Denny Hamlin, pictured after winning last November's season-ending race at Homestead, is looking to start the 2014 season with a win in the Daytona 500. Given how he's performed thus far in Speedweeks, Hamlin has to be considered one of the favorites to win Sunday in the Great American Race.

Denny Hamlin eyes Speedweeks trifecta with Daytona 500 win; 5 fail to make field

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin staked his claim as the favorite to win Sunday’s Daytona 500 after capturing the second Budweiser Duel 150 Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, in addition to last Saturday’s triumph in the Sprint Unlimited.

Hamlin held off late charges by both Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch. Hamlin’s win put a decided Joe Gibbs Racing bookend on the evening, as teammate Matt Kenseth won the first of the two Duel races a couple of hours earlier.

“Just keep doing what we’re doing,” Hamlin said when asked what are his thoughts now going into Sunday’s race. “We’re on a roll obviously and we executed the race today great.”

Hamlin, who ended last season with a win at Homestead, is looking to become the first driver in Sprint Cup history to sweep all three major events of the season-opening Speedweeks: the Sprint Unlimited, one of the two Duels and cap it off with a win in the Great American Race.

But despite the success he’s had so far this year, Hamlin is not taking anything for granted, either.

“We still don’t have any more points than anyone at this point of the year, so we still have a lot of work to do,” Hamlin said.

With his runner-up showing in the second Duel Thursday night, Gordon will start sixth in Sunday’s main event, right behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne (fifth) and three spots ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ninth).

“I think we snuck in there with a quiet, under the radar, very fast car that’s capable of winning this race,” Gordon said. “I like it that way. Let some of those other guys get all the attention and get that target on their back.”

Fellow HMS teammate and defending Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson – who also hopes to begin his march to a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, as well – will start 32nd after running out of gas on the final lap of the second Duel and had his car hit by Jamie McMurray, triggering a multi-car wreck.

Kurt Busch will be the highest starting of the four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers in the 500, taking the green flag from the eighth spot.

Tony Stewart will start 21st, Danica Patrick 27th and Kevin Harvick, whose runner-up finish in Thursday’s first duel was disqualified for a track bar violation, will start 38th.

“It’s a great start for us,” Busch said. “Thanks to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart, it’s away we go. … We’re proud to be upfront in the Great American Race.”

Busch is still in pursuit of his first Daytona 500 victory. He came close in 2007, finishing second, pushing then-Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman to the win.

Given how quickly he’s fit in at Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch feels at home in his new NASCAR address.

“It’s been everything I’ve hoped it to be,” Busch said. “This is a first-class organization built upon a championship foundation. It’s time to race. This is where you roll your sleeves up and where you lean on the communication of the team.”

When he was brought into the DIS media center after the second Duel, Busch was unaware that Harvick’s runner-up finish in the first Duel earlier in the evening had been disqualified after failing post-race inspection due having “exceeded the maximum split on the track bar,” according to NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp.

Busch tried to add some levity to the incident, saying with a laugh, “Oh, that’s not good. Maybe there was a 12-pack in the trunk.”

The younger Busch brother, Kyle, was not laughing, though, finishing 21st of 24 drivers in the second duel. Kyle Busch will ultimately start Sunday’s race from the 37th position, alongside Harvick, ironically enough.

Austin Dillon will lead the field to the green flag from the pole position in Sunday’s 500-mile season-opener, with Martin Truex Jr. alongside on the front row.

Kenseth and Hamlin will share Row 2, Kasey Kahne and Gordon on Row 3, Marcos Ambrose and Kurt Busch on Row 4 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard will start from Row 5.

(Full starting grid at bottom of this story)

Five drivers failed to qualify for the race: Eric McClure, Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek, Michael McDowell and Morgan Shepherd, who was attempting to make the field as the oldest driver to ever race in a 500 (Shepherd is 72).

Starting lineup for 56TH Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014:

Row 1

Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr.

Row 2

Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin

Row 3

Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon

Row 4

Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch

Row 5

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard

Row 6

Josh Wise, Brian Scott

Row 7

Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne

Row 8

AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson

Row 9

David Gilliland, Landon Cassill

Row 10

Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer

Row 11

Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray

Row 12

Cole Whitt, Terry Labonte

Row 13

Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte

Row 14

Danica Patrick, Casey Mears

Row 15

Alex Bowman, Carl Edwards

Row 16

Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson

Row 17

Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 18

Joey Logano, Michael Annett

Row 19

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick

Row 20

Reed Sorenson, Justin Allgaier

Row 21

Parker Kligerman, Michael Waltrip

Row 22

David Ragan

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Arden confirms Eriksson, Jeffri for 2016 GP2 season

2016 GP2 Series Testing.
Jerez, Spain.
Wednesday 30 March 2016
Jimmy Eriksson (SWE) Arden International 
Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C1139
© GP2 Series
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Arden International will race with an all-new line-up in the 2016 GP2 Series season after announcing the arrival of Jimmy Eriksson and Nabil Jeffri to the team on Friday.

After ailing to its worst season in GP2 last year with Andre Negrao and Norman Nato sharing driving duties, Arden has drafted in GP3 race winner Eriksson and F3 racer Jeffri in a bid to revive its fortunes.

Eriksson moves up to GP2 after spending three seasons in GP3, and is relishing the opportunity to move up the motorsport ladder with Arden.

“I am thrilled to be joining the GP2 Series field with Arden International this season,” Eriksson said. “It’s what I’ve been working towards and dreaming about over the winter, and I can’t wait for the first race.

“GP2 is an extremely competitive series and I will have a lot to learn, but I really gelled with the team during pre-season testing and that’s where we’ll pick up in Barcelona in a few weeks’ time.

“I think my experience of GP3 will stand me in good stead for this move, particularly in terms of track knowledge. I feel quite comfortable with that already.

“We will have to be realistic and take things step by step, but I’m massively looking forward to this new challenge.”

Jeffri will get the chance to race in front of his home crowd in September when GP2 returns to Malaysia in support of the Formula 1 race at the Sepang International Circuit.

“I am very excited to be joining Arden International for my step into GP2 Series,” Jeffri said. “We have had some positive pre-season testing sessions and I have enjoyed working with a team who are very professional and encouraging.

“I look forward to a great rookie season. This has been my lifelong dream and I very much look forward to living it out in front of my fellow Malaysians when we race at my home circuit later this year.

“The Sepang Circuit is one many drivers find challenging, so I hope my experience on this track will help my performance, and I will do Malaysia proud.”

The new GP2 season kicks off in two weeks’ time in support of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Ricciardo: In-cockpit visibility ‘pretty good’ with aeroscreen

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo has given a thumbs-up to the Red Bull-designed ‘aeroscreen’ cockpit protection device after giving it its first public trial in Russia on Friday.

Cockpit safety has been high on the FIA’s agenda following the deaths of Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing.

There are two leading solutions to improving cockpit safety: the ‘Halo’, which made its public debut in F1 pre-season testing, and the ‘aeroscreen’ that broke cover on Friday.

Ricciardo completed an installation run with the aeroscreen attached to his car, leading to a mixed response from the paddock, but the Australian reported that visibility was still good in the cockpit.

“I think in terms of visibility it was pretty good,” Ricciardo said.

“The peripheral vision was fine. The structure is by the mirrors, so you’re not really hindered.

“It’s just a bit weird having a structure there. I had a Ferrari driving in front of me and the points on track seemed pretty much unaltered. For sure, it’s different, but the crux of it was pretty good.”

Ricciardo does not think that the height of the aeroscreen would change a driver’s view of the starting lights from the front row of the grid.

“I tried to have a look around and see. It seemed pretty high up,” Ricciardo said.

“If I was to stop on starting grid, I don’t think it would hinder vision.”

The aeroscreen and the Halo are both under consideration for possible implementation in 2017, with a decision set to be made in the near future regarding next season’s technical regulations.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: On rules, regs and female race drivers

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer battles for position with Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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With the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy now off until the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend May 12-14 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s a break for Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist.

Not so, a break for Stefan Johansson, the F1 veteran-turned their driver manager and also the sporting director for Scuderia Corsa.

The Los Angeles-based sports car team heads up the California coast to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race in Monterey, where once again the team’s Ferrari 488 GTE and GT3 variants will compete in separate GT Le Mans and GT Daytona class races.

Johansson has checked in with Jan Tegler for a catch-up following F1’s Chinese Grand Prix, and the last two IndyCar races of the year in Long Beach and Barber.

While the racing is part of Johansson’s latest blog entry, the majority centers on rules, regulations and recent comments from F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone about whether female drivers could make it in F1.

Although the first round of 2017 regulations have been confirmed with today’s earlier news that new engine regulations have been signed off on for a four-year period from 2017 to 2020, Johansson is skeptical that as long as the teams are involved, there won’t be a consensus when it comes to the new technical regulations.

“I don’t think we’ll see anything of any substance,” Johansson writes. “I’ve been saying it for three years now but it will be the same old thing. You have to get the teams out of the decision making process or nothing will happen. They can’t agree on anything.

“If something does come out the meeting it will be a half-baked compromise that will drive costs even higher and make the racing even more complicated. There won’t be a simple solution. It will be something so convoluted and expensive that it would be better if they did nothing.”

Johansson added that rules stability is needed more than a shakeup; inevitably the more rules change, the more costs increase to keep pace with the changes.

Officiating was in the crosshairs at Long Beach, when an official warning was assessed to Simon Pagenaud rather than any sort of official penalty – drive-through or otherwise – for when Pagenaud violated the Lane Usage rule in INDYCAR’s rulebook.

While Johansson disagreed with what Pagenaud was assessed, he also said INDYCAR Race Control was almost put into an untenable position anyway because of the way the rulebook – and INDYCAR’s new-for-2016 Penalty Guidelines sheet – is written.

“Long Beach was interesting and confusing,” Johansson admits. “I ended up having a long conversation with Max Papis (one of the three stewards along with Arie Luyendyk and Dan Davis) about it because no one could understand their illogical decision.

“As stupid as it may sound, I think the bottom line is that they’ve been handed such a convoluted set of rules that they just couldn’t act because there wasn’t anything in the rulebook that applied to this particular situation. Which is totally bizarre as this must be one of the easiest rules of all to enforce.”

Like others within the INDYCAR paddock, Johansson argues a clearer, more black-and-white form of rules will be a better way towards officiating in the future.

“I just wish they could make decisions and then stand behind them rather than the wishy-washy situation we have now. No one knows where they stand,” he writes.

He did give credit to Race Control for staying out of the way at Barber, as Pagenaud and Graham Rahal enjoyed a spirited battle for the win in the final 10 laps.

“The racing between Pagenaud and Rahal was just that, hard racing. To me, their contact was a racing incident. In this case, I’m glad IndyCar didn’t issue a bunch of penalties. You have to let drivers race sometimes,” he writes.

When it comes to female drivers in racing, Johansson says it isn’t gender that’s holding them back: it’s pure numerology.

“I don’t know the exact number of professional drivers worldwide right now but let’s say there are at least 2,000 each year. How many of those are females? Ten maybe? What are the chances that one of those ten is going to be competitive with the best of the rest? Sheer statistics are against it,” he notes.

Johansson writes that he thinks a woman driver could make it to F1 based on physical ability – he says the cars aren’t nearly as hard to drive as they used to be. But whether any female driver makes it, or similarly any males with similar record, comes down to results.

“I don’t think it would difficult for a woman do to the physical training required to get to that level but the point is that motor racing is a fairly pure culture. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, you won’t make it,” he says.

“My point is that once there is a female good enough they should and will have to prove themselves. There are many men who are very good but not good enough. There is a lot of noise being made about female drivers but if you look at the results, the facts… that’s all you need to see. You’re not entitled to something until you prove yourself. May the best driver win, independent of gender.”

Those thoughts, as well as Johansson’s take on the Chinese Grand Prix, the crazy first lap there, Dixon’s own tough luck at both Long Beach and Barber, an update on how Rosenqvist did in his first U.S. road racing weekend (as opposed to ovals and street courses) and thoughts on the FIA WEC opener from Silverstone are also included in Johansson’s blog.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Sirotkin enjoys strong first Renault F1 practice outing

Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS16 Test Driver.
Russian Grand Prix, Friday 29th April 2016. Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.
© Renault Sport
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Sergey Sirotkin’s first Formula 1 practice run-out for Renault on Friday in Sochi proved to be a successful one as he finished eight-tenths of a second quicker than full-time driver Jolyon Palmer.

It was announced earlier this week that GP2 race winner Sirotkin had joined Renault in the role of test driver for the 2016 season, and would take part in FP1 for his home race in Russia in place of Kevin Magnussen.

Sirotkin posted a quickest lap time of 1:40.898 around the Sochi Autodrom in his first run in the Renault R.S.16 car to finish the session 13th overall, eight-tenths clear of Palmer.

The Russian’s time was made all the more impressive by the fact he had a problem with his seat position in the car throughout the session.

“My target for today was to give the team exactly what they wanted from the session,” Sirotkin said.

“I tried to remain very calm even though it is, of course, very exciting to get to drive a Formula 1 car. Obviously, it’s always beneficial when your lap time looks good but I felt comfortable delivering at today’s level even if it wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been with my seat.

“I am happy that I have started this long programme with Renault Sport Formula One Team in a positive manner.”

Renault trackside operations manager Alan Permane was happy with Sirotkin’s efforts, and felt that the team had made a fair start to the race weekend in Sochi.

“A productive first day for us. It was Sergey’s first time in the car and he did a very positive job for us,” Permane said.

“We weren’t able to get the seating position perfect for him yet despite this he delivered good pace and feedback.

“Jolyon had a straight-forward couple of sessions concentrating on aero development in the first session and a further front wing back-to-back comparison as well as tyre work in the afternoon.

“Kevin didn’t suffer from missing FP1 and was able to deliver everything required from FP2. We’ve still got some work to do, in particular with an oversteer balance.

“There are improvements possible, but it’s a reasonable start to the weekend.”