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

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

Follow @KyleMLavigne