Texas Update: Jeff Gordon leads at halfway

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Texas A&M fans in the stands for today’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway are likely pleased at what’s occurred so far in the race, as Jeff Gordon – bearing a special Aggie maroon paint scheme – was the halfway leader after passing Kyle Busch for the lead on Lap 153 of 334.

Busch was second at Lap 167, followed by Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano to round out the Top 5. Bowyer and Kyle Busch had started 25th and 29th, respectively.

With some spots of the track still damp, the cars rolled out and then ran the first ten laps of the race under “green/yellow” conditions to help track dryers get rid of those patches.

However, multiple cars were forced to pit under the green/yellow after the dryers caused their hood flaps to pop open. Keselowski seemed to have the most persistent problem as his team needed to tape down the sides of the entire hood on his car. Also affected, among others, were Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick and Matt Kenseth.

NASCAR allowed those that had to pit for the hood flap issue to retain their starting spots, and the race finally had its “true” green flag at Lap 11. But just two laps later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall in the tri-oval after running his left-side tires through the wet infield grass.

The episode also sent debris and mud into the nose and windshield of teammate Jimmie Johnson, who was trailing behind Junior at the time. Johnson pitted multiple times under the subsequent yellow for fixes but had to restart in 41st.

The defending Sprint Cup champion had more problems a short time later when he suffered a rear tire failure around Lap 42, forcing him to pit again. He’s now two laps off the pace.

Johnson’s tire problem occurred after Kevin Harvick suffered an engine failure that caused him to slow dramatically on Lap 28 while running second to pole sitter Tony Stewart. He was later ruled out of the race, joining Earnhardt on the sidelines.

“It’s frustrating,” Harvick said in a Chevrolet PR release. “I don’t know what else I can say. I didn’t get any indication that anything was going wrong. Hendrick engines are among the fastest and most reliable engines in the garage.

“We’ll take it back to the shop and figure out what happened. But that’s a disappointing end to the day.”

A competition caution came out at Lap 48 and Stewart held on to the lead after pit stops. But on Lap 77, Keselowski was able to catch and then pass Stewart in Turn 3 to take the lead.

Green flag stops started up around Lap 90, and when the cycle ended around ten laps later, Keselowski was holding a small lead over Denny Hamlin.

That edge slowly went away over the next 20 laps however, and on Lap 122, Hamlin jumped ahead of the “Blanco Deuce” to become the new leader; Jeff Gordon then passed Keselowski for second on Lap 128.

Another round of green stops began around Lap 135, and Hamlin pitted from the lead at Lap 142. But NASCAR tagged the Joe Gibbs Racing driver for being too fast on pit road, forcing him to serve a pass-through and hand the lead over to teammate Kyle Busch.

The penalty dropped Hamlin to 16th, although he was able to stay on the lead lap.

Verizon confirms IndyCar title sponsor role exit after 2018

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As perhaps expected, Verizon has confirmed Friday it will end its role as Verizon IndyCar Series title sponsor following the end of its fifth year in 2018.

Reports surfaced shortly after this year’s IndyCar season finale at Sonoma Raceway that Verizon was re-evaluating its role within the series.

Indeed, as it was before becoming title sponsor in 2014, Verizon will remain a partner with Team Penske despite not also carrying the series title sponsor role.

In a statement, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles thanked Verizon for its support in this overall series role.

“Verizon has been a super sponsor and will continue to be so through all of next season. We appreciate that they reached their decision in a timely way so that we can thoughtfully and deliberately go back into the market for 2019,” Miles said in a statement, via Sports Business Journal.

Roger Penske also issued a statement, also via SBJ, saying, “We want to thank Verizon for the support they have provided the IndyCar Series and the role they have played as they helped us grow the sport as the title sponsor for the past five years. Verizon has helped the series reach new fans through their world-class activation and technology, including the Verizon IndyCar Mobile App. While they will no longer be the Series Title Sponsor after 2018, it is exciting they will still be in the sport through their relationship with our organization.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series has built a wave of momentum over the last few years with its competition level, parity and enthusiasm for some revived events, with Gateway Motorsports Park and Road America standing out as highlights being brought back after an extended hiatus.

The good news for INDYCAR (sanctioning body) is that there’s a new Dallara universal aero kit that’s been busy with testing the last few months and is now in the hands of manufacturers for manufacturer testing, and the series announced long-term extensions with Dallara, Chevrolet, Honda and Firestone earlier this year. New series champion Josef Newgarden has also been busy in a number of media events and appearances since the Sonoma season finale.

With this confirmation, INDYCAR has a new entitlement sponsor to find and a new TV contract to sort, with both existing contracts up after 2018.