‘Consistency’ is becoming NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Brian Scott’s middle name

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If things continue the way they have been thus far this season, Nationwide Series driver Brian Scott may soon change his middle name from Joseph to “Consistency.”

In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Scott’s picture next to the word “consistency” in the dictionary, he’s been so unwavering in what to date has been a very solid season for the Idaho native.

Scott currently leads all NNS regulars in highest average running position (7.683), highest average starting position (7.3) and the most laps in the top-15 (2,198 or 95.4 percent).

In 12 starts thus far this season, Scott has two top-fives, five top-10s, 10 overall top-15 finishes, a 17th-place finish and his one off-race, a 33rd at Talladega (the only DNF he’s earned in 2014).

What’s more, his average start is outstanding (7.2) and average finish is almost as good (11.7).

This season in NNS has 12 starts, including two top-five and five top-10 finishes. Average start is 7.2 and average finish is 11.7.

Wait, there’s more:

He’s qualified 10 times in the top-10 (and an 11th time he was 13th), including earning the pole at Richmond and the outside pole at Phoenix.

Add all those things together and Scott could be primed to finally earn the first NNS victory of his career on Saturday at MIS, where he finished fifth in last year’s race on the wide and fast two-mile track.

“I think the only thing we’ve missed is we need to be a little bit better on restarts and have a little good luck,” Scott said Friday. “I feel like we’ve got the speed and are competitive enough to win races.

“We’ve gotta improve in just a little tiny area like restarts and the first lap after restarts on speed. If a couple of races had just gone a little differently and been more of a long run to the end, things of that nature, I think we would have had a couple of victories instead of a couple (close) finishes.”

And if Scott can get what has proven to be an elusive first win, it could be the final piece to the puzzle of potentially winning the NNS championship this season.

But at the same time, Scott’s uncanny consistency could also carry him to the championship, just like it did for Austin Dillon, who went winless in 2013 yet still took home the NNS title at season’s end.

“NASCAR has always rewarded consistency,” Scott said. “They’ve done a lot of changing of formats in the Cup Series and the Chase to try and put more emphasis on winning, but the format for our championship in Nationwide has never changed.

“It’s more of the old-school format, consistency is more important than winning races and then also having DNFs. It’s just the way the sport is. It doesn’t matter how you get there or how you win the championship, the most important thing is you won (the title).

“I wouldn’t feel the least bit upset if I won (the championship) without winning (a race). Of course, you always want to win, you always want to just not even have that conversation, but consistency is every bit as important in victory lane. It just feels a lot better and everybody wants to get to victory lane.”

Scott has even been consistent in the NNS standings: he’s remained in sixth place for the last six weeks, and is only 57 points behind series leader Regan Smith. Of course, it helps greatly that he’s running for Richard Childress Racing, which has surrounded Scott this season with solid motors, fast chassis and a team that is as hungry for success as its driver is — and will do everything it can to help him reach that championship goal.

“This No. 2 team, we’ve strengthened some positions as a group, but really more than anything, we have notes from all these tracks that we’ve been to now, we have a good database of knowing what I like and what I don’t like,” Scott said. “We’ve gone on some science experiments the wrong way and we’ve figured out directions not to go and not to shoot ourselves in the foot. … All those things together have really contributed to our strong start.”

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Hamilton, Bottas clock fastest times as F1 testing starts

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MONTMELO, Spain — Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sent an ominous signal to their challengers after clocking the two fastest lap times on the first day of Formula One’s preseason testing.

Hamilton set the top time of Wednesday’s opening session’s of 1 minute, 16.976 seconds, after he took over from Bottas behind the wheel of the new Silver Arrow for the 2020 season. Bottas’ best effort was 0.337 seconds slower.

The Mercedes duo also completed the most laps of any team with 173.

Sergio Perez of Racing Point was the third fastest, followed by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

Hamilton enters the season as the clear favorite as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles and surpass the German’s mark of 91 career wins. Hamilton has six titles and 84 wins.

“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” Hamilton said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”

In last year’s preseason testing, the Mercedes cars were slower than the rival Ferraris. But they beat them come the first race of the year and never lost their advantage.

Hamilton and Bottas had nine one-two race finishes last season as they dominated the field to finish first and second in the overall points standings.

Wednesday’s eight hours of running went smoothly for all teams, with no accidents or breakdowns and good weather ideal for high speeds.

The only setback was for Sebatian Vettel, who couldn’t run as scheduled because of an illness.

Charles Leclerc took Vettel’s place and settled for the 11th best time of the 15 drivers who drove.

Leclerc, who finished fourth ahead of Vettel last season, said that his team had changed strategy.

“Last year in testing we were great but the first race was a little less great, and I think we have learned a few things on this,” he said. “This year we have started trying to focus more on ourselves and on trying to learn the car as much as possible during these first few days and then focus on performance later on.”

Verstappen finished third last season and is expected to again be biggest challenger to Mercedes’ dominance along with the two Ferraris.

Verstappen focused on accumulating 168 laps as Red Bull’s sole driver on the track. Alexander Albon will get his turn with the Red Bull on Thursday.

Williams’ George Russell was the first car to take the track, ensuring his team got off to a better start than during last year’s preseason when its car wasn’t ready to run until the third day of testing.

This year’s rules have not varied much ahead of the massive overhaul of regulations set to take effect in 2021 with the goal of shaking up the pecking order and closing the gap between the three traditional title challengers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and all the rest.

This season’s tweaks feature fewer tests days to compensate for the record-breaking 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam GP and the return of the Dutch GP. Preseason testing has been reduced from a total of eight days to six, and the mid-season test has been eliminated.

Cars will now sport shark fins on the engine cover with the number of the driver to help fans identify them better. Drivers have been given more control of the go sequence at the starting line, and those large screens that crews would wheel out to shield cars from the view of snoopy rivals during tests have been banned.

Alfa Romeo and Haas unveiled their cars early on Wednesday in the pitlane to complete the presentation of the new vehicles for this season.

Testing continues on Thursday and Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish GP, and again from Feb. 26-28.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.