Denny Hamlin continues comeback with Coke 600 pole

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The previous track record at Charlotte Motor Speedway was shredded by eight drivers during tonight’s qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600, but it was Denny Hamlin who came away with the pole for Sunday night’s event with a speed of 195.624 miles per hour in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Hamlin earned his first pole since March at Auto Club Speedway. That same weekend, he sustained a compression fracture in one of his vertebra in a last-lap crash. The injury knocked him out of action until May 5 at Talladega and kept him from running a full race distance until the next event at Darlington.

To Hamlin, a win in the 600 would be, in his words, “the validation that [he’s] truly back,” and it would also be a major boost in his efforts to climb into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“For me, it’s going to take some wins and some really good consistency throughout these summer months to put ourselves in position to have a chance at a championship,” said Hamlin. “That’s what we’re here for. Even these small victories though give me that confidence that I’m still capable, and I’m still able to do the job at 100 percent like I should be. Any kind of confidence booster for me — it’s always a plus on Sunday.”

Kurt Busch was second-quickest in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet at 195.221 miles per hour. The former Cup champion felt that he didn’t quite run the best line through Turns 3 and 4 during his qualifying attempt and was hoping to catch a break. Hamlin, however, didn’t give it to him.

“It was incredible to watch as [Hamlin’s] car hugged the line in [Turns] 3 and 4 exactly liked you would watch cars back in the day, like when Jeff Gordon in the ‘90’s would hunt that white line,” said Busch. “It was awesome. You knew that would be a fast lap. So, I didn’t do my job, but my team is doing an incredible job with fast cars week in and week out.”

Matt Kenseth qualified third and will share an all-Toyota Row 2 with Mark Martin. Clint Bowyer and defending 600 winner Kasey Kahne will go off from Row 3, followed by Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch in Row 4 and Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman in Row 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and last week’s All-Star Race winner Jimmie Johnson make up Row 6.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.