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Vettel thankful for clean grid slot in Baku

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Sebastian Vettel is pleased to have secured a starting position on the clean side of the grid for tomorrow’s European Grand Prix in Baku after qualifying third for Ferrari.

Vettel finished fourth in Saturday’s qualifying session, losing out to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo despite setting an identical time to the Australian driver.

Both drivers gain a position on the grid by virtue of Sergio Perez’s grid penalty, leaving them second and third behind pole-sitter Nico Rosberg for the start in Azerbaijan.

“Yesterday we weren’t very strong,” Vettel said. “However, we came back today, although not yet where we want to be. We also benefitted from the penalty of Perez.

“Now we have to focus on a good start. I think tomorrow anything can happen for anyone. It will be a long race with a lot of laps. If I started fourth tomorrow I would be more angry.

“So, I think it is fine this way and that we started on the clean side. I think it’s likely to make quite a big difference on a new track. Maybe I am wrong, but usually we have good starts. I’ve had a good feeling already this weekend, so we’ll see.”

Vettel is anticipating a long race in Baku that could present opportunities to Ferrari as the team chases its first victory of the 2016 season.

“It’s going to be a long race. We have to stay focused all through the race, it will be tough,” Vettel said.

“I think it is possible to overtake, there is a very long straight. We will see tomorrow how much easy or difficult it will be, but in general I think it is possible. I am always nervous before any race, which is good because it means that I care.

“It has been a very tough weekend trying to find the rhythm. I believe it is easy to make mistakes. This track is surprisingly bumpy and it is not easy to find the right time and to manage hard brakings and high speed.

“We are happy but not entirely because the gap with Mercedes is very big, but it will be a long race with plenty of opportunities, I guess.

“After the weekend we will try to understand where we were losing time, but for the moment let’s focus on the race, because we have all the chances to do a good job.”

The European Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Sunday.

Bill Elliott joins Tony Stewart/Ray Evernham SRX series for 2021

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott became the eighth driver to join the Superstar Racing Experience, the short-track series being started by Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner and 1988 NASCAR Cup Series champion was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015 and was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver 16 times (his son, Chase, has received the honor the past two years). Elliott also closed his full-time Cup career driving for Evernham’s Dodge team from 2001-03, winning the 2002 Brickyard 400.

“I am excited to reunite with Ray Evernham and some of the great legends of our sport,” Elliott, who joins Stewart and Bobby Labonte as NASCAR Hall of Famers in the SRX, said in a release. “I look forward to racing at some of the most historic American racing destinations and putting on an awesome show for the fans. We have a special driver field and it will be fun competing with some of the greatest drivers of all time.”

The series, which is expecting to have a dozen drivers, also has Tony Stewart, Helio Castroneves, Bobby Labonte, Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan, Willy T. Ribbs and Mark Webber in its lineup.

SRX was co-founded by NASCAR Hall of Famers Stewart and Evernham and was unveiled July 13.

Several drivers have expressed interest in the new circuit, which is modeled on the International Race of Champions (IROC) series that matched drivers from various auto racing disciplines in equally prepared cars for an annual four-race series for 30 years.

With the addition of Bill Elliott, Superstar Racing Experience has yet to reveal a schedule or tracks, but it’s expected that Stewart’s Eldora Speedway will be on the slate.