, there has been very, very little talks with other teams, but right now my loyalty is to Penske Racing and finishing out this 2013 season very strong, either in that Nationwide car, if I get another race, or finishing out the Truck season very strong for Brad Keselowski Racing,” the son of Dave Blaney said in a teleconference Wednesday.

“Just really focused on that right now, and then in the offseason, we’ll see what doors open up or if we progress here with Penske like planned. So we’ll find out here in the coming months, but right now my loyalty is to Penske and finishing out this 2013 season very strong.”

Blaney is rumored to be in play for Furniture Row Racing’s vacant No. 78 Chevrolet for 2014. Blaney doesn’t turn 20 until December 31, and is just completing his first season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Penske driver Keselowski’s team.

He rates his first Truck win as more special than his first Nationwide win.

“Nothing is ever going to really beat that first win you get in NASCAR ever, but it was very close, winning with a new group of guys,” he said. “That group of guys, I was with a lot at the end of 2012 when I ran that 22 car about seven or eight races while Brad was focused on the Championship.  So I got to know those guys very well.  Getting to know Jeremy (Bullins, crew chief) a lot that last year and over this offseason, he’s improved so much.  He’s really given that car what it needs.”

Mercedes power: Hamilton, Bottas fastest during 1st French GP practice

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) — Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas posted the top two times during the opening practice for Formula One’s French Grand Prix on Friday.

Defending champion Hamilton clocked the best lap time at 0.140 seconds faster than Bottas.

Red Bulls’ Daniel Ricciardo had the third best effort, followed by Ferrari pair Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel leads Hamilton by one point atop the standings after seven of 21 races.

The session had one red flag near the end when Marcus Ericsson spun out of control and slammed into the barrier on Turn 11. The right rear of his Sauber burst into flame before the Swede got out. Sauber said he was unharmed.

Hamilton also had a scare when forced to swerve off course to avoid ramming a slow-going Stoffel Vandoorne and slalomed around two rows of bollards before returning to the flow. Hamilton said on his team radio the McLaren driver was going “dangerously slow” when he came upon him.

Later, Hamilton complained his Mercedes was having trouble turning. After coming back out, the four-time world champion quickly went to the top of the timesheet.

This was the first chance drivers had to run on the 5.8-kilometer (3.6-mile) Paul Ricard Circuit, as F1 makes its return to France for the first time in a decade.

The track resting in wooded hills just inland from the Cote d’Azur was basked in the Mediterranean sun and subject to moments of gusting winds.

Raikkonen, Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso), Esteban Ocon (Force India) and Vandoorne all spun their cars onto the blue-striped run-off areas at Turn Six because of a tricky tailwind but managed to stop before hitting the barrier.

Charles Leclerc (Sauber) twice spun to a brief stop, while Max Verstappen drove wide on consecutive corners and had a near-miss with Sergio Perez of Force India.

Vettel took the lead in the standings two weeks ago in Montreal where he won the Canadian GP after starting from pole position. That victory erased a 14-point lead held by Hamilton after he could manage only a fifth-place finish.

There will be two more practices on Friday and on Saturday before qualifying for Sunday’s race.

The last time a F1 race was held here at Le Castellet was in 1990 when Alain Prost won for Ferrari.