One single caution period has made for a quick first half of tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the final race that will determine the field for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Pole sitter Jeff Gordon led the first 49 laps before Brad Keselowski, who needs a victory tonight and some help to make the Chase, took the point. The reigning Cup champion would hold the lead until Lap 66, when Kurt Busch cleared him coming off Turn 2.
Pit stops for the Chase hopefuls began at Lap 90 with Joey Logano, who had a poor opening stint that saw him fall as far as 25th in the running. Busch gave up the lead for service on Lap 95, and came out third behind Keselowski and Matt Kenseth when the cycle ended.
“The Outlaw” quickly charged back up the pylon, whipping past Kenseth for the lead at Lap 110. But under caution at Lap 137, Busch’s much-maligned pit crew had a slow stop and their man fell from first to sixth coming out – prompting an angry Busch to drop several expletives over his team radio.
Jamie McMurray came away as the new leader for the restart at Lap 143, but Keselowski once again took P1 after a brief skirmish with the Earnhardt Ganassi driver. However, Busch has managed another climb toward the front after his problems on pit road, going to second place at Lap 180.
At the Lap 200 halfway mark, Keselowski led Busch by eight-tenths of a second, followed by McMurray in third, Clint Bowyer in fourth, and Jeff Burton in fifth.
Brendon Hartley’s hopes of a points finish on his Formula 1 debut took a hit on Friday after the FIA confirmed the Toro Rosso driver will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty.
Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso as a surprise replacement for Pierre Gasly in Austin, with the Frenchman tied up with Super Formula duties at Suzuka this weekend.
Hartley took to the track in an official grand prix session for the first time on Friday in Austin, marking his first run-out in an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 20120.
However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his pre-race report that changes had been made to the power unit on Hartley’s Toro Rosso car since the last race in Japan, triggering a grid penalty.
Toro Rosso elected to take a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics on Hartley’s Renault power unit, totaling a 25-place grid drop that will be applied after qualifying. Confirmation of the penalty is set to follow later today.
The penalty comes as a setback for Hartley, but was necessary as Toro Rosso found itself short on engine elements to get to the end of the season.
Hartley is not the only driver to have a penalty confirmed, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne also taking new engine elements, also confirmed in Bauer’s report.
A new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H for Hulkenberg will see him drop 20 places on the grid, while an eighth ICE of the year for Vandoorne will trigger a five-place drop.