Rookies feel wrath of ‘Lady in Black’ in first Sprint Cup practice

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Run-ins with the wall were plentiful during this morning’s Sprint Cup practice at Darlington Raceway, especially among those racing on the treacherous 1.366-mile oval for the first time.

Cup rookies Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman each got their inaugural Darlington stripe, but the damage inflicted to Larson’s No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was enough to force the team to roll out a backup car.

Dillon and Larson were spotted commiserating in the garage (pictured) after they both clouted the Turn 2 wall.

“We’re just learning, I guess,” Dillon said to Fox Sports. “You can get really tight – I felt good going into [Turn] 1 and through the middle, I get tight late around the middle and it carries speed off and I just hit the wall.”

“Our backup, they said, is as good as our primary and we had a really good run before I hit the wall,” Larson chimed in. “Just learning – I’ve mostly ever hit the wall in [Turns] 3 and 4, I’d never hit off 2. But I killed the wall in 2, so we’ll get back out here soon. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

Other drivers that tagged the wall in the session included veterans Kurt Busch and Marcos Ambrose, as well as sorta-veteran Ricky Stenhouse Jr. And it’s probably safe to assume that there were more drivers that had run-ins during the session, too.

The practice was led by Kevin Harvick, who logged a time of 27.679 seconds at 177.665 miles per hour and seeks this weekend to end his doggedly bad luck as of late.

Clint Bowyer was second-quickest with a time of 27.823 seconds, followed by Jimmie Johnson (27.835), Brad Keselowski (27.959), and Jeff Gordon (27.978) rounding out the Top 5.

Kurt Busch, whose car co-owner Gene Haas is now set to field a Formula One franchise in 2015, recovered from his wall issue to record the sixth-fastest time (28.022). Last week’s winner at Texas, Joey Logano, was 12th-fastest (28.085).

The Cup contingent has another practice scheduled for 2 p.m. ET, with qualifying set for later this evening at 6 p.m. ET.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT DARLINGTON – Practice 1 Times

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.