Kyle Busch takes first career pole at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin also on front row

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It will be a Joe Gibbs Racing front row to start Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

And while Denny Hamlin – who broke the track’s speed and one-lap elapsed time records earlier in the day in practice – is one of those two JGR drivers on the front row, it will not be on the pole.

Last week’s race winner at California, Kyle Busch, continued his momentum by winning the pole for the first time in his career at the .526-mile bullring in southern Virginia.

“What do you know? It’s Martinsville and we get to start on the pole, so it’s pretty cool,” Busch said. “There’s always a first for everything, I guess. This is pretty neat.

“Short tracks, our cars have already been great. … It’s fun to start up front. It makes things a lot easier, that’s for sure.”

It was Busch’s first pole since at Daytona last July.

Busch is still seeking his first career Sprint Cup win at Martinsville.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon lead all active drivers in Martinsville wins with eight apiece.

Conversely, Hamlin was going for his fourth career pole at Martinsville, where he is a four-time winner.

“We were just too loose really in both runs,” Hamlin said. “I felt like the track was a little green when we went out the first time and maybe used up a little bit more tire.

“Overall, it’s still a solid day for us. Second starting spot is going to give us a good pit stall, which is important here. We’re pretty pleased with how our weekend started.”

Hamlin is hoping to tweak the balance on his car a bit during Saturday’s final practice, but weather could be an impediment. Showers are predicted for part of Saturday, especially in the morning, which is also when the final Sprint Cup practice is scheduled.

“Tomorrow’s going to be frantic,” Hamlin said of Saturday’s practice and the prospect of rain. “Hopefully, we get it in.”

Still, even though he will start second, Hamlin likes his overall package nonetheless.

“It’s got good speed,” Hamlin said of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota. “(Saturday) our main focus will be keeping the tires on it as long as we can without giving up too much center turn. It’s a tough balance.”

Joey Logano qualified third, followed by eight-time Martinsville winners Jimmie Johnson (fourth) and Jeff Gordon (fifth), followed by Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, current Sprint Cup points leader Carl Edwards in eighth and Jamie McMurray.

Also of note was the performance of Danica Patrick, who earned her career-best Sprint Cup starting spot on a non-restrictor plate track.

Patrick qualified a solid 10th at Martinsville, her second career top-10 starting spot. She sat on the pole in the 2013 Daytona 500, a restrictor plate track.

Here’s how the field for Sunday’s STP 500 stacks up at Martinsville Speedway:

1 Kyle Busch 99.674 mph

2 Denny Hamlin 99.548

3 Joey Logano 99.428

4 Jimmie Johnson 99.178

5 Jeff Gordon 99.048

6 Matt Kenseth 99.048

7 Tony Stewart 98.883

8 Carl Edwards 98.846

9 Jamie McMurray 98.625

10 Danica Patrick 98.165

11 Greg Biffle 97.764

12 Clint Bowyer 97.382

 

13 Brian Vickers 98.965

14 Brad Keselowski 98.929

15 AJ Allmendinger 98.888

16 Ryan Newman 98.877

17 Marcos Ambrose 98.712

18 Kevin Harvick 98.708

19 Alex Bowman 98.661

20 Aric Almirola 98.625

21 Paul Menard 98.610

22 Kurt Busch 98.610

23 Casey Mears 98.599

24 David Ragan 98.599

25 Justin Allgaier 98.430

26 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 98.379

27 Kasey Kahne 98.359

28 Kyle Larson 98.333

29 Travis Kvapil 98.246

30 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 98.206

 

31 Martin Truex Jr. 98.200

32 Michael McDowell 98.002

33 Josh Wise 97.957

34 Austin Dillon 97.886

35 Cole Whitt 97.802

36 Landon Cassill 97.759

37 David Stremme 97.684

38 Ryan Truex 97.598

39 David Gilliland 97.458

40 Michael Annett 97.217

41 Parker Kligerman 97.078

42 Reed Sorenson 97.053

43 Joe Nemechek 96.332

Failed to qualify: David Reutimann

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Sebastian Vettel: Ferrari still in the dark over 2017 F1 chances

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Sebastian Vettel believes that Ferrari is still unsure about its Formula 1 championship chances in 2017 despite finishing as the fastest team through pre-season testing.

Following a winless campaign in 2016, Ferrari sprung a surprise in winter testing by dominating proceedings in Barcelona, with Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen finishing as the fastest drivers.

The new SF70H car appears to be a marked improvement on its predecessor following the change in the technical regulations, with three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton naming Ferrari as the favorite to win the first race in Australia this weekend.

Vettel remained coy about his chances when speaking in Thursday’s FIA press conference, saying it won’t be until the first sessions of the weekend in Melbourne are complete that Ferrari will truly know where it stands.

“So far we don’t know anything. For all of us it will be exciting to find out where we are on Saturday and Sunday, to get a first impression,” Vettel said.

“For us a lot of new things last year didn’t really go the way we expected, so I think for this year we have really focused on ourselves. We have tried to do our job back in the factory and in testing.

“I think testing times, I don’t think they are that crucial, I think it matters much more what you show from here onwards. We’ll see. I think we are a bit in the dark like everyone else, not knowing what other people have done.

“For ourselves we can be reasonably happy, we did decent mileage, we didn’t have any major issues with the car and hopefully we can carry that momentum into the race.”

Vettel added that Mercedes rival Hamilton “must be” the favorite for the drivers’ title in 2017 given the German team’s form, having won over 50 races in the past three years.

“Mercedes obviously has been in very, very strong form the last three years and even though we changed the regulations, if a team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what you do with the rules,” Vettel said.

“I think it’s very clear who is the favorite. For all of us sitting here, we are trying our best to catch-up. How much we have succeeded, we will see and, as the season goes on, I’m sure the cars will have big progression and all the teams will bring lots of stuff to develop the cars.

“So, whoever’s in a good place in the beginning and still in a good place at the end will have a chance.”

Full 2017 F1 on NBC Grand Prix race schedule, air times and networks

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NBC Sports Group has released the air times for all 20 Grands Prix ahead of the 2017 season, with all races live on either NBC, NBCSN or CNBC.

Coverage begins with this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix; full times and details for the race at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit can be found here. The race coverage starts at midnight on March 26 with F1 Countdown, with lights out at 1 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

There’s nearly 200 hours of coverage throughout the year throughout the networks. With most races on NBCSN, the four traditional NBC races (Monaco, Canada, United States, Mexico) continue and the remaining three races will be on CNBC for their live first airing.

NBC Sports Group’s Formula One commentating team returns for a fifth consecutive season, with lead race announcer Leigh Diffey (play-by-play), veteran analyst and former driver David Hobbs, analyst Steve Matchett, a former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team, and F1 insider Will Buxton, who will provide live reports on-site for all 20 races this season.

This week’s coverage of the Australian Grand Prix will also include a season preview from veteran motorsports essayist Sam Posey, as he discusses the retirement of 2016 F1 champion Nico Rosberg, and the state of F1 without Bernie Ecclestone at the helm for the first time in 40 years.

Last season, NBCSN’s 2016 F1 coverage (14 races) averaged 429,000 viewers, up 3% vs. 2015 (418,000; 13 races), to rank as the best F1 season for a single cable network since 1995 (ESPN: 755,000 viewers). Viewership has more than doubled since the first season on NBCSN, up 107% vs. 2013. Click here for more information on last year’s record F1 viewership.

In addition, NBC Sports Group will present comprehensive coverage of practice and qualifying of all 20 races across its family of networks and NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Streaming coverage will also enhance race coverage with dedicated feeds, including:

  • On-Board Feed –  NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app’s channel for live on-board cameras;
  • Pit Lane Feed – A dedicated channel on pit lane featuring all pit stops and team communication;
  • Driver Tracker – real-time data showing where all 22 cars are on track.
2017 FORMULA ONE SCHEDULE (all times ET)
Date Grand Prix Time Network
Sun., March 26 Australian Grand Prix 12:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., April 9 Chinese Grand Prix 1:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., April 16 Bahrain Grand Prix 10:30 a.m. CNBC
Sun., April 30 Russian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., May 14 Spanish Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., May 28 Monaco Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBC
Sun., June 11 Canadian Grand Prix 2 p.m. NBC
Sun., June 25 Azerbaijan Grand Prix 8:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., July 9 Austrian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. CNBC
Sun., July 16 British Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. CNBC
Sun., July 30 Hungarian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., August 27 Belgian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., September 3 Italian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., September 17 Singapore Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., October 1 Malaysian Grand Prix 2:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., October 8 Japanese Grand Prix 12:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., October 22 United States Grand Prix 3 p.m. NBC
Sun., October 29 Mexican Grand Prix 3 p.m. NBC
Sun., November 12 Brazilian Grand Prix 10:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., November 26 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN

 

Hamilton maintains Ferrari is F1 favorite, says Vettel is cooling hype

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Lewis Hamilton has maintained that Ferrari is the team to beat heading into this weekend’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia, believing that Sebastian Vettel is trying hard to keep a lid on the hype surrounding his chances.

Hamilton enters 2017 chasing a fourth world title after losing out to ex-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg last year, and is one of the favorites for the drivers’ championship.

Ferrari sprung a surprise in testing by finishing as the fastest team ahead of Mercedes – winner of over 50 races in the last three years alone – after capitalizing on the change in the technical regulations for this year.

Hamilton said throughout testing that he believed Ferrari would be the team to beat in Melbourne, and did not change his view in the Thursday press conference ahead of Sunday’s race.

“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment and I think they will definitely be the favorites, but we’ll find out more going into the weekend,” Hamilton said.

“It’s interesting to see, Sebastian’s usually a lot more hyped and I can tell he’s trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great in testing.

“I’m very keen to see what Red Bull bring because they were quite far behind through testing, at least compared to Ferrari and didn’t see them bring many upgrades, or an upgrade as far as I could see.

“So I’m assuming they’re bringing something here which I’m excited to see what they do bring.”

Hamilton has ordinarily battled with just one driver – Rosberg – for race wins over the past three years given Mercedes’ pace advantage, but is excited about the prospect of battling with multiple racers from different teams at the front in 2017.

“Having more teams and more drivers up at the front fighting for wins, that’s what racing is all about. I’m hoping that’s the case,” Hamilton said.

“As far as I know, no team has won back-to-back through rule regulation changes, so that is our goal as a team. We’re here to win, we’re here to do something no-one else has done.

“Whether or not we’re in the right place at this moment in the season, we’ll find out. But I have every belief in my team that we can do that.”

Sam Schmidt to enter the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame

Photo: Arrow/SAM Car Project
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Sam Schmidt, co-owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, is set to be inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame as part of its 2017 class. He joins boxer Floyd Mayweather, professional golf coach Butch Harmon, and 1950s college football star Overton Curtis as inductees. The Las Vegas Bowl college football game will also be inducted as part of the ceremonies.

“I’m truly honored to be recognized with this group of incredible athletes and organizations,” said Schmidt, who resides in Henderson, Nevada. “When you look at the other recipients over the past 21 years, it is truly a who’s who of Nevada sports and community leaders, all of whom I respect tremendously and several I call friends. I am proud that this award represents both accomplishments on the track and as a team owner, as well as a commitment to giving back to the local community which has always been important to my family.”

Dan Dolby, executive director of the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, described that this year’s inductees exemplify everything they look for in the Nevada sports community. “The class of 2017 is accomplished in so many different ways. We have an outstanding group of athletes who have contributed so much both in the competitive arena and in the community, as well as one of most iconic and longest-lasting sporting events in our city. This class again represents the best attributes of our community, and we are thrilled to bestow upon them the state’s highest sports honor in welcoming them to the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.”

Sam Schmidt’s teams have claimed seven Indy Lights championships, the most of any team in series’ history, although the Lights team ceased operations this offseason. His Verizon IndyCar Series teams have also claimed two poles for the Indianapolis 500.

But, Schmidt’s accomplishments extend beyond the IndyCar and Indy Lights paddocks. He piloted a specially prepared Corvette, using a combination of breathing and neck movements, that was designed by team partner and sponsor Arrow Electronics to the top of Pikes Peak, which stands at more than 14,000 feet. He also completed an exhibition run in the same car prior to pole qualifying for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The ceremony will take place on June 2 a the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.