Matt Kenseth will start Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway from the pole. The race was declared sold-out on Saturday.

Matt Kenseth earns pole for Sprint Cup at Fontana

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Last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth had a roller-coaster outing that saw him finish 13th after charging to the lead following an early crash that left his car’s rear end crumpled in.

The former Sprint Cup champion is surely hoping for a smoother time of things at Auto Club Speedway this weekend, and he may just have that after earning the 12th Cup pole of his career this afternoon ahead of Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Kenseth logged a time of 38.438 seconds at 187.315 miles per hour in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. That was just enough to hold off Brad Keselowski, whose last-second attempt to take pole in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford missed by .043 of a second.

“We were pretty fast all three rounds and we were able to get three really clean laps, which is hard to do here,” Kenseth told MRN Radio.

“The tires drop off a lot, balance changes a little bit, and the track was changing as well. I’m proud of those guys. They gave me a great car today and I didn’t mess it up, so it turned out good.”

Meanwhile, Keselowski – the new Sprint Cup points leader – continued his impressive work in the knockout qualifying format with his fourth consecutive front row start.

As a low-grip race track with bumps and noticeable seams in the surface, Auto Club Speedway can be a tough track to get a hold of. But as Keselowski told MRN, drivers can’t afford to manage their rubber if they want to advance deeper into qualifying.

“You can’t save [tires] or you don’t get to the next round,” he said. “We weren’t where we wanted to be for the first two sessions, but we worked on it, kept going, and got it to where we wanted it to be. If we’d saved, we never would’ve made it that far.”

Five-time Fontana winner Jimmie Johnson will roll off from the inside of Row 2 alongside fellow California native Kevin Harvick. Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon make up Row 3, followed by Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose in Row 4, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart in Row 5, and Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. in Row 6.

Denny Hamlin, who suffered a season-altering back injury in last spring’s race at Fontana, will start 13th and next to defending Auto Club 400 champion Kyle Busch. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be right behind them in 15th at the drop of the green.

Other notables include: Kurt Busch in 17th, Jamie McMurray in 25th, Kasey Kahne in 26th, Danica Patrick in 27th, and Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton in 30th.

Crafton subbed in today for Paul Menard in the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, while Menard tended to his wife and newborn daughter, Remi, back home in North Carolina.

However, Menard will be in the No. 27 for Sunday’s race, although he’ll have to start at the rear of the field per NASCAR rules.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP QUALIFYING – AUTO CLUB 400
Unofficial Grid


1. Matt Kenseth, 38.438 seconds/187.315 mph
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Clint Bowyer
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Joey Logano
8. Marcos Ambrose
9. Carl Edwards
10. Tony Stewart
11. Kyle Larson
12. Martin Truex Jr.
ELIMINATED IN ROUND TWO
13. Denny Hamlin
14. Kyle Busch
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
16. Ryan Newman
17. Kurt Busch
18. A.J. Allmendinger
19. Brian Vickers
20. Austin Dillon
21. Aric Almirola
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. Michael Annett
24. Greg Biffle
ELIMINATED IN ROUND ONE
25. Jamie McMurray
26. Kasey Kahne
27. Danica Patrick
28. Justin Allgaier
29. David Gilliland
30. Matt Crafton
31. Casey Mears
32. Parker Kligerman
33. David Reutimann
34. Cole Whitt
35. Travis Kvapil
36. Reed Sorenson
37. Brian Scott
38. Josh Wise
39. Ryan Truex
40. Alex Bowman
41. David Ragan
42. Joe Nemechek
43. Landon Cassill

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.