Clint Bowyer leads first Sprint Cup practice at Talladega

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Clint Bowyer popped the fastest lap in today’s first Sprint Cup practice session at Talladega Superspeedway, topping out early at 200.385 mph in the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.

Only two Chasers were among the Top 10 speeds in the first session, and none were within the Top 5. Bowyer’s lap was enough to eclipse Aric Almirola (200.268), defending GEICO 500 champion Jamie McMurray (200.117), Michael McDowell (199.971), and Travis Kvapil (199.883).

Kyle Larson was sixth-fastest, followed by Landon Cassill in seventh, Chaser Brad Keselowski in eighth (199.238), Kurt Busch in ninth, and another Chaser, Kyle Busch, in 10th (199.160).

McMurray also claimed the best 10-lap average speed in the session at 196.586 mph across Lap 3-12 of the 18 laps that he logged.

The other Chasers ran as follows: Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 12th, Matt Kenseth in 14th, Kasey Kahne in 16th, Ryan Newman in 24th, Denny Hamlin in 28th, Joey Logano in 31st, Jimmie Johnson in 32nd, Jeff Gordon in 33rd, Kevin Harvick in 37th, and Carl Edwards in 38th.

Logano and Harvick need not worry too much as they’re safely in the Eliminator Round already with recent wins (Logano at Kansas, Harvick last week at Charlotte). As for Johnson, one of several drivers that effectively need a win this weekend to stay alive in the Chase, his work in Practice 1 was largely outside the draft. His best lap of 32 in the session was at 195.748 mph.

Final practice for the Cup series will begin later this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega – Practice One Times

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.