In Michigan, Hendrick quartet has a day to forget

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It’s not very often that the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut collectively suffers like it did on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

Want proof? All four Hendrick drivers – championship leader Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon – ran into trouble in the Quicken Loans 400 and all finished outside the Top 25 as a result; Johnson in 28th, Earnhardt in 37th, Kahne in 38th, and Gordon in 39th.

The last time that happened: The 2005 Toyota Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway road course. In that race, Gordon was 33rd, Brian Vickers was 34th, Johnson was 36th, and Kyle Busch was 40th.

On Sunday, Gordon was the first of the Hendrick camp to have a problem. On just the fourth lap of the race, he was collected by a spinning Bobby Labonte in Turn 2 and was then funneled into the wall.

“He just did one of those slow spins where I couldn’t tell which direction he was going to go, so I had to guess and I guessed the wrong way,” said Gordon. “I didn’t really have anywhere to go.”

That left Kahne, Earnhardt and Johnson, and all three of them showed strong pace this afternoon. Kahne took the lead from Earnhardt on Lap 90 and promptly checked out until Lap 104, when his right front tire suddenly blew and sent him careening into the wall. He had been leading by 3.6 seconds prior to the accident.

“I just was going into the corner and then it [went] ‘boom’ and turned right went straight into the wall,” said Kahne, who fell out of the Top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings (although, with his win earlier this year at Bristol, he is currently in a wild-card slot). “It was a hard hit.”

Earnhardt took over the lead after that incident, pacing the field for 23 laps until he suddenly fell off the pace. Then on Lap 131, his engine let go in a cloud of smoke – shattering the hopes of Junior Nation, which hasn’t see their man win since his triumph last June at MIS.

“There was no warning at all, even after I think we lost a cylinder,” said Earnhardt. “The gauges all looked really good. [I] flipped all the switches I could flip and nothing was really making a difference. We just had something come apart in the motor.”

Finally, HMS’ rotten afternoon ended with Johnson clouting the wall with three laps remaining while trying to mount one last attack on eventual winner Greg Biffle. Like Kahne, he was victimized by a flat tire, and he was forced to go to pit road for service.

Johnson’s lead in the championship also took a hit, as a Top-10 result from Carl Edwards (eighth) enabled him to pull within 31 points of “Five-Time” as the series heads back to Sonoma this coming weekend.

It’s a likely assumption that the Hendrick camp doesn’t want a repeat of the dark day they had there in 2005 – or of what happened to them Sunday in the Irish Hills.

Newgarden extends IndyCar points lead as Power shrinks top-5 gap

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Entering the day 52 points back of Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden in fifth place in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, Will Power was actually six points closer to the lead than he was at the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway last year compared to when he was second in points behind Simon Pagenaud, 58 points back.

Power won, Pagenaud crashed, and the gap was 20 points after this race last year between the two of them.

Fast forward 12 months and Power won again, but this time, his Penske teammate that was leading the points didn’t have a nightmare day and instead nailed down a critical result for his own title hopes.

Courtesy of a rally from several early race issues, Power leapfrogged to a surprise second straight Pocono win while Newgarden finished second.

What was a seven-point lead for Newgarden over the fourth Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, turned into an 18-point lead over new second place man Scott Dixon in today’s race.

Newgarden was understandably disappointed to lose his third straight win, but very happy with the result in the big picture standpoint.

“Will deserves the win. He had the car to beat. He was the class of the field the second half of the race,” Newgarden told NBCSN’s Robin Miller post-race.

“I did everything I could to beat him. But I’m second, Dixon’s behind us, Helio’s behind us, Simon… you don’t want to wreck your teammate or give up where you’re at. It’s a 1-2 for all of us. I’m disappointed for all of us but I can’t be disappointed for where we are.”

Power’s win, meanwhile, saw him close the gap down to just 42 points behind Newgarden, albeit still fifth in points.

Dixon moved into second with a sixth place finish and is now 18 points back. He started the day eight behind Newgarden.

Castroneves advanced from 20th on the grid up to seventh and is third in points, 22 back, yet still lost 15 points to Newgarden.

The incredibly consistent Pagenaud nailed down his 11th top-five finish of the season in 14 starts, yet somehow still ranks fourth in points, 26 back, having lost nine points on the day.

With ninth, Graham Rahal saw his slim title hopes fade – he’s not mathematically out of it but at 76 points back he’s in a tough spot after starting 58 behind. Similarly Takuma Sato, who started 71 out after winning the pole position, fell to 95 back in seventh – just five points ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, who finished third.

Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe remain ninth and 10th in points.

With three races to play, after Pocono, it is now clearly a five-horse race for the championship with each of the top five within one race’s worth of maximum points (54).

Will Power overcomes adversity to win Pocono thriller (VIDEO)

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LONG POND, Pa. – Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 was a record-setting day for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Pocono Raceway, as they set a race record for lead changes in an IndyCar race at the 2.5-mile triangular oval, with 42 passes for the lead over the 500-mile race.

Ultimately, it was Team Penske’s Will Power who overcame damage to the front and back of No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, went a lap down, and made an unscheduled pit stop early in the race (part of 10 pit stops total) to come back and claim his third victory of the season, and his second straight at Pocono Raceway.

“What a day, what a day. Dramatic day. Lot of fun,” an exhausted Power told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis in Victory Lane. “(I had to) hang in there. I saw Hunter-Reay got his lap back last year. I was so cautious on the restarts. You can never give up in IndyCar. Got a lap back and made it to the front.”

Power fell off the lead lap after an unscheduled pit stop on lap 67 for a new front wing, which also saw the team struggle to get the tires on in what was a lengthy pit stop. However, a lap 112 caution, when Sebastian Saavedra clouted the wall exiting turn 1 and stopped on track, allowed Power a chance to get back on the lead lap.

Another caution, this one on lap 124 as James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand crashed together in Turn 1, allowed Power a chance to go off strategy and top off the fuel as well change out the rear wing and bumper pod assembly, which had also been damaged earlier in the race. Hinchcliffe’s accident came following a save earlier in the race, just past half distance, which was incredible.

Power then charged to front through the following sequence of green flag stops, his fuel strategy allowing him to go longer and put in some of the fastest laps of the race before pitting. He emerged from the pit stop sequence, the second-to-last of the race, with a four second over the rest of the field.

Power held the lead through the final sequence of pit stops, though teammate Josef Newgarden and Andretti’s Autosport’s Alexander Rossi made late charges on Power at the end. Newgarden in particular mounted a big challenge on Power, forcing the Australian driver to play significant defense, taking the far inside line entering turn 3 for several laps in a row.

However, Power was able to keep all advances at bay, outlasting both Newgarden and Rossi to the line for the victory.

Newgarden revealed to NBCSN’s Robin Miller afterward that, even though he was able to catch Power at the end, he didn’t think he had enough to pass him.

“Will deserves the win. He had the car to beat. He was class the second half of the field,” Newgarden admitted. “I did everything I could to beat him. But I’m second, (Scott) Dixon’s behind us, (Helio Castroneves) is behind us, Simon (Pagenaud)… you don’t want to wreck your teammate or give up where you’re at. 1-2 for all of us. I’m disappointed for all of us but I can’t be disappointed for where we are.”

Rossi, too, admitted that he didn’t have the speed to really make a bid for the win, though his was down to a fuel mixture problem, the adjuster having broken earlier in the race. “We didn’t have full power at the end,” Rossi explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “The car was great all day. Stellar all day. When you come so close to the win it’s difficult to swallow. Last year we didn’t finish. To be on podium is a testament to Andretti Autosport.”

Simon Pagenaud came through the field after the final stops to finish fourth, making a late pass on Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, making it three Team Penske cars in the top four. Kanaan held on for fifth.

Scott Dixon ended up sixth ahead of Helio Castroneves while Ryan Hunter-Reay had a strong run and led a handful of laps after a brutal crash in qualifying, but faded to eighth at the end. Graham Rahal, too, had a strong run and swapped the lead with Kanaan several times during the race, but he also faded over the final two stints and ended up ninth. Carlos Munoz had a quiet, but solid day for A.J. Foyt Racing to finish tenth.

Unofficial results are below.

 

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WATCH LIVE: ABC Supply 500 at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ run of different types of tracks continues with today’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway, as the final superspeedway race of the year to kick off the final four-race stretch of the 2017 season comes after a July where the series raced once apiece on a short oval, a street course and permanent road course.

You can watch the 200-lap, 500-mile race from Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. live on NBCSN (stream link here); the series is back live on NBCSN for the duration of the season after the last two races were live on CNBC, with an NBCSN same day encore.

Kevin Lee is on the call from Pocono along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller in the pits.

IndyCar coverage will run from 2 through 6 p.m. ET.

After qualifying, here’s some of the questions to consider in Pocono:

  • How will the championship picture shake out after today’s race?
  • Might a new or surprise winner enter the mix?
  • Can Honda get back to winning and stop Team Penske and Chevrolet’s three-race win streak?
  • How might temperature, wind and downforce levels change the game?

My colleague Kyle Lavigne is on site in Pocono this weekend and may have some additional thoughts going into today’s race.


Tanak wins Rally Germany, Ogier retakes WRC points lead

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Ott Tänak flew to his second victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season in Germany on Sunday as Sebastien Ogier moved back into the lead of the drivers’ standings with three rounds to go.

Tänak led from Friday through to the final power stage to give M-Sport Ford team victory, marking his first tarmac win alongside co-driver Martin Järveoja.

“It’s a great feeling. The start to the rally went perfectly, after that it was just about controlling our lead,” Tänak said.

“Winning our first tarmac event feels cool. With 25 points here I don’t see any reason why we can’t fight for the championship. We will keep fighting; we need to keep winning if we’re going to win the championship.”

Tänak sits 33 points back from Ogier, whose bid for a fifth straight title was boosted with a run to third in Germany as chief championship rival Thierry Neuville retired with suspension damage on Saturday.

Neuville is now 17 points off the lead, with the WRC now embarking on a six-week break before returning in Spain on October 6.