AdvoCare 500 - Practice

Dale Jr. tops Friday practice for Sprint Cup at Phoenix

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Coming ahead of the debut of NASCAR’s new knock-out qualifying format, today’s 90-minute practice session for the Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix International Raceway was already going to be important.

But with rain in the forecast this weekend in Phoenix – particularly for tonight and Saturday – there’s the distinct possibility that today’s practice may be the only one the Cup stars get for Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500.

One driver that appears ready is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made his way to the top of the time sheets late today with a lap of 25.951 seconds around the one-mile PIR oval.

Before practice, the newly-crowned Daytona 500 champion said that it would be easy to get back into a racing mindset this weekend after his cross-country media blitz over the last few days.

“[The team and I are] still gonna be talking and thinking and joking about that win even [during] this weekend, but that’s not a bad problem to have on a race weekend – talking about last week,” he said to reporters.

“I feel like I shouldn’t have any problem getting out there on the race track and doing the best I can do. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve had the opportunity to win races and get back next weekend and do it again. It should be no problem.”

Joey Logano was second-fastest in the session with a time of 26.022 seconds, followed by Kyle Busch in third (26.042), Greg Biffle in fourth (26.104), and rookie Austin Dillon in fifth (26.125).

Weather permitting, qualifying is set to take place later this evening at 6:40 p.m. ET and will feature the two-round version of the new format, as Phoenix is less than 1.25 miles in length.

The Top 12 cars from the 30-minute opening round will move into the 10-minute second round that determines the pole sitter for Sunday’s event.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.

Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.

His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.

But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.

Williams maximizes wet setup work despite limited running in Sochi

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With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.

Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.

Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.

“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.

“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”

Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.