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.

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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