Vettel to leave Red Bull at end of season

Associated Press

Suzuka, Japan — Four-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel has told Red Bull Racing he will leave the team at the end of the current season, triggering what is expected to be a major shake-up of the Formula One driver lineup for 2015.

Red Bull announced the decision on Saturday at the Japanese Grand Prix, confirming Vettel would be replaced next season by current Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat.

Vettel had been under contract with Red Bull for next season, but had also been strongly linked with a move to Ferrari.

Current Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are both under contract with the Italian team for 2015, but Alonso acknowledged he had been in recent talks with the team about his future.

Asked directly whether he could be driving for either of rival teams McLaren or Red Bull next year, Alonso said: "This is a very difficult question to answer. And I will repeat the answer, probably I will do the best for Ferrari."

Red Bull's confirmation of a Kvyat-Daniel Ricciardo pairing for 2015 cut out the Red Bull option for Alonso.

Vettel joined Red Bull in 2009 and won four-straight championships between 2010 and 2013, although he has yet to win a race in 2014 when the Mercedes team has been dominant.

"We want to warmly thank Sebastian for the incredible role he has played at Infiniti Red Bull Racing for the last six years," Red Bull said in a statement.

"As we wish Sebastian well in the next stage of his career, we also look to the future with excitement, as the vacancy makes way for the next generation of Red Bull racers."

Harvick shatters Kansas record to capture pole

Kansas City, Kan. — Kevin Harvick is the one to beat once again at Kansas Speedway.

Harvick shattered his own track record and won the pole to start the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Sunday. After setting the mark at 197.773 mph in his second round of qualifying, he turned a lap of 197.621 in the final round to earn the pole.

The previous record of 194.658 was set by Harvick in the spring.

"For whatever reason this fits everything I have going on with my driving style," said Harvick, who won his third straight pole at Kansas and also won last year's Chase race.

"In the end it comes down to having a fast car. We have a fast car."

He has had that most of the season, too. The pole was Harvick's eighth this year.

"With a little bit of good luck we can beat every car on the race track any given week at any style of race track, and that's really positive feeling to have as a driver," he said. "If the chips fall right we have the cars and the speed to do what we need to do."

Brian Vickers qualified second with a lap of 196.307. Aric Almirola was third.

Joey Logano began a run of five Chase contenders by qualifying fourth. Jeff Gordon was next, followed by Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Tony Stewart qualified ninth, his best effort since returning to the track following the Sprint Car accident that killed Kevin Ward Jr. at a track in upstate New York.

Chase contenders Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin were tied to the thousandth of a second for the final transfer spot in the first round of qualifying, each turning a lap of 193.736 mph.

Newman, who drives for Richard Childress Racing, wound up winning the tiebreaker based on owner's points over Hamlin, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing. Newman improve his positioning by eight spots and will start 17th, while Hamlin will start 25th.

His teammate, Matt Kenseth, will start 27th.

"Our cars just don't have any speed," Hamlin said. "Balance is fine, just three-tenths, fourth-tenths off consistently, all of our cars. Just disappointing we can't have any more speed out of our cars. We're doing the best we can to move up."

Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson spun out during his first qualifying effort and will start 32nd, the lowest he has started a Chase race since 2005 at Homestead.

It is also the worst Johnson has qualified this season.

The race at Kansas kicks off the three-race contender round of the Chase, which will whittle the field from 12 drivers to eight. The round continues at Charlotte, another fast intermediate track, and finishes at the crapshoot known as Talladega.

With all the uncertainty that accompanies the restrictor-plate superspeedway in Alabama, Harvick and the rest of the Chase contenders want to get off to a good start this weekend.

"Our cars are fast, we're qualifying well, our pit stops are good, cars are reliable. Everything is good," Harvick said. "We just need a little good luck."