No. 1 seed Matt Kenseth opens Chase with Chicagoland win

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Matt Kenseth took the lead from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch off a restart with 22 laps to go and went on to claim his sixth checkered flag of the season in the Chase-opening GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway – a race that had its start delayed by more than an hour and also featured a red flag period of more than five hours because of rain.

After the extended red flag, only the diehards remained on a chilly Sunday night to see Kenseth once again prove his prowess on the intermediate ovals. With tonight’s triumph, the former Cup champion now has four wins this season on 1.5-mile tracks, which are a major component of the ten-race Chase.

Coming to the restart, Kenseth was second but was able to keep up with Busch on the inside. When the pack got to Turn 1, Kenseth was helped from behind by Kevin Harvick, and was able to get past his JGR compatriot. That would prove to be the big moment of the race, as Busch was unable to reel Kenseth back in.

“I thought with the conditions tonight, we were going to be off a little bit but [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] did it again, as well as this whole team behind me,” Kenseth said to ESPN in Victory Lane.

“We gotta thank Kyle and [teammate] Denny [Hamlin] as well – we had a really good test here last week and it really showed up today. Also, Kevin gave me a great push on that last restart…We were a little too tight there at the end, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get Kyle. But I’m glad we got it out front.”

Kyle Busch also chalked up Kenseth’s winning pass to Harvick as well.

“That’s 1,600 horsepower versus 800,” he said. “…Kurt [Busch] didn’t get a good enough restart to push me forward and keep us side-by-side going into Turn 1. But they beat us, and it’s a great night for Joe Gibbs Racing to start the Chase like this.”

Harvick would go on to finish third, with Kurt Busch rallying for a fourth-place finish after falling down a lap earlier this afternoon because of a pit road speeding violation. Jimmie Johnson had his own issues on pit road today, but was able to come home fifth.

“The next-to-last run, we got ourselves back in the thick of things and unfortunately, we just didn’t have the speed there for the final segment to go race for the win,” Johnson said. “But from a jack failing to the call on pit road with the lug nut not supposedly on – a variety of issues – it was a great comeback.”

Jeff Gordon fell a lap down thanks to a flat rear tire following a restart with 95 laps to go, but was able to catch a yellow late and then charge to a sixth-place result. Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the two lone non-Chase drivers in the Top 10, followed in seventh and eighth respectively. Clint Bowyer squeezed out a ninth-place finish, and Ryan Newman wound up 10th.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.