Lewis Hamilton takes pole in dramatic Russian qualifying

SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record on Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by .563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of these two (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point,” Hamilton said. “I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us.

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Hill rebounds with win at Las Vegas to advance in playoffs

LAS VEGAS — Austin Hill, the regular-season Truck Series champion, rebounded from a poor opening race of the playoffs with a victory Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Hill had dropped from first in the standings — where he’d been ranked since the second race of the season — to eighth in points after he finished 25th last week in the playoff opener at Bristol. It was just the third time this season Hill finished lower than 12th and dropped him to the edge of playoff elimination.

He held just an eight points lead over ninth-place before Las Vegas and two drivers will be cut from the 10-driver field next week.

Hill also won at Las Vegas last September and has six career victories. He said the finish at Bristol made him determined to bounce back with a strong showing at Las Vegas.

Hill is the only driver locked into the second round of the playoffs.

“Right after the checkered flag I said `Hey, let’s keep our heads up. We are going to Vegas and win,”’ Hill said. “We did it, man. We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means.”

Shelden Creed had the best truck and won the first two stages, but Hill passed him in the third stage and wasn’t challenged as he drove to his second win of the season.

Creed finished second and was followed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

“Just frustrated, the best track I’ve ever had,” Creed said. “We’re all racing hard, this is the playoffs. I think I showed my hand too early.”

Minutes before the start, NASCAR said Natalie Decker was not medically cleared to compete. NASCAR gave no details on what caused Decker to be pulled from the race, but because her truck had already

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Askew sidelined with concussion symptoms, Castroneves in

Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He’s since been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis and Arrow McLaren SP will use three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for. I don’t come from money and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car,” the 23-year-old told AP. “And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car. He is a paid driver who brings

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