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.

Newgarden extends IndyCar points lead as Power shrinks top-5 gap

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Entering the day 52 points back of Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden in fifth place in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, Will Power was actually six points closer to the lead than he was at the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway last year compared to when he was second in points behind Simon Pagenaud, 58 points back.

Power won, Pagenaud crashed, and the gap was 20 points after this race last year between the two of them.

Fast forward 12 months and Power won again, but this time, his Penske teammate that was leading the points didn’t have a nightmare day and instead nailed down a critical result for his own title hopes.

Courtesy of a rally from several early race issues, Power leapfrogged to a surprise second straight Pocono win while Newgarden finished second.

What was a seven-point lead for Newgarden over the fourth Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, turned into an 18-point lead over new second place man Scott Dixon in today’s race.

Newgarden was understandably disappointed to lose his third straight win, but very happy with the result in the big picture standpoint.

“Will deserves the win. He had the car to beat. He was the class of the field the second half of the race,” Newgarden told NBCSN’s Robin Miller post-race.

“I did everything I could to beat him. But I’m second, Dixon’s behind us, Helio’s behind us, Simon… you don’t want to wreck your teammate or give up where you’re at. It’s a 1-2 for all of us. I’m disappointed for all of us but I can’t be disappointed for where we are.”

Power’s win, meanwhile, saw him close the gap down to just 42 points behind Newgarden, albeit still fifth in points.

Dixon moved into second with a sixth place finish and is now 18 points back. He started the day eight behind Newgarden.

Castroneves advanced from 20th on the grid up to seventh and is third in points, 22 back, yet still lost 15 points to Newgarden.

The incredibly consistent Pagenaud nailed down his 11th top-five finish of the season in 14 starts, yet somehow still ranks fourth in points, 26 back, having lost nine points on the day.

With ninth, Graham Rahal saw his slim title hopes fade – he’s not mathematically out of it but at 76 points back he’s in a tough spot after starting 58 behind. Similarly Takuma Sato, who started 71 out after winning the pole position, fell to 95 back in seventh – just five points ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, who finished third.

Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe remain ninth and 10th in points.

With three races to play, after Pocono, it is now clearly a five-horse race for the championship with each of the top five within one race’s worth of maximum points (54).

Will Power overcomes adversity to win Pocono thriller (VIDEO)

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LONG POND, Pa. – Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 was a record-setting day for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Pocono Raceway, as they set a race record for lead changes in an IndyCar race at the 2.5-mile triangular oval, with 42 passes for the lead over the 500-mile race.

Ultimately, it was Team Penske’s Will Power who overcame damage to the front and back of No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, went a lap down, and made an unscheduled pit stop early in the race (part of 10 pit stops total) to come back and claim his third victory of the season, and his second straight at Pocono Raceway.

“What a day, what a day. Dramatic day. Lot of fun,” an exhausted Power told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis in Victory Lane. “(I had to) hang in there. I saw Hunter-Reay got his lap back last year. I was so cautious on the restarts. You can never give up in IndyCar. Got a lap back and made it to the front.”

Power fell off the lead lap after an unscheduled pit stop on lap 67 for a new front wing, which also saw the team struggle to get the tires on in what was a lengthy pit stop. However, a lap 112 caution, when Sebastian Saavedra clouted the wall exiting turn 1 and stopped on track, allowed Power a chance to get back on the lead lap.

Another caution, this one on lap 124 as James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand crashed together in Turn 1, allowed Power a chance to go off strategy and top off the fuel as well change out the rear wing and bumper pod assembly, which had also been damaged earlier in the race. Hinchcliffe’s accident came following a save earlier in the race, just past half distance, which was incredible.

Power then charged to front through the following sequence of green flag stops, his fuel strategy allowing him to go longer and put in some of the fastest laps of the race before pitting. He emerged from the pit stop sequence, the second-to-last of the race, with a four second over the rest of the field.

Power held the lead through the final sequence of pit stops, though teammate Josef Newgarden and Andretti’s Autosport’s Alexander Rossi made late charges on Power at the end. Newgarden in particular mounted a big challenge on Power, forcing the Australian driver to play significant defense, taking the far inside line entering turn 3 for several laps in a row.

However, Power was able to keep all advances at bay, outlasting both Newgarden and Rossi to the line for the victory.

Newgarden revealed to NBCSN’s Robin Miller afterward that, even though he was able to catch Power at the end, he didn’t think he had enough to pass him.

“Will deserves the win. He had the car to beat. He was class the second half of the field,” Newgarden admitted. “I did everything I could to beat him. But I’m second, (Scott) Dixon’s behind us, (Helio Castroneves) is behind us, Simon (Pagenaud)… you don’t want to wreck your teammate or give up where you’re at. 1-2 for all of us. I’m disappointed for all of us but I can’t be disappointed for where we are.”

Rossi, too, admitted that he didn’t have the speed to really make a bid for the win, though his was down to a fuel mixture problem, the adjuster having broken earlier in the race. “We didn’t have full power at the end,” Rossi explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “The car was great all day. Stellar all day. When you come so close to the win it’s difficult to swallow. Last year we didn’t finish. To be on podium is a testament to Andretti Autosport.”

Simon Pagenaud came through the field after the final stops to finish fourth, making a late pass on Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, making it three Team Penske cars in the top four. Kanaan held on for fifth.

Scott Dixon ended up sixth ahead of Helio Castroneves while Ryan Hunter-Reay had a strong run and led a handful of laps after a brutal crash in qualifying, but faded to eighth at the end. Graham Rahal, too, had a strong run and swapped the lead with Kanaan several times during the race, but he also faded over the final two stints and ended up ninth. Carlos Munoz had a quiet, but solid day for A.J. Foyt Racing to finish tenth.

Unofficial results are below.

 

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WATCH LIVE: ABC Supply 500 at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ run of different types of tracks continues with today’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway, as the final superspeedway race of the year to kick off the final four-race stretch of the 2017 season comes after a July where the series raced once apiece on a short oval, a street course and permanent road course.

You can watch the 200-lap, 500-mile race from Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. live on NBCSN (stream link here); the series is back live on NBCSN for the duration of the season after the last two races were live on CNBC, with an NBCSN same day encore.

Kevin Lee is on the call from Pocono along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller in the pits.

IndyCar coverage will run from 2 through 6 p.m. ET.

After qualifying, here’s some of the questions to consider in Pocono:

  • How will the championship picture shake out after today’s race?
  • Might a new or surprise winner enter the mix?
  • Can Honda get back to winning and stop Team Penske and Chevrolet’s three-race win streak?
  • How might temperature, wind and downforce levels change the game?

My colleague Kyle Lavigne is on site in Pocono this weekend and may have some additional thoughts going into today’s race.


Tanak wins Rally Germany, Ogier retakes WRC points lead

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Ott Tänak flew to his second victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season in Germany on Sunday as Sebastien Ogier moved back into the lead of the drivers’ standings with three rounds to go.

Tänak led from Friday through to the final power stage to give M-Sport Ford team victory, marking his first tarmac win alongside co-driver Martin Järveoja.

“It’s a great feeling. The start to the rally went perfectly, after that it was just about controlling our lead,” Tänak said.

“Winning our first tarmac event feels cool. With 25 points here I don’t see any reason why we can’t fight for the championship. We will keep fighting; we need to keep winning if we’re going to win the championship.”

Tänak sits 33 points back from Ogier, whose bid for a fifth straight title was boosted with a run to third in Germany as chief championship rival Thierry Neuville retired with suspension damage on Saturday.

Neuville is now 17 points off the lead, with the WRC now embarking on a six-week break before returning in Spain on October 6.