Food City 500 - Practice

UPDATE: Kyle Busch leads as rain-marred Food City 500 reaches halfway

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After a three hour, 19-minute rain delay, the Food City 500 was finally resumed at Bristol Motor Speedway shortly after 7 p.m. ET on Lap 124 of 500.

The red flag was pulled and the race resumed under yellow while jet dryers worked on parts of pit road. On Lap 136, the green flag came back out at last, with drivers racing toward a competition caution 50 laps from that point at Lap 186.

On Lap 153, Kurt Busch – who had been in fourth place out of the red flag – was able to take the lead from Matt Kenseth after riding the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s quarter panel for several laps.

Two laps later, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt wrecked going into Turn 1, causing the leaders to check up as Whitt’s wounded car went off the banking.

But despite the caution lights flashing, Timmy Hill failed to slow down in time and slammed into the back of Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota, causing it considerable rear damage.

Kenseth made multiple trips to pit road under the caution so his team could repair as best they could. He fell back to 30th but was able to keep on the lead lap.

The green came back out at Lap 166, and 13 laps later, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray was able to get by Kurt Busch on the inside to take P1 ahead of the Lap 186 competition caution.

The leaders chose to pit, but Clint Bowyer decided to stay out and moved into the lead ahead of Kyle Busch, McMurray, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.

Two laps after the Lap 193 restart, Kyle Busch dispatched Bowyer to take the lead. Meanwhile, Kenseth was able to charge back into the Top 5 after his incident with Hill, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell out of the Top 10 due to a tight-handling car.

At the halfway mark (Lap 251 of 500), Kyle Busch was maintaining the lead over Kasey Kahne, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin.

UPDATE – FIRST 124 LAPS (BEFORE RED FLAG)

When Sunday’s Food City 500 was stopped by rain 124 laps into the scheduled 500-lap event, several drivers that were expected to have good days found themselves playing catch-up after one-quarter of the race.

With 126 laps left to halfway and one more lap after that to make it an “official” race (one lap past halfway) if need be,

The running order when the red flag fell featured this top-10 at the time:

1 Matt Kenseth

2 Jamie McMurray

3 Brad Keselowski

4 Kurt Busch

5 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

6 Kevin Harvick

7 Kyle Larson

8 Denny Hamlin

9 Kasey Kahne

10 Aric Almirola

Joey Logano lost his power steering after about the first 20 laps and struggled from that point on, falling to 28th when the red flag dropped.

“500 laps is going to get a lot longer than I thought it was going to be around here,” Logano said. “There’s so much load here, the car’s pressing down so hard on the racetrack, it makes it so hard to steer. If feels like it’s working against you. I was already in there huffing and puffing pretty hard trying to get the thing hard.

“The good news is we’re only (nearly) 130 laps into it, so we have a long ways to go. The bad news is if we can’t fix it, we’re only 130 laps (of 500) into it. Either way, we have our work cut out for us.”

Jimmie Johnson ran near the front of the pack early on, only to have unusual shredding of the right front tire on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Johnson was running 39th when the red flag fell, three laps behind race leader Matt Kenseth.

“We’re down multiple laps and from what we think, it’s only three,” Johnson said. “So, there’s lots of racing left. Maybe we can get those laps back, get on the lead lap and race for the win here.”

Another driver who had tire problems is Greg Biffle.

“On lap 10, it started shaking really, really bad,” Biffle said. “It wasn’t responsive when the corner came. … Possibly it broke the cords in the left front tire because three-quarters of the tire were all cords.

“Maybe it broke something in that tire that was making it not steer correctly. … We’re not going to give up. We’ve got a long ways to go.”

On the scheduled competition caution on Lap 50, Jeff Gordon and David Ragan tangled on pit road. Gordon was leaving his pit stall while Ragan was coming in.

Both cars made contact, with Gordon’s taking the brunt of the damage, dropping him all the way back to 34th. Fortunately for Gordon, much of the damage was cosmetic, his team was able to repair it quickly and he was able to work his way back up through the field to 16th when the red flag occurred.

“It was awesome when it started and it’s awesome now,” Gordon said. “We just need track position, that’s on us.

“It’s our job to get out of the pit box, it was a tough situation with the competition caution and so many cars on pit road, it’s hard to judge. It’s a setback but the guys did an excellent job, not only what they did from practice yesterday to today, and then they did a great job fixing it up right there and I was able to drive up through there pretty good.”

Parker Kligerman, who has had arguably the worst start of the season of any driver on the Sprint Cup circuit, continued to see his luck turn bad.

After pitting during the competition caution on Lap 50, Kligerman hit some type of debris that caused his car to turn violently before he even had made it from the transition road to the track surface itself.

Sprint Cup rookie Alex Bowman also had problems with the battery in his car.

On the flip side, several drivers had very good fortune in the first 124 laps before rain interrupted their continued forward progress.

Jamie McMurray looked very strong in his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, running second behind race leader Matt Kenseth when the rain returned.

“I felt the first 10 laps when we went green, initially when the race started, the car was too free, but it just kept getting better as the race went on,” McMurray said.

Outside pole-sitter Brad Keselowski suffered some initial handling problems, but his team made the right adjustments during the competition caution and he climbed back up to third place before the rain came.

“We just got a little bit tight,” Keselowski said. “We made some adjustments and that’s the beauty of this race, it’s 500 laps and hopefully we can get all 500 in and we can keep adjusting it because the track keeps changing.”

Kevin Harvick made a big comeback before the rain came, climbing from 27th to sixth before action was halted.

“It’s unbelievable fast,” Harvick said. “We can run the bottom, middle and top.”

Let’s see if it will stay that way once racing resumes.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Al Unser to return to the cockpit at the SVRA Brickyard Invitational

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Photo: IMS Museum
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Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser will return to the cockpit this summer to compete in the SVRA’s “Indy Legends” Charity Pro-Am, scheduled for June 17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Big Al” will join son Al Unser Jr., which will be their first competitive race together since 1993. It will also be the first time any member of Unser family has raced at the Speedway since 2008, when Al Unser III contested the Indy Lights Freedom 100 for the now defunct Playa Del Racing.

“I guess I got tired of watching the kids have all the fun,” quipped the elder Unser, who previously served as the grand marshal of the 2015 event. He later explained that expressed gratitude toward organizer Tony Parella, president and CEO of the SVRA (Sportscar Vintage Racing Association) for creating the event and extending an invitation to compete. “Seriously, Tony Parella and his SVRA team have created a first-class event and that’s why the entire Unser family has gotten behind it. We believe in what he is doing and I personally enjoy reconnecting with the great fans of the Indianapolis 500.”

Parella’s enthusiasm mirrored Unser’s.”There have been a lot of great legends in the history of auto racing, but in my book Big Al is right at the top of the mountain,” he asserted. “I am honored beyond words. This is such a validation of what all of us at the SVRA have been working so hard to build. To be able to say that this great champion believes in what we are doing enough to strap in and race with us means everything to me personally and professionally.”

The Unsers will join 31 other Indianapolis 500 veterans to compete in vintage Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs, with model years of 1963 to 1972, in the SVRA’s “Group 6” A and B Production. Each veteran will be paired an amateur driver to split time behind the wheel. Other events slated to highlight the weekend include a Motostalgia car auction, the Hagerty Insurance “shine and show” car corral, vintage motorcycle racing and displays, and hundreds of vintage racers celebrating a century’s worth of auto racing.

Force India releases driver runout schedule for testing

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 11:  Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 11, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sahara Force India is next up to reveal its 2017 challenger – the VJM10 premieres tomorrow – but it has come out today and released its plans for who will run when in said challenger.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon will have one full day apiece at the first test and then split the last day, with Alfonso Celis Jr. continuing his role with the team and set to run on day three of the opening test.

Ocon and Perez will then alternate for the second test, with Ocon on days one and three and Perez days two and four.

Ocon’s tested for Force India before but this will mark his first running as an official Force India driver. The impressive French driver shifts to the Mercedes-powered Force India entry after a successful second half of the year with Manor.

Perez, meanwhile, helped spearhead Force India’s climb to fourth in the Constructor’s Championship last year, the team’s best result since its 2008 debut.

Sahara Force India – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Sergio Perez
February 28 – Esteban Ocon
March 1 – Alfonso Celis Jr.
March 2 – Sergio Perez/Esteban Ocon

Test 2
March 7 – Esteban Ocon
March 8 – Sergio Perez
March 9 – Esteban Ocon
March 10 – Sergio Perez

Alain Prost: F1 ‘needs to have more of a human side’

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 2: In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Alain Prost with Nicolas Prost (FRA), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 during the Long Beach Formula E race at Long Beach Street Circuit on April 2, 2016 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Andrew Ferraro/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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Four-time Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost was confirmed today as a special advisor to Renault Sport Racing, but his comments about the sport’s future were more important than his newly announced role with the team.

Prost, who’s spent a lot of time in the FIA Formula E world with the Renault e.dams team and son Nico, one of that team’s two drivers, said F1 has to work harder to attract younger fans as it heads into its new dawn under the new ownership group from Liberty Media Corporation.

“I think the vision is difficult to tell today,” Prost said during Renault’s launch today in London. “We have a new buyer. CVC isn’t there anymore; Liberty is. With the teams having Ross Brawn to work with, that’s a good asset.

“We need more than a vision. We need two goals. We need to bring spectators and young guys, and talking more about interactivity is more or less what we do in Formula E. That would be obvious.

“We need to have more of a human side. More people are interested in the drivers than the technology and performance.”

That dig comes a bit at F1’s hybrid technical regulations that have come into play the last few years, which has seen Mercedes AMG Petronas firmly at the head of the development curve and having won all but eight races since the start of 2014 (Red Bull with five wins, Ferrari with three).

Prost did say the reset for 2017, which features the new wider tires and wider bodies and wings, could help in that pursuit of bringing in new fans.

“I think it’s very positive for Formula 1. You needed a new cycle. These cars will be very impressive. I hope it brings new and young spectators,” he said.

Prost confirmed he won’t have a day-to-day role with Renault but will be part of the team’s executive committee.

“I must say what is important is that Renault is competitive and can win as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s not the first time I’ve been involved! But I won’t have a day-to-day role. It will be a bit more from behind.

“Together with Jerome and Cyril, my role is to give the input to give the best strategy possible to be good for the future.”

Renault targeting step up to fifth place in standings

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Jolyon Palmer (C) of Great Britain and Renault Sport, Nico Hulkenberg (L) of Germany and Renault Sport and Sergey Sirotkin of Russia and Renault Sport pose with the Renault Sport Formula One team's 2017 car, the RS17, on February 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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At the launch of the new Renault R.S.17 today in London, Renault Sport F1 Team senior management expressed a goal of leaping to the top-five in the Constructor’s Championship for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Jerome Stoll, president of Renault Sport Racing and Cyril Abiteboul, the team’s managing director, said with the offseason reset and having had a proper amount of time to fully become Renault they can go from ninth up to fifth in this year’s standings.

“We have a car developed by us, and we expect to be fifth in the championship,” Stoll said during the team’s launch. “We have the team, we have the drivers, we have the partners. We are completely managed by Renault now.

Abiteboul added, “We’ve been investing more than any of the top teams. We lead everyone else in looking where the regulations are. Last year was about putting together the building blocks of the mid-term to the long-term in the back office. This year, I will be spending more time at the track.”

Abiteboul introduced the drivers who he hopes will do the task. He hailed Jolyon Palmer’s improvement in the latter stages of the season and said Nico Hulkenberg’s record speaks for itself.

“We’re happy to continue the journey with Jolyon,” Abiteboul said. “Like all rookies, he’s had difficult and challenging moments, but we stay together as a group and continue to perform.

“He’s been keeping his head down and got through the difficult part of the year. He had a remarkable last third of the year with great races in Malaysia and Japan.

“Nico, I’m not going to introduce him. You should know what he can do. He set a pole in his rookie season with Williams. He won Le Mans his first year with Porsche. He’s secured fourth in the standings with Force India last year. He will be an example for all of us.”

Team technical director Bob Bell said there “should be an overall significant improvement in car performance.” With the higher downforce though, he said whether there will be a lot of overtaking remains the biggest question mark going into the year.

“The truth is none of us will know until Melbourne. The jury’s still out, but we’re hopeful.”