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.

NASCAR Truck drivers feel the earth move sitting in NHRA powerhouses

Photos courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers got to see how the other half lives – namely, their counterparts in the NHRA – on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and across the street at zMax Dragway.

To say it was an eye-opening experience is putting it mildly.

Top Fuel drag racers Shawn Langdon and Troy Coughlin Jr., as well as Funny Car driver J.R. Todd – all from one of the top teams in the NHRA, Kalitta Motorsports – are in Charlotte for this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

NASCAR Trucks driver Noah Gragson gets to feel the 10,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster.

Thursday, they invited NASCAR drivers Ryan Truex, Christopher Bell, Grant Enfinger and Noah Gragson to show how it’s done NHRA-style.

Todd, Langdon and Coughlin started the day taking Toyota Camry pace cars around the 1.5-mile CMS oval.

Then everyone moved across the street to see some real horsepower, namely, 10,000 horses worth – which is roughly about 13 times the power they have under the hood of their race trucks.

Truex and Bell got a chance to “warm up” Todd’s Funny Car, while Enfinger and Gragson did the same with Langdon’s Top Fueler.

 

Meanwhile, Todd and Langdon both did smoky burnouts that, if the Truck guys thought they could do burnouts, they learned a lot to the contrary.

“It was a cool to do a big smoky burnout,” Todd said. “It was cool to see the guys reactions. We had a great time today and I think we created several new fans.”

Added Langdon, “Days like today is what makes me love our sport even more. Bringing these guys over here and letting them hit the throttle and sit in the car when it warms up gives them a look at what we do. To see the smiles on their faces after a badass burnout and how excited they are, just gets me pumped.”

Here’s what the NASCAR guys thought about the experience.

Bell: “J.R. Todd let me sit in his Toyota Camry Funny Car and they even cracked the throttle open for me when we were warming up the motor. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a feeling like none other.”

Enfinger: “Just a crazy experience, something I have never done. Been able to do a lot of cool things with Toyota, but it is not every day that you get to make your dad jealous.”

Gragson: “This was awesome. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was great to hang out with J.R. Todd, Shawn and Troy Jr. Definitely a cool experience; one that I will remember forever.”

Truex: “This has probably been the craziest experience that I have ever been a part of. I got to sit in a Funny Car; they hit the throttle, which really scared me. When I was outside the car, I jumped about three feet in the air. It was cool to get inside and experience that. The nitro was all in my face, and I think they gained a new fan with me today.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.