Kenseth responds with Richmond Cup pole

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Two days after his team was heavily penalized by NASCAR after its race-winning engine from Kansas failed inspection, Matt Kenseth set a new Richmond International Raceway track record and claimed pole for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 on the 3/4-mile bullring.

Kenseth’s lap at 130.334 mph was enough to out-hustle Brian Vickers (subbing for the injured Denny Hamlin), Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer for P1. In an odd turn of events, Kenseth’s pole will put him in the running for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited exhibition at Daytona; he lost the Unlimited spot that he earned with his Kansas pole last weekend as part of the penalties that went against him and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team this week.

“I’ve said it a million times, but this is just a really special group, and I’m a really lucky guy to be driving [this car],” Kenseth told SPEED Channel afterwards. “Really proud of these guys. After practice, I didn’t think we had a prayer of sitting on the pole, and one of my goals this week with everything going on was to go sit on the pole and maybe that would quiet things down a little bit…

“It always feels good when you can go out and win a pole, or even win a race, so the important thing tomorrow night is figuring out how to get this thing out front and be there at the last lap when it really counts. But yeah, the pole feels really good for all of us today.”

Kenseth was penalized 50 driver points and lost his bonus points for the victory in Kansas, while crew chief Jason Ratcliff was fined $200,000 and suspended for six races. Team owner Joe Gibbs lost 50 car owner points and had his owner’s license suspended for six weeks, which means he can’t gain points toward the owner’s championship in that period. Toyota also lost five points toward the manufacturer’s championship.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Mark Martin will round out the Top 10 on the grid for tomorrow night’s 400-lap event. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will go off from 19th, defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski from 23rd, current points leader Jimmie Johnson from 27th, and Danica Patrick from 30th.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.