Another battle’s ongoing for Top 5 result in Chase

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While Jimmie Johnson vs. Matt Kenseth will be the focal point of today’s Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, the drivers behind them in the Chase for the Sprint Cup are engaged in a fight of their own.

Fifth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (pictured, right), sixth-place Jeff Gordon (pictured, left), seventh-place Clint Bowyer and eighth-place Greg Biffle are all jockeying to grab a Top-5 finish in the championship.

It’s neck-and-neck among this quartet of drivers, as the gap that separates Earnhardt to Biffle is just 11 points; Earnhardt is up seven on both Gordon and Bowyer specifically.

All of these competitors are starting in the top half of the grid for today’s 312-lap race at PIR, with Gordon and Bowyer together in Row 3, Earnhardt starting in 11th, and Biffle going off from 18th.

Earnhardt, who currently holds that last Top-5 spot in the standings and comes off a runner-up performance last week at Texas, said after Friday qualifying that he hasn’t paid much attention to how the points picture looks.

“We are just trying to give it all we can each week, and see what we accomplish,” he said. “We’ve already come a lot further than I thought we would after Chicago. I’m really proud of the team, and how they’ve hung in there, and they have done their best work in the last six weeks or so.”

As for Gordon, he’ll be keen on bouncing back from his Texas crash that effectively ended his shot at a fifth Sprint Cup. He’s won twice at PIR in his career, and has logged a pair of Top-10s in his last three starts there.

Bowyer finished sixth at PIR in the spring, but it hasn’t been one of his best tracks historically. In fact, he hasn’t led a lap there since the 2006 spring race. However, he did lead final practice yesterday, so if he can keep out of trouble (like, say, this sort of trouble), he may the speed to contend.

Then there’s Biffle, who, like Gordon, has grabbed Top-10s in two of his last three PIR races. “The Biff” led 39 laps early in the spring race at PIR, but finished 17th.

Position of F1 start lights altered to compensate for safety halo

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The position of start lights will be altered on Formula One tracks this season, in a bid to ensure the drivers’ line of vision is not impeded by the controversial halo protection device.

The halo is a titanium structure introduced this year in a bid to ramp up driver safety, forming a ring around the cockpit top. It is designed to protect the drivers’ head from loose debris and offer better safety during eventual collisions.

Although drivers largely understand the need for it, very few like it. They are worried it impedes visibility, it looks ugly and also that fans will no longer be able to identify a driver properly from his race helmet. Drivers also take longer to climb in and out of their cars.

Formula One’s governing body has addressed concerns and asked every circuit “to make the lights at a standard height above the track,” FIA race director Charlie Whiting said.

“Pole position seems to be the worst case scenario with the halo,” Whiting added at the season-opening Australian GP. “Maybe the driver can’t quite see the lights, or see only half of them, and he might have to move his head too much.”

The new start lights were positioned lower for Friday’s first two practice sessions at Albert Park. Drivers were also allowed the rare chance to rehearse grid starts at the end of both sessions.

“We haven’t normally allowed practice starts on the grid here because it’s quite a tight timetable,” Whiting said. “What I thought would be a good idea was to give the driver sight of those lights, rather than for the first time on Sunday evening.”

A repeat set of lights has been moved from its usual position halfway up the grid to a more convenient position to the left.

“Those repeat lights were normally halfway up the grid, and they were fitted round about 2009, when the rear wings became higher on the cars,” Whiting said. “But now the wings have been lowered, there’s no need for those halfway up the grid.”