Baseball great Vida Blue to serve as Grand Marshal at Sonoma NASCAR Sprint Cup race

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When the public address announcer at Sonoma Raceway introduces the Grand Marshal for the June 22 Toyota/Save Mart 350 Sprint Cup race, the crowd is going to respond with a round of applause and a case of the “Bllluuuuuueeeeee’s.”

Longtime southpaw pitching great Vida Blue, whose long and successful tenure with both the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants was met countless times with cheers of “Blue!” will be take part in pre-race ceremonies and cap it all off by giving the “Drivers, Start Your Engines” command.

“I’m delighted to be honored by the raceway during NASCAR weekend, and I’m really looking forward to heading out to the track,” Blue said in a media release issued by the racetrack. “This will be my first time at a NASCAR race, and I know it’s going to be something special.”

Blue, who was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, will also be honored at a fundraiser on Friday June 20 for Speedway Children’s Charities. The event will be held Friday, June 20, at the Children’s Champion’s Grand Marshal’s Banquet at Cline Cellars in Sonoma.

Okay, now here’s something that’s going to make you feel REAL OLD: Blue retired in 1986 – more than a quarter century ago (!!) – after a 17-year career in the big leagues.

Blue’s first full season in the big leagues was with the A’s in 1971 – when he went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA, and earned both the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award. He also became the only player ever to be the starting pitcher in the league opener, the All-Star Game and the playoff opener in the same season.

He was also one of the A’s top starters when they won three straight Major League Baseball championships from 1972 through 1974. After being dealt in a “cross-bay trade,” he continued to shine for the Giants, including becoming the first pitcher to ever start the All-Star Game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978).

Blue’s career spanned 17 years, pitching for Oakland (1969-77), San Francisco (1978-81), the Kansas City Royals (1982-83) and then returned to San Francisco to close out his career (1985-86).

Blue is a baseball analyst for Giants telecasts on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, and is heavily involved in work with a number of charities and causes.

“Vida is one of the greatest competitors ever to take the mound in either league, but he’s also one of the most engaging personalities in the industry and I know he’s going to be a big hit with our fans at the race, regardless of their team loyalties,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager.

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Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.