Jeff Gordon putting post-race fight behind him

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Jeff Gordon is focusing on running well tomorrow at Phoenix International Raceway, but everyone else seems to be focusing on the brawl between his and Clint Bowyer’s crews last fall in NASCAR’s last visit to the desert.

The two drivers’ on-track incidents in the final laps touched off a post-race fight in the garage, and Bowyer also made an attempt to confront Gordon at his transporter (he was stopped by security when he got there). Kevin Harvick’s victory in the race was pretty much buried by the fracas, which easily became of NASCAR’s more memorable moments of 2012.

Both racers, along with 41 others, will be more worried about how the new Generation-6 cars work on PIR’s one-mile oval in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k. But Gordon has acknowledged the hype that has surrounded himself and Bowyer this weekend.

“It’s hard to get away from [the fight],” the four-time Sprint Cup champion said to the media at PIR. “They’re still using it to advertise for the race and it was a big story.”

Indeed, it was. Gordon was fined a whopping $100,000 for his role in the altercations and also lost 25 driver points as well.

But he knows he can’t think about it too much, as he’ll have plenty of other things to deal with on Sunday. As for what he’ll do if he should come across Bowyer on the track, Gordon has maintained that he won’t race him differently.

“We’ll race hard,” he said. “We’ll race hard for position and hopefully we don’t have any incidents. I can’t run every lap worrying about every guy I’ve ever had an incident with.”

Gordon will start fifth in his bid to win at PIR for a third time. Bowyer’s taking the green flag from 13th position.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.