Daytona Update: Denny Hamlin leads at halfway

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Thanks to pitting before a caution came out on Lap 70, Denny Hamlin finds himself leading at the halfway mark in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Green flag stops had begun at Lap 68, but two laps later, Joey Logano shot up into the wall between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out the second yellow of the evening. Race leader Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the front-runners had not yet pitted, causing a shakeup on the scoring pylon when they made their way down at Lap 71.

When the green returned at Lap 75, the Top 14 drivers – with Hamlin at the front – were those that had pitted before Logano’s incident.

Pole sitter Kyle Busch led the field through Lap 26 pit stops under a caution period (caused by Paul Menard’s engine letting go) and maintained his edge off pit road, but on Lap 33, Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne charged to the front.

That eventually led into the Hendrick duo pulling along a seven-car breakaway line on the low groove that included Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and rookie pilot Ricky Stenhouse Jr. So far, the low line has appeared to be the stronger one tonight in contrast to this past February’s Daytona 500, which saw the high line emerge as the lane of choice.

With 80 of 160 laps complete, Hamlin is ahead of Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the Earnhardt-Ganassi combo of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.

MRTI: pre-season testing Day 2 notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Day 2 of testing for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires saw two series hit the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course for pre-season testing. The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda both got their turns on Saturday after the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires took to the 1.5-mile oval on Friday.

Both series got in two sessions apiece during the day. Below are quick reports for Pro Mazda and USF2000.

Pro Mazda: Thompson, Askew Lead Opening Sessions

A pair of USF2000 graduates led the two sessions for Pro Mazda. In Session 1, it was Parker Thompson and Exclusive Autosport leading the way, while Cape Motorsports’ Oliver Askew, last year’s USF2000 champion, led the way in Session 2. Times from both sessions are below.

Juncos Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, last year’s runnerup in the USF2000 championship, also put in a strong showing, ending up second in Session 2.

This was also the first official session for the brand new Tatuus PM-18, and it’s first official outing showed off quite a bit of speed. Lap times were reportedly upwards of four seconds a lap faster than the previous Elan Pro Mazda chassis.

USF2000: Pabst Racing, Cape Motosports Lead the Way

The teams that battled for last year’s USF2000 crown, Cape Motorsports and Pabst Racing, traded early blows during Saturday testing, with each team leading a session.

Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh led the way in Session 1, with four Pabst cars in the top five, while Kyle Kirkwood led Session 2 for Cape. Times from both sessions are below.

However, it should be noted that DEForce Racing’s Kory Enders spent most of Session 2 at the top of the speed charts before getting pushed down to third late in the running. With the top three finishers from last year’s USF2000 championship all moving on to Pro Mazda (Askew, VeeKay, and Thompson), this USF2000 season could be anyone’s for the taking.

Of note, Keith Donegan, who signed with ArmsUp Motorsports after winning the $200K scholarship from Mazda Motorsports in November’s Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, was 16th in Session 1, but did not turn laps in Session 2.

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