Brian Scott won the pole Saturday for Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Richard Childress Racing dominates top 6 spots in Sprint Cup qualifying at ‘Dega; Brian Scott earns first career pole

Leave a comment

Drivers, crew chiefs and team owners expected wrecks and surprises during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying at Talladega.

While the expected wrecks didn’t materialize, the eventual qualifying grid was definitely a surprise – if not a shock.

Part-time Cup driver Brian Scott will start Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 on the pole, with Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard next to him on the outside of the front row.

It was Scott’s first career Sprint Cup pole (in five Cup career starts) and marks the ninth different No. 1 qualifier in the first 10 races of the 2014 season.

RCR dominated the qualifying session, securing four of the top six spots, with Austin Dillon starting fifth and Ryan Newman sixth. In addition, two RCR-affiliated teams (they purchase motors and chassis from RCR) rounded out the top 6 with AJ Allmendinger qualifying third and Casey Mears fourth.

“It was a team effort,” Scott said. “We had a plan from the beginning to work as a team. With Newman leading it, he was the point man. … It’s awesome for everybody at Richard Childress Racing. We were able to get the right draft and the right suck there at the last second to get the pole. I couldn’t be more happy for everybody.”

But RCR wasn’t the only team that surprised. So, too, did Stewart Haas Racing, which placed all four of its drivers in the top 12 qualifiers, led by – surprise – Danica Patrick, who start Sunday’s race seventh.

As for Patrick’s SHR teammates, Kevin Harvick will be alongside her in the fourth row, Kurt Busch will start ninth and team co-owner Tony Stewart will start 12th.

Among other notable events in qualifying:

* In the first round, Kyle Busch (200.574 mph) and Joey Logano (200.171) became the first two drivers to run qualifying laps of more than 200 mph at Talladega since 1987, one year before restrictor plates were mandated for races at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

* In all, 11 of the top 12 qualifiers were powered by Chevrolet. Ford managed just one qualifier in the top 12: Carl Edwards, who will start 10th. As for Toyota, Brian Vickers was the top qualifier – but that’s not saying much, given Vickers will start on the inside of Row 10 in 19th position.

* In an oddity, no drivers took to the track for the first three-plus minutes of the 12-car final round. Finally, with two minutes left, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon led the pack onto the track.

* For the first time this season, Richmond winner Joey Logano failed to make the 12-driver final round during qualifying.

* Making the final start of his lengthy Cup career, two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte will start 38th.

* Defending race winner David Ragan will start 39th.

* Four drivers failed to qualify: Eric McClure, J.J. Yeley, Dave Blaney and Joe Nemecheck.

Here’s how the field will line up for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499:

Here’s how the field will line up for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499:

Row 1 Brian Scott (198.200 mph), Paul Menard (197.888)

Row 2 AJ Allmendinger (197.704), Casey Mears (197.370)

Row 3 Austin Dillon (197.362), Ryan Newman (197.297)

Row 4 Danica Patrick 194.995), Kevin Harvick (194.393)

Row 5 Kurt Busch (193.619), Carl Edwards (193.615)

Row 6 Jeff Gordon (193.486), Tony Stewart (188.958)

Row 7 Brad Keselowski (194.963), Michael McDowell (194.959)

Row 8 Aric Almirola (194.911), Joey Logano (194.880)

Row 9 Michael Annett (194.098), Brian Vickers (194.035)

Row 10 Kyle Busch (193.541), Jimmie Johnson (193.478)

Row 11 Matt Kenseth (193.458), Reed Sorensen (190.890)

Row 12 Trevor Bayne (190.575), Ryan Truex (197.913)

Row 13 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (197.908), Marcos Ambrose (197.835)

Row 14 Clint Bowyer (197.806), Michael Waltrip (197.806)

Row 15 Kyle Larson (197.770), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (197.765)

Row 16 Cole Whitt (197.721), Jamie McMurray (197.443)

Row 17 Alex Bowman (197.403), Denny Hamlin (197.378)

Row 18 Greg Biffle (197.244), Josh Wise (197.029)

Row 19 Terry Labonte (196.746), Justin Allgaier (196.230)

Row 20 David Ragan (195.732), David Gilliland (194.880)

Row 21 Landon Cassill (194.389), Kasey Kahne (engine change)

Row 22 Martin Truex Jr. (engine change)

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Williams expecting to make announcement on Bottas’ future in next week

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20: Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
1 Comment

Williams Formula 1 deputy boss Claire Williams expects the team to make an announcement regarding the future of Valtteri Bottas in the next week.

Bottas is poised to join Mercedes for the 2017 season following the shock retirement of World Champion Nico Rosberg, announced just five days after clinching his maiden title in Abu Dhabi.

Mercedes decided against promoting junior driver Pascal Wehrlein into Rosberg’s vacant seat, and instead targeted Bottas as its first choice to team up with Lewis Hamilton this year.

Bottas had already agreed to race for Williams in 2017, but will be released from his contract after the team managed to persuade Felipe Massa to postpone his retirement.

The Brazilian made what was planned to be his final F1 start in Abu Dhabi, but is due to partner 18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll at Williams.

Speaking to Sky Sports News at Autosport International on Sunday, Claire Williams said that she expected news to come in the next seven days, setting the wheels in motion to complete the grid for 2017.

“It has been dragging on and I think everyone wants to know. It is a great opportunity for Valtteri, and he has given a lot to Williams,” Williams said.

“We’ve always said if we can make this happen on terms that are positive for Williams then it is probably the right thing to do.

“No one needs or wants a driver in your team that really wants to be somewhere else. It is not nice either to stop a driver who has such a great opportunity, particularly at this point of Valtteri’s career.

“But it has to work for Williams and that is what we’ve been working hard on over the past six weeks.

“We are nearly there. We are at the tail-end of it and hope we’ll be able to make an announcement this coming week.”

With Bottas set to join Mercedes and Massa to return to Williams, Wehrlein is expected to take the final secure seat on the grid for 2017 by joining Sauber.

Manor is yet to confirm any of its plans for 2017 after entering administration last week, raising concerns about whether the team will race at all this year.

Lifelong dream comes true: Christopher Bell wins Chili Bowl in native Oklahoma

christopher-bell-wins-chili-bowl-photo-from-chilibowl-com
(Photo courtesy ChiliBowl.com)
Leave a comment

As they might say in Oklahoma, “That Sooner kid done good.”

Less than a month after turning 22 years old, Norman, Oklahoma native Christopher Bell earned the biggest victory of his young racing career, capturing the 31st Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals Saturday night at the indoor Tulsa Expo Raceway.

It has been Bell’s lifelong dream to win the Chili Bowl in his home state, and he did so Saturday in commanding fashion.

Starting from the outside of the front row, Bell – who drives fulltime in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (finished third in 2016) for Kyle Busch Motorsports – stayed near the front of the field for much of the 55 laps to capture the prestigious Golden Driller trophy.

“I’m speechless right now,” Bell told ChiliBowl.com. “I’ve been coming to this building for so long trying to win one of these things, and I thought I was really close to one at the Shootout a couple weeks ago, but we had a lot of bad luck but I’ll trade all that bad luck in for this Driller right here. This means the world to me.”

Bell becomes the second Oklahoma native to win the Chili Bowl in its 31-year existence. Andy Hillenburg was the first, in 1994.

In an ironic twist, Hillenburg won the first Chili Bowl title for Keith Kunz Motorsports. Since then, KKM has recorded five additional Chili Bowl wins, with Bell being the sixth and most recent to do so.

“You know, I’ve been in this position before,” Bell said. “I think this is the third time I’ve started on the front row and I would run into trouble because I was pushing too hard.

“Every time I’ve come here, it’s been attack, attack, attack and in this 55 lap race, you don’t need to do that so I just ran as hard as I needed too.”

This was Bell’s fourth appearance in the A-Feature to decide the Chili Bowl’s championship.

Pole sitter Justin Grant led the first 25 laps in the Clauson-Marshal No. 39BC (in memory of 2014 Chili Bowl champion, the late Bryan Clauson).

But from that point on, it was Bell’s race.

Fellow Sooner Daryn Pittman, from Owasso, Oklahoma, finished second. Pittman experienced engine problems late in the race that kept him from making a late surge and challenge of Bell. Still, it was Pittman’s first podium finish in seven Chili Bowl starts.

“We don’t have a spare engine, so we weren’t able to change it,” Pittman told ChiliBowl.com. “… It lasted for 54 and three-quarter laps.”

Grant finished third in his second A-Feature appearance.

“It’s just a thrill to be driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing,” Grant told ChiliBowl.com. “Obviously, I wanted to win for him (Bryan Clauson) really bad, but I’m on the podium at Chili Bowl so I should be happy about that.”

Rounding out the top-10 were Tanner Thorson (fourth), Jake Swanson (fifth), Tyler Courtney (sixth), Zach Daum (seventh), Jerry Coons Jr. (eighth), Ronnie Gardner (ninth) and Damion Gardner (10th).

Competing in his first Chili Bowl, veteran sprint car driver Donny Schatz, earned 2017 Rookie of the Year honors, finishing seventh in the B-Feature.

Rico Abreu, who won the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Chili Bowl, finished 11th. Abreu announced last week he would not be returning to NASCAR in 2017.

Although there were six NASCAR drivers entered in the record 365-driver overall Chili Bowl field, only two made the championship race: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished 16th, and K&N Pro Series driver Chase Briscoe, who finished 22nd (DNF).

Other NASCAR drivers Kyle Larson, J.J. Yeley and Justin Allgaier fell short in their efforts to reach the main event.

The 32nd Chili Bowl will be held January 9-13, 2018, again at the River Spirit Expo Center (also known as Tulsa Expo Raceway).

RESULTS:

Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire
Tulsa Expo Raceway – Tulsa, Okla.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Lucas Oil/General Tire Championship Night

Event Count: 365 (New Record)

A-FEATURE (car number, driver name, starting position):

A Feature (55 Laps): 1. 71W-Christopher Bell[2]; 2. 21-Daryn Pittman[8]; 3. 39BC-Justin Grant[1]; 4. 67-Tanner Thorson[20]; 5. 68W-Jake Swanson[5]; 6. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[3]; 7. 5D-Zach Daum[11]; 8. 5-Jerry Coons Jr.[15]; 9. 68-Ronnie Gardner[9]; 10. 71G-Damion Gardner[16]; 11. 97-Rico Abreu[25]; 12. 31-Travis Berryhill[4]; 13. 99W-Larry Wight[7]; 14. 25C-C.J. Leary[10]; 15. 17W-Shane Golobic[13]; 16. 17BC-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.[14]; 17. 91T-Tyler Thomas[18]; 18. 35F-Michael Faccinto[23]; 19. 51X-Colby Copeland[12]; 20. (DNF) 8J-Jonathan Beason[19]; 21. (DNF) 47-Danny Stratton[6]; 22. (DNF) 5CB-Chase Briscoe[22]; 23. (DNF) 1R-Thomas Meseraull[21]; 24. (DNF) 5X-Justin Peck[24]; 25. (DNF) 05T-Gary Taylor[17].

 

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

McLaren set to keep MP4 in car name following Ron Dennis’ departure

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track  during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
1 Comment

BIRMINGHAM, UK – McLaren executive director Zak Brown says the team is set to continue using ‘MP4′ as part of its Formula 1 car name following long-standing chairman Ron Dennis’ departure late last year.

Dennis announced in November that he would be stepping down as chairman and CEO of McLaren at the end of 2016, citing “entirely spurious grounds” for his departure.

Dennis was instrumental in McLaren’s success during his tenure from 1981 until 2016, and started the tradition of its F1 cars carrying the ‘MP4’ moniker.

MP4 stands for ‘McLaren Project Four’, with Dennis running a racing team called Project Four Racing prior to his arrival at McLaren.

It had been suggested that McLaren could drop or alter the ‘MP4′ part of its car name for 2017 following Dennis’ exit, but there are no plans to do so.

When asked by NBC Sports if the team was going to change the name of its car, Brown said: “No, I think we’re going to stay where we are.”

As a result, McLaren’s 2017 car is poised to be called the MP4-32, following on from the MP4-31 that raced in 2016.

Brown was also questioned about plans for McLaren to become involved in other racing categories with a racing team such as Formula E, which the company will supply with batteries from 2019.

“Maybe,” Brown said, remaining coy.

“We’ve won the Indy 500. We’ve won Le Mans. We’re not just a Formula 1 team. We have our technology deployed in IndyCar through our electronics and NASCAR with the batteries.

“Part of my job is to see where else we should go racing. So I would say all forms of motorsport are under review at this point.”

When asked if this could include a return to Le Mans, a race McLaren famously won in 1995, Brown said: “Perhaps.”

Dario Franchitti had Porsche LMP1 drive lined up for 2015 before Houston accident

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Former champion Dario Franchitti looks on during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

BIRMINGHAM, UK – Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti has revealed that he had an LMP1 drive with Porsche lined up for 2015 before his career-ending accident at Houston in 2013.

Franchitti was forced to call time on his 17-year stint in IndyCar after suffering head, spine and back injuries after crashing out of the Shell-Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

The Scotsman remains involved in motorsport with Chip Ganassi Racing and acts as a co-commentator in Formula E, and made an appearance at Autosport International in Birmingham, England on Saturday.

Franchitti revealed during an interview on the main stage that he was poised to link up with Porsche from 2015, racing in one of its LMP1 919 Hybrid cars at Le Mans once he’d finished his IndyCar career.

“I’d have liked to have done Le Mans. That was the big dream,” Franchitti said.

“I had a great drive lined up for 2015 there, actually in LMP1. I’m a big Porsche fan, literally my phone is full of pictures of Porsches. I love the brand.

“I became friends with Wolfgang Hatz, who is the head of research and development there, and I talked to him a bit about it and he said to come along.

“So I went to Weissach and had a big top secret meeting with Andreas Seidl and the guys there.

“I said I wanted one more chance at Indy. I wanted to do 2013 and ’14 and then I said I’d be done with IndyCar and then I wanted to come.

“He said that was fine, and it fitted in with their plan. It just didn’t happen.”

Porsche ran a third car at Le Mans in 2015 as Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Formula 1 racer Nico Hulkenberg claimed a famous victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe.