Jeff Gordon captures dramatic pole for NASCAR at Charlotte

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With a cooling track and the top drivers in the series last in the draw, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had a dynamic conclusion to its qualifying session for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The last four drivers to go out all beat provisional polesitter Kasey Kahne, culminating with Jeff Gordon taking the pole as the last driver to run. Gordon’s 74th pole of his career is his second this season (Richmond in the regular season finale) and came after a flier of 194.308 mph (27.791 seconds) at the 1.5-mile oval. Gordon, who has yet to win this season, has five prior Charlotte victories.

“Man that was awesome!” Gordon exhaled after the session, to ESPN. “It’s been a while since we got pole here, and do it in that kind of fashion. The way the draw was, a lot of cars went late, but times didn’t pick up as much as we thought. Then guys started putting down good laps, so I knew the grip was there. Phenomenal job by the guys on the Axalta Chevrolet. I gotta thank ‘Squirrel’ for that draw. He drew (number) 2 last week, he made up for it today.”

Gordon’s car stuck best through Turns 3 and 4 and ultimately that was the difference to net his ninth Charlotte pole.

“We got through 3 and 4 good in practice, but freed the car up a bit though,” Gordon explained. “That would help my car in 1 and 2. I had a lot of confidence. It went through 1/2 as good as it could. I could be committed, the front end kept cutting, kept the throttle open. Didn’t know if it was going to be enough, and it was.”

Gordon’s lap bumped Kevin Harvick, who had bumped Greg Biffle, who had bumped Kahne in what was a domino effect of next-car-out setting the fastest lap. Harvick starts second, but the Kansas winner still felt he left a little on the table in his No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, with a fast lap of 194.203 mph (27.806 seconds).

“I felt like I didn’t get everything in 3/4,” Harvick told ESPN. “From the way practice was, I had to get everything in 1/2 and not get tight off 4. But I lost it there. We knew we needed to qualify better and race better 1.5-miles, and we’re doing that. We would really have liked to have the pole, but everyone knows how we’ve qualified in the past, so being on the front row is a major benefit.”

Biffle, who was briefly on pole at 193.959 (27.841), lines up third ahead of Gordon’s three Hendrick Motorsports teammates: Jimmie Johnson, Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Junior” gave it a ride on his 39th birthday and nearly knocked off Kahne, but he felt he underdrove going into Turn 3 and lost time there.

Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10.

Points leader Matt Kenseth is in-between Cup series debutantes Brian Scott and Kyle Larson in 20th on the grid. Larson estimated his No. 51 Target Chevrolet was loose in Turns 1 and 2, and tight in 3 and 4, as he’ll line up 21st.

Travis Kvapil, racing this weekend despite assault charges levied against him, qualified 41st and the third weekend debutante, Blake Koch, posted the slowest lap of the evening at 180.572 mph (29.905 seconds) and will start shotgun on the 43-car field in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford.

The race goes green on Saturday evening.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”