Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, others ready for competition caution on Lap 50 at Bristol

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Now that the rain has stopped and we’re getting closer to drop of the the green flag for Sunday’s Food City 500, fans might wonder why NASCAR has called for a competition caution to be thrown at Lap 50.

The caution will be to primarily check tire wear on a track that will start under completely green conditions due to rain washing away all the rubber that was built up on the track Friday and Saturday in practice, qualifying and the Nationwide Series race.

At other tracks, most competition cautions fall typically between the 20-lap and 30-lap range.

So why wait until 50 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway?

A couple of reasons:

1. 50 laps at Bristol translates only into 26.65 miles in an event that is 266.50 miles in length. In other words, the competition caution will come just one-tenth of the way through the race.

2. If adjustments need to be made to cars, the competition caution is the perfect time to do so. Overall race strategy is also reevaluated, particularly with the green track at the start of the event.

NASCAR officials still remember what happened on a completely green race track during Friday’s Sprint Cup practice, when a number of drivers including Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Greg Biffle and Saturday’s Nationwide Series winner Kyle Busch all lost control and bounced off each other or had solo wrecks into the wall.

“The track’s going to be a challenge, it’s pretty green, tires are going to wear aggressively, the top groove is going to come in — who knows what we’ve got,” said Marcos Ambrose.

Pit stops under green flag racing planned before the race will potentially be juggled, if not some eliminated from teams’ initial strategy coming into the race with expectations that additional caution flags will fall due to wrecks or debris on the track.

“Hopefully, it’ll be okay,” Matt Kenseth said before the race. “It’ll be good once the track rubbers up and I think things are going to change a lot 75 or 100 laps in.

“You just have to pay a lot of attention to when it rubbers in … and keep searching around and keep trying to find that grip because it’s definitely going to change throughout the race.”

Bristol Motor Speedway has been particularly difficult to several drivers, including Tony Stewart, who counts Bristol as his second-worst performing track in his career.

Even six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has had difficulty at the half-mile bullring, with just one Sprint Cup career victory to date there.

“We all assume it’s going to be pretty loose at the start,” Johnson said. “Once we get 100 laps or so in, we’ll start to work on what the car really needs to set up for a race win.

“I just hope to survive here. You can be leading and have weird things happen. I have the survival mindset, and if we’re there at that last pit stop and know we have a car fast enough to win, but we’ve got to get there first.”

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IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.