What to watch for: Spanish Grand Prix (NBCSN, Live Extra from 7am ET)

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Nico Rosberg may have arrived in Spain as the man in form after winning the first four races of the 2016 Formula 1 season, but it was Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton who stole the show in qualifying on Saturday in Barcelona.

Hamilton produced a stunning lap in the dying moments of Q3 to beat Rosberg by almost three-tenths of a second, comfortably claiming his third pole of the season.

The Briton joked after the session that it was “three from three” for him in qualifying this season, having suffered a power unit failure on the two occasions that Rosberg claimed pole.

However, the German remains the man to beat, and from second on the grid, he will know that an eighth successive grand prix victory remains well within reach.

Mercedes aside, there are a number of fascinating storylines on the cards heading into Sunday’s race. Here’s what to watch for in the Spanish Grand Prix, live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET.

2016 Spanish Grand Prix – What to watch for

A straight fight at last for Lewis and Nico?

While Rosberg may have forged an impressive championship lead in the early part of the new season, he’s yet to go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton at the front of the pack. Poor starts and qualifying setbacks have left Hamilton to fight his way from the back, giving Rosberg a relatively easy ride.

That could all change today though. Relying both Mercedes get a good start, we may see them enjoy a serious fight at the front. It would be a big psychological victory for whoever comes out on top.

Rosberg’s championship lead is safe for this weekend at least, yet if he can beat Hamilton in a straight fight and take the advantage to 50 points, it would be a significant blow to his rival’s aspirations of a fourth world title.

Verstappen prepares for Red Bull debut

Max Verstappen appears to have immediately justified Red Bull’s decision to promote him to its senior F1 team for the Spanish Grand Prix. In qualifying, he nearly beat teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and will start the race an excellent fourth on the grid. Not bad given he first drove the RB12 car on Friday.

All weekend long, there has been a feeling that Verstappen is finally ‘arriving’ in Spain. While he has undoubtedly impressed with Toro Rosso, the chance to battle at the front with a top-line car allows us to see what he is truly made of. The first signs have been impressive, but it will be in today’s race where we really see what the young Dutchman is made of.

Can Ferrari fight back?

The pressure is mounting once again at Ferrari. After a disappointing start to the season marred by reliability woes, the Italian marque hit a new low in qualifying as it finished fifth and sixth behind both Mercedes and Red Bull.

Big questions will inevitably be asked, as it could be an early sign that Ferrari will no longer be the second-fastest team. Red Bull’s RB12 car is clearly strong, and with a significant engine update due for the Canadian Grand Prix, Ferrari’s status as ‘best of the rest’ is under serious threat.

It’s a big race for Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen today. A good start and smart strategy may put them in the fight for the podium once again, but in reality, the top step looks a long way off now.

Kvyat seeks redemption

While Verstappen impressed in his first run in the Red Bull, the man he replaced faded in qualifying. Daniil Kvyat failed to make it out of Q2 upon his return to Toro Rosso – something new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. did manage – only appearing to justify the harsh call made.

Kvyat has 17 races to save his F1 career. His future within the Red Bull setup looks bleak, meaning he needs to do his talking on-track to sell himself to other teams. Points in Spain would be a good and much-needed start in a bid to make up for his errors in Russia.

Can Haas reach the points again?

It’s been a funny season so far for Haas. The car seems OK in terms of pace when in front, but less so when chasing. Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both grumbled about the VF-16 car in practice before reaching Q2, yet neither appears capable of reaching the points.

That said, as we saw in Russia, lots can change. A good start or a lucky safety car, and perhaps Grosjean and Gutierrez may bring home another haul of points for the American team. At the track where its car first debuted back in February, this race will be a true marker of how far it has come.

2016 Spanish Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
7. Valtteri Bottas Williams
8. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
9. Sergio Perez Force India
10. Fernando Alonso McLaren
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
12. Jenson Button McLaren
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
14. Romain Grosjean Haas
15. Kevin Magnussen Renault
16. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
17. Jolyon Palmer Renault
18. Felipe Massa Williams
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Felipe Nasr Sauber
21. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
22. Rio Haryanto Manor

The Spanish Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”