NASCAR: Team Penske sweeps Nationwide front row at the Glen

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Last year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series winner at Watkins Glen will try to make it two in a row from the pole position later this afternoon.

On his first lap of three in the final round of qualifying, Brad Keselowski (pictured) posted a time of 71.018 seconds to earn the pole for today’s Zippo 200 (2:15 p.m. ET, check local listings).

It marks the former Sprint Cup champion’s seventh front-row start in Nationwide this year. Keselowski has already converted three of them into wins at Las Vegas, New Hampshire, and Iowa.

He’ll be joined on the front row by Team Penske teammate Joey Logano, whose best lap this morning was a mere .079 of a second off of Keselowski’s best.

In addition to Logano, Row 2 should also provide Keselowski with stiff competition. Kyle Busch (71.285 seconds) will start third while Marcos Ambrose (71.317) – who holds a three-race Nationwide win streak at the Glen – is fourth on the grid.

“I think any one of the Top 4 cars can win the race,” Keselowski told ESPN. “Marcos has won three in a row here in ’08, ’09, and ’10; Kyle runs really well here and he won the Cup race last year; and my teammate, Joey Logano, is really coming into his own as well.

“Any one of those three could be the guy to beat. It’s hard to pick just one. But we know we’re definitely not in for a walk in the park.”

Nationwide title contender Regan Smith may have earned himself an advantage over points leader Chase Elliott going into today’s race.

Smith was able to crack the Top 12 and then post a final round time that was good for fifth, while Elliott did not advance from the first round and will start from 15th. Elliott holds just a slim, two-point lead over Smith.

Also looking to make ground up on Elliott are Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler, who are tied for third in the standings at 12 points back. Dillon will go off from eighth, while Sadler starts from 14th.

Brendan Gaughan, winner of the Nationwide Series’ first road race of the year at Road America, will start ninth today.

It bears noting that 16 of the 20 Nationwide races run at Watkins Glen have been won from a Top-10 starting position; the last time a driver won from beyond the Top 10 was in 2008, when Ambrose won this race from 12th.

NASCAR Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen – Starting Lineup
1. 22-Brad Keselowski
2. 12-Joey Logano
3. 54-Kyle Busch
4. 09-Marcos Ambrose
5. 7-Regan Smith
6. 33-Paul Menard
7. 2-Brian Scott
8. 3-Ty Dillon
9. 62-Brendan Gaughan
10. 20-Matt Kenseth
11. 31-Dylan Kwasniewski
12. 60-Chris Buescher
13. 42-Kyle Larson
14. 11-Elliott Sadler
15. 9-Chase Elliott
16. 6-Trevor Bayne
17. 99-James Buescher
18. 87-Stanton Barrett
19. 19-Mike Bliss
20. 44-Carlos Contreras
21. 43-Dakoda Armstrong
22. 40-Matt Dibenedetto
23. 01-Landon Cassill
24. 28-J.J. Yeley
25. 55-Brennan Newberry
26. 51-Jeremy Clements
27. 75-Kenny Habul
28. 16-Ryan Reed
29. 14-Eric McClure
30. 4-Jeffrey Earnhardt
31. 93-Tomy Drissi
32. 39-Ryan Sieg
33. 17-Tanner Berryhill
34. 23-Kevin O’Connell
35. 46-Josh Wise
36. 70-Derrike Cope
37. 52-Joey Gase
38. 74-Roger Reuse
39. 10-Blake Koch

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.