Phoenix Update: Harvick dominating as expected

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Despite starting 13th, Kevin Harvick was pegged as the favorite going into today’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and he hasn’t done anything to change that line of thinking in the first half of today’s race.

At Lap 156 of 312, Harvick held the lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson.

Logano got ahead of polesitter and Team Penske compadre Keselowski on the opening lap, but Harvick quickly raised eyebrows by charging into the Top 5 after just seven laps.

He would then dust Earnhardt, Johnson, and Keselowski to get up to second position before a competition caution kicked in at Lap 35, so teams could check their cars’ tire wear after yesterday’s rains washed the rubber off the one-mile PIR oval.

Logano had already lapped up to 33rd place by the time he and the rest of the leaders came to the pits for their opening stops of the day. He lost the race off pit road to Keselowski but was able to get the lead right back on the restart at Lap 41.

But Harvick was able to break the Penske 1-2 by getting past Keselowski for second on Lap 70. Four laps later, he claimed the lead from Logano with a pass that started along the dogleg backstretch and ended going into Turn 3. Earnhardt then made his way past both Penske drivers to get up to second by Lap 90.

Green flag pit stops began after the Lap 100 mark with Kyle Busch among those that chose to pit a little early in the cycle at Lap 107.

Harvick pitted from the lead at Lap 112 and was able to hold P1 after the cycle played out, with Earnhardt in second, Logano in third, Keselowski in fourth, and Jeff Gordon in fifth.

By Lap 125, Harvick had already stretched out to a lead of 1.5 seconds over the Daytona 500 winner and the gap has stabilized around that margin.

With just one caution in the first half of the race, the pace has been quick enough to leave just 17 cars on the lead lap at the Lap 156 halfway mark.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.