Dakar: Rafal Sonik (quads), Eduard Nikolaev (trucks) still leading the way

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Rafal Sonik is really booming now.

The Polish quad racer bagged his second consecutive Dakar stage win on Thursday by a resounding margin of almost 11 minutes over defending champ Ignacio Casale.

As you’d figure, that put on a big chunk for Sonik’s overall lead, which now stands at 24 minutes, 23 seconds over the Chilean.

Sonik pulled away noticeably through the latter way points of the stage from Copiapo to Antofagasta, Chile. In the final two of 10 way points, Sonik stretched his lead to more than five minutes at WP9 and to under nine minutes at WP10 before extending it further to the finish.

Casale tried to look ahead after Thursday’s run.

“It was a hard stage, but I knew that,” Casale said. “There were a lot of rocks and fesh-fesh, very bumpy. The level of competition in the quad category is very good. There are four or five riders who are really close together.

“Last year, I rode two great marathon stages. Until now, it hasn’t gone as well as it could have, but there will be better days…”

Uruguay’s Sergio Lafuente maintains third overall (+ 26:20) behind Sonik and Casale after a fourth-place finish in the stage.

Another repeat winner came through in the truck category as well.

KAMAZ’s Eduard Nikolaev and Andrey Karginov were pretty much even with each other through the middle waypoints, but Nikolaev proved unbeatable and went on to win his second consecutive stage by 10 minutes over teammate Ayrat Mardeev.

MAN’s Siarhei Viazovich completed the stage podium, finishing 16 minutes behind Nikolaev. As for Karginov, difficulties in the second half of the stage knocked him down to sixth.

Overall, Nikolaev is up eight minutes, one second over Mardeev, while another MAN pilot, Ales Loprais, has taken third position (+27:28) by just eight seconds over Karginov, the defending Dakar truck champ.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues Friday at 4 p.m. ET.

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?