Kevin Harvick: Expect drivers to have “a lot of different agendas” in ‘Dega quals

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NASCAR’s upcoming visit to Talladega Superspeedway will also mark the first time that the knockout-style qualifying format has been used for a restrictor plate track.

At 2.66 miles in length, Talladega comes in well above the 1.25-mile track length line of demarcation. Thus, competitors will go through the three-round version of the format.

Drivers will have to use the draft at 200+ miles per hour like they do in the races, so they can post times fast enough to keep them advancing through the qualifying rounds.

And that means we’ll be for a much different qualifying show than what we’ve seen so far this season.

“As you take it to the superspeedways, it could be very unique for the fact that everyone’s going to try to get those huge runs from the back of the pack,” Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick said in a release.

“So, you’re going to have a lot of different agendas. The timing of when you make your runs is going to be a little bit different.

“There are going to be some interesting moments, I would say, as we go through qualifying, but I think it’s going to be exciting compared to what we’re used to.”

Harvick, who has won multiple times on restrictor plate tracks, believes that the approach to how he’ll handle Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 will come down to how he fares in the qualifying session on Saturday.

However, as his two victories at Phoenix and Darlington have virtually sealed his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, that does make it easier for him to simply go for it.

“A lot of these tracks, if you can qualify decent and race up front with the current rules package, I think it’s better to stay up front and try to keep yourself there throughout the day,” he said. “Obviously, if you don’t qualify well, you go with the opposite strategy.

“For us, having a couple of wins in the bank, I think you race as hard as you can all day to try and keep yourself up front and have a complete day of hopefully keeping the car rolling when it’s time to be around at the end.”

Regardless of where he qualifies, Harvick is hopeful that he’ll have more speed in his No. 4 SHR Chevrolet than what he felt he had in it during Daytona Speedweeks in February.

Harvick rose from 38th on the Daytona 500 grid to finish 13th, but he says that was more to do with pit strategy and good stops.

“I know the guys were working on finding some speed and making the cars a little better before we headed off to Talladega,” he added. “It’s a constant progression. I felt like we had a little bit of a lack of speed but I think, by the time we get to Talladega, we will have found that.

“Hopefully, that will allow us to be a little bit better than we were at Daytona.”

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.