Ryan Newman rockets to top of speed charts (179.167 mph) in Darlington Happy Hour

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NASCAR’s rocket man, Ryan Newman, lived up to his nickname in Friday’s Happy Hour final practice for Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

In his first season for Richard Childress Racing, Newman took just nine laps of practice, but his seventh lap was the overall fastest of the entire field at 179.167 mph. No other driver exceeded 179 mph in the one hour session.

Second-fastest was a surprisingly stout effort by Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcus Ambrose, who grazed the wall once during his five-lap spin, yet still managed to top everyone else in the field other than Newman at 178.978 mph.

Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon was third-fastest at 178.906 mph. Gordon is the winningest active driver at Darlington with seven career Cup wins there.

NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson holds the all-time wins mark at the so-called “Track Too Tough to Tame” with 10 victories during his illustrious career.

He’s looking not only for his eighth career win there Saturday, but is also seeking to become the eighth different race winner in the Cup series in as many races this season.

Kyle Busch was fourth-fastest at 178.802 mph, followed by Monday’s race winner at Texas, Joey Logano, at 178.731 mph.

Other runs of note:

* Aric Almirola, RPM’s other driver, was sixth-fastest at 178.562.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr., still smarting from the driving mistake he made at Texas that left him with a last-place finish, was 11th-fastest at 178.200 mph.

* Three-time Darlington winner and six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson was 13th-fastest at 177.955 mph.

* Rookie Kyle Larson, who hit the wall in the first practice session Friday morning, bounced back for 16th-fastest in the second session at 177.742 mph.

* While most drivers put in between five and 20 runs, Kevin Harvick, who has struggled since his win earlier this season at Phoenix, did an eye-popping 63 laps around the so-called Lady In Black.

Here’s the complete run-down of the 44 drivers who took practice laps. Remember, qualifying for Saturday’s race will be tonight.

1 Ryan Newman 179.167 mph

2 Marcos Ambrose 178.978

3 Jeff Gordon 178.906

4 Kyle Busch 178.802

5 Joey Logano 178.731

6 Aric Almirola 178.562

7 Austin Dillon 178.543

8 Jamie McMurray 178.439

9 Kasey Kahne 178.400

10 Kurt Busch 178.206

 

11 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 178.200

12 Clint Bowyer 177.974

13 Jimmie Johnson 177.955

14 Brian Vickers 177.916

15 Paul Menard 177.762

16 Kyle Larson 177.742

17 Martin Truex Jr. 177.665

18 Justin Allgaier 177.595

19 Denny Hamlin 177.435

20 AJ Allmendinger 177.396

 

21 Casey Mears 177.358

22 Greg Biffle 177.185

23 Carl Edwards 177.070

24 Tony Stewart 176.759

25 Brad Keselowski 176.714

26 Matt Kenseth 176.549

27 David Ragan 176.006

28 Josh Wise 175.786

29 Kevin Harvick 175.779

30 Parker Kligerman 175.466

 

31 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 175.334

32 Alex Bowman 174.954

33 Dave Blaney 174.941

34 Danica Patrick 174.711

35 Michael Annett 174.699

36 David Reutimann 174.303

37 Ryan Truex 174.007

38 Cole Whitt 173.920

39 David Gilliland 173.773

40 David Stremme 173.571

 

41 Travis Kvapil 173.522

42 Reed Sorenson 173.430

43 Joe Nemecheck 173.399

44 Landon Cassill 170.691

 

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John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”