Denny Hamlin on pole for Fontana

Leave a comment

Denny Hamlin will start from the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway outside Los Angeles after throwing down a lap of 187.451 mph in today’s qualifying session.

Hamlin comes to Southern California after being involved in a post-race feud with former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano one week ago at Bristol Motor Speedway. He’ll share the front row with Greg Biffle on Sunday, but only momentarily — “The Biff,” as well as current championship leader Brad Keselowski (who had the third-fastest lap), will go to the rear of the field due to engine swaps before qualifying.

In addition to Hamlin’s pole run, JGR had a good Friday afternoon overall with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth claiming Top 5 starting spots as well. Logano qualified sixth, followed by Martin Truex Jr., defending Auto Club 400 champion Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch to fill the Top 10 starting positions.

Last week’s winner at Bristol, Kasey Kahne, qualified 16th and is slated to start on the outside of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Row 8. As for Danica Patrick, she’ll have to once again attempt to fight her way from the back after posting the 40th-quickest time.

Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.)
Sunday, 3 pm ET

Track Specs
2-mile oval
Turns: 14 degrees of banking
Frontstretch: 11 degrees
Backstretch: 3 degrees

Race Distance: 200 laps/400 miles

Defending Race Champion: Tony Stewart

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.