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Kevin Harvick wins at Phoenix in just second start for new team

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Kevin Harvick said he wanted to win as quickly as possible this season for his new team, Stewart Haas Racing.

It didn’t take long.

In just his second start driving the No. 4 SHR Chevrolet, Harvick won his record fifth Sprint Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500.

“This has been a great racetrack for us through the years before the repave, after the repave,” Harvick said. “I feel like when I come here with Trucks, Nationwide, Cup, these are the types of racetracks I was brought up on. We used to come here for the Copper Classic, the Winston West days.  This was our Daytona 500. It’s fun to come here. I feel like the flat track stuff is something that we’ve had a good knack at. Over the years, we’ve been able to race a lot of different series and spend a lot of time on this racetrack.  You learn and apply that race after race after race and hopefully you can learn something each week.”

It was Harvick’s second straight win at PIR, having also done so last November in his second-to-last race for Richard Childress Racing.

“This just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” Harvick said, alluding to leaving RCR at the end of last season for SHR.

Even though he led the final 78 laps, a number of late restarts due to cautions caused Harvick some angst, especially with fourth-place finisher Joey Logano, who was the biggest thorn in Harvick’s side on those restarts.

“The 22 (Logano) was able to time the restarts and I knew he was going to take a shot down low,” Harvick said of the final restart. “Man, this is awesome.”

After finishing 13th in the season-opening Daytona 500, Harvick dominated Sunday’s race, leading 224 of the 312 laps in the 500-kilometer race.

“I’m just the lucky guy that gets to drive the car around the racetrack when they’re dialed in like they were today,” Harvick said. “Luckily, we were able to put it all together.”

Logano led the second-most laps (71).

“The back of Kevin’s car says ‘Freaky Fast,’ and they weren’t lying,” Logano said. “It was freaky fast because he just drives away from me. … He’s got something really figured out here and knows what he needs from his race car and was able to deliver. I went to school behind him a little bit, learned a little bit but I didn’t have enough to beat him.”

It was the 24th win of Harvick’s 14-year Sprint Cup career, and qualifies him along with Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. for this year’s reformatted Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Harvick, whose winning average was 134.524 mph, beat runnerup Earnhardt to the finish line by a margin of .060 seconds.

“We got running side-by-side for second, I just let Kevin get out a little too far,” Earnhardt said. “They did a great job all weekend. We ended up where I thought we should have finished. We were a little faster by the end, but they were stellar, impressive. We worked our butts off.”

Finishing third through 10th were Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski (who was also the pole-sitter) and Logano, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon ad Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Of all the drivers that had the best chance to potentially catch Harvick at the end, Logano seemed to have the edge, but ultimately came up short.

“I tried really hard,” Logano said. “With the new points structure, a win means so much to get you into the Chase. I was sitting there third and I knew my restarts were really good all day and I was able to push him along.

“I wasn’t sure if I had enough to get three-wide and go for it, but on the last restart, you go for it, you’ve got nothing to lose. Third place doesn’t mean nothing today. … It just didn’t work out.”

Johnson was disappointed not to get a top-five finish.

“We were decent all day long, we just need a little more time with the new package of this race car,” the six-time Sprint Cup champ said. “Strategy was on our side. We were certainly making up some time. Solid day. We’ll take it. Looking forward to next week’s race in Las Vegas.”

Other key elements of Sunday’s race:

— Kurt Busch had a strong run early, but apparently lost an engine cylinder early in the second half of the race, which ultimately led to the motor in his No. 41 Chevrolet blowing up with 15 laps. Busch ended up with a disappointing 38th place finish.

— Still recovering from last summer’s broken leg, and even with his No. 1 hero, A.J. Foyt, cheering him on, Tony Stewart finished 16th.

— Danica Patrick had a rough day, finishing 36th. First she got into a minor wreck with Justin Allgaier and then about a dozen laps later, she went for a single-car spin after flat-spotting her left rear tire.

— Kyle Busch, who dominated in winning his third straight Nationwide Series race at PIR on Saturday, wound up ninth in the Sprint Cup main event.

— Denny Hamlin, who finished second at Daytona, was never really a factor at Phoenix, ending up with a 19th-place finish, the second-to-last driver on the lead lap.

— Logano, made a somewhat unusual pit stop 80 laps from the checkered flag, taking four tires and a full load of fuel. While the pit window was more like 65 to 70 laps, Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, felt that with the fuel mileage his driver’s Ford Fusion was getting, that the car could make it to the finish line on that tank.

— Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, ending up in 20th place, the last driver on the lead lap.

— Fellow Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon, who started on the pole at Daytona last week, was barely heard from in Sunday’s event. Dillon ultimately finished 24th, one lap off the pace.

— Morgan Shepherd, who reset his own record for oldest driver in a Sprint Cup race (he’s 72), finished last, completing just 28 laps before calling it a day.

Here’s the unofficial finishing order:

1. Kevin Harvick

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

3. Brad Keselowski

4. Joey Logano

5. Jeff Gordon

6. Jimmie Johnson

7. Ryan Newman

8. Carl Edwards

9. Kyle Busch

10. Jamie McMurray

11. Kasey Kahne

12. Matt Kenseth

13. Clint Bowyer

14. Casey Mears

15. Aric Almirola

16. Tony Stewart

17. Greg Biffle

18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

19. Denny Hamlin

20. Kyle Larson

21. Marcos Ambrose

22. Martin Truex Jr.

23. Paul Menard

24. Austin Dillon

25. Brian Vickers

26. AJ Allmendinger

27. Cole Whitt

28. David Ragan

29. David Gilliland

30. Justin Allgaier

31. Reed Sorenson

32. Brian Scott

33. Michael McDowell

34. Michael Annett

35. Ryan Truex

36. Danica Patrick

37. Blake Koch

38. Travis Kvapil

39. Kurt Busch

40. Joe Nemechek

41. Alex Bowman

42. Parker Kligerman

43. Morgan Shepherd

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Annual Carb Night Burger Bash just two nights away, now downtown

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Photo courtesy Curt Cavin
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INDIANAPOLIS – One of the rapidly established traditions on Indianapolis 500 race week is the annual Carb Night Burger Bash, hosted by the Indianapolis Star‘s Curt Cavin and NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter/Indy Lights host Kevin Lee.

While it’s been a staple at 96th Street Steakburgers the last several years, this year, the event heads to Downtown Indianapolis for the first time in its nine-year history and has been redubbed as the Steak ‘n Shake Carb Night Burger Bash. It will go on rain or shine at the Pan Am Plaza, 201 S. Capitol Ave.

Featuring a live episode of Cavin and Kevin’s Trackside on The Fan radio in Indy (1070 AM, 93.5 FM) that is scheduled to start at 6 p.m., and no later than 6:30 p.m., will also see a number of items auctioned and raffled for a local nonprofit – Indianapolis-based Basic Needs, Simple Solutions. A live concert follows later, starting at 9 p.m.

There’s going to be a heavy IndyCar driver component too with potentially a third or more of the 33-car field tentatively scheduled for an appearance.

Per the Star, Graham Rahal leads the list of those planned to show up, along with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Pippa Mann, Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay, JR Hildebrand, Max Chilton, Stefan Wilson and Spencer Pigot.

Further details are available at this Star link. It’s usually a fun event and definitely a great family friendly occasion.

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Grosjean to race with Bianchi tribute on helmet in Monaco

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© Romain Grosjean Twitter (@RGrosjean)
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Romain Grosjean will race with a tribute to Jules Bianchi on his helmet in this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, commemorating the Frenchman’s ninth-place finish in the 2014 race.

Bianchi scored the first and only points of his Formula 1 career in Monaco two years ago, charging to P9 at the checkered flag to mark a major success for the backmarker Marussia team.

Bianchi sustained severe head injuries in an accident at the Japanese Grand Prix later that year, and died nine months later at the age of 25.

Grosjean revealed his Monaco helmet on Twitter, incorporating a tribute to Bianchi into his usual design to ensure he does not contravene the F1 regulations banning overhauls.

The design features a picture of Bianchi, his #17 race number and his result in Monaco. This year’s race marks the first in Monaco since his passing, with May 25 marking the second anniversary of his points finish.

F1 Preview: 2016 Monaco Grand Prix

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  General view of the harbour area during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2013 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Nelson Piquet once described racing around the streets of Monaco as being like riding a bicycle around your living room.

It’s an odd analogy, but it works. With the imposing walls just millimetres away, the ability to tame a Formula 1 car in the principality is deemed by most to separate the men from the boys.

And yet it is the driver closest to being considered a ‘boy’ that arrives in Monaco as the man to beat.

18-year-old Max Verstappen became the youngest winner in F1 history last time out in Spain on his Red Bull debut, fulfilling the prophecy he arrived in the sport with at the beginning of 2015.

Realistically, the Dutchman will know that without another turn of events such as those we saw in Barcelona, a repeat result is not on the cards. Mercedes remains the team to beat, meaning we’re geared up for another tete-a-tete between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Here are the key talking points ahead of the biggest weekend of the F1 season.

2016 Monaco Grand Prix – Talking Points

Whatever Mercedes says, it’s a big deal

Mercedes did a very good job of downplaying the clash between Rosberg and Hamilton in Spain. The team and the FIA both deemed it to be a racing incident, while both drivers were left disappointed and upset over the points lost for both their own title tilts and that of the team.

But it was clear from the post-race interviews that both Rosberg and Hamilton did that this wasn’t a small thing. It is a big deal, acting as the latest flashpoint in the frosty relationship between them.

It is perhaps fitting that we now head to Monaco, the site of Rosberg’s alleged cheat move in qualifying two years ago and where Mercedes blew the race for Hamilton in 2015.

Rosberg is chasing a fourth consecutive victory around the streets where he grew up, and Hamilton is looking to end his poor run in Monaco (just one F1 win in 2008). It’s set things up nicely for the battle between them.

Verstappen, Red Bull on a high

Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain was the stuff of F1 legend. Think Schumacher, Spain ’96. Think Hamilton, Canada ’07. Think Vettel, Italy ’08. It was the true arrival of one of the biggest talents in recent times.

A repeat result will be difficult given the advantage that Mercedes still has. Furthermore, Red Bull has opted to give its one updated power unit to the more experienced Daniel Ricciardo, making him the in-team favorite for the weekend.

For Red Bull, the target in Monaco will be to beat Ferrari once again. Spain was a shock as the Italian marque’s hopes of being ‘best of the rest’ in 2015 were dealt a serious blow. Quite whether Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen can strike back and end Ferrari’s barren Monaco run – no victory since 2001 – remains to be seen.

Rain on Sunday?

Just as Verstappen’s drive in Spain marked his arrival, conditions in Monaco this weekend look set to present an opportunity for the rest of the field – or maybe even Verstappen again – to etch their name into F1 folklore.

A wet race is on the cards according to F1’s official weather forecaster UBIMET: “Sunday will see more clouds than the days before along with an enhanced risk of showers during the afternoon. Moderate onshore winds and a maximum temperature around 20 degrees celsius are expected.”

The challenge of Monaco becomes all the greater in the rain. It could create a thrilling race.

Haas arrives on the big stage

This weekend’s race is a big one for Gene Haas. Not only will he see the NASCAR team he co-owns race in the Coca-Cola 600, but his new F1 team will make its very first appearance in Monaco.

Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both struggled with the VF-16 car over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, with the teething troubles typical of any new team beginning to bubble to the surface.

Just how Haas fares in its first Monaco weekend will be of keen interest to Haas, particularly from a marketing perspective. There’s nothing quite like Monaco – and if it’s a wet race, points could be on the cards once again.

Ultra-soft tire debuts

Pirelli’s new ultra-soft tire will make its long-awaited debut in Monaco this weekend after being tested over the winter and last week in Spain.

The purple-ringed compound is the newly-added softest tire that is made for street circuits such as Monaco, offering more grip and – under dry conditions – preventing the race from being a mundane one-stopper.

Naturally, rain will throw that out of the window, but it will nevertheless be of interest to the paddock how the new compound fares.

2016 Monaco Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Corners: 19
Lap Record: Daniel Ricciardo 1:18.063 (2015)
Tire Compounds: Soft/Super-Soft/Ultra-Soft
2015 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:15.098
2015 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:18.063
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1)

2016 Monaco Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 4am ET 5/26
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 5/26
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 5/28
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 5/28
Race: NBC 7:30am ET 5/29 (F1 Countdown on NBCSN 7am-7:30am)

IMS confirms 100th Indy 500 full sellout, local TV blackout lifted

Indy 500
May 22th, 2016
©2016 Walt Kuhn
Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, have confirmed the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will be a full sellout, with all reserved seats, general admission and suites sold out.

Additionally, to accommodate fans who can’t attend on site, there will be a, for the moment, one-year lifting of the local blackout on the ABC affiliate in Indianapolis.

The WRTV broadcast will be shown live, marking only the third time the race will be broadcast live on Central Indiana television and the first time since the early 1950’s. The race will still air in its usual delayed time slot at 7 p.m.

Quick notes from the IMS release are in the block below:

“There’s no event in the world like the Indy 500,” said Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles. “This sellout is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the thrilling racing of the Verizon IndyCar Series and the bright future for both.”

“The Indy 500 is a uniquely Hoosier event,” added Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles. “The community support for the this race has fueled excitement for the 100th Running and paves the way for the next century for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500.”

On May 6, IMS officials announced a sellout of reserved seating for the race. This included all grandstand seating, suite hospitality and several temporary suites built in turns 1 and 2. General Admission tickets continued to be available for purchase via the IMS ticketing office. Steady and increased demand for GA tickets led to today’s announcement. The Indy 500 Snake Pit presented by Coors Light is sold out as well. Tickets for Carb Day and Legends Day still remain.

Additional notes from his morning’s hastily called press conference at the Speedway:

Both took the opportunity to thank Emmis Communications for their assistance in the process. Emmis is host broadcaster of the IMS Radio Network’s race coverage, which will continue as scheduled, live from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Boles added that “this does not happen without the support of this community” and preached three words: “Early, plan and patience” with regards to timing and patience.

Miles confirmed that for the moment, the local lifting of the TV blackout is a one-year only component, unless a future announced full sellout occurs.

“Our feeling – under these circumstances – is that we cannot accommodate more people. So the live TV component comes into play,” Miles explained.

“We do not anticipate live (TV) coverage again. But if a sellout happens again, it would be considered.

“Radio was a tougher hurdle to clear… but we could work through it,” Miles added.

Without getting into further details, Miles also said “yes” to enhanced security for this year’s race – the process of which will be detailed following planned operational meetings.