NASCAR: RCR, Roush teams looking strong in NNS practice at Kentucky

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While the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series are up in New Hampshire, the Nationwide Series has started its stand-alone weekend at Kentucky Speedway with a pair of Friday practice sessions for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

If the sessions are an indication, Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing will be in the hunt come tomorrow night on the 1.5-mile oval outside Cincinnati.

RFR’s Chris Buescher led the first practice earlier this afternoon with a lap of 174.701 mph in the No. 60 Ford Mustang. But right behind him were all three of RCR’s full-time Nationwide drivers: Brian Scott (pictured, 173.980) in second, Brendan Gaughan (173.210) in third, and rookie Ty Dillon in fourth (173.205).

The second practice largely followed the same script, only with RCR part-timer Cale Conley atop the leaderboard with a lap of 175.404 mph in his No. 33 Chevy Camaro.

Trevor Bayne of RFR was second at 175.239 mph, then came Scott in third (175.075), Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sam Hornish Jr. in fourth (174.944), and Buescher again in fifth (174.419).

Hornish may be able to put himself into the mix, however, as he was fifth in the first practice, too. And of course, we can’t forget Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott, who had the eighth-fastest time in both sessions.

Elliott holds an 18-point advantage over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith going into Saturday night’s main event. Smith, who has never finished higher than 12th in a Nationwide event at Kentucky, was 12th and 16th-fastest today.

Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford won both NNS events last year at Kentucky, and this weekend, it’s in the hands of Michael McDowell. He went 11th-fastest in each of the practices.

Qualifying will go off tomorrow afternoon at 4:10 p.m. ET, followed by the 300-mile race at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.