Harvick sets new track record in early qualifying at Texas, but Stewart grabs first pole since 2012

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Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday became the fastest 1.5-mile track for pole qualifying in Sprint Cup history, and Kevin Harvick was the man who did it.

But Harvick will not start on the pole in Sunday’s Duck Commander 500. Instead, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, will take the green flag first.

Confused?

Harvick set his mark of 198.282 mph in the first round of qualifying, but was unable to come close to posting a comparable speed in the second (24 cars) or final 12-round session.

Still, Harvick ultimately qualified third in the final round of knockout competition and will start right behind Stewart, who recorded his first Sprint Cup pole since Sept. 2012 and his 15th career pole overall.

“This thing was fast every round,” Stewart said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to hold on. It felt really fast up to (turns) three and four and then it got really loose the last half of the corner. This Chevy was fast today.”

This marks the first time there have been seven different pole qualifiers in as many races to start a season since 1998, according to NASCAR statisticians.

Even though it didn’t get the pole, Ford dominated in the final round of qualifying, putting six drivers in the top 10 starting positions.

With Stewart on the pole at 195.454 mph, the rest of the top 10 starters are: Brad Keselowski (195.397), Harvick (195.312), Greg Biffle (194.700), Carl Edwards (194.637), Denny Hamlin (194.623), Trevor Bayne (194.503), Ryan Newman (194.140), Marcos Ambrose (194.063) and Joey Logano (193.743).

Last week’s race winner at Martinsville, Kurt Busch, was fastest in morning practice but qualified 11th (193.126), still giving SHR three drivers in the top 11.

Of note, Jimmie Johnson failed to qualify for the final knockout round of 12, making it the first time this season that he hasn’t reached that round. Johnson will start 16th (194.007).

Logano remains as the only driver who has made the final round of qualifying in each of the first seven races thus far.

Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 19th (193.354).

Austin Dillon was battling flu-like symptoms Saturday, but still made his qualifying run, ending up 20th (193.154). Younger brother Ty took a handful of laps during Saturday morning’s practice and is on standby if needed for his sibling in Sunday’s race.

Four drivers failed to qualify: David Stremme, JJ Yeley, Joe Nemechek and Ryan Treux.

Also, there were no mishaps in qualifying, just like Saturday’s mishap-free happy hour practice.

Harvick’s 198.282 mph blast around TMS in the opening round of the three-round qualifying session put him nearly a full one second fastest than the previous fastest 1.5-mile pole qualifying speed (197.478 mph by Geoff Bodine, Atlanta, Nov. 1997).

The next fastest pole speed for a 1.5-mile track is Denny Hamlin at Charlotte in May 2013 (195.624), followed by Joey Logano at Las Vegas last month (193.278) and Matt Kenseth at Kansas (191.864 in April 2013).

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Here’s the starting grid for Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Row 1

Tony Stewart 195.454 mph, Brad Keselowski 195.419

Row 2

Kevin Harvick 195.298, Greg Biffle 194.700

Row 3

Carl Edwards 194.637, Denny Hamlin 194.623

Row 4

Trevor Bayne 194.503, Ryan Newman 194.140

Row 5

Marcos Ambrose 194.056, Joey Logano 193.743

Row 6

Kurt Busch 193.126, Jeff Gordon 192.089

Row 7

Paul Menard 194.259, Kyle Larson 194.084

Row 8

Jamie McMurray 194.021, Jimmie Johnson 194.007

Row 9

Aric Almirola 193.590, Martin Truex Jr. 193.493

Row 10

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 193.354, Austin Dillon 193.154

Row 11

Casey Mears 193.154, Justin Allgaier 192.981

Row 12

Brian Vickers 192.768, Danica Patrick 192.761

Row 13

Clint Bowyer 194.988, Matt Kenseth 194.637

Row 14

Michael Annett 194.602, Michael McDowell 194.581

Row 15

Kyle Busch 194.539, Alex Bowman 194.454

Row 16

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 194.440, Kasey Kahne 194.028

Row 17

AJ Allmendinger 193.611, David Reutimann 192.954

Row 18

Dave Blaney 192.520, Parker Kligerman 192.219

Row 19

Travis Kvapil 192.171, Reed Sorenson 191.748

Row 20

David Gillland 191.625, Landon Cassill 191.408

Row 21

Josh Wise 191.232, Cole Whitt 189.036

Row 22

David Ragan 187.839

F1 Paddock Pass: Azerbaijan Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend with the renamed Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the Baku City Circuit. The track is the second longest on the schedule and the race is renamed after being called the European Grand Prix last year (all times for the weekend via NBCSN or CNBC here).

Here with the latest from the paddock in Baku is the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, with F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton joined by producer Jason Swales.

Swales celebrates his 300th Grand Prix on site this weekend, a major milestone after his 250th was celebrated a couple seasons ago at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas. As you can see below, McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso has joined in the festivities.

There’s plenty of fun to recap and plenty of important angles to preview in this week’s show, which you can see below in three parts.

 

Raikkonen prepared to sacrifice himself to help Vettel

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Kimi Raikkonen is prepared to sacrifice himself in order to help Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel win a fifth Formula One title.

Vettel leads the championship by 12 points ahead of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton after seven races. Raikkonen is fourth and already trails Vettel by 68 points.

“When I don’t have a chance mathematically to fight for the championship, for sure I will help him. I have no issues with that,” Raikkonen said Thursday. “It’s about the team and the first thing is to try and make sure we are at the top with Ferrari.”

Ferrari is chasing its first drivers’ title since Raikkonen won his only title in 2007 and its first constructors’ title since 2008.

In the constructors’ battle, Ferrari trails Mercedes by eight points heading into this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

“We have a good car everywhere. Hopefully we’ll be at the front again,” Raikkonen said. “It’s been close every race this year.”

Although the Finnish driver looked set for victory at the Monaco Grand Prix last month, his hopes were ended when his team brought him into the pits for a tire change earlier than he wanted. That left Vettel in the clear to race away to victory, with Raikkonen finishing second.

Even though Raikkonen was disappointed in the aftermath of that race, and made his frustration known, he now appears fully committed to helping Vettel when the time comes.

“I think we have very clear rules in the team and what the team wants us to do. It goes by those rules,” Raikkonen said. “Nothing has changed and we know exactly when things will go either way. That’s fine.”

The 37-year-old Raikkonen acknowledged that Vettel’s consistency makes him the obvious choice as the team’s No. 1 driver.

“Seb has done very good races so far and has been strong everywhere,” Raikkonen said. “I was not starting very well the first races. I was not where I wanted to be.”

Kanaan finding IndyCar ‘more competitive than ever’

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan believes that the Verizon IndyCar Series is becoming “more competitive than ever” as the championship’s plans for the future begin to become clear.

INDYCAR bosses have outlined a five-year plan for the series moving forward, with a universal aero kit in 2018 and a push for a third manufacturer to join Chevrolet and Honda in the future on the agenda.

The 2017 season has kicked off in an unpredictable fashion as seven drivers have shared the opening nine race wins, with Will Power and Graham Rahal being the only repeat winners.

Kanaan feels that the series is only becoming more and more competitive, with the introduction of the universal aero kit poised to aid that from next year.

“I think it is going to be more competitive than ever as we still have different aero kits that can make a difference. Next year is going to be even tougher,” Kanaan said.

“At the last race [in Texas] we had 15 cars and two-tenths of a second. I think it is the right direction, and they are also trying to keep the costs down which is the biggest challenge in racing all over the world, to get the teams to afford to be there.

“The way they are doing the kits, trying to get more teams and new teams into the series, and it is working. We had three new teams at Indy 500 and they are looking forward to coming back. We should try to add more teams and not lose cars.”

Kanaan added that a third manufacturer would be “a big help” for IndyCar, saying: “They are in talks with two others but I don’t know who they are but more people, cars, manufacturers, teams will always help.”

Having made his debut in American single-seaters back in 1998, Kanaan has raced through many different eras, but does not believe the series has ever been more competitive.

“It doesn’t get any easier and I don’t get any younger. It goes the opposite way!” Kanaan chuckled.

“It is amazing as you cannot afford to have one little problem or one little hiccup in a race. Before if you did that you would finish third or fourth but now you will finish 15th.

“You have 22 cars and in some races 21 of them on the lead lap and five seconds from one another. It raised the game for the mechanics too with the importance of pit stops.”

Sauber driver Ericsson dismisses talk of favoritism in team

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson has dismissed talk of favoritism within Sauber following the unexpected departure of team principal Monisha Kaltenborn.

Kaltenborn, who was also Sauber’s chief executive officer, left Wednesday by mutual consent. The news came shortly after another team statement denying reports of unfair treatment between the Swedish driver and German teammate Pascal Wehrlein.

“There were a lot of stories in the press about this unfair advantage for one driver. It was upsetting, disrespectful, it’s false and untrue,” Ericsson said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. “For me and Pascal, it’s been very clear that’s not the case. We’ve both been given equal equipment.”

Ericsson has yet to score a point after seven races, while Wehrlein has four points after an eighth-place finish at the Spanish GP in May.

“We’re not going to go on holiday together, but as teammates goes we’ve been working really good together so far,” Ericsson said. “When we try different things across the cars, we discuss things.”

Sauber’s statement said Kaltenborn left “due to diverging views of the future of the company.” Her successor has not been announced.

The 46-year-old Kaltenborn joined Sauber in 2000 as head of its legal department and later became chief executive officer.

“We have to trust the owners that they know what they’re doing, and that they have a good plan for the future,” Ericsson said. “I have a lot to thank Monisha for. She was the one who gave me the chance to come here after my year in Caterham.”

Wehrlein also praised Kaltenborn for standing by him. He missed the first two races of the season after injuring his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.

“Monisha was very close to me at one of my toughest times in my career so far,” Wehrlein said. “I am very thankful for that, and this is something that I will never forget.”