Gibbs teams in position to contend at Bristol

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Joe Gibbs Racing’s trio of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch haven’t been able to break into Victory Lane so far this season. But judging from their pace this weekend, it appears that they’ll be in position to get on the board in 2014 during tomorrow’s Food City 500.

Bristole Motor Speedway has been good for JGR, which has won six of the last 10 races there. Additionally, in each of the last three years at Bristol, a JGR driver has won: Busch in 2011 (spring race), Hamlin in 2012 (night race), and Kenseth last year (night race).

And it looks like they’ll threaten to stretch their current streak into a fourth consecutive year. Hamlin’s track record pole run and relatively solid showings in practice this weekend (third in Practice 1, sixth in Practice 2) makes him a contender.

But Kenseth, already a three-time winner at Bristol, has also been steady this weekend after winding up 30th in the first practice session. He bounced back from that to qualify third yesterday, and was P4 and P2 in this morning’s two practice sessions.

Then there’s Busch, who has claimed five Bristol wins in his career (a feat his older brother, Kurt, also shares). “Rowdy” was forced to go to a backup car after damaging his primary in the first practice, but has still maintained good pace and will roll off from within the Top 10.

Here’s a few others that could be worth watching over tomorrow’s 500-lapper in Thunder Valley:

Ryan Newman (starting ninth)
Not a bad start for the Brickyard 400 champion at Richard Childress Racing (back-to-back Top-10s at Phoenix and Las Vegas), and he’s been toward the top in all of the practices (including P1 in the second session).

Kurt Busch (starting 13th)
If any track can help the Outlaw get in gear after a disappointing beginning to 2014, it’s Bristol. He’s been P1, P3, and P5 in the practices. Don’t be surprised to see him leading the Stewart-Haas armada tomorrow.

Kevin Harvick (starting 27th)
Track position will not be his friend to start, but he appears to have a good pace on the No. 4 car (Top-10 in the second and third practices). Good races can go ugly in an instant at Bristol, so he’ll have to be doubly concerned as he tries to move through the field.

Martin Truex, Jr. (starting 29th)
Like Harvick, Truex had a poor qualifying session but has been reasonably quick in practice (P9, P8, and P6). It’s been a slow start in his new environment at Furniture Row (25th in points after three races), so he needs a good run.

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”