Bojangles' Southern 500 - Practice

Joey Logano happy to defy preseason expectations

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Going into last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Joey Logano was the hottest driver in NASCAR. On the strength of six consecutive Top-10 finishes in the final seven regular season events – including a critical win at Michigan – he raced his way into the post-season.

But an engine failure in the Chase opener at Chicagoland crushed his championship hopes, and he eventually settled for eighth in points.

However, he figured he’d at least be higher up in the usual array of pre-season rankings going into 2014.

That didn’t happen though, from his perspective.

“This offseason, all the magazines come out and project where you are going to finish and they had us in 15th and I was like, ‘Why?’,” Logano explained Friday at Darlington Raceway. “I was reading NASCAR Illustrated and wondered what the heck that was all about.

“I have set my goal as proving them wrong and so far, so good.”

Logano became the seventh different driver to win in as many races this season and the latest addition to the Chase Grid after defeating Jeff Gordon in a green-white-checkered finish on Monday at Texas Motor Speedway.

He’s also maintained a good degree of consistency with four Top-5s and just one finish outside the Top 20 in the first seven events. Additionally, he’s taken to the new, knockout-style qualifying format well with one pole and six Top-10 starts – making for an average starting position of 8.9 so far.

“It is important to come out here and run strong because we ended the year with momentum and we know we need to keep that going,” Logano said.

“With all the rules changes and everything changing this year, it was going to be a challenge but also an opportunity to capitalize on that and I feel Team Penske has done a great job with that – qualifying, aero, ride heights – we have been able to capitalize on all of that. We have been able to take that momentum through the off-season and keep it there.”

Darlington has, by Logano’s own admission, been a hit-or-miss track for him in his Sprint Cup career. After finishing in the Top 10 in his first Cup start there in 2009, he’s posted results of 27th, 35th, 10th, and 22nd.

However, while still very much wanting to win at the track “Too Tough To Tame,” the pressure’s eased off of him now that he’s joined teammate Brad Keselowski on the Chase Grid.

Logano touched on that subject, too, saying that he believes having both Team Penske drivers in the Chase will especially benefit in regards to testing.

“We will focus our tests to races in the Chase,” he said. “That makes sense. Really, when you are at the race track here, we are always trying different things and always trying to see what that next little piece is.

“With this new rules package, with the ride height rule, there is some low hanging fruit still to grab. We need to figure out what works best with these cars and we will be trying different things like we already do, so that doesn’t change.”

Ed Carpenter Racing reveals Preferred Freezer liveries for May

driver of the XXX during the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.
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With the calendar shifted over to May, Ed Carpenter Racing has taken the wraps off its pair of Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolets for the pair of Verizon IndyCar Series races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Josef Newgarden’s No. 21 car shifts from the 100th anniversary special commemorative livery for Fuzzy’s Vodka to a primarily blue with white trim PFS entry.

Meanwhile JR Hildebrand, who has had the PFS colors each of the last two years at Indy, will continue in the standard white with blue trim No. 6 car. Hildebrand will run at both the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Ocon set for Spanish GP practice run-out with Renault

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault Sport F1 Team Test Driver.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Tuesday 1st March 2016. Barcelona, Spain.
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Defending GP3 Series champion Esteban Ocon will take part in practice for the Spanish Grand Prix next month for Renault.

Ocon, 19, rose to attention in 2014 when he won the FIA F3 European Championship ahead of current Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen.

The Frenchman took part in practice for Lotus in Abu Dhabi that year, and became a member of Mercedes’ development programme in 2015 en route to winning the GP3 title.

Ocon has been loaned to Renault for the 2016 season, with whom he works as reserve driver, and he will now take part in first practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 13.

McLaren now targeting regular points after double score in Sochi

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button are now targeting regular top-10 finishes after scoring their first points of the season in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.

McLaren arrived in Sochi with just a single point to its name so far in 2016 courtesy of Stoffel Vandoorne, who deputized for the injured Alonso in Bahrain.

Alonso and Button missed out on a place in Q3 on Saturday, but both ran trouble-free races en route to sixth and tenth place respectively.

The result marked not only the first points of the year for both drivers, but just the second time that McLaren had got both of its cars to the line inside the top 10 since it rekindled its partnership with Honda at the start of the 2015 Formula 1 season.

“We were lucky in Turns 2 and 3 on the opening lap – due to those accidents, we were able to gain some places for free,” Alonso said.

“But, as we saw last year, we can make a good start but then not be able to maintain those strong starting positions. This year, it’s different, we have the pace. To finish sixth, and set the fifth-fastest lap, shows that our car is still gaining pace.”

Alonso was left to run quite a lonely race to P6, but did take one lap late on to turn the engine up to full power and have some fun by stretching the legs of the McLaren MP4-31.

“The car felt good all race. Obviously, we were saving fuel at some points of the afternoon, but, on one lap, I just decided to go for it – to wake myself up a little bit! – and the lap-time showed the potential is there,” Alonso said.

“Finishing in the points should be our regular target from now on.”

Button managed to take P10 from Carlos Sainz Jr. late on to complete an impressive fightback and score his first point since last year’s United States Grand Prix.

“To get both cars home in the points, and at a track which we didn’t feel would really suit our package, is a fantastic result for the whole team,” Button said.

“As the pack dived into Turn 2, I had to back off because it was mayhem. The bollard at Turn 2 is the problem at the start because people are trying to fight through Turns 2 and 3. I think that needs some looking at.

“From there, I was disadvantaged, but the pace was in the car. After that, it was just a case of fighting my way back – which I really enjoyed. It’s difficult to overtake around here, but I was able to make a few moves and enjoy myself.

“I think the next race in Barcelona will be reasonably difficult for us, but there’s no reason not to look forward to targeting another points haul in Monaco.”

Magnussen scores breakthrough points for Renault in Russia

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Kevin Magnussen believes that his charge to seventh place in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix was no less than Renault deserved as he score its first points since its return to Formula 1 as a constructor in 2016.

Renault last raced in F1 with its own team back in 2010 before taking over the Lotus operation at the end of last year.

The French manufacturer has said that 2016 is very much a year of rebuilding, yet the chiefs were known to be disappointed with its point-less start to the season.

Magnussen made the most of a messy start to charge from 17th on the grid to eventually finish the race seventh, marking Renault’s first F1 points as a constructor since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The result was also Magnussen’s first top 10 finish since the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix when he finished ninth for McLaren.

“Feels good. It’s nice to finally get points on the board, and not even just one,” Magnussen told NBCSN after the race.

“I’m really happy. I think the whole team deserves it after the hard work and tough races. We have points on the board now, so it gives us a bit of a boost.”

Magnussen made up a number of positions on the first lap when a number of drivers got caught up in incidents before maintaining his placing throughout the race.

“First lap was really messy, we knew it would be difficult with something like that,” Magnussen said.

“Everyone was spinning and hitting the wall. I went outside all the front wings. But we made it up just before Turn 1 and 2, and gained it back into Turn 3. The guys in front didn’t finish.

“In the end of the day, a bit lucky but we made the best of it and we deserved.”