NASCAR: Tight Nationwide championship battle resumes at Michigan

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When you have Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a boss and one of NASCAR’s brightest young stars as a teammate in Chase Elliott, you run the risk of being overshadowed.

But JR Motorsports’ Regan Smith is front and center in a hotly-contested race for the Nationwide Series championship, which resumes this weekend with a 250-miler at Michigan International Speedway.

Since winning the NNS season opener at Daytona in February, Smith has stayed consistent by earning a Top-10 finish in every race since (making for an overall average finish of 7.1). He also comes to Michigan as its defending Nationwide race champion.

But while Smith has been steady, so has Elliott Sadler, who is only four points behind Smith. Sadler also has a win under his belt (Talladega) and boasts an almost identical average finish of 7.6.

Meanwhile, Chase Elliott will try to keep digging out of the points hole he fell in after a bad 37th-place result in Charlotte two races ago.

The JRM driver dropped from the lead to third in the NNS standings, where he remains at 22 points behind teammate Smith. However, a strong fifth-place run in the most recent event at Dover should have him feeling good going into the Irish Hills.

Also within striking distance are Trevor Bayne (fourth, -27 points) and Ty Dillon (fifth, -34 points). Bayne finished second at Dover, which marked his 10th Top-10 finish of the year. If not for a 23rd-place finish at Texas, he’d likely be higher up the table.

As for Dillon, he’ll look to carry over his solid Camping World Truck Series results at Michigan (sixth, 2012; fourth, 2013) to Nationwide.

The NNS rookie has racked up nine Top-10s but has not yet earned a Top-5; his best finish was a seventh at Daytona in February. We’ll see if Austin’s little brother can take the next step starting at MIS.

Adding more intrigue this weekend is a solid number of Sprint Cup drivers in the NNS field, including the aforementioned Earnhardt and Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard.

The first three in that group have four NNS wins at Michigan between them, while Larson has picked up two NNS victories in 2014 at Charlotte and California’s Auto Club Speedway.

F1: Red Bull Racing confirms switch to Honda engines next season

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Honda will become Red Bull’s engine supplier from next season after the Formula One team confirmed its anticipated split with Renault on Tuesday.

The Japanese manufacturer will supply engines for 2019 and 2020, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed the deal as “an exciting new phase” in the bid to return to the top of F1.

“After careful consideration and evaluation, we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the team,” Horner said in a team statement. “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our (feeder) team Toro Rosso.”

It is a boost for Honda, which was unceremoniously dumped by McLaren at the end of last year.

Honda has started this season brightly as engine provider for Toro Rosso, and this may have been a key factor in Red Bull finally ditching Renault.

“Honda’s alignment with both Red Bull Formula One teams provides enormous potential,” Horner said. “Honda will have access to a wealth of data from both outfits, with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing leading the way, and the opportunities for faster, more effective and more competitive development are doubled.”

The deal brings to an end Red Bull’s 12-year partnership with Renault.

Although relations became increasingly strained between the two parties in recent years, it was once a dream partnership as Red Bull and Renault won four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel from 2010-13.

During that glory era, Vettel and teammate Mark Webber won 47 grand prix. Since 2013, results have somewhat dried up and there have been only 10 race wins.

“We have sometimes had our differences but Renault has always worked tirelessly and to the best of its ability to provide us with a competitive power unit,” Horner said.

He was not always quite so complimentary about Renault. He has regularly and publicly criticized Renault’s reliability in recent years – although it has been hard to judge sometimes.

Red Bull showed good speed toward the end of last season when Max Verstappen won two races, and teammate Daniel Ricciardo won this season’s Chinese GP with a brilliant drive. The difference in speed between Red Bull and Mercedes appears less than before, although Ferrari remains noticeably quicker.

Verstappen’s form has picked up after a poor start to 2018, marred by crashes, and he has taken third place in two of the past three races.

Meanwhile, McLaren’s partnership with Renault has not been as successful as they anticipated after dropping Honda following three fruitless seasons together.

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso has failed to finish the past two races and has yet to place higher than fifth. Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg has a best finish of fourth place.