(Photo: AP/Chuck Burton)

Jimmie Johnson breaks 2014 winless streak, captures Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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Jimmie Johnson fans can relax:

Their favorite driver finally won his first race of the 2014 Sprint Cup season, holding off late runs by Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As a result and with his 67th career Sprint Cup win, Johnson is now on-track to make this year’s new and revised format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, of which he’s the defending and six-time champion.

What a relief to end what had been tied for your worst winless start to a season, right, Jimmie?

“Absolutely, it’s great to win,” Johnson told Fox Sports in victory lane. “But I promise you, all the hype and concern and worry was elsewhere, it wasn’t in my head. There are plenty of voices in my head, I’m not going to lie.

“We’ve had a great race team, we’ve had opportunity in front of us and had stuff taken away from us, and we’ve had some bad races, I have to be honest about that, too.”

Johnson, who led 10 different times in Sunday’s race, moves up to third on the Chase-eligible standings and hopes Sunday is the first of many more wins to come.

“It was just a long race, so many things going on,” said Johnson, who snapped an overall 13-race winless streak that dated back to the latter part of last season. “Hopefully this 48 is heading that way and we get those other people thinking about us.”

Johnson, who started from the pole position, led a race-high 165 laps and ultimately won by 1.2 seconds over Harvick.

It was Johnson’s seventh career win at CMS, a new record for most wins by a driver at the 1.5-mile track.

Runner-up Harvick, who had won two of the last three 600s, led 100 laps — only to fall short.

Harvick called out his pit crew for falling short.

“We had a loose wheel and we got behind and it took us the rest of the night to get back up front,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot on pit road and we have to get that cleaned up because we obviously can’t win races even with the fastest car if we make mistakes continuously on pit road. It’s frustrating.”

Kenseth, who led 33 laps, said he just wasn’t able to hold off Johnson from passing him late in the race and motor on to the checkered flag and victory lane.

“I thought we had a top-five car,” Kenseth said. “We had great strategy and great stops. They (his crew) had me in front of (Johnson) but just couldn’t hold them off. We just need to get a little better. … You’re disappointed when you don’t hold them off and don’t come home with a victory, but we were just too tight to hold them off.”

Carl Edwards finished fourth, while last week’s Sprint All-Star Race winner, Jamie McMurray, finished fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who led 43 laps before fading near the end of the event.

Johnson led after 100 miles, Harvick led after 200 and 300 miles, McMurray led after 400 miles and Keselowski led after 500 miles.

The Sprint Cup points standings saw marginal change in the top-10.

Gordon remains in first place, Kenseth is still in second (11 points behind Gordon), Kyle Busch remains in third and is now tied with Edwards (both -24), Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell to fifth place (-38), Johnson climbs one spot to sixth (-44), Joey Logano fell to seventh (-54), Brian Vickers (-67) moved up two places to eighth, Brad Keselowski moved up two places into a tie for ninth with Ryan Newman (both -71).

 

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Kurt Busch’s bid to become only the second driver to ever complete the “Double” – complete all 1,100 miles between the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 – came up short when his Stewart Haas Racing’s Chevrolet suffered motor failure on Lap 274, 126 laps from the finish.

Busch completed 906 miles of racing before the motor let go on the Charlotte Motor Speedway backstretch. Busch ultimately finished 40th on the 43-driver grid.

“The motor blew,” Busch told Fox Sports’ Jeff Hammond. “It acted like it swallowed three cylinders all at once, so it was real slow. It’s kind of a shame. It almost symbolizes how tough it’s been on the Haas Automation team. We gave it our all and were clawing our way back up.

“To feel the stock car right after driving an Indy car was a day I’ll never forget. And I can’t let the mood here with the car dampen with what happened up in Indy today. It was very special.”

Busch’s team co-owner, Tony Stewart, remains the only driver to complete both ends of the so-called “Double,” doing so in 2001.

“The Stewart-Haas guys gave me a good car tonight and the motor just went. Sometimes, that just happens.”

While upset at falling short of achieving his goal, Busch took the motor failure in stride.

“All-in-all, I’m satisfied,” he said. “I gave it my all.”

 

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Busch’s SHR teammate Danica Patrick wasn’t satisfied in her day, finishing 39th.

First, after quick repairs by her team allowed her to come back after being rammed in the back of her Chevy during Marcos Ambrose’s spin on Lap 235, Patrick’s day also ended early.

Patrick’s car was already operating with at least one cylinder down during much of the race. Prior to that happening, she had been challenging pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson for the lead early on.

But then came Lap 286, 12 laps after Busch’s motor blew up, and Patrick’s motor followed suit.

“Sorry guys, it’s definitely not what we had wanted, but we did some good things this weekend,” Patrick told her crew over the team radio.

Patrick was hoping for a second strong finish, having wound up with a career-best seventh-place finish two weeks ago at Kansas.

She had been optimistic coming into Sunday’s race after qualifying fourth and ranking in the top 10 in both final practice sessions on Saturday.

 

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The first big wreck of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 occurred on Lap 235 of the 400-lap event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Marcos Ambrose’s Ford spun. Patrick was close to avoiding the incident until Brian Scott couldn’t slow down in time, making contact with Patrick’s car and sending her into the wall, suffering moderate damage on her Chevrolet.

“Idiot,” Patrick said over her team radio. “I mean, really, who the hell did not see that coming?”

Also caught up in the wreck, Josh Wise then made contact with Landon Cassill.

Earlier in the race on Lap 160, David Gilliland‘s day came to an abrupt end when he apparently cut down a tire and slammed into the wall.

 

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Also of note, Jeff Gordon came into the race still suffering from back spasms that caused him to cut short his first practice run and completely miss the entire second practice session Saturday.

Even though Regan Smith was on standby to replace him if needed, Gordon managed to stay in the event for its entirety, finishing seventh.

“It was better than Saturday morning, that’s what I was thankful for,” Gordon said of how his back felt. “There were procedures and different work … there was quite a few people that were tending to me, and I appreciate every one of them and I don’t think I would have gotten through this long race (without their efforts).

“It was a good effort, I’m happy I got through it. It tells me what kind of threshold I have and I just wanted to show this team the kind of commitment I have to them because of what they’ve shown me this year.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Coca-Cola 600

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Concord, North Carolina

Sunday, May 25, 2014

               1. (1) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400, $465626.

               2. (11) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 400, $304313.

               3. (12) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400, $249941.

               4. (22) Carl Edwards, Ford, 400, $174980.

               5. (26) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 400, $186219.

               6. (16) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 400, $166870.

               7. (27) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 400, $169906.

               8. (21) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 400, $150834.

               9. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400, $164761.

               10. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400, $166653.

               11. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 400, $154546.

               12. (8) Joey Logano, Ford, 400, $151501.

               13. (18) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 400, $148468.

               14. (3) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 399, $131660.

               15. (42) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 399, $121260.

               16. (32) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 399, $156696.

               17. (5) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 399, $146026.

               18. (25) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 398, $134680.

               19. (10) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 398, $115460.

               20. (14) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, 398, $103435.

               21. (24) Greg Biffle, Ford, 398, $146385.

               22. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 398, $112985.

               23. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 398, $121518.

               24. (34) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 398, $126643.

               25. (15) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 398, $129593.

               26. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 397, $137310.

               27. (31) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 397, $96960.

               28. (39) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 396, $113893.

               29. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 396, $126255.

               30. (30) Michael McDowell, Ford, 396, $97685.

               31. (35) David Ragan, Ford, 395, $118793.

               32. (19) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 395, $108457.

              33. (29) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 392, $98760.

               34. (38) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 390, $106135.

               35. (43) Blake Koch(i), Ford, 390, $95485.

               36. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 382, $95385.

               37. (17) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 378, $103154.

               38. (36) Ryan Truex #, Toyota, Engine, 303, $89350.

               39. (4) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Engine, 281, $95850.

               40. (28) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Engine, 271, $81350.

               41. (37) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Accident, 229, $77350.

               42. (41) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Engine, 162, $73350.

               43. (33) David Gilliland, Ford, Accident, 160, $77850.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  145.484 mph.

Time of Race:  4 Hrs, 07 Mins, 27 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.272 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 44 laps.

Lead Changes:  34 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   J. Johnson 0; B. Keselowski 1; J. Johnson 2-47; B. Keselowski 48-49; J. Johnson 50-75; K. Harvick 76-95; J. Johnson 96-97; K. Harvick 98-108; J. Johnson 109; K. Harvick 110-149; J. Johnson 150-164; B. Keselowski 165-191; K. Harvick 192-212; J. Gordon 213; D. Earnhardt Jr. 214; J. McMurray 215; K. Harvick 216-223; J. Johnson 224; D. Earnhardt Jr. 225-236; J. McMurray 237-240; M. Kenseth 241; J. McMurray 242-270; M. Kenseth 271-276; J. Gordon 277; J. Johnson 278-293; M. Kenseth 294-311; J. Johnson 312-330; B. Keselowski 331-343; A. Almirola 344; J. Johnson 345-373; J. Gordon 374-375; C. Edwards 376-379; J. Gordon 380-383; M. Kenseth 384-391; J. Johnson 392-400.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  J. Johnson 10 times for 164 laps; K. Harvick 5 times for 100 laps; B. Keselowski 4 times for 43 laps; J. McMurray 3 times for 34 laps; M. Kenseth 4 times for 33 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 2 times for 13 laps; J. Gordon 4 times for 8 laps; C. Edwards 1 time for 4 laps; A. Almirola 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: J. Gordon – 432; M. Kenseth – 421; Kyle Busch – 408; C. Edwards – 408; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 394; J. Johnson – 388; J. Logano – 378; B. Vickers – 365; B. Keselowski – 361; R. Newman – 361; G. Biffle – 351; K. Harvick – 345; K. Larson # – 344; D. Hamlin – 340; A. Dillon # – 334; P. Menard – 328.

Head Games: the friendly rivalry of Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud

during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.
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FORT WORTH – Rivalries that have lasted for 10 years aren’t supposed to sound like this, right?

“He’s a hell of a driver, a great competitor,” Graham Rahal said of Simon Pagenaud Tuesday during a test at Texas Motor Speedway. “And a great guy. It’s not like I dislike him. I like Simon a lot.”

Pagenaud, the current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader after four races, had even more flattering words for Rahal.

“Graham is a very aggressive driver, he’s exciting to watch. Maybe a lot more exciting than me,” Pagenaud said. “He’s a very good driver. I have a lot of respect for him because he can sometimes outdrive the car, make it better than it actually is. He’s doing a great job.”

This is what it sounded like two weeks after the top drivers for rival manufacturers dueled in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, exchanging the lead four times while combining to lead all 90 of the race’s laps.

After making contact with Rahal on with nine laps left, Pagenaud went off-track, gave up the lead and only took it back three laps later after Rahal suffered wing damage from hitting the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth.

“I know after the race Simon said he thought after we touched he was going to get me back, there was not a chance he would have gotten there,” Rahal said. “I can guarantee that. Cause I was way quicker on old tires than those guys were and if I had gotten clear, I was gone. And I knew that too, which is the frustrating part.”

Pagenaud won his second race in a row. For the second straight year, Rahal placed second at Barber Motorsports Park.

With that, a quiet rivalry that started a decade ago in the Champ Car Atlantic Series was given center stage.

Rahal and Pagenaud first crossed paths in 2006.

“I don’t want to make a bigger deal out of it than it is. For sure, it’s in my head, ‘I don’t lose to Simon,'” said Rahal, who earned six wins that year in the Atlantic series.

But it was Pagenaud who won the title as both transitioned into the Champ Car World Series in 2007. Rahal went to IndyCar in 2008 while Pagenaud drove in the American Le Mans Series for three years, making his debut in IndyCar in 2011.

“That’s the way it’s always been and when I see him particularly as the rabbit in front of me I’m going to get him,” said Rahal, who has yet to finish ahead of Pagenaud through four races. “It’s just my mentality. Obviously, he’s in a pretty good place right now.”

In his second year with Team Penske, Pagenaud has finished in the top two in all four races a season after not finishing better than third. Rahal is the flag bearer for Honda with two top-five finishes a season after winning two races – his first victories in seven seasons.

How does Pagenaud, the points leader, compare himself to his friendly rival?

“I’m more like a (Scott) Dixon, you never see me coming, all of a sudden I’m there and everybody’s like ‘what the hell? How the hell did he do that?'” Pagenaud said.

“Rahal is more like a Paul Tracy, which is really cool to watch. To race, it can be stressful, like it was in Barber.”

With the Month of May underway and the 100th Indianapolis 500 looming on May 29, the stress will start to mount for Rahal, who is looking to win the race 30 years after his father, Bobby Rahal, did it.

He goes into May knowing Honda will likely be at a disadvantage to Chevrolet.

“If we’re not on par, we’re not on par,” Rahal said. “Our job is to finish fifth or whatever. I hate saying that because it’s the 100th running, I want to win this race more than anything else, any race, any where, anytime. It’s 30 years after my dad Bobby won the Indy 500, so it’s a big year for me on many fronts.”

But Pagenaud?

“I’m relaxed and confident I can do things I usually wouldn’t do,” said the Frenchman.

The Penske driver heads to the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis looking to recapture the magic of his win in the inaugural running of the race in 2014. But he had few worries about that or anything else during the test day in Texas.

“Because we’ve started so strong, I don’t have to prove anything,” Pagenaud said. “I can work on what I have to work on. I think that’s what makes for a bit of an advantage in my opinion, in my head.”

Meanwhile, Rahal will hope to better his finish in the GP of Indy by one position from last year, when he was the runner-up to Will Power.

And Pagenaud, the rabbit Rahal has chased quietly for a decade, will likely be there to challenge him.

“He’s a guy I like to beat,” Rahal said. “Barber was frustrating, not because I lost to him, but because I defeated myself to lose to him.”

Now that sounds like a rivalry.

Mercedes pens open letter to fans in wake of conspiracy theories

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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I’m not sure whether Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” plays inside the halls of Brackley and Brixworth, home to Mercedes AMG Petronas, but the pop hit might be the song to best describe the team’s response to criticism over conspiracy theories that the team may be sabotaging Lewis Hamilton’s car this season.

Hamilton, usually a good team player and someone who’s been widely praised by Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Toto Wolff for how he’s handled his early season adversity, finally had a moment of breakdown post-race in Sochi – where he’d recovered from his latest power unit issue in qualifying and started 10th to recover to second.

“My concern is not about beating Nico… I don’t have a problem with that. It’s more the guys giving me a car to be able to fight equally with him. That’s my concern,” Hamilton told NBCSN’s Will Buxton in the aftermath of the Russian Grand Prix.

Mercedes, meanwhile, took the unusual and bold step Wednesday of penning an open letter in the wake of the result, to address the criticisms levied at it and to explain what’s happened.

It’s a fascinating read and should be read in its entirety, linked here, but here are the highlights:

  • It’s about the livelihoods of the hundreds in the shop. Mercedes writes: “For those watching at home, a Grand Prix weekend starts on a Thursday morning and ends on Sunday night. A bad result might hurt for a few hours afterwards – but then life moves on. For more than one thousand people at Brackley and Brixworth, however, this is our life.”
  • One team. “To paraphrase Mr. Toto Wolff, we have worked our a**es off to get where we are today – and we have done so as a team. … There is no ‘A’ or ‘B’ team here.”
  • Pressing on in wake of Hamilton’s MGU-H failure, and other issues that arose. “We were baffled and gutted by the repeat MGU-H failure on Lewis’ car in qualifying. But we kept calm, gathered our thoughts and sprung into action. … (We could) make sure Lewis could start from P10 on Sunday without having broken parc ferme.” The team also addressed Rosberg’s MGU-K behavior and Hamilton’s water pressure issues in subsequent paragraphs.
  • We know we could be better. “Ultimately, none of this changes the fact that we have not met our own expectations in terms of reliability thus far this season.”
  • But haters are gonna hate, and we’re going to keep improving. “To those who stand with us, we thank you. And to the rest – the haters, the naysayers, the conspirators… if we can convince even half of you what we really stand for, we’ll consider that a battle well won.”

IndyCar drivers, SI Swimsuit Models are gonna “Play the Feud”

05-03-Celebrity-Family-Feud-Intro
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There are no full-season five-car teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series although there are a handful of four-car teams, and one of those four (Andretti Autosport) expands to five cars for the Indianapolis 500.

There is, however, a five-driver IndyCar team that’s gonna play the feud later this year – Celebrity Family Feud, that is.

Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, James Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly will be IndyCar’s contingent that goes up against five Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, Nina Agdal, Samantha Hoopes, Tanya Mityushina, Robyn Lawley and Hannah Ferguson.

The season premieres on June 26 at 8 p.m. ET (ABC), with specific episode dates – including the IndyCar and swimsuit model show – to be revealed at a later time.

And yes, lest you think this is merely an excuse to show swimsuit models in a racing post, there is a charitable aspect at play here.

The IndyCar team will play for the Indy Family Foundation, a fund intended to aid those in the motorsports community (regardless of the sanctioning body) who find themselves in financial need due to hardship caused by illness, injury or death.

This is IndyCar’s second big racing-meets-entertainment venture announced in the last couple weeks. Last week, Castroneves, Kanaan and Josef Newgarden also took part in filming for an episode of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior.

Domed skid debate rages on as IndyCar drivers test in Texas

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 06: Will Power of Australia, driver of the #1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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FORT WORTH – It’s only 7 millimeters of metal.

But as with a lot of things in the Verizon IndyCar Series, politics and opinions come attached to the metal plate called the “domed skid.”

It’s the piece that will be fixed to the underside of the series’ race cars when they visit three speedways this season – Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway.

The plate is the series’ solution to keep cars from going airborne, as they did three times at Indy in 2015 during preparation for the Indianapolis 500.

Honda drivers are concerned about how having 7 millimeters less space between the bottom of the car and the race surface will impact competition.

Meanwhile Chevrolet driver Ed Carpenter doesn’t “think it’s that big of a deal” and Honda drivers “really like to talk and complain about” it.

The plate was present on the 15 cars that were at TMS Tuesday for the first speedway test during the month of May, ahead of three weeks of action at IMS.

Indianapolis 500 practice begins on May 16, following the next round of the season, the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, on Saturday, May 14.

Carpenter, Josef Newgarden and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves were the three drivers who had the airborne incidents last year.

Castroneves proceeded to make his stance on the 7 millimeter plate and its purpose clear.

“I’m not going to go into a Honda-Chevy dispute, but my thing is (that) I was the one that was upside down last year and no question adding the dome skid, for sure, for safety, that’s what we’re looking for,” Castroneves said during a break in testing.

“It doesn’t matter what car it is … when the car is sideways, (the domed skid) adds at least 500 to 1,000 pounds more downforce when you are sideways – which means you’re going to keep the car on the ground.”

Castroneves and teammate Will Power also don’t believe it’s too late to be bringing the plate into the mix, citing the nearly yearly change in aero packages and the Texas test being the second after one at Indy last month.

“The hype about this dome skid was brought about by Honda,” Power said. “They’re the only ones because it would benefit them massively to have strength in the dome skid because they have a lower downforce package, they have what we run in qualifying, so of course they’re going to politic very hard to say that’s it’s bad and this and that.”

After two hours of morning testing, Castroneves said “it’s too early to say” how the domed skid will impact the racing at Texas, a 1.5-mile track with 24-degree corner banking.

Graham Rahal, the only Honda driver who spoke in the media availability Tuesday, said the addition of the domed skid “definitely hurts us” as the car must be raised 10 millimeters to install the plate, adding to the car’s ride-height.

“The guys that tell you it doesn’t make a difference are lying, to be honest,” Rahal said. “There’s obviously some politics going on, I think the Chevy guys don’t want the side walls to help make up for that, but we need it for sure.”

Rahal has been the top finishing Honda driver in two of the first four races. Heading toward the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, Rahal is sixth in points and frustrated that talk of the 7 millimeter plate could be a distraction from the event.

“That’s what I told IndyCar, I don’t even know why we’re doing this because we didn’t need to turn attention to something like this,” Rahal said.

“We should be talking about how great the Indy 500 is. Instead we’re talking about domed skids, which no one even knows what the heck that is other than us. But it does affect the car and we’re going to have work hard to make up for it.”

Juan Pablo Montoya also tested at Indianapolis and said he didn’t have any problems. But the 2015 Indy 500 champion later said driving in qualifying trim added a wrinkle to his test.

“Then it gets interesting really fast,” Montoya said. “It’s either really good or really interesting. In traffic, it’s a different world. It’s tough because the track’s really green so you don’t know how clean is that second groove. You’re not going to win anything by being really good today.”

They will have to be good when it counts, in the Indianapolis 500 on May 29 and the Firestone 600 at Texas on June 11.