Kevin Harvick fastest in first Sprint Cup practice at Dover

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Seeking to lock himself into the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup this weekend at Dover, Kevin Harvick led today’s first Sprint Cup practice session at the Monster Mile.

Harvick topped the 50-minute run with a lap of 163.852 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

He enters this weekend at 41 points over the Top 12 cutoff and only needs a finish of 34th or better in Sunday’s AAA 400 to advance.

Eight of the Top 10 speeds in the first Cup practice were posted by Chase contenders. Brad Keselowski, already in the Contender Round after his win at Chicagoland, was second-quickest (163.726).

Jeff Gordon (seventh, +21 points over the cutoff) was third-fastest at 163.562 mph. One of the two non-Chase drivers in the Top 10, Marcos Ambrose (163.436) was fourth, and nine-time Dover race winner Jimmie Johnson (163.369) was fifth.

Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, and Matt Kenseth completed the Top 10. Logano is also in the Contender Round thanks to last weekend’s win at New Hampshire, while Hamlin, Kurt Busch, and Kenseth are all on the bubble this weekend in Delaware.

Kenseth is only eight points up, while Hamlin (-6 points) and Kurt Busch (-8 points) are both on the outside looking in.

The session was slowed by a red flag involving the clean-up of fluid on the track that reportedly came from Landon Cassill’s car. The green came back out with about 20 minutes remaining.

Cup qualifying for Sunday’s race will take place later this afternoon at 3:40 p.m. ET.

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.