Hendrick Motorsports power romps with Jeff Gordon win and five other top-9 finishers

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Jeff Gordon’s 89th career Sprint Cup win in Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway was only part of a bigger overall story for Hendrick Motorsports.

Gordon led a HMS juggernaut with all four of the company’s drivers finishing in the top nine — and two other drivers with an affiliate team ending up runner-up and in seventh-place.

Gordon HMS teammate Kasey Kahne wound up with a season-best (and first top-five finish) third-place showing, Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth and six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson finished ninth.

“Yeah, it went really good for us,” Kahne said in a post-race press conference. “We had a fast Farmers Insurance Chevy throughout the race, worked our way up. Some of the pit strategy and things, sequence more than anything.

“We got to the front there for a little bit, led some laps, felt really good at that point in time, and then we got a little tighter later and didn’t free up or tighten up enough there at the end when we put four tires back on. We just tried to run rights for too long.

“It was still a really solid run. Nice to run up front and be able to race hard the whole night. It was good for us.”

Kahne has struggled much of this season, but you could see a turnaround beginning in his prior two races, finishing 14th at Richmond and eighth at Talladega last Sunday.

Now that he has a season-best and first top-five, Kahne’s confidence is sure to grow even stronger heading into next Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race and then back to points racing in the season’s longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600, on May 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Our biggest deal is we’ve just been slow this season,” Kahne said. “Really haven’t been inconsistent or anything like that, we’ve just been slow each week. We tested here, we had that Goodyear tire test, and I felt like from that point on, we’ve actually had really fast cars.

“Richmond we were good, we had some things go on late in the race on pit road that we ended up 14th, but we had a top six or seven car, I felt like, that entire race.

“We ran well at Talladega and then came here and ran up front. We were good in practice. I think the Goodyear test here, for whatever reason, we were able to try some things and just look at stuff a little differently than what we had been, and it helped the 5 team, my guys, myself and Kenny and Chris, our communication together. It’s helped us a lot since then. I feel like that’s been the key, and ever since we tested here, we’ve ran much better and been a lot more competitive.”

While having all four HMS drivers in the top-nine was a big story in and of itself, two other drivers who drive for the HMS-affiliated Stewart Haas Racing were also powered to strong top-7 showings by HMS motors and chassis.

“The relationship that we have at Hendrick with Stewart-Haas is a very tight one that we share a lot of information,” race winner Jeff Gordon said. “Those guys have been so strong. We have been strong, it’s fun to go out there and race those guys for a win like that.”

Kevin Harvick came close to winning his third Cup race of the season, finishing second, less than two car lengths behind Gordon.

And Harvick’s SHR teammate, Danica Patrick, likely felt like a winner, earning the highest finish of her brief Sprint Cup career, ending up seventh in the race (the other two SHR drivers, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, struggled to finishes of 20th and 29th respectively at Kansas).

“It felt good,” Patrick said. “My goal at the beginning of the race was really just to stay up in that lead group. … What can I say? I’m really overall proud of the team for building cars like these, and it was so good.

“I know we haven’t had the best of times, but it’s days like today that we work hard for and it’s days like that when we do this enough, it’s the kind of things that materializes in wins.

“We just have to keep hanging around and doing what we’re doing and I’m just proud of everybody working hard and believing in me. We’re in the top 10 – yeah!”

That showing surpassed Patrick’s previous high finish of eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500.

“I think for her it’s just the confidence in knowing exactly what the car is going to do,” Harvick said. “Obviously, she’s run well all weekend, qualified well, raced well all night, and it’s just — there’s a lot of hurdles to overcome for her to make up that experience. I feel like we can help her speed that process up by just telling her some of the things that she should expect and do.

“As she went through the weekend, she kept her track position on the restarts. That’s probably the biggest thing. But I guess the one thing I did tell her was just to quit thinking about it and smash the gas.

“Sometimes your car is never going to be perfect, and you just have to take what it’ll give you and expect that every time you pit it’s going to be better, and if it’s not you adjust and move on.”

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Indy Lights: Chad Boat to make Indy Lights debut with Belardi

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Belardi Auto Racing, which currently fields entries for Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, announced on Tuesday that USAC standout Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy Boat, will make his Indy Lights debut with the Brian Belardi led-outfit. Boat will contest the July 9 race at Iowa Speedway, a track he has previously raced on in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and will return for the August 26 event at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We’re extremely pleased to announce the addition of Chad Boat to our stable of drivers for the Iowa and Gateway Indy Lights oval races this summer,” team owner Brian Belardi detailed. “It’s exciting to have a second-generation driver running with us, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting Chad on track in Iowa.”

The younger Boat has become a star in his own right in USAC, winning Rookie of the Year honors in both the USAC National Midget and Sprint car divisions. The 25-year-old will pilot the No. 84 entry, with sponsorship from Pristine Auction.

“I grew up watching my dad race Indy cars, so having the opportunity to run Indy Lights this year is absolutely surreal,” said Boat. “I have to thank Belardi Auto Racing for giving me a shot behind the wheel of the No. 84 Dallara, as well as Pristine Auction for their continued support in my racing career. I can’t wait to get to Iowa Speedway.”

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Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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