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17DAY1rl 2163Chase Elliott will start on the pole for the Daytona 500 for the second consecutive season.

In fact, it will be an all Hendrick Motorsports front row for the 59th annual event as Elliott, the last car to qualify Sunday, knocked his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., off the top spot. Elliott put down a lap of 192.872 mph over Earnhardt's 192.864 mph. It is the fifth time Hendrick Motorsports has swept the front row at Daytona.

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"This team definitely has a knack for these plate tracks as they showed with Jeff Gordon and then last year with here and Talladega," Elliott said. "But that stuff doesn't just happen by staying the same as everybody knows. Everyone is always trying to get better and make their cars better and faster, and the engine shop is always finding new things.

"So, I think that's just proof that they're improving with everybody else and taking that next step, which is really impressive. I'm happy to be a part of it, and hopefully, we can run good next Sunday."

It is the third consecutive pole for the No. 24 team in the Daytona 500, after earning the award last year with Elliott as a rookie and Jeff Gordon in 2015. Alan Gustafson is just the second crew chief to win three consecutive poles, joining Elliott's uncle, Ernie Elliott, in 1985-'87.

"I didn't know I had two straight until I heard it on the radio today," Gustafson said. "That's pretty good company. That's pretty awesome. Amazing, I didn't think we had a shot at it yesterday (in practice), we just didn't have a lot of speed, struggled for speed, but the guys worked really hard and went through a lot of stuff, a lot of data, and worked on the car and made it happen. So, we're proud of them."

Elliott and Earnhardt are the only two drivers who have locked in their starting positions for next Sunday's event. The remainder of the 40-car field will be determined in the two Can-Am Duel races Thursday night.

Although their starting positions are still to be determined, both Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler know they will race in the Daytona 500. As two of the six open (teams without a charter) cars, Gaughan and Sadler out-qualified their competition to lock into the race on speed.

Timmy Hill, Corey LaJoie, DJ Kennington, and Reed Sorenson will fight for the final two spots in the Daytona 500 in the duel races.

17DAY1mt1281Mission accomplished for Daniel Suarez.

Before the green flag for the Clash at Daytona International Speedway, the No. 19 radio preached to its driver about learning for next weekend. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie then worked brilliantly with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and brought home an eighth-place finish after getting shuffled out of the top three late in the race.

"It was good," Suarez said of the experience. "These guys are definitely aggressive, and they race hard when they wave the green flag, and I feel like I learned a lot. I feel like it was a very productive race for me, for my team, and hopefully, we can put everything that we learned on the table for next week."

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Eligible to run the Clash in place of the retired Carl Edwards, it was Suarez's first taste of Cup Series competition ahead of his official debut in the Daytona 500.

After starting 16th, Suarez spent the 75-lap event drafting with his teammates, which included pacing restarts to allow each driver to fall in line and learning how the air works while sitting second to Denny Hamlin through most of the second half of the event.

Suarez said he felt the JGR drafting plan worked perfectly, as all four drivers sat inside the top five with five laps to go. It wasn't until the Team Penske cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano began working together that an opportunity at victory disappeared.

Still, Suarez was able to pad his notebook for the rest of Speedweeks with information such as how the car begins to handle when tires start to fall off. In the draft, Suarez also put himself in different positions to see what moves he would be able to make.

suarezWhile Cup racing might be new to Suarez, he does have familiar in one area. Chris "Crazy" Osborne will continue to serve as his spotter after the two worked together last year in the Xfinity Series. However, it came about through some shuffling since Osborne was Matt Kenseth's spotter on the Cup side.

Hearing Osborne in his ear Sunday went a long way in getting off to a good start.

"That was a big thing, definitely a big deal," Suarez said. "I have to thank Matt, who gave me the opportunity to work with (Osborne), I feel like that's a big deal. English isn't my first language, so (Osborne) can understand my English and I can understand his."

After taking a survey of his clean racecar on pit road following the checkered flag, Suarez was given a high-five by his crew chief, Dave Rogers. One race down, many more to go.

"Definitely a good race for me – I learned a lot," Suarez said. "The car's in one piece, and I feel like I got a lot of good information for next weekend. That was the goal, and I think we got to that point."

levitt hamlincrash1Joey Logano's fortune came at the misfortune of his Team Penske teammate.

Logano was victorious in the postponed Clash at Daytona International Speedway Sunday with a last-lap pass. Teammate Brad Keselowski got into the left-rear quarterpanel of Denny Hamlin in Turn 2 while attempting to take the lead. When the two collided, Logano drove by on the outside from third place.

"It's cool to win the Clash," Logano said in victory lane. "We came close last year, and it's really neat to be in victory lane and a good start to our day."

With the race being rained out on Saturday night, it leads into qualifying for the Daytona 500, which follows this afternoon.

levitt keslead

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Logano and Keselowski worked their way into contention over the final five laps by picking off the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. As has become custom at the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, the Gibbs car immediately found each other when the race began to form their own drafting line.

Led by Hamlin and rookie Daniel Suarez, the Toyotas dominated the second half of the Clash and at one point were running first through fourth. The final restart with 11 laps to go saw multiple drivers attempt, but fail, to break up the Gibbs line.

With Logano behind him, Keselowski was able to jump to the outside and began disrupting the air just enough to start overtaking them for position. Hamlin led 48 of the races 75 laps while Keselowski, who started from the pole, led 18 laps early in the event.

"Once you make contact the banking kind of wedges you two together," Keselowski said. "It's unfortunate. I had to make the move. I know all the other drivers are back watching and they know not to make that block on me again."

 DSC2543The victory was the first for Logano in the Clash in his ninth start. His previous best finish was second last season. Logano is the 2015 winner of the Daytona 500.

"The Toyotas are so selfless, I guess is the way to look at it," Logano said. "They're able to work together and think of one car winning, and they're really good at that. We had to think the same way as Ford and with Stewart-Haas (Racing) and Penske cars and we were able to get a good enough run to work together enough to break them up and make the passes and then there at the end was kind of a mess.

"Everything was going really fast. Everything was going on, and I was just in the right place at the right time."

There were four cautions during the event. Two involved seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, whose Chevrolet broke loose off Turn 4 on lap 18 and lap 49.

During the first incident, Johnson hit Kurt Busch in the right-rear quarterpanel, sending the No. 41 Ford head-on into the outside wall. The second incident ended Johnson's day when he spun by himself and made contact with the inside SAFER barrier near the entrance to pit road.

RESULTS:

P Driver MfgStart LapsLed TimeBehind 
1   #22 Joey Logano   Ford 9   75 3   46.673 Leader  
2   #18 Kyle Busch   Toyota 13   75 6   47.737 1.120  
3   #88 Alex Bowman   Chevrolet 8   75 0   47.657 1.139  
4   #10 Danica Patrick   Ford 12   75 0   47.636 1.186  
5   #4 Kevin Harvick   Ford 7   75 0   48.419 1.965  
6   #2 Brad Keselowski   Ford 1   75 18   49.083 2.234  
7   #24 Chase Elliott   Chevrolet 14   75 0   48.819 2.287  
8   #19 Daniel Suarez   Toyota 16   75 0   48.957 2.440  
9   #37 Chris Buescher   Chevrolet 17   75 0   50.893 4.552  
10   #1 Jamie McMurray   Chevrolet 3   75 0   52.366 6.025  
11   #20 Matt Kenseth   Toyota 15   75 0   54.368 8.045  
12   #3 Austin Dillon   Chevrolet 4   75 0   54.982 8.355  
13   #11 Denny Hamlin   Toyota 2   74 48   46.683 1 lap  
14   #42 Kyle Larson   Chevrolet 11   61 0   63.971 14 laps  
15   #78 Martin Truex Jr.   Toyota 5   60 0   46.971 15 laps  
16   #48 Jimmie Johnson   Chevrolet 6   48 0   45.801 27 laps  
17   #41 Kurt Busch   Ford 10   16 0   226.593 59 laps

WEC Shanghai Sunday 158The departure of Gianmaria Bruni from Ferrari's factory GT driver roster was confirmed today after a protracted contract dispute.

Bruni is hotly tipped to be joining the Porsche factory GT team later this year but the terms of his breaking a multi-year Ferrari contract mean that he will not be able to race for a rival marque until July 2017, preventing his addition to a full season line-up in any championship this season.

bruniEx-Minardi F1 driver Bruni has been racing Ferrari GT cars since 2007 with considerable success, including three class victories at the Le Mans 24 Hours (2008, 2012 and 2014), double championship wins in the GTE class of the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2013 and '14 and the class championship title in 2011's Le Mans Series. He has been a near ever-present in the WEC, missing only one race since 2012 and scoring 12 class victories and a further 13 podium finishes.

However, Bruni has been unsettled at Ferrari in recent months, despite successfully negotiating a multi-year contract to stay with the marque's factory GT program at the start of 2016.

He is to be replaced in the AF Corse Ferrari team in the FIA WEC by fellow Italian Alessandro Pier Guidi, now confirmed as a Ferrari factory driver, who will share the drive in the team's #51 Ferrari 488 GTE with ex-GP2 star James Calado. The Briton raced alongside Bruni in 2016 (pictured). The team's second WEC entry will remain in the hands of Italian Davide Rigon and Briton Sam Bird.

Pier Guidi is a long-time favorite of AF Corse and recently took part in a driver shoot-out for the vacant seat together with former IMSA racer Alex Riberas, ex-DTM star Miguel Molina and GP3 standout Nyck de Vries.

The 33-year-old Pier Guidi arrives on the factory roster after a career that has thus far seen more than 30 GT race victories across Europe, North America and Asia in some 200 race starts, mostly aboard Ferrari machinery – including a win at the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona in a GTD-spec Ferrari 458.

VF16 at speed 318One year on from its debut as America's first Formula 1 team in decades, Haas F1 prepares to embark on its sophomore campaign with cautious optimism. Haas will take the wraps off its 2017 challenger next Sunday ahead of the start of preseason testing in Barcelona, and team owner Gene Haas reckons it is reasonable to expect an improvement on the team's promising first season, which yielded an eighth-place finish in the constructor's standings.

"I think with the knowledge we have, we should actually perform a little bit better this year," said Haas. "If we can do a little bit better because our business model in Formula 1 allows us to operate more efficiently, we might be able to move up a position or two."

Team principal Guenther Steiner added that the second year of working with the team's suppliers ought to yield greater efficiencies in the design and build process. Haas purchases as many parts as is allowed under the regulations from Ferrari, including the power unit, gearbox. and suspension. The team also uses Italian manufacturer Dallara to design and produce its chassis.

RG in garage 608"Last year we went into this not knowing a lot of things because we hadn't experienced them. Now, we know a lot more and we can organize it a lot better because there are a lot less question marks," said Steiner. "We started last summer to make improvements and to see where we were weak and where we had problems, and we addressed them with our suppliers and our partners. We had very good, constructive discussions about the areas we could improve. We found areas of potential where we could do better and everybody upped their game."

The 2017 cars feature a new aerodynamic package to suit F1's revised regulations that will create a higher level of downforce via a longer nose, wider front wing, larger barge boards, the sidepods being pushed out, a lower and wider rear wing and a diffuser that expands 50 millimeters (two inches) in height and width. Augmenting these changes are wider tires from Pirelli, by 60 millimeters (2.4 inches) in the front and 80 millimeters (3.1 inches) in the rear.

Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen have changed their training practices in preparation for the new cars, adding additional weight lifting to their workouts, with the expectation that added strength will be needed to muscle their cars on tracks where a handful of corners will be taken flat out, thanks to the heightened levels of downforce. An example of this will be seen at Barcelona's Turn 3, where some estimates have drivers taking the corner 30 kph (19 mph) faster than in 2016. The downforce available on the 2017 cars means engines that once ran at full throttle for 50 percent of a lap at Barcelona could increase to 70 percent.

"The cars are going to be heavier, so we can afford to put on a bit of muscle," said Grosjean, who scored all of Haas's 29 points in 2016. "We’re going to go through more g-forces, so the neck needs to be stronger and the core has to be stronger. Your whole body needs to adjust to those high speeds."

Magnussen Banbury I 900While admitting he was unsure how more physical the 2017 cars would be to drive, Magnussen (pictured) added that it was sensible to assume the most dramatic predictions were accurate.

"It’s a bit difficult as we don’t really know 100 percent how fast these cars will be, but the expectation is that they will be much faster than the previous generation of car," noted Magnussen, who joins Haas this year from Renault. "The best thing is to just prepare as well as you can and if anything, overdo it.

"Before, you were designing your training program to not gain any weight; now we’ve relaxed that a little bit and we’re able to train harder with more strength-focused training rather than just long cardio sessions."

Magnussen will drive for the team on the first two days of testing in Barcelona on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 27-28, with Grosjean taking over for the third and fourth days.

Dale Jr Daytona GettyWith each lap Dale Earnhardt Jr. logged Saturday during practice at Daytona International Speedway, the more his concussion and subsequent recovery faded away.

Making his first competitive laps since July 9, 2016, at Kentucky Speedway, Earnhardt said he was not nervous to be back behind the wheel. As most practices are with single-car runs ahead of Daytona 500 qualifying, things went smoothly at the 2.5-mile speedway with the No. 88 team accomplishing everything they set out to do.

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Earnhardt ran nine laps in practice ahead of qualifying set for Sunday afternoon, which will set the field for the 59th running of The Great American Race.

"Just trying to put as many laps as I can behind me and get further and further into this deal to where the events from last year become more of a distant memory and don't define me as who I am so much anymore," Earnhardt said after clocking in 11th fastest during practice.

"It will be good to get in the car and get some good wins and good finishes under our belt this season. That's our plan."

Earnhardt is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 and started from the pole in the event in February 2011. In 34 starts at Daytona in the February and July events, Earnhardt has four victories and 593 laps led. He also has five wins in the Duel qualifying races as well as two victories in the Clash.

Daytona is a fitting place for Earnhardt to make his return, and not surprisingly, he said going through the paces Saturday felt good.

Last year's concussion forced Earnhardt out of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the season's final 18 races. Balance and vision issues were the scariest part of the recovery process, Earnhardt admitted. But since being cleared in early December following a private test at Darlington Raceway, Earnhardt has been eager to return to the track in a competitive nature.

"It felt good to just get out there and get to work a little bit and be with the guys and see all the familiar faces in the garage," Earnhardt said, "other drivers and team members and so forth."

Buemi

Sebastien Buemi won the Buenos Aires ePrix for the first time and became the first driver in Formula E history to win three straight races. The Renault e.dams driver crossed the line ahead of Techeetah's Jean-Eric Vergne and Lucas di Grassi of ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport.

Today’s victory sees the reigning champion pull away in the classification and lead Di Grassi, his closest rival, by 29 points (75 to 46.) The Brazilian had started from pole position, but in the race he soon had to give best to the superiority of the Renault powertrain – the Chinese team also uses the Z.E. 16 produced by the French manufacturer – and so he was overtaken first by Vergne and then Buemi. The Swiss driver then immediately put on a spurt to pass the Frenchman and from then on, he built up enough of a lead to manage the rest of the race relatively comfortably. Vergne was second for almost all the race, managing to close slightly on Buemi in the second half, but he never looked like getting the better of him.

Di Grassi’s race did not go as smoothly in the initial stages, but with his second car, the Brazilian managed to haul himself up to third place on the podium, surrounded by the French power unit, given that behind him came Nicolas Prost (Renault e.dams.) Nelson Piquet Jr. (NextEV NIO,) was fifth, having had a strong race day.

Behind the top five, who all crossed the line covered by ten seconds, there was a tight battle that went on all race long. Making the best of it to finish in the points were Loic Duval (Faraday Future Dragon Racing,) Daniel Abt (ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport,) Jerome D’Ambrosio (Faraday Future Dragon Racing’) Oliver Turvery (NextEV NIO) e local hero José Maria Lopez. The DS Virgin Racing driver had some bad luck, crashing in qualifying, but in the race, he staged a spirited climb up the order, especially in the second part: a second championship point was his reward for all the hard work and it went down very well with a crowd in excess of 21,000 who watched the race at the Puerto Madero circuit.

Of the others, there was a noteworthy performance from Mitch Evans (Panasonic Jaguar Racing,) who shone in qualifying with a fine seventh place, but in the closing stages, he saw his chances of bringing home the Big Cat’s first ever points slip from his grasp.

“Today, with the heat, there were many other things to manage,” said Buemi. “Especially the temperature of the battery. So at the start of the race, I took it pretty easy for a couple of laps to see where we were, and we had the pace to pass the other guys. I have to say I had everything under control and I got quite a bit of a margin.

“Then on the second car we had some more issues on the brakes so it was quite difficult to actually drive the car, the car was not breaking straight. At the end of the day, you know in this category there is no point in having a big gap, because if you use energy to create a gap and then you have a safety car, all the energy is gone. So the best thing is to have a little bit of gap, that makes you feel safe, so if you made a little mistake you could get it back.”

Despite never getting close enough to pressure Buemi for the win, Vergne was very pleased to take second – the first podium finish for the new TECHEETAH team.

“Obviously I am really happy, we are a new team and we came from very far away and didn’t have any testing like all the other teams had,” said Vergne. “New beginnings, new engineers, new powertrain, new everything. We solved the struggles we had in Hong Kong and Marrakesh. I think the whole team did a fantastic job, working really, really hard, sometimes many hours overnight and in the end it paid off. I had a good car and I’m really happy so a big thank you to the team and I think if we can have a weekend without a mistake, I’m sure we can put the focus into getting a win.”

Another podium for di Grassi – his 15th in total – keeps him in second place in the championship, but he knows he and his Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport team will have their work cut out to overthrow the dominant Buemi.

“In the end, it was a good weekend and a good day for us,” said di Grassi. “Clearly we are not on the pace of the Renaults. I had the opposite of what Seb had. My first car was a bit of a mess, going everywhere, oversteering much more than expected, it was quite low on grip overall and I couldn’t drive it I just tried to carry it to the pits and then after the car change, the second car was good. I managed to catch back Nico and I overtook him, I opened a gap and caught JEV (Jean-Eric Vergne) a little bit. It’s part of this Championship, the cars sometimes they change for very little reason or a very little change makes a big difference.”

Behind Buemi and Di Grassi, in the drivers’ classification, we now have Prost, third on 36 points, and Vergne (22,) while in the teams’ championship, Renault e.dams has consolidated its lead on 111 points, ahead of ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport (60) and Mahindra (37.)

The fourth round of the FIA Formula E Championship takes place April 1st at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Logano Daytona LAT Single-car runs dominated Daytona 500 qualifying practice Saturday afternoon.

Joey Logano was at the top of the leaderboard at the conclusion of the nearly four-hour session with a lap of 193.116mph. Aric Almirola was second fastest at 193.054mph, Brad Keselowski third at 193.046mph, Kyle Larson fourth at 193.034mph, and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five with a lap of 192.980mph.

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In addition to sweeping the top three spots, Ford drivers comprised seven of the top 10 positions.

Debris halted practice a few times with the only major issue during the session being a red flag for Reed Sorenson. Shortly after pulling out for his run, Sorenson's No. 55 Toyota began to smoke heavily, resulting in track cleanup.

Furniture Row Racing teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. did not get on track until late in the session. Additional work following inspection saw both Jones and Truex make their first practice runs after 2 p.m. ET after the speedway opened for practice at 11:30 a.m. Jones was 11th fastest on his first run while Truex clocked in 20th.

Qualifying for the 59th annual Daytona 500 takes place Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

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