Coke Zero 400 - Qualifying

Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick suffer motor failures in Daytona practice

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Snap, crackle, pop.

That was not the sound Tony Stewart heard when he sat down for breakfast Saturday morning.

Instead, Stewart was coming out of Turn 1 at Daytona International Speedway when the Hendrick Motorsports motor in his No. 14 Stewart Haas Chevrolet broke, sending Stewart limping to the pits and in search of a new motor for Sunday’s qualifying for the Daytona 500.

“It wasn’t anything we knew was a warning, it just happened all at once,” Stewart said. “The motor they put in tomorrow will be just as good as this one.”

But Stewart’s engine issue was not an isolated incident. Also suffering almost identical engine failure were Stewart’s teammate, Danica Patrick, and Bobby Labonte – again, all driving Chevrolets with Hendrick Motorsports motors under the hood.

HMS leases motors to a number of teams, including Stewart Haas Racing, as well as HScott Motorsports, for whom Labonte drives for. In addition, Labonte’s teammate, Justin Allgaier, also had issues – although not as serious as Labonte – when the motor in his car started leaking oil.

While Stewart and Patrick will compete in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited in cars with different motors, they will have yet other engines under the hood during Sunday’s qualifying for the 500, which begins at 1 pm ET.

And even if they wind up on the front row Sunday – qualifying that day will only determine the front row for the 56th annual running of the Great American Race – any of the drivers that have had to go to backup engines for qualifying will have to start at the rear of the field for Thursday’s Budweiser Twin 150 Duels, which will flesh out the remainder of the 43-car Daytona 500 starting grid.

Ironically, none of the four regular Hendrick Motorsports drivers – six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champ Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Kasey Kahne – suffered motor problems during Saturday morning’s practice.

However, it was apparent that HMS motors, even if they didn’t break or blow up, were significantly down on power. Gordon was the fastest HMS driver during the session, but had only the 21st-fastest showing on the speed chart.

Patrick had been running as fast as 19th before her motor let go, about 10 minutes after Stewart’s motor failed heading onto the backstretch.

“It was a concern when Tony blew up, and then we did,” Patrick said. “It’s something we’re doing in our family, I guess, and we need to figure it out. I’m sure the Hendrick teams are wondering what is going on.”

Indeed they are wondering and immediately went to work on the issue.

“At this point, from the driver comments and the data we’ve been able to look at, it is something in the bottom end of the engine,” HMS director of track support Scott Maxim said.

When asked if the motor failures were identical or similar, Maxim added, “Until we get the engines further apart to be able to more closely analyze, I really couldn’t say anything more than that.”

Although the failures impacted the teams and how they’ll start in the Twin 150s, Maxim was cautiously optimistic that the problem will be diagnosed and rectified.

“We’ll be all right,” Maxim said. “We’ll make the changes needed and I think that we’ll be able to make corrective action. We’ll be able to look the engines over closely and make sure we’re not going into tomorrow with an issue and then after that, we’ll be all good.”

HMS’s loss was most definitely Richard Childress Racing’s gain, as its three drivers shined in both practice sessions. Paul Menard was fastest in the first session and new teammate Ryan Newman, who spent the previous four years racing HMS motors while at Stewart Haas Racing, was fastest in the second session.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 Paddock Pass: McLaren MCL32 Honda Launch (VIDEO)

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The week of Formula 1 car launches continue with two more today, the Ferrari SF70H online and later, the McLaren MCL32 Honda in Woking, in the U.K.

The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass continues along with it, with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales making the trip to the McLaren Technology Center (MTC) for today’s McLaren launch of the new orange-and-black liveried car.

Hopes are high that the Honda-powered McLaren will be more than just troubling the midfield this year, and instead making that next leap back into the upper crust of Formula 1, where both McLaren and Honda have so much history together.

Those tasked with that goal include American Zak Brown, the team’s new executive director, drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, and a host of others including but not limited to Jonathan Neale and Eric Boullier of McLaren, and Yusuke Hasegawa of Honda.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Stay tuned for more on NBCSports.com in the buildup to testing next week in Barcelona. A recap of the launches held this weekend will come next week, to link up with the start of testing on February 27 at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona.

NHRA Funny Car: Cruz Pedregon ready to ‘retool, regroup and reload’ in 2017

2015 NHRA Englishtown
(Photos courtesy Toyota Racing)
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Veteran Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon is used to winning races and championships.

He’s tied with the legendary Don “The Snake” Prudhomme for fifth on the NHRA all-time Funny Car wins list with 35 triumphs.

He also is a two-time NHRA Funny Car season champion (1992, 2008).

But the driver of the Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry Funny Car is not used to the kind of dismal season he had in 2016 – and he’s bound and determined to dramatically change that in 2017.

The 2016 season was the worst of Pedregon’s career. He failed to win a race for the second straight season, failed to advance past the first round of eliminations in 18 of the season’s 24 races, failed to qualify for the sport’s biggest race of the season — the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis — and missed qualifying for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

2017 NHRA Pomona Winternationals

When the season concluded, Pedregon found himself with a disappointing 12th place finish in the final standings. As far as he was concerned, he only had one place to go, and that was up in 2017.

“I needed to go through a rebuilding mode, like they do in football, baseball and basketball,” Pedregon told MotorSportsTalk. “I had to do a better job of bringing people in and figuring out what I needed to purchase as an owner.

“That’s not how I want to race, so I made the changes I felt we needed to make.”

The biggest change was the guy under the hood. As both a driver and team owner, Pedregon had tuned his own car since 2010. But during the off-season, he hired a new crew chief, Aaron Brooks, formerly of the Lucas Oil Top Fuel team that disbanded after last season.

“At the end of the day, the competition has raised the bar the last two years,” the 53-year-old Pedregon said. “Unless you’re part of a satellite team or part of a multi-car team, those things can elude you if you’re a single car team.

“So, I feel not being part of a multi-car team and not really having a crew chief or car chief that had some connection with the technology, I just felt we got behind from a technical standpoint and it caught up to us.

“We had some good years in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and ‘13 was my best year (since his last championship season in 2008). We won four races and were in the championship conversation all the way up to the end (finished fourth, preceded by fourth-place finish in 2012 and third-place finish in 2011).

“Then in 2014, we dropped off a little bit (finished 10th), and 2015 (finished ninth) we declined in performance and consistency and then we hit the bottom last year. So, I had to retool, regroup and reload, and that’s what I did by hiring Aaron, who was with the Lucas Oil Top Fuel time for the last five years.

“Aaron has great attention to detail and is very crafty. He’s kind of a throwback crew chief. More modern-day crew chiefs sit behind a computer and makes calls based on data, while Aaron is more of a hands-on guy, working with the team. My team really needed that.

“I feel now we have a car that’s built properly, it’s on-par or exceeds what’s currently out there winning the races. Now what lies ahead of us is to go out and execute. We have to go out and prove that not only can we build a nice car and have a nice influx of equipment, and now we’re going to go out on the track.”

Because Brooks did not join the team until January, Pedregon had limited preseason testing. In the season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Pomona, California two weeks ago, Pedregon failed to advance past the first round.

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But that’s going to change, Pedregon promises. He comes into this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix looking for bigger and better results.

“We need these runs under our belts so we can get the consistency that we need to race with these guys,” Pedregon said. “I feel like performance-wise, we’re going to be right near the top. I’d say top-five is what we’re shooting for and I don’t see why we can’t start that this weekend in Phoenix.”

By the same token, Pedregon is prepared to bide his time if additional patience and time is needed to get back into the thick of the Funny Car ranks.

“We’re going to experience some growing pains, but there’s not a guy on this team that doesn’t feel like the potential is through the roof,” Pedregon said. “Personally, I think we won the off-season free agency game in landing Aaron Brooks.

“Yeah, we lost early in Pomona, but the sky is the limit with this group. We ran a career-best in a ‘must’ qualifying run on Saturday.

“Realistically, it may take four or five races, but I don’t think much more than that. Much like a football team, the first two quarters may not show what we’ve got, but the last two quarters, we’ll really show what we have.

“I’m motivated like no other. I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulder because the last couple of years. While I was optimistic, I had to really go through that to get to the point where I’m at now and say, ‘Look, I can’t do this by myself. I tried.’

“That being said, I’ve enjoyed some good years with crew chiefs. The last time I had a bonafide crew chief, who really gets in there and does what a crew chief does, was back in 2007 through 2009 with Rahn Tobler, and in those three years, we won a championship.

“Now we’ve got Aaron on board … any time I pull up to the line, I feel we have a shot to win.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Michelin gathers all GTLM cars, road going cars at Sebring (VIDEO)

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One of the elements about sports car racing that is pretty cool is that there is a huge track-to-street correlation, with manufacturers using what they learn at the track and helping to build for their street product.

Although Michelin welcomes and generally prefers competition within the GT Le Mans class, the only class open to tire competition in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, at the moment it works with all five manufacturers present – Chevrolet, Ford, Porsche, Ferrari and BMW.

Given the unique opportunity and the timing of this week’s IMSA test at Sebring International Raceway, Michelin organized a special track-to-street photo and video shoot to bring each of the race cars that compete in the class together with its equivalent road going variant on the same track at the same time.

The Corvette C7.R, Ford GT, Porsche 911 RSR (now mid-engined), Ferrari 488 GTE and BMW M6 GTLM are the five cars that currently compete in the GTLM class.

From a Michelin release:

“We want to create special content to show consumers the incredibly tight and authentic track-to-street links for Michelin and our technical partners, and to showcase the WeatherTech Championship and the GTLM class,” said Sarah Robinson, motorsport marketing manager, Michelin North America.

“When you see the two cars side-by-side you realize just how close the collaboration is with Michelin and our technical partners.”

Close on the heels of the successful launch experience of the MICHELIN Pilot Sport 4 S, the strong images and video captured at Sebring this week continue to tell the story of Michelin performance and safety.

See the video above and the overall main image, below. The 65th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring runs March 18.

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Photo courtesy Michelin North America

Graham Rahal visits the Honda Classic (PHOTOS)

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Rahal for the putt. Photo courtesy Honda Racing
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In the buildup to the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener at St. Petersburg on March 12, a number of drivers are visiting other sporting events of note.

Graham Rahal has been one of the busiest. The driver of the No. 15 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing made a pit stop at the Bridgestone Winter Classic in January and this week has been out to the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Anyway, 28-year-old Rahal is an avid PGA Tour follower and fan and when time allows, brushes off his own set of clubs for the event’s Honda Classic Cares Pro Am presented by Tire Kingdom. He’s also used golf as a fundraiser; he’s raised over $300,000 to benefit children’s charities (with the golf tournament he did around the Indy 500).

Rahal, who won the Pro Am twice in 2011 and 2012 and came second the next year with motorsports fan Rickie Fowler, himself one of the young stars on the PGA Tour, was only able to get in four holes this week owing to poor weather. But with a new putter that’s the same model as the one used by recent world number one player Jason Day, Rahal sank a rather impressive 40-foot putt. Rahal was playing in a group with Smylie Kaufman, and credited him for the advice.

A handful of photos from the event are below (courtesy Honda Racing):

Rahal with Rickie Fowler.
Rahal with Rickie Fowler.
Rahal with Smylie Kaufman.
Rahal with Smylie Kaufman.
Rahal with Daniel Berger, golfer and car enthusiast.
Rahal with Daniel Berger, golfer and car enthusiast.
Rahal with Emma Talley, LPGA Tour rising star and Crimson Tide alumna.
Rahal with Emma Talley, LPGA Tour rising star and Crimson Tide alumna.
Rahal tees off.
Rahal tees off.
Rahal with Shane and Wyatt Vince.
Rahal with Shane and Wyatt Vince.