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Ryan Blaney helps Roger Penske celebrate 1st back-to-back NASCAR championships in storied career

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The playoff beard had been shaved off well before fresh-faced Ryan Blaney arrived in Nashville to celebrate his first NASCAR championship.

The coiffing was probably the smart move for the newest Team Penske champion, who at the same time became the first to drive for Roger Penske with a full beard — one that IndyCar teammate Josef Newgarden found befitting of “an 1800’s US president.”

“I'll tell you what, how Blaney gets away with that, I have no idea,” NASCAR teammate Joey Logano said Thursday. “The guts he's got to even try — I don't think anyone in our company has even tried to do that. So more kudos to him.”

As fun as the beard was for Blaney, there was no way the boss was going to silently sit by if it still covered his face as Blaney collected his first Cup trophy Thursday night at the Music City Center in NASCAR's annual season-ending awards ceremony. But just being able to race the final three months of the season with the bushy locks covering his face made Blaney an anomaly in the Penske Perfect world of freshly shaved faces and starched shirts.

That's a bit fitting, though, as Blaney this year also contributed to two new marks on Penske's impressive motorsports resume. He and IndyCar teammate Josef Newgarden became the first Team Penske drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in May, and then he followed Logano as Cup champion to give Penske the first back-to-back NASCAR titles of his career.

Penske now has a graphic that outlines the organization's global success the past six seasons. It includes 12 championships, 148 race wins and 139 poles. The graphic ends with one of Penske's trusted mantras: Effort Equals Results.

“That graphic is pretty amazing when you go look at what he’s succeeded in and all the different motorsports around the world,” Blaney said. “And to be a small part of all that success is great. We did two firsts for Roger this year, which was win the Indy 500 and the 600, which is fantastic. And then back-to-back Cup championships. You don’t get to do that often, do something for Roger that he hasn’t done before. To bring that to him is definitely very special.”

Penske still recalls when journeyman NASCAR driver Dave Blaney showed up at his motorhome at Richmond Raceway in 2012 with his 19-year-old son as the father tried to help the young racer find a seat with a big team.

“We talked to this young guy, lots of passion, wanted to be a champion. We bought into that,” said Penske. “We saw that he knew how to be a winner. I think that's one of the first things we do, is figure out if you can be a winner. Then you've got to gel with a team.”

The breakthrough came in 2017 at Pocono when Blaney beat Kevin Harvick for his first Cup win for Penske.

“He won the race at Pocono, it's ironic, racing Harvick and Harvick is retiring now and Blaney is now champion,” Penske said. “But that really showed us that he had the mettle to be a winner.”

Blaney revealed Thursday that his father had him on a 2012 tour of all the big teams in search of his next move in NASCAR. He spoke with JR Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, but already had an in of sorts at Penske, where Brad Keselowski that year won Team Penske its first Cup championship.

Blaney had driven nine Truck Series races that year for Keselowski.

“However they convinced them to give me a shot, it’s been pretty spectacular,” Blaney said. “And not only give me a shot, but stick with me 10 years, it just says a lot about Roger’s character and his trust in people.”


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Roger Penske pumps brakes on NASCAR champ Ryan Blaney's Indy 500 ambitions. Larson to attempt double

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — One NASCAR championship down and Ryan Blaney already has his eyes on another prize.

The Indianapolis 500.

Roger Penske said Thursday that NASCAR's reigning Cup champion had inquired about someday running “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” but “The Captain” pumped the brakes.

“It's interesting to me that Blaney said to me that he'd looked to go to Indy,” Penske said Thursday ahead of Blaney and Team Penske's coronation as Cup champions. “I said we're going to have to slow down a little bit. We're going to have everybody coming to Indy.”

Kyle Larson will try to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 this May and become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to attempt to complete both the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Five drivers have attempted it nine times, and only Tony Stewart has completed all 1,100 miles.

Blaney's interest in doing the double was revealed Thursday by Penske, who said Larson team owner Rick Hendrick approached Penske about running Larson in the Indy 500. Penske said he declined a partnership because Team Penske had to improve its own three-car Indy 500 effort before taking on another driver.

Josef Newgarden won the Indy 500 last May for Penske's 19th win in the iconic race; Hendrick took the Larson deal to McLaren, which will field a car for Larson this coming May.

Blaney admitted Thursday “I've poked around that idea with RP for a couple of years now, and we'll have to see where that goes” about the Indy 500.

“I feel like not many people can do the double. It would be neat to just do it,” Blaney said. “I have respect for all forms of motorsports. So I think you want to go experience something like that. At my age it would be perfect to do it. I think the nostalgia of it, being able to say you ran 1,100 miles on one day on the racetrack, is pretty special."

Blaney turns 30 on Dec. 31.

Blaney's interest in Indy was news to Larson, who is deep into his IndyCar immersion. But when it comes to doing the double, Larson wants to see some of the IndyCar drivers try NASCAR.

“I would love to see a Josef Newgarden come run the Coke 600,” Larson said. “A lot of the guys come from the NASCAR side do it, so it would be interesting to see the other side of the switch.”


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Bubba Wallace hit by depression following best friend Ryan Blaney's NASCAR championship

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It was 3:42 a.m. in North Carolina as Bubba Wallace's best friend celebrated winning his first NASCAR championship across the country in Arizona.

Wallace could have stuck around and partied with Ryan Blaney, but he instead flew directly home to sit alone in the dark. Wallace was wallowing in disappointment despite having just finished his own career-best season.

He took to social media with a note titled “Life” and tried to explain his emotions and why he'd flown home for five hours in silence.

“Sitting here on the couch questioning everything,” he posted. "You would think your bud winning the championship would bring that joy and excitement back. Sadly it did not.

“It's the helpless feeling that really kicks ya,” Wallace continued. “My wife can see that I'm off but I don't have the what or the why that I'm feeling this way to allow her to help me. To my peeps out there staring at a blank wall, I'm with you. Tomorrow is another day. Another opportunity. Keep after it.”

He closed by quoting “We gon be alright” from Kendrick Lamar.

Nearly a month after that, Wallace has bounced back and is in Nashville celebrating both the best season of his own Cup career but also the milestone Cup title by Blaney. The two grew up together racing locally in North Carolina and share a strong bond.

Blaney wasn't surprised that Wallace skipped out on the Phoenix Raceway championship after-party, but was made aware of Wallace's social media post and reached out.

“He called me a couple days later and I was like, ‘Man, I guess you winning the championship sent me into depression. Like congrats, but I don’t want to see that,” Wallace recalled Thursday morning, hours before Blaney was to be feted by NASCAR at its season-ending awards ceremony in Nashville.

Wallace said Blaney had a quick retort in reminding Wallace that Blaney felt the exact same way in 2020 when good friend Chase Elliott won the title. Wallace this year made the playoffs for the first time and finished a career-best 10th in the standings; he was, however, winless after scoring Cup victories in both 2021 and 2022.

“It's just kind of how Bubba is, you know he’s very hard on himself,” Blaney said Thursday. “He is just super hard on himself and you try to pick him up, right? The other night I told him ‘Man, you did great. Tenth in points, you made a good run in the playoffs.’ OK, he didn’t win, but I mean, he had a great year.”

Yet he can relate to the achievements by contemporaries spoiling a drivers' individual definition of success.

“There's seeing a friend do it, and it’s other part of seeing another young guy around your age,” Blaney said. "When Chase won the championship in 2020, he and I are really great friends, I was super happy for him. But I was also kind of jealous because I want to be that guy. I want to be in that spot.

“You always kind of compare yourself to your age range. You get jealous of the guys in your group that have success,” he continued. “And I’m the same way. I think everyone is internally, whether they express it or not.”

Wallace did express it and has touched on his battles with mental health over the years. NASCAR's only full-time Black driver at the national level is under a tremendous microscope and the 30-year drives for Michael Jordan in a heavily-sponsored No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing.

Team co-owner Denny Hamlin said Jordan's influence on Wallace has been stabilizing to Wallace's roller-coaster emotions, and that helped develop Wallace into a team leader this past season.

“Where he was in 2022 was a lot tougher to manage because you were doing a lot of damage control. Maybe some things he'd say in the media, we'd have to do some work on the backend to make it right,” Hamlin said. “Michael really helped in stepping in and voicing his opinion on it, and making Bubba step up as a leader."

Wallace has not said if he receives professional treatment for his mental health, but said Thursday that he leaned on his wife through this most recent bout. He and Amanda will celebrate their first wedding anniversary on New Year's Eve, and Hamlin said that Wallace has been in good spirits in Nashville.

“I wake up and my wife’s there. She’s like, ‘How are you feeling today?’ And it’s like, one of those days,” he said. “We keep each other on our toes. We play video games together. So she’s a massive help. And then the next thing you know, clock strikes 5 o'clock and it’s like, 'How’s it going?” and I’m good. It just kind of blows over.

“I know it’s not that easy for a lot of people. It lingers for days and days and weeks. But you know, the grass is always greener as the sun comes up.”


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NASCAR to include streaming in new 7-year media rights deal that welcomes Amazon, TNT and Max

NASHVILLE, Tenn, (AP) — NASCAR has added two new partners and streaming elements to a seven-year media rights deal announced Wednesday that will run from 2025 through the 2031 season.

The new media rights deal is worth $7.7 billion when the previously announced $1.1 billion agreement with CW is included, according to Sports Business Journal. NASCAR did not reveal monetary figures at the news conference held at the Music City Center one day before its season-ending awards ceremony.

The Cup Series will include existing partners Fox Sports and NBC, which will feature a mix of broadcast and cable events. Five races will be on Fox and four on NBC, with the remaining races for those two partners to air on FS1 and USA Network.

Warner Bros. Discovery and Amazon have also joined the new package. SBJ said the value of the new deal is a 40% increase over the 10-year, $8.2 billion deal NASCAR has with Fox and NBC that expires at the end of the 2024 season.

“We are super excited about what 2025 is going to bring to us because of where the distribution that we now have across air, which is a combination of obviously broadcast, cable and streaming," NASCAR President Steve Phelps said. “We want to meet race fans where they are or potentially where they are. We think this group does exactly that for us.”

The announcement ends a prolonged negotiating period for NASCAR as it tried to lock down a new media deal before the start of the 2024 season, the final year of the existing package.

“Our industry comes together better than any other sports property when there’s a mountain to climb," Phelps said.

As part of the deals, Fox will get 14 Cup Series races annually in the first portion of the season, including the Daytona 500. Fox also retained the entire Truck Series schedule.

After the Fox portion of the Cup Series, the next five Cup races will be on Amazon Prime Video. It marks the first time in NASCAR history its top series will be exclusively streamed.

Warner Bros. Discovery will take over after Amazon’s races and carry the next five races. Those will be simulcast on TNT and streamed on the Max service.

"This agreement expands our portfolio of premium sports content throughout the summer and further elevates Max and our leading linear networks,” said Luis Silberwasser, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.

NBC Sports will complete the season with the final 14 races.

Warner Bros. Discovery and Amazon also both obtained exclusive rights to practice and qualifying sessions for the entire Cup Series schedule through 2031. Prime Video will stream practice and qualifying live for the first half of the season through their last race of the midseason series — except for the exhibition Busch Light Clash, the Daytona 500 and NASCAR All-Star Race, which will be aired by FOX Sports.

TNT Sports' portion will stream the remainder of the season's practice and qualifying sessions on Max while they also air on truTV. NASCAR in July announced a deal to move the second-tier Xfinity Series to CW, which will air 33 live races from 2025 through 2031. The CW also will televise practice and qualifying events each weekend.

NASCAR's previous media rights package gave the first 18 races to Fox while NBC aired 20 races.

“Our goal was to secure long-term stability with an optimized mix of distribution platforms and innovative partners that would allow us to grow the sport while delivering our product to fans wherever they are — and we’ve achieved that,” Phelps said. "NASCAR has been a cornerstone property for both new and established platforms for several decades. These agreements demonstrate the staying power of our sport and the consistent, large-scale audience it delivers.

“This landmark deal underscores our collective growth opportunity to drive engagement across this diverse collection of platforms — whether on broadcast, cable or direct-to-consumer. We’re looking forward to working with each of these partners to bring some of the best racing in the world to fans everywhere.”


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David Ragan to enter Daytona 500 as part of new #Stage60 program with RFK Racing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — RFK Racing will enter a third car in next year's season-opening Daytona 500 for David Ragan, who will pilot the No. 60 Ford as part of a new program for the organization.

The #Stage60 program will bring the No. 60 to the Cup Series and RFK plans to use it in additional races that were not part of Wednesday's announcement. The number is part of Jack Roush's heritage and was used in nearly 600 races in the second-tier Xfinity Series by Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Chris Buescher and others.

The No. 60 won 94 Xfinity races for what was then called Roush Racing, and Biffle won the 2002 Xfinity title in the car.

“The 60 car represents an opportunity for us to honor our past and look forward to the future of RFK Racing,” said Steve Newmark, president of RFK Racing.

#Stage60 will feature a “modern retro” font for the Ford and use a logo that pays homage to the classic Roush Stage III Mustang.

Ragan, who is from Georgia, competed for 13 full seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series from 2007 through 2019. He spent five seasons in the No. 6 Ford Mustang for Roush from 2007-11. The 37-year-old has two career Cup wins, including a victory in the 2011 summer race at Daytona.

Ragan has made 30 Cup starts at Daytona with eight top-10 finishes.

“It’s really exciting to be back in an RFK Ford,” Ragan said. “I spent some of the best years of my career driving for Mr. Jack and the team at RFK. They really gave me my first opportunity in the sport."

The car will be sponsored by BuildSubmarines.com, which is owned and operated by BlueForge Alliance. It sponsored 10 races last season for RFK, which placed both Buescher and Brad Keselowski in the playoffs in a resurgence for a program that had fallen on hard times. BuildSubmarines.com will be the anchor sponsor for team co-owner Keselowski in 2024.


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IndyCar champ Palou admits breach of contract as Spaniard tries to mitigate damages owed to McLaren

Two-time IndyCar champion Alex Palou concedes in court documents that he breached his contract with McLaren Racing when the Spaniard did an about-face and stayed at Chip Ganassi Racing.

The admission came in Palou's response to a lawsuit filed against him by McLaren in September seeking to recoup at least $23 million in losses the team calculated Palou's reversal cost the organization. Palou's 20-page response was filed in the High Court of Justice Business and Property Courts of England and Wales Commercial Court. The Associated Press reviewed the filing Monday.

In the response, Palou says he changed his mind about joining McLaren ahead of the 2024 season when he “lost trust and confidence that (McLaren) genuinely intended to support his ambition to race in the Formula One Series and decided to continue racing with CGR in the Indy Car Series instead.”

Palou “therefore admits that he renounced his contractual obligations” with McLaren and “the real issue between the parties is as to the quantum of any damages which the Defendants are liable to pay," the documents say.

The spat over the 26-year-old between two IndyCar teams began when Palou initially disputed a Ganassi claim that the team had picked up the 2023 option year on his contract. McLaren in July 2022 said it had signed Palou and had him earmarked for an IndyCar seat and a reserve driver role with its Formula One team. Chip Ganassi Racing said it had the contractual rights for Palou for the 2023 season.

Palou and Ganassi entered mediation and a resolution was reached a year ago in which Palou would drive for Ganassi in 2023 but was also McLaren's reserve F1 driver when it did not interfere with IndyCar. He was able to participate in a practice session, tested for the F1 team both on track and in a simulator, and was the reserve driver for McLaren at F1’s Miami Grand Prix in May.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown was contacted Aug. 8 and told by attorneys for Palou that Palou would not be joining McLaren and had instead signed a three-year extension with Ganassi. Palou won the 2021 and 2023 championships with Ganassi and is now signed there through 2026.

IndyCar driver Pato O'Ward last week was named Palou's replacement as McLaren's F1 reserve driver and participated in a practice session during the season-ending race weekend in Abu Dhabi. O'Ward is a full-time IndyCar driver for Arrow McLaren Racing.

The bulk of Palou's response focuses on McLaren's loss of revenue claims and attempts to mitigate what Palou will owe in damages.

The nearly $23 million in damages McLaren is seeking is broken down in future sponsorship tied to Palou joining McLaren, the costs of using him as a reserve F1 driver, how much McLaren spent developing Palou for F1 and a $400,000 advance on his 2024 salary. McLaren is not seeking repayment of legal fees it says it covered for Palou in last year’s fight with Ganassi.

McLaren has contended Palou signed two contracts: the first with McLaren Racing as the F1 reserve driver and a separate deal with Arrow McLaren to compete in IndyCar for the team while also serving as the F1 backup.

Among the damages McLaren is seeking is nearly $15.5 million in lost revenue under official partner agreements with sponsors NTT Data and General Motors that anticipated Palou would be the driver, including $7 million in revenue and prize money from IndyCar itself.

“This claim is embarrassing for want of particularity and speculative in the extreme,” the response said. “The performance of any team in a future Indy Car Series cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty. Driver performance is variable.”

The response also disputes McLaren's claim to lost revenues that Palou “would otherwise have earned in relation to the Formula One Series.” It notes that claim would only be valid if Palou was actually McLaren's F1 driver, and that Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri are under contract through 2025 and 2026. The response also claims that if Palou was an F1 driver, all the claims to IndyCar financial losses would be moot.

McLaren also wants to recoup all money spent on Palou when he was the test driver, both on track and in the simulator, and money it spent seeking a replacement for Palou. O'Ward became Palou's replacement in the F1 role, while David Malukas was hired to fill the open seat in the IndyCar Series.


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F1 champion Max Verstappen's record-extending 19th win underlines his relentless drive

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Although Max Verstappen clinched his third straight Formula One title almost two months ago at the Qatar GP there was never any chance of him easing up.

He’s won every race since and capped off an outstanding year with a record-extending 19th victory of the season at the Abu Dhabi GP on Sunday.

“I think that is just something how I grew up, I just can’t come into a race weekend not giving my all,” Verstappen said. “I would just get annoyed with myself and then I know people around me get annoyed with me. My mindset didn’t change after winning the championship. I come to the race weekends and always try to do the best I can, and winning is great. Why would I not want to win?”

To round off a remarkable season, he also passed the landmark of 1,000 laps led in a season.

“I knew it was on the cards going into the race,” said Verstappen, who moved onto 54 wins overall and into third on the all-time list.

Verstappen finished ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Mercedes driver George Russell in Abu Dhabi and also collected a bonus point for the fastest lap. The win moved him one ahead of former Red Bull great Sebastian Vettel, with only Michael Schumacher (91) and Lewis Hamilton (103) ahead of him.

“What an incredible year,” Verstappen said after crossing the line. “It was a bit emotional on the in-lap.”

Red Bull won 21 of 22 races this season, with Sergio Perez claiming two wins.

“It will be very hard to have another season like this, we know that," Verstappen said. "We will see, we are working hard for next year to have a very competitive car.”

After winning two of the first four races, Perez fell quickly behind his star teammate.

“You’ve smashed it out of the park this year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Verstappen on the radio. “We’re all incredibly proud of you.”

Perez crossed the line in second place but dropped to fourth because of a five-second time penalty following an incident with McLaren's Lando Norris late on.

Leclerc let Perez go past him on the final lap in the hope that Perez would finish more than five seconds ahead of Russell, with Mercedes and Ferrari both fighting for second place in the constructors' championship.

With Russell's teammate Hamilton finishing ninth for two points and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. out of the points, Mercedes clinched second behind Red Bull in the constructors' table.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” said Leclerc, after his third podium in the past four races. “It's just a shame we finished third in constructors, that’s all that mattered to me, we didn’t achieve that but I want to thank the team for doing such incredible work."

Mercedes beat Ferrari by just three points, and while Sainz is the only other driver to win a race this season — in Singapore — his failure to score in Abu Dhabi proved costly for Ferrari.

At the end, it was Russell who delivered.

“It means a huge amount, there’s so many people back at the factory who have worked so hard to achieve this, it’s been a really challenging season," Russell said after only his second podium this season. “I’ve let the side down a couple of times this year so I’m pleased to have brought it across the line today.”

Norris finished the race in fifth place ahead of his teammate Oscar Piastri, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in seventh. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Hamilton and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) completed the top 10.

Hamilton placed third in the standings but the seven-time F1 champion finished without a victory for a second straight year.

Verstappen started from pole position for the 12th time this season — more than twice as many as any other driver — with Leclerc alongside him and Piastri third.

The Yas Marina track is one of hardest to overtake on and Verstappen made a good start, holding off a couple of attacks by Leclerc.

Verstappen switched to hard tires on lap 17 of 58, followed by Leclerc on the next lap, leaving Tsunoda in the rare position of leading a race on team principal Franz Tost's last grand prix before retiring.

Verstappen regained the lead a few laps later and was never troubled.

Perez was given a penalty for bumping tires with Norris, although it appeared that Norris had enough space and turned into Perez's front right tire.

“Why are we given this penalty? I was ahead," a bemused Perez said on team radio. He was later summoned and given a formal warning by stewards for the use of foul language.

“Stewards explained to the driver that they had no issue with someone disagreeing with their decisions, however comments that amount to personal insults are a breach of the International Sporting Code,” governing body FIA said. "The driver made a genuine and sincere apology to each of the stewards."

Perez was second overall this season to give Red Bull a 1-2, but the veteran Mexican driver finished a mammoth 290 points adrift of Verstappen.


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F1 champion Verstappen takes pole position for season-ending Abu Dhabi GP. Horner wins bet

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Max Verstappen took pole position for the season-ending Abu Grand Prix on Saturday and will look to finish a crushingly dominant year with a 19th win.

Victory on Sunday would take the Red Bull driver onto 54 career wins, past former Red Bull star Sebastian Vettel and into third place all time.

“It’s been a very special season and we’ve been enjoying it a lot,” Verstappen said. "Very proud of what we have achieved.”

The three-time F1 champion's 12th pole of the season took him to 32 overall. He starts the race ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in second place and McLaren's Oscar Piastri in third.

“Never bet against me,” Verstappen said afterward, jokingly referring to a comment made by his Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

Horner informed Verstappen that he had won a bet for 500 euros ($547) made with Red Bull boss Helmut Marko as to where Verstappen would qualify.

“You've just won me 500 euros,” Horner told Verstappen over radio when he crossed the line.

With a few minutes left, Verstappen led from McLaren's Lando Norris and Piastri under floodlights at the Yas Marina circuit.

Norris slid late while pushing too hard on his last timed lap and Piastri moved ahead of him, while Leclerc jumped up the leaderboard with an excellent lap to place .14 seconds behind Verstappen.

“Everything felt good, I'm very happy with that lap because I didn't expect to be on the front row,” Leclerc said. “It's a good surprise.”

Mercedes driver George Russell qualified in fourth ahead of Norris with AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda in sixth and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso seventh. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas), Sergio Perez (Red Bull) and Pierre Gasly (Alpine) completed the top 10.

It was a bad session for Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (11th) and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. (16th).

Sainz failed to make it into the second part of qualifying — known as Q2 — and complained of too much traffic near the end of Q1 with several drivers coming out of their garages late.

Still, for a leading driver — Sainz is the only driver other than Verstappen or Perez to win a race this season — it was a poor performance after he crashed early in Friday’s second practice session. Potentially costly, too, with second place in the constructors' championship at stake.

Heading into Sunday's race, Mercedes was in second and held a four-point lead over Ferrari. Teams get more money at the end of the season the higher they finish.

“I hope tomorrow goes well," Leclerc said. "It is the target to beat Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. That is all that matters this weekend.”

But Mercedes is struggling for form, and Hamilton was knocked out of Q2. The seven-time F1 champion said there was “something not right with this car” and faces the strong likelihood of a second straight season without a win.

Williams driver Logan Sargeant goes from last on the grid with his F1 future still uncertain. The American has only one point this season with a best result of 10th place at the United States GP last month.

Earlier Saturday, Russell topped the third and final practice session ahead of Norris and Piastri with Verstappen in sixth.

“What a turnaround because in practice it was not looking good,” Verstappen said. "Around here on the tires you have little slides, it can cost you a lot of lap time and that is what was happening in practice. But then in qualifying it was a bit more connected.”

When his form picked up, Horner was happy to win a bet in a season where Red Bull has lost only one race out of 21.

Piastri, meanwhile, was pleased to bounce back from a difficult qualifying session last weekend at the Las Vegas GP. He started from 18th and finished the race in 10th.

“The car is very quick this weekend,” the 22-year-old Australian said. “Happy to be back in the top three.”


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

F1 sprint races set to be held before main qualifying session starting next season

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Formula One sprint races are set to be held before qualifying for the main Grand Prix race starting next season, after a proposal to change to the format was approved on Friday.

The decision to tweak the weekend schedule was reached following discussions with the F1 commission at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The commission includes governing body FIA, the teams and commercial rights holder F1.

“The commission gave overall support for an update to the sprint format for 2024,” the FIA said in a statement. “A final proposal will be presented to the F1 commission for the first meeting of 2024.”

Weekends that included a sprint race have previously seen qualifying for the main Grand Prix race held on Friday instead of the usual Saturday. A qualifying session — known as a shootout — for the sprint, followed by the sprint race itself, has been held on Saturdays.

That has proved unpopular with some teams because it leaves too much of a gap between Friday's qualifying and Sunday's main race.

Under the new format, the sprint shootout would instead take place on Friday with the sprint race then held on Saturday, followed by the main qualifying later that day.

The changes still have to be approved in the new year by governing body FIA’s World Motor Sport Council.

“The sprints need to evolve a bit," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “I understand the concept and action on all three days, but they have at times been slightly underwhelming.”

The F1 commission also approved an extra cooling duct to be fitted onto cars.

The change comes after several drivers struggled badly amid intense heat during the Qatar GP in October.

American driver Logan Sargeant retired with severe dehydration after almost losing control of his Williams car on track. Alpine's Esteban Ocon vomited into his helmet while driving as track temperatures reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

Another milestone on offer for F1 champion Max Verstappen at season-ending Abu Dhabi GP

After a record-breaking year, Formula One champion Max Verstappen isn't ready for 2023 to end just yet.

Especially when another milestone can be reached at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.

Another victory would take him to 54 career wins and past former Red Bull star Sebastian Vettel into outright third place on the all-time list.

“Of course it’s quite a crazy number. We had a crazy, crazy year," Verstappen said. “It will end at one point, but hopefully not too soon."

Verstappen sewed up his third straight title weeks ago and is looking for a record-extending 19th win of the season — he held the previous record of 15, set last year — but acknowledged he already has one eye on 2024.

“I love driving, that’s the foremost (thing) and winning is the best thing in Formula One,” he said. “At the same time I’m very focused on what’s ahead of me and hopefully next year we have a competitive car again and continue that momentum."

There will be new targets next year: chasing a fourth F1 title to move level with Vettel and Alain Prost, and closing in on seven-time F1 champions Michael Schumacher (91 victories) and Lewis Hamilton (103) for most race wins.

But Verstappen is only 26 years old and has many years left to close the gap.

His highlights for 2024?

“Winning the comeback race in Miami was great, I think that was an important one," he said. "Winning in Suzuka (Japan), after the tough race we had in Singapore (when Ferrari won).”

It's hard to believe now because Verstappen leads Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez by 276 points — the approximate tally for 11 wins — but heading into the fifth race of the season it was close between them.

Having won two of the first four races, Pérez declared himself a championship contender — a claim he backed up by taking pole position at the Miami GP in May.

Verstappen botched qualifying, started from ninth and still won. Pérez never recovered, and the title was never in doubt after that.

“Max has just been incredible this year, no one thought we could better than 2022,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “You have to start to talk about him among the greatest names in the sport. He's got a lot of racing still ahead of him.”


Ferrari's Charles Leclerc hasn’t won since the Austrian GP in July last year.

“To be honest, it’s been a disappointing season," he said. “After last year we wanted to try and fight for the championship, (but) after the first race (this year) we straight away understood how difficult it would be.”

Leclerc's superb last-lap overtake on Perez to finish second at last weekend's Las Vegas GP showed he is in top form — raising hopes for 2024 when he is expected to have a quicker, more reliable car.

“There’s a big gap to fill," he said. “Hopefully we’ll come back stronger next year with a car that’s capable of winning.”


Red Bull's dominance has given others so little to compete for. But something is at stake this weekend for both Ferrari and Mercedes at least: the quest to finish second in the constructors' championship.

Mercedes has a four-point lead by 392-388 but Leclerc has podiums in two of the past three races.

“Momentum is good but the big work remains to be done on track,” Leclerc said. “We will have to put everything together in order to fight them and beat them in the constructors’ championship."

His teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. clinched victory at the Singapore GP two months ago and remains the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race this year.

Mercedes driver George Russell expects the difference will be made on race day.

“We’re going in with an open mind," he said. "In qualifying I think they will have slightly the upper hand, as they’ve tended to do so this season, but come Sunday I think it will be a different story.”


A flight from Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi is more than 8,000 miles and takes nearly 20 hours.

Hardly the ideal way for tired drivers and team members to travel at the end of a long 22-race season.

“It’s a bit tough to understand what time zone you’re in," Verstappen said.

Not great for the environment, either.

“It’s a little bit odd that we’re on the other side of the world before coming here and especially when you’re talking about sustainability," Verstappen said. “It’s probably not very sustainable. Not only for the emissions but also for the human body.”


Russell led the first practice session ahead of Aston Martin reserve Felipe Drugovich and AlphaTauri’s Daniel Ricciardo. Most big names sat it out as nine of the 10 teams fulfilled one of their mandatory young driver test days.

Leclerc led the second practice ahead of Norris and Verstappen. That session was interrupted after nine minutes when Sainz lost control of his car coming out of Turn 3 and slid sideways into the crash barriers, prompting a red flag.

Drivers restarted after 25 minutes but another red flag came out immediately when Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg lost the rear of his car at Turn 1.


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

Formula One team McLaren extends engine deal with provider Mercedes until 2030

WOKING, England (AP) — The McLaren Formula One team will continue using Mercedes engines until 2030 after extending its contract on Friday.

Mercedes started supplying engines to McLaren again in 2021 and the existing contract was until the end of 2025. They had previously worked together from 1995-2014.

“Mercedes-Benz have been a brilliant and reliable partner of the McLaren Formula One team,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown said. “The extension signifies the confidence that our shareholders and the wider team have in their powertrains and the direction we’re taking with them into the new era of regulations ahead."

Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo won the Italian GP driving for McLaren in 2021. He is the last driver to win for McLaren, but the team has done well this season with Lando Norris securing seven podium finishes. Oscar Piastri has also impressed in his debut season.

McLaren was fourth in the constructors' standings heading into the final race at the Abu Dhabi GP on Sunday, 11 points ahead of fifth-place Aston Martin.


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

McLaren signs IndyCar racer Pato O’Ward as a reserve driver for the 2024 F1 season

WOKING, England (AP) — Formula One team McLaren signed its IndyCar racer Pato O’Ward on Thursday as a reserve driver for next season.

The 24-year-old Pato will jump behind the wheel for the first practice session of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday, and will then take part in post-season testing at the same track, McLaren said in a statement.

O'Ward will combine his reserve role on McLaren's F1 team next year with driving for Arrow McLaren in the IndyCar series.

After placing fourth in this year’s IndyCar championship, with seven podium finishes, he collected enough points to qualify for a Super Licence that paved the way for a reserve role with McLaren and potential future in F1.

"Pumped to take on this new role within the McLaren Racing family," O'Ward said. “I’ve always said it’s never a bad day when you get to jump into an F1 car, so I look forward to joining the reserve driver pool for next year."


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

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