Toyota Owners 400 - Practice

Denny Hamlin finally speaks — kind of — but not about what happened at Fontana

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Denny Hamlin promised Tuesday that the following day he’d give his side of what happened that caused him to miss this past Sunday at Fontana.

We’re still waiting, now two days later.

Hamlin tweeted Tuesday night that he was holding off saying anything about missing Fontana out of respect due to the death earlier that day of Richard Petty’s wife of 55 years, his beloved Lynda.

But Wednesday came and went and no comment from Hamlin. In fact, one of the more active drivers on Twitter, he hasn’t had a public tweet on his account since Tuesday, either.

The only thing we heard was Wednesday’s press release from Joe Gibbs Racing that Hamlin had been medically cleared to race in this Sunday’s Sprint Cup event at Martinsville.

It was initially reported Sunday that Hamlin missed the race due to a sinus infection that affected his vision, and that he was not cleared by doctors to race.

RELATED: Dale Jr. wanted more info on Hamlin’s condition

Wednesday, JGR revealed that Hamlin’s vision issue was caused instead by a metal sliver in his eye which was removed at a Fontana-area hospital.

Finally, late Thursday afternoon, we heard from Hamlin – kind of.

The weekly media release for Hamlin and the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry team had one lengthy answer from the four-time Martinsville winner, but still nothing about Fontana.

When asked if was “eager to get back in the car at Martinsville, one of your best tracks,” Hamlin had this to say:

“It crushed me last week not being able to compete for the guys on the FedEx team. I definitely have extra motivation this weekend at Martinsville, a place that has been a pretty good track for our team over the years.

“Obviously, with my injury last year (missed four races, including Martinsville, after a serious wreck at Fontana), I missed the race one year ago, and we were a little off last fall (started from the pole, finished seventh).

“But, I’m confident that we will be able to run up front and compete for the win this weekend. I’m feeling better and can’t wait to get back in the car on Friday for practice.”

RELATED: Hamlin cleared to race at Martinsville

Hamlin has been nothing short of outstanding at Martinsville during his Sprint Cup career. In 16 starts, he has four wins (including three in a row from 2009-2010) and has finished in the top-10 13 times.

The team has not said whether a stand-by driver will be on hand for Hamlin at Martinsville as a precautionary measure. Sam Hornish Jr. was pressed into service with less than an hour before the starting green flag to replace Hamlin at Fontana this past Sunday and finished 17th.

Hamlin’s JGR teammate Kyle Busch won the race.

It’s likely Hamlin will finally open up about what occurred at Fontana, and hopefully explain how he picked up that mysterious metal sliver, in his weekly press availability Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Townsend Bell goes to Mexico, and duels with luchadors (VIDEO)

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This weekend at the Mexican Grand Prix, usual Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell is back in the F1 paddock, filling in for Will Buxton this weekend with Buxton tending to his family.

Bell’s IndyCar analyst colleague Paul Tracy famously donned a “luchador” mask in 2006 during the Champ Car race in Montreal, after he dueled with Alex Tagliani and Sebastien Bourdais in back-to-back races in San Jose and Denver.

But Thursday in Mexico City, it was Bell’s turn.

Bell teased it a bit on social media before a video was shown today during second free practice (and linked above) in Mexico City of his duel with a pair of luchadors Thursday evening in “Lucha Libre,” a form of professional wrestling in Mexico.

While he accepted the challenge to get into the ring with a pair of luchadors, he may regret this decision.

Most of the photos below were shot by Jamey Price, an ace photographer.

Inside the deep data dive at Red Bull Racing (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s Steve Matchett caught up with Red Bull Racing’s Paul Monaghan, Chief Engineer of Car Engineering, and Bill Moseley, Director of Marketing Communications at AT&T, for a deeper drive on data and sensors and how it’s all transmitted from Red Bull Racing at the track back to the team headquarters in Milton Keynes in England.

In the above video shot last week at Circuit of The Americas for the United States Grand Prix, Matchett finds out about the sensors on a car, how the sensors transfer data to the team and the impact of their findings.

You can watch this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday; a full list of times for the weekend is linked here.

Vettel surprises Mercedes by leading second Mexican GP practice

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 28:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel sprung a surprise on Mercedes in the second Formula 1 practice session ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix by topping the timesheets for Ferrari on Friday afternoon.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton led the way in opening practice, and was expected to run at the front once again with teammate Nico Rosberg when teams switched to qualifying simulations in FP2 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

However, it was Vettel who laid down the pace on the super-soft tire for Ferrari, setting a benchmark lap of 1:19.790 for Hamilton and Rosberg to follow mid-way through the session.

Neither Mercedes driver could get ahead, despite both attempting two flying laps on their super-softs, with Hamilton (below, talking to NBCSN’s Townsend Bell) getting within just 0.004 seconds.

Rosberg slotted into third place, almost half a second further back after struggling during his qualifying run.

Kimi Raikkonen followed in fourth place for Ferrari ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter finishing an impressive sixth despite setting his fastest time on the slower soft tire.

Max Verstappen was seventh in the second Red Bull, bouncing back from his troublesome morning session, with Valtteri Bottas in eighth. The Spanish pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 places in FP2.

Mexican drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez ended 15th and 22nd, respectively. Perez caught up with NBCSN’s Townsend Bell on Thursday and that video is below.

The session was notable for the difficulty that drivers had making their super-soft tires last. Few drivers were able to keep on pace for more than a handful of laps before taking big chunks out of the tire, suggesting that the soft and medium compounds will be favored for the race.

Qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 2pm ET on Saturday.

Flying Lizard double news: Porsches in PWC, Toyo Audi at Thunderhill

Photo: Porsche AG
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It’s been a busy week for Flying Lizard Motorsports, with a pair of program announcements. One venerable chassis and two new ones have been announced for the Sonoma, Calif.-based team.

Earlier this week, Flying Lizard confirmed the return of its Toyo Tires partnership in the Toyo-shod and liveried No. 45 Audi R8 LMS ultra at NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Program manager Darren Law and team veteran Johannes van Overbeek are back, with past Lizard drivers Dion von Moltke and Mike Hedlund set to replace Guy Cosmo and Tomonobu Fujii as the other two drivers.

The Toyo Lizard Audi dominated last year’s race, winning overall by some 35 laps.

“We look forward to the challenges of this year’s 25-Hours, and are returning to prove once again that Toyo Proxes Slicks are the tires to have for drivers looking to dominate in any form of road racing,” said Marc Sanzenbacher, senior manager, motorsports, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.

“The race conditions at this event are notoriously unpredictable and we welcome the various technical challenges it presents our engineers. We have some new cool weather and intermediate rain tire options to evaluate for this event and we look forward to gathering important development data while pursuing another overall victory.”


Meanwhile on Friday, Flying Lizard has also confirmed a two-car GTS class entry in Pirelli World Challenge with longtime manufacturer Porsche.

As part of that class and series’ new GT4-spec wave in the category – it will be all GT4-spec in 2018 with a final one-year run for existing previous non-GT4 machinery – Flying Lizard will run two of the new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR entries. Those cars debuted at the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this year with GMG Racing.

Flying Lizard’s continued relationship with Porsche Motorsport North America (PMNA) will strengthen the effort, becoming a part of the North American Young Driver Development program.

“This just feels right to see Flying Lizard Motorsports back again with a Porsche program,” said Program Manager Darren Law. “We have had so many successful and memorable races with Porsche. Much of my driving career has been with Flying Lizard Motorsports, so I am happy that we will have the opportunity to join forces with Porsche for the upcoming season.”