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Denny Hamlin edges Kurt Busch to earn Pocono pole

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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:

Row 1 Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch

Row 2 Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick

Row 3 Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch

Row 4 Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Row 5 Brian Vickers, Carl Edwards

Row 6 Austin Dillon, Tony Stewart

Row 7 Greg Biffle, Kyle Larson

Row 8 Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick

Row 9 Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray

Row 10 Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson

 

Row 11 AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola

Row 12 Paul Menard, Justin Allgaier

Row 13 Casey Mears, Matt Kenseth

Row 14 Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 15 Marcos Ambrose, Michael Annett

Row 16 Landon Cassill, David Ragan

Row 17 Travis Kvapil, Alex Bowman

Row 18 David Gilliland, Reed Sorenson

Row 19 Josh Wise, JJ Yeley

Row 20 Timmy Hill, Cole Whitt

Row 21 Ryan Truex, Ben Kennedy

Row 22 Dave Blaney

There were no DNQs.

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Tony George is back, as Hulman & Co. Chairman of the Board

7 Aug 1999: President of IRL Tony George with Mary Hullman George looks on during the Brickyard 400, part of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Mari Hulman George and Tony George in 1999. Photo: Getty Images
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Tony George’s new title was made public during Sunday’s Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 (for all intents and purposes, the Brickyard 400) before he gave the command to start engines.

That title is Chairman of the Board of Hulman & Co., which is the parent company of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He replaces Mari Hulman George, his mother, in the role. He’d been voted out of his leadership positions in 2009 before rejoining the board in 2013.

The change actually occurred in March, but wasn’t made public until Sunday – as ESPN.com’s John Oreovicz writes, it actually took a bit of attention off a less than scintillating Brickyard 400 on track.

NBCSN contributor Robin Miller spoke to Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Co., in a RACER.com post to explain what Tony George’s role will be.

“This has no effect on management, policies or strategies. The board has worked hard the past two years to have a clear strategy and that isn’t changing,” Miles told Miller, who also confirmed Mari Hulman George’s new designation of Chairman Emeritus.

Tony George has remained an ever-present presence in North American open-wheel racing for most of the last 25 years.

His dissatisfaction over the direction CART was going led, eventually, to the creation of the Indy Racing League (now IndyCar) in 1994 before its race debut in 1996. That 1994 year was the same year that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (then Winston Cup) ran its first Brickyard 400.

While IndyCar has spent the 20 years since the fractious IRL/CART split recovering (a long-form chronicle of May 26, 1996 is linked here) and is on better ground now than it was several years ago, George’s contributions and enhancements to both IMS and racing safety in general cannot be overlooked.

His work to get the first SAFER barrier installed at IMS would eventually lead that to becoming the industry standard on ovals nationwide.

George was also a team owner with Vision Racing (ran through 2009), and has remained a semi-visible presence with stepson Ed Carpenter Racing since that team first took the grid in 2012.

Kyle Busch open to Indy 500, but “wouldn’t put too good a chance” on it

during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Getty Images
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Following his dominant display this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he swept both poles and both wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Xfinity Series, Kyle Busch doesn’t have much left to conquer at the hallowed “Brickyard.”

Except, maybe, we can dream, one day, of him running that 500-miler around IMS in May.

His brother, Kurt, did it to national acclaim and a heck of a lot of headlines in 2014 – Kurt Busch finished sixth and was that year’s Indianapolis 500 Rookie-of-the-Year for Andretti Autosport before jetting to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600.

But while Kyle Busch’s name has been brought up in rumors about running the Indianapolis 500 before, he didn’t seem entirely interested in running the ‘500 just because his brother did.

“Well, I won’t be following in his footsteps.  I’ll be doing my own footsteps,” Kyle Busch told reporters during his post-victory press conference.

“It certainly may open up some avenues.  I’m not sure.  But there’s some people out there that have expressed some interest to me, so we’ll see where things kind of go.

“But obviously my focus is on the Sprint Cup Series and what I’m doing here, and being able to win races with M&M’s and Skittles, Interstate Batteries and NOS Energy Drink on the XFINITY side, too.

“So I’m having fun with what I’m doing right now, and we’ll see if something is able to line up then there’s a possibility, but I probably wouldn’t put too good a chances on that.”

In the interim, while Busch isn’t extrapolating beyond his NASCAR dominance, he’s right in that he isn’t following in brother Kurt’s footsteps.

Kurt’s stretched his legs with runs in IndyCar, a Champ Car test, a GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype, an NHRA Pro Stock car and an Australian V8 Supercar test over his career.

In his career, Kyle Busch has stuck almost exclusively to NASCAR – and made a living of cleaning up the competition in the process.

Both are among the most talented drivers of their generation, and since Kurt Busch did so well in his maiden Indianapolis 500 bow, we can only dream how well Kyle Busch could do if the stars aligned to ever make it happen.

Off The Grid: Montreal preview (premieres 7/30 on NBCSN)

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The Canadian Grand Prix has become one of Formula 1’s favorite events over the years, playing host to a bumper crowd at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve year after year.

As a result, it made perfect sense for Off The Grid to visit Montreal for the second episode of the year, following the season premiere in Shanghai.

NBCSN’s Will Buxton and Jason Swales took some time over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend to go behind the scenes of the race and lift the lid on life inside the F1 paddock.

In this episode, OTG’s dynamic duo try their hand at ice hockey with the Montreal Canadiens, and are joined by Valtteri Bottas and Marcus Ericsson – both accomplished on the ice as well as on-track.

Will and Jason also take a river rapids boat tour with Manor drivers Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein, get a behind-the-scenes tour of McLaren with Fernando Alonso, and even catch up with Patriots QB Tom Brady who attended the race.

Off The Grid: Montreal premieres on NBCSN at 9:30am ET on Saturday 7/30 following qualifying for the German Grand Prix, and re-airs at 3:30pm ET.

Check out a full preview of the episode in the above video.

Raikkonen secures Driver of the Day honors in Hungary

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Kimi Raikkonen has captured the vote for F1’s Driver of the Day award, following his efforts to come from 14th to sixth place in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, and with the fastest lap of the race in the process.

The Ferrari driver missed Q3 for the first time all season but atoned nicely in the race at a track where passing is usually at a premium.

Raikkonen’s battle with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was one of the race highlights, the Dutchman defending aggressively – perhaps too much so – against Raikkonen’s advances. But with no penalty assessed and no warning issued, Verstappen ended ahead in the battle for fifth.

“I think it was very questionable, but it’s not my decision to decide,” Raikkonen told NBCSN’s Will Buxton after the race.

“I’ve seen penalties for much less. It depends on the stewards.”

The result keeps Raikkonen P4 in the Driver’s Championship, one point behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo but four points clear of Ferrari teammate, Sebastian Vettel.