Edwards makes Dover history, but Kyle Busch leads 1st Cup practice

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s hold on the track record at Dover International Speedway is in serious jeopardy.

The two-time Daytona 500 champion set the Dover qualifying mark last fall with a 22.243-second blitz, but this morning’s first Cup practice session for the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks saw multiple drivers bury that.

Carl Edwards’ 21.851-second lap in the session was the first-ever Sprint Cup lap under 22 seconds at the Monster Mile. However, even that was eclipsed repeatedly in the closing minutes.

In the end, Kyle Busch came away with the fastest lap at 21.648 seconds (166.297 mph) in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and 29 cars had their fastest laps unofficially break Earnhardt’s record. It should all make for an intriguing qualifying session later this afternoon at 3:40 p.m. ET.

As for Edwards’ historic lap, that ended up sixth-best in the session behind the best laps from Busch, defending race winner Tony Stewart (21.738 seconds), rookie Kyle Larson (21.794 seconds), Ryan Newman (21.801 seconds), and Brad Keselowski (21.833 seconds).

Stewart summed up the matter perfectly in his post-practice interview with Fox Sports:

Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon, rookie Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, and Marcos Ambrose completed the Top 10.

Clint Bowyer logged the best consecutive 10-lap average in his first 10 laps of the session (157.305 mph), but was 13th overall with a fast lap of 21.894 seconds.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.