Dale Jr. leads “Happy Hour” at New Hampshire

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will roll off 17th in tomorrow’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but appears to have the speed to make some moves on Race Day after topping Sprint Cup final practice this morning at the Magic Mile.

Earnhardt, whose engine failure late last weekend at Chicagoland has him dead last among the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders, was fastest on the time sheets with a lap of 133.059 mph in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He finished 14th at NHMS earlier this summer.

Also looking strong is Matt Kenseth, who leads the Chase after scoring his sixth win of the year last weekend in the Windy City. Kenseth, who rolls off ninth tomorrow, was second-quickest in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with a lap of 132.938 mph.

One of Earnhardt’s HMS teammates, front-row starter Kasey Kahne, was third-fastest (132.868 mph), with JGR’s Denny Hamlin behind him in fourth (132.799 mph). Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer rounded out the Top 5, placing fifth this morning (132.591 mph).

Pole sitter Ryan Newman, however, didn’t have a great “Happy Hour,” posting only the 25th-quickest time (131.040 mph).

Kenseth had the fastest 10-lap average speed in the session (Laps 35-44, 132.128 mph), followed by Jimmie Johnson (sixth-quickest overall), Brad Keselowski (seventh-quickest overall), Bowyer and Hamlin.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.