(Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Harvick fastest again in Happy Hour practice at Pocono

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Second Freaky Fast verse, same as the first.

Just like he did in the early morning practice, Kevin Harvick paced Saturday’s final NASCAR Sprint Cup happy hour practice at Pocono Raceway.

Harvick’s top speed in the final session for Sunday’s Pocono 400 was 175.606 mph, followed by outside pole-sitter Kurt Busch (175.545 mph), Jimmie Johnson (175.452), Tony Stewart, (175.370) and Ryan Newman (175.145).

Right after recording the fastest lap of all competitors, Harvick came back into the garage fearing a motor issue in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

As it turned out, it was not a motor problem: fluid from the transmission leaked. The team repaired the problem and Harvick was able to get back on the racetrack before the practice session ended.

“The car was real fast, we just have to put a whole day together,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “Right now, it’s running pretty good. … I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Harvick has never won a Sprint Cup race at Pocono.

Midway through the session, Newman told his team over the radio that he may have missed a shift, which could have damaged the motor, but he was able to continue on without any incident.

Sixth through 10th-fastest were Dale Earnhardt Jr. (175.073), Brad Keselowski (174.808), Matt Kenseth (174.618), Jeff Gordon (174.388) and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin (174.304).

Earnhardt fought a vibration issue through the entire session, but told Fox Sports that he expects his team will find the issue and fix it. If not, Earnhardt said he’s prepared to go through the race with the problem. The problem originally arose in the first practice of the day, prompting his team to change transmissions, but that did not resolve the issue.

Other key drivers included Danica Patrick, 11th-fastest (174.206 mph), Kyle Larson (174.109), Kyle Busch was 21st-fastest (173.779), Joey Logano was right behind his former teammate (173.564) and Clint Bowyer was 25th (173.254).

Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola suffered motor failure during the final practice. His team will have to change motors, leaving Almirola to start Sunday’s race from the rear of the 43-car field.

The only driver who did not go out for the final practice was Timmy Hill.

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with a look at Simon Pagenaud’s first season at Team Penske.

Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 5th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 3 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 59 Laps Led, 8.6 Avg. Start, 8.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 11th Place, Best Finish 3rd, 1 Pole, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 132 Laps Led, 5.2 Avg. Start, 10.6 Avg. Finish

The 2015 season was always going to be a weird one for Simon Pagenaud, in his first season with Team Penske, adapting and adjusting to being with what’s widely regarded as one of the best if not the best teams in the sport. From a career standpoint he needed to move on from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, where he overachieved for three seasons. And given what became of the Honda aero kit this year, having a Chevrolet at his disposal was always going to be a benefit.

In actuality, Pagenaud didn’t have a bad year, but it was one where the burden of expectation probably hurt his overall stats more than the reality of the situation.

Let’s face facts – he’d finished in the top five in points each of his first three seasons back in IndyCar the last two years, won four races and been in championship contention before. Take all that, apply it to Team Penske and you’d assume wins and title contention would follow, but it didn’t. Still, it was a new team, a fourth team, and that took time to gel.

His qualifying was dynamic, which went against his career form and was markedly improved. His average leapt from 8.6 to 5.2 this year, which was third best in the field. The problem? It trailed two of his three teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and was only one spot clear of Juan Pablo Montoya.

And then – and there is no easy way to put this – there were his finishes. In 12 of 16 races this season, Pagenaud finished worse than he started. For a driver renowned for making the most of his circumstances on race day, often times things went south when all the marbles, all the points were on the line. Some you could put down to strategy or particularly in the later part of the year, sampling different setups to aid his title-contending teammates.

There were highlights, in particular his speed at the three 500-mile races. Pagenaud was probably the quickest of the four Penske entries at Indianapolis, scored the pole in Fontana and also starred in Pocono, but he didn’t have results to back it up in any of the three. Contact at Indy halted what was certainly winning potential. He also scored a pair of thirds at Detroit race one and Mid-Ohio, although those were cases where he was lucky rather than good.

It was hard to view Pagenaud’s season positively on the whole because you know his potential and ability hasn’t gone missing. But finishing 11th in points when your three teammates end second, third and fifth is definitely a tough pill to swallow, and an early motivator to make the fast Frenchman a top comeback driver in 2016.

Nicky Hayden announces World Superbikes move

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 25:  Nicky Hayden of USA and Aspar Team MotoGP rounds the bend during the MotoGP of Spain - Free Practice at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 25, 2015 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden will leave the series at the end of the season ahead of a move into the World Superbike Championship in 2016, it has been announced.

Hayden has raced in MotoGP since 2003 and is currently the only American rider racing in the series, but has struggled to match the form of his early years, scoring just 13 points in 2015.

It had been rumored that Hayden would be walking away from MotoGP at the end of the season for some time, but this has now been confirmed in a statement from WorldSBK.

Hayden will join Honda’s factory team in the rival series, racing alongside Michael van der Mark. The 34-year-old will bid to become the first rider to win both MotoGP and WorldSBK titles.

“Well, my next stop is Superbike with Honda! I’m very excited, obviously, to stick with Honda; it’s where I’ve had the most success in my career,” Hayden said.

“World Superbikes is a championship that I followed closely as a kid when a lot of American riders were fighting at the front. It just seems like the right time and the right team to go with.

“I know I’ve got a lot to learn and it’s going to be a big challenge, but also I’m very motivated to start and learn what I can.

“I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has supported me through my MotoGP career. We had a good run but now it’s time to move on and try something different.”

Hayden’s departure acts as another blow to MotoGP’s profile in the United States, which has seen a downturn in recent years.

The exit of Ben Spies from Yamaha in 2013 was followed by the loss of the race at Laguna Seca the same year, while last month, it was confirmed that Indianapolis would not be returning to the calendar in 2016, leaving just one US round on the schedule.