NASCAR honors Touring Series Champions — and potential Sprint Cup stars of tomorrow

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They may be champions in NASCAR’s smaller racing series, but there was nothing small-time when they were honored Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Seven drivers officially received their championship trophies and other assorted awards in a style befitting of last week’s Sprint Cup Awards in Las Vegas.

Saturday’s NASCAR Touring Series Night Of Champions ceremony took place in a location that many of those seven champions likely hope to one day be part of, namely, the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The seven champs who got the full Kevin Harvick champions’ treatment were: Abraham Calderón (NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series), Anthony Kumpen (NASCAR Whelen Euro Series), L.P. Dumoulin (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series), Doug Coby (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour), Andy Seuss (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour), Greg Pursley (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West) and Ben Rhodes (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East).

“This championship was a dream a few years ago,” the 26-year-old Calderon said in a NASCAR media release. “It was really hard. But now that it’s real, it’s way better than I could ever imagine.”

Each winning driver received their trophies as well as champions rings from NASCAR President Mike Helton.

“Tonight, the past, the present and future all converge,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of regional touring and weekly racing. “The past, celebrated through the storied history of many of these series.

“The present, represented by a mixture of seasoned veterans winning another NASCAR championship and young guns winning their first.

“And most importantly, the future, drivers recognized on this stage in the past few years are already having a huge impact in NASCAR’s three national series. And given the talent tonight, that trend will definitely continue.”

Coby and Pursley won their second respective championships, while the other five champions were first-time winners.

The closest championship-deciding outcome was found in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, when Kumpen held off former two-time series champ Ander Vilarino by one mere point.

“For a European race driver, a NASCAR championship seemed like an impossible goal,” Kumpen said.

All told, the seven champs combined for 14 wins, 67 top-5s and 86 top-10s in 95 races.

“Everybody knows that most championship stories have a bump along the way,” Coby said. “We just did our thing and took care of business at each race.”

Added Seuss: “One fact I’ll always point to about this championship is we completed every lap but one. That’s a testament to the team we have working on this car in the shop and at the track. This is a team sport and I couldn’t do it without all of you.”

The Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award went to Rhodes (K&N East), James Bickford (K&N West), Tommy Solomito (Whelen Modified Tour), Spencer Davis (Whelen Southern Modified Tour), Matthew Scannell (Canadian Tire Series), Mario Dominguez (Mexico Toyota Series) and Eddie Cheever III (Whelen Euro Series).

And the Most Popular Driver Award in each series (voted by fans) went to: Rhodes (K&N East), Brandon McReynolds (K&N West), J.R. Fitzpatrick (Canadian Tire Series), Rodrigo Marban (Mexico Toyota Series), Freddy Nordström (Whelen Euro Series), Melissa Fifield (Whelen Modified Tour) and Andy Seuss (Whelen Southern Modified Tour).

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Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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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.