Denny Hamlin believes that he can withstand the physical pain of tonight’s Sprint Cup event at Darlington Raceway, which will be his first full-distance race since suffering a fractured vertebrae in a last-lap crash back in March at Auto Club Speedway.
But the mental challenge will still be a daunting one for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who started last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway before giving way early to relief driver Brian Vickers.
“I’ll be able to make it physically, but it’s a matter of whether I can keep my mind engaged through whatever maybe physical pains I have towards the end to keep our finishes good and, obviously, have a chance to win,” said Hamlin, who starts sixth for tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.
With a narrow racing groove that runs primarily up against the wall and a surface that’s regaining its traditional abrasiveness following a 2005 repaving, the 1.366-mile oval in the South Carolina sand hills is taxing enough for drivers that are fully healthy, let alone one that’s still working his way back to form.
But Hamlin is intent on gutting out the entire 500 miles tonight, and truly beginning his long-shot quest to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Virginia native is currently 31st in the standings and will need to not only break into the Top 20 but win at least one race to give himself a chance at making the Chase as a wild card.
Hamlin has never missed the Chase in his seven-year Cup career.
“We didn’t get that much [points] last week, so it’s going to be all on my shoulders to make the run towards the Chase,” he said. “We fell back an additional three spots last week in the points, so we have a huge, huge hole that we’ve got to dig out of. But there’s nothing that wins can’t fix. That’s the bottom line.
“If we put ourselves in position and win a race here and there — more than likely if we win a couple of races — then we’re going to be Top 20 in points, I would think.”
Max Verstappen admitted that he felt disappointed with himself after crashing out of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix in his second race for Red Bull.
Two weeks on from his stunning victory in Spain, Verstappen endured a tough weekend in Monaco that saw him suffer three crashes.
A shunt in qualifying meant he had to start the race from the pit lane, but he made the most of the inclement conditions early on by switching tire to run inside the top 10.
However, a mistake at Massenet on lap 34 sent him careering into the barrier and out of the race, ending his hopes of a fightback to points.
“Disappointed in myself and disappointed for the team, because they worked very hard to get the car ready and I didn’t give them the result they deserved today,” Verstappen said.
“We were in a good way, we were in the points and to start from the pit lane and end in the points would have been very good, but I learned from this and hopefully we can come back stronger in Canada.
“It was pretty tricky especially in the beginning of the race it was a very slippery track. It got better and better, the track was drying, and I think from then on we had great pace and I was overtaking cars, charging through the field and everything felt well.
“Then we put the softs on and I locked up. Unfortunately I went a bit off-line and of course then you arrive in the wet area and I was a passenger from there on.
“That’s racing in the end, it can go up and down very quickly but you shouldn’t back off because of this you should keep positive, keep pushing.
“I learn a lot from those moments as well and I’m already focusing on Canada now and leaving Monaco behind.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell’s hopes of winning the 100th Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport were dashed after coming together in the pit lane when battling for the lead of the race.
Following a caution period called for crashes involving Mikhail Aleshin and Conor Daly, the majority of the field dived into the pits for the fifth round of pit stops.
Both Hunter-Reay and Bell had been running inside the top three before the caution, battling with Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves for the lead of the race.
On the race off pit road, Bell’s car was released into the path of the oncoming Castroneves, resulting in contact.
Bell’s car was sent into Hunter-Reay just as he was released, leaving both pointing the pit wall nose-first.
Only one crew member was in the line of fire, but he managed to jump out of the way quickly. A tire was also hit, but did not come off the ground, meaning no-one in the area was hurt.
Bell was assessed a penalty for the incident, unsafe release:
Andretti was forced to wheel both of its cars back to their pit boxes, costing both drivers time before they were sent back out again. At the time of writing, Hunter-Reay and Bell now run P25 and P26 respectively and are battling to remain on the lead lap.
INDIANAPOLIS – Thus far the quartet of Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Townsend Bell and Josef Newgarden have had the strongest cars in the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
But it’s Helio Castroneves who now leads at the 100-lap mark, as he did last year, following the fourth round of pit stops. He’s in search of his fourth Indy 500 win.
Prior to Lap 100, Bryan Clauson was out front. Clauson went a lap down early and has not made his fourth pit stop yet in the No. 88 Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. But courtesy of a typically-cagey Coyne strategy play, he was nearly out front for this historic moment in the longest Indianapolis 500 outing of his three starts thus far.
There’s already been 31 lead changes – other leaders include Hunter-Reay who’s led a race high 44 laps, Hinchcliffe, who’s led 26, then Will Power (8 laps led), Bell (8), Castroneves (6), Clauson (3), Newgarden (2), Sage Karam (2) and Carlos Munoz (1).
Just prior to halfway, Sage Karam’s strong run from 23rd up to seventh came to a crashing halt in Turn 2. The driver of the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for DRR-Kingdom Racing appeared to get pinched in Turn 1 by Bell – who also made a similarly tight move on Newgarden – then hit the wall and careened through to Turn 2.
Karam’s accident means he’s the second car officially out of the race, along withe defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya.
At Lap 100 the order is below:
Juan Pablo Montoya will not be the first driver to go back-to-back as winner of the Indianapolis 500 since 2002.
The defending Indy 500 winner wrecked out of the 100th running of the race on Lap 64. Montoya’s silver No. 2 Chevrolet got loose in Turn 2, spun around and hit the outside wall with his left front.
“I just got loose and lost the car,” Montoya told ABC. “It’s just difficult, people were doing a lot dumb things on the restarts and I felt it was not necessary. So I took my time and started coming through the field and the car felt pretty good. It just stepped out of nowhere.”
Montoya, who started 17th, was running in 19th when the single-car accident occurred. The two-time winner of the “500” was cleared and released from the infield care center.
The crash caused the second caution of the race after an early debris caution.