Vettel aiming for seventh or higher from pit lane in Austin

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AUSTIN – Sebastian Vettel has said that finishing anywhere inside the top seven in tomorrow’s United States Grand Prix would be a good result as he will start from the pit lane due to a complete power unit change.

Red Bull confirmed earlier this week that it would be overhauling Vettel’s engine, prompting the FIA stewards in Austin to hand him a pit lane start regardless of his qualifying position.

Although Vettel was not expected to run in qualifying, the team sent him out to ensure that he finished inside the 107% time required to qualify for a grand prix. He finished the session in 17th place, marking his first Q1 exit in over five years.

However, with a good long-run pace on show in practice on Friday, the German driver could yet fight his way up into the points.

“It’s difficult to say where we are compared to the others teams,” Vettel said after qualifying. “It doesn’t seem too bad, depending on the conditions which are currently good.

“In the race tomorrow I think we can move up, our race pace seems okay, but it will be tight. It will be difficult to overtake, as we don’t have the ideal straight line speed, hopefully we can get some points tomorrow. Seventh would be a good result.”

His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, finished qualifying in fifth place behind the Mercedes and Williams drivers, and looks set to be mathematically ruled out of the drivers’ championship following this weekend’s race in the United States in light of Mercedes expected dominance.

“I’m pretty happy with the top five,” Ricciardo said after qualifying. “Realistically we’re fighting for the last spot on the podium, if Mercedes have a clean race, and we’ve put ourselves in a good position for that.

“We were close to Felipe [Massa], but hopefully the clean side of the grid will help me out a bit, so we’ll see what happens.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?