Denny Hamlin became the James Bond of NASCAR on Friday, kicking Kurt Busch off the pole with a late run to earn the No. 1 qualifying spot for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Hamlin edged Busch by .007 mph – 181.415 mph for Hamlin to Busch’s 181.408 effort around the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Even more, Hamlin beat Busch to the pole by a razor-thin margin of just .002 seconds.
It was Hamlin’s second pole of the season and third career pole at Pocono, where he has four wins, eight top-fives and 10 top-10s in 19 career starts.
“We really just made the car a lot better,” Hamlin told Fox Sports afterward. “Each session, our balance got a little bit better and we were able to get a little bit more speed out of it. That’s what you want to do, you want to play it just enough in the first few rounds and then in the final round you go all-out. It’s good to have a good Friday.
“It’s good to get a track record and have that No. 1 pit stall, that’ll pay dividends on Sunday, and I have the best pit crew on pit road. So hopefully, this lends itself to a great win on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, it was Busch’s first front-row starting spot of 2014.
“We haven’t done our job to the best of our ability, and this was a good turn for the better,” Busch said.
Brad Keselowski failed to put Team Penske on the front row yet again, but still qualified third at 181.316 mph. Kevin Harvick was fourth-fastest at 180.832 mph.
Jeff Gordon was fifth (180.513), followed by Kyle Busch (180.458), Joey Logano (179.827), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (179.565), Brian Vickers (179.548) and Carl Edwards (189.383).
Rounding out the top 12 in the third and final qualifying session were Austin Dillon in 11th (179.326) and Tony Stewart (179.126).
Six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson blamed himself for driver error for losing time on the track, ultimately resulting in a 20th-place qualifying position.
Dave Blaney spun just past the midpoint of the first qualifying session, but did not hit anything.
Here’s the starting grid for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway:
Switzerland will host its first circuit race in over 60 years when Formula E hits the streets of Zurich next June.
Switzerland banned circuit racing and most motorsport activities in 1955 following the Le Mans disaster in the same year, only for a relaxation of the law two years ago to open the door for a Formula E race to be held.
Swiss racer Simona de Silvestro took part in a special showrun through the streets of Geneva in a Formula E in 2015, with the all-electric series pushing to get a race on the calendar.
Following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris, a race in Zurich was approved for June 10, 2018, acting as the fourth new city on the season four calendar.
“I am very pleased that circuit racing is returning to Switzerland next year with the FIA Formula E Championship event in Zurich,” FIA president Jean Todt said.
“To be able to reintroduce this discipline to a country where it has been absent since it was banned in 1955 is an exciting prospect and the achievement of an important goal for the FIA.
“I would like to congratulate everyone involved in making it a reality, as it is important for us to continue to bring motor sport to new audiences around the world.
“Together with the other new events on the calendar in Santiago, Sao Paulo and Rome, I believe we have a very strong season of Formula E ahead of us.”
Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag added: “The calendar for next season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting yet with four new venues – including Zurich. I’m thrilled that Formula E is bringing racing back to Switzerland for the first time in over 60 years.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without the core fundamentals of Formula E – driving the electric revolution and sustainable mobility. Following the recent law changes this race was also made possible with the instrumental support of our Swiss partner, Julius Baer.
“I would like to express our gratitude to their CEO, Boris Collardi, and his entire team for their continued belief in Formula E – we’ve again been able to break new grounds in the world of motorsport.”
The schedule also features inaugural events in Santiago, Sao Paulo and Rome, and will once again conclude in Montreal, Canada at the end of July.
The only other change to the calendar is the shift by one week of the New York City ePrix date, moving to the July 14-15 weekend.
2017/18 FIA Formula E Calendar
1. Hong Kong – December 2
2. Hong Kong – December 3
3. Marrakesh – January 13
4. Santiago – February 3
5. Mexico City – March 3
6. Sao Paulo – March 17
7. Rome – April 14
8. Paris – April 28
9. Berlin – May 19
10. Zurich – June 10
11. New York – July 14
12. New York – July 15
13. Montreal – July 28
14. Montreal – July 29
Mexican GP to go ahead as planned, facilities unharmed by earthquake
“We’ll continue doing the assessments as we go but so far there’s really no concern. We’ll have a race.
“We’re trying to put out there all the information relevant to how people can help. Right now the concern is really getting everything back to moving from the city perspective and supporting any way we can.
“If things stay the same, we’ll just keep working on what we’re doing.
“The track is fine so we just need to re-focus and get this show done.”
Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has donated $170,000 to support those affected by the earthquake, while the Carlos Slim Foundation is set to match every donation made five-fold.
In the ninth year of its 10-year contract with the Verizon IndyCar Series (formerly as Versus and now as NBCSN), NBCSN produced its second-best season on record this year.
With a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 507,000 viewers per race, the 2017 season of races on NBCSN was just 1 percent off the best mark of 510,000 viewers per race in 2015.
This season’s viewership on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app exceeded the 2016 TAD of 492,000 viewers by 3 percent (excludes Texas and Pocono races in 2016, which were rescheduled due to weather), and was just 1 percent shy of NBCSN’s record TAD in 2015 (510,000).
Seven of the 12 races aired on NBCSN had a TAD of more than 500,000 with the most coming at Pocono with 624,000. In terms of household ratings, Indianapolis was the top local market with Richmond-Petersburg, Greenville, West Palm Beach and Greensboro coming in the top five.
It’s hard to believe Veach, the Stockdale, Ohio native, is only 22 considering his history in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires between 2010 and 2016, competing every year save for one (2015) due to injury and a lack of budget.
But throughout that period he gradually improved year-by-year, first in USF2000, then in Pro Mazda and finally in Indy Lights. Over his three years and with two different cars in Indy Lights, Veach grew into a race winner and bulked up from his already slender frame.
Veach is also the first driver in MRTI history to have been with the same team in all three levels, and graduate into IndyCar. He detoured to Belardi Auto Racing in 2016 but otherwise, was part of Andretti Autosport’s lineup from 2010 to 2014, and will now come back “home” for 2018 in IndyCar.
“I think he was 14 or 15 when we met the first time… and he looked like he was 10. Now he’s 22, and looks like he’s 15!” Michael Andretti laughed.
“But he’s always impressed me. OK, he’d come out of the box not bad. But the next race, he got better, and you could see it. It wasn’t by mistake. You’d see how he’d work, take the information, study it for hours, and then come back so much more prepared the next day.
“I gotta say, I don’t think there’s as many drivers I’ve known outside the car who’ve worked that hard to make themselves better, and he did that all the way up the ladder system. There’s a lot of confidence in big cars, and now he’ll have more tools and will use them to his advantage. So he might start here, qualify top-18, then it’ll start to go up, up, then qualify top-10 by the end of the year and I believe the next year he’ll be more of a contender. That’s how I envision it.”
Setting reasonable and realistic expectations will be key for Veach, who should look at drivers like Josef Newgarden or Charlie Kimball for inspiration.
Newgarden’s first year with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing was littered with rookie errors, not a single top-10 finish, and ending 23rd in the championship. But knowing he had two more years to build off of, Newgarden was a podium finisher each of the next two years and had leapt 10 spots in the standings. By his fourth year and his second contract in 2015, he was a race winner.
Kimball was the same way with Chip Ganassi Racing. Barely in the top-20 in points his first year with only a couple top-10s, he ascended to podiums in year two as well, and scored his first race win in year three – when he also cracked the top-10 in points.
Given Veach’s years of preparing for this moment, he’s happy to have gotten to IndyCar now, rather than rushing it years earlier.
“I was one of those kids who thought he would be in IndyCar at 18. That’s so dumb! Looking back, I’m so glad that’s not how it happened,” Veach told NBC Sports.
“It’s hard to be patient when you’re young. I know I’m saying that at age 22, but at 15 or 16, all you care about is getting to IndyCar.
“Luckily, life forced me to be patient in some things. I would much rather have this deal at age 23 than at 18, because now I feel I can deliver what these people have put on my shoulders.”
The key person to have come through with the deal is Dan Towriss, CEO, Group One Thousand One. Veach, his pastor and Towriss all connected in the run-up to the Indianapolis 500, with Veach’s program for that race announced at Long Beach with A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
Towriss explained first off that Group One Thousand One is a separate insurance company from Guggenheim Life, which was the presenting sponsor of Veach’s No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet in Indianapolis.
“Group One Thousand One is a group of insurance companies based in Indianapolis, and again, we’re growing our business, and we’re excited to be associated with Andretti and with Zach in this newest venture of ours,” Towriss explained.
“His story is one of perseverance and continuing to work hard. It resonates with us very well; helping people help themselves, and so we will help him continue on that journey. During May, we noted the way he was able to persevere, and work with his engineers when things weren’t able to work.”
Veach is one of the smallest drivers in the series, at 5 and a half feet and hovering around 130 pounds. But outside the cockpit he’s developed a love of mountain climbing, and has been able to scale several cliffs over the last couple years.
His upper body strength is something he’s focused on building and he has come a long way from his early years in the MRTI. Manhandling an IndyCar is difficult, particularly as they don’t have power steering, but it’s something Veach has been working on.
“I think the first couple of tests will be hard, but they’ll be hard for everyone after the three-month offseason,” he said. “But we’re already 10 pounds heavier than we were at the Indy 500 and I’m proud to say there’s not a lot of fat!
“We’ve been busting our butts at St. Vincent’s to get stronger. Our numbers to now from where we started are night and day. We’ll keep working hard and as we get closer to the season, we’ll shift to more cardiovascular work. I’m at 128, 130 pounds now and I’d like to be at 135 when the season starts. I think it’s well within reach.”
Veach described the challenge of advancing up the ladder despite not winning a single Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for winning any of the three rungs on the ladder.
“It’s not something I’m proud of. But one thing I am very proud of is that I’ve been very honest,” he said. “I had some success in USF2000, it was hit and miss in Pro Mazda, and in Indy Lights, I really came into my own. I proved to people that I could run up front and win races.
“What got me there was having that work ethic, trying to learn as much as I could from teammates who were quick and put that to use. Working with drivers like Felix Rosenqvist really helped. He showed me just how deep a car can go into the braking zone, with all that Formula 3 experience!
“He’s such a good driver and I hope to see him over here. He’s one of my closest friends and I don’t know anyone who deserves an IndyCar ride more than he does.
“It was a completely different set of skills and I think that’s why we didn’t hit our stride until the last part of the year. We won Road America, but winning at Watkins Glen and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca showed me where I wanted to be all year.
“It wasn’t until then that the team and I felt comfortable with what we were doing. There was added pressure when I became the team leader but that’s when things started turning around because the setups went in the exact direction I wanted them to go. That’s when things really started to click.”
The final element of Veach’s perseverance was his continued presence at the races. He found a home as a regular analyst and occasional pit road reporter for the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network in 2015, and made regular appearances there in 2016 and 2017 as well. He also drove a two-seater for the Indy Racing Experience in the same time frame.
“I think it was extremely important just from the standpoint of showing people I wasn’t going to go away,” Veach said.
“I think I got a little criticism from others involved sometimes just saying, ‘Well, why are you there if you’re not doing anything and not driving?’ You have to stay relevant, and that’s just what we were trying to do. Luckily enough, IndyCar Radio gave me a great opportunity. It’s the first kind of real job I ever had with them.
“I owe them many thanks, and of course the Indy Racing Experience with the two-seater. Even though it’s a two-seater I still got to run at places I’ve never raced at before. So I’m going to a few new tracks next year. It’s not the same thing but at least I know which way to go. I think that’s going to help us be a little quicker.
“It’s just never giving up on the dream. It’s learning every day. It’s never taking no for an answer.”