Jeff Gordon back atop Sprint Cup standings after trouble for Kenseth

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A Top-10 finish for Jeff Gordon, combined with a mid-pack result for Matt Kenseth, has put the Hendrick Motorsports driver back to the lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

Gordon finished eighth today in the Pocono 400 despite often losing out on restarts and in the track position battle.

“When guys got out of sequence there, it just really got our track position off,” he said. “Once we lost that track position, it was so hard to regain it.

“…Ultimately, the restarts – even when I got a good one, something would happen somebody would about wreck in front of me or dive in there four-wide and just cause a mess. We just couldn’t come out on the good end of that side of it. That is what you have got to do to be good.”

Gordon wasn’t a factor at the end, but he was still better off than previous points leader Matt Kenseth.

Around Lap 40 in today’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway, Kenseth made contact with Jamie McMurray on the front-stretch. The run-in left Kenseth with a major hole that covered almost the entire nose of his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

JGR repaired as much of the damage as they could, and Kenseth rose back into the Top 5 while the various fuel strategies played out. But he ultimately finished in 25th position.

What was a slim, two-point lead for the winless Kenseth is now a 16-point lead for Gordon (one win at Kansas) as the series shifts to Michigan International Speedway next weekend.

Kenseth and Kyle Larson (who finished fifth today) remain the only two drivers in the Top 10 of the Sprint Cup standings without a win so far this season.

As for today’s winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., he now moves up to third in the championship at 22 points behind HMS amigo Gordon. Jimmie Johnson’s sixth-place finish at Pocono allows him to keep fourth in the standings (-23 points), and Brad Keselowski vaults from eighth to fifth (-50 points) after his runner-up.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS, TOP 16
After Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway
1. Jeff Gordon (one win), 498 points
2. Matt Kenseth, 482
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (two wins), 476
4. Jimmie Johnson (two wins), 475
5. Brad Keselowski (one win), 448
6. Kyle Busch (one win), 443
7. Carl Edwards (one win), 441
8. Denny Hamlin (one win), 420
9. Joey Logano (two wins), 418
10. Kyle Larson, 417
11. Ryan Newman, 411
12. Kevin Harvick (two wins), 403
13. Brian Vickers, 392
14. Greg Biffle, 385
15. Austin Dillon, 385
16. Clint Bowyer, 383

Harding Racing shines among new teams at Indy 500

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A trio of new teams (Harding Racing, Juncos Racing, and Michael Shank Racing, in a joint effort with Andretti Autosport) debuted at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Expectations for such outfits are usually humble and rarely do outsiders, or even insiders, predict such efforts to run up front.

And yet, at the checkered flag, one of those teams emerged in ninth place, a top-10 finish in its IndyCar debut.

Harding Racing’s No. 88 Chevrolet, in the hands of Gabby Chaves, had never run a race before, let alone an IndyCar race, and let alone an Indianapolis 500. However, they survived the carnage and chaos that defined the day to finish in the top-10, dramatically exceeding expectations.

Chaves was competing in his third “500,” two years after winning rookie-of-the-year honors with a 16th place for Bryan Herta Autosport. He labeled this race as mission: accomplished.

“I think we did our job. We took the race one lap at a time. We let the track and the conditions come to us and we dialed in the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet car every stop,” Chaves said. “We had a heck of a stint there. I think we were one of the only cars being able to make moves out there and got into a solid top ten for our first go as a team.”

Fellow debutante Juncos Racing, too, excelled in their own right. While their runs to 15th (Sebastian Saavedra) and 18th (Spencer Pigot) were unspectacular, the reality is that both cars made it to the finish, with Saavedra finishing on the lead lap, a noteworthy performance for a team making its first IndyCar start.

Sebastian Saavedra brought home a lead lap finish for Indy 500 debutantes Juncos Racing. Photo: IndyCar

Saavedra, like Chaves, said the team accomplished everything it wanted to. “We accomplished the mission we started less than two months ago,” he asserted. “To finish this first Indy 500 with both cars intact is a victory of its own. I’m very proud of the whole organization for putting in such a professional effort. It was rough out there. We were not as competitive as we wanted, but hey, that’s something that is expected your first time out.”

Teammate Spencer Pigot endured a more difficult race in his No. 11 Chevrolet, which the team scrambled to repair ahead of qualifying after a practice crash. As Pigot described, something was still off with the car (he was nearly lapped at the end of the opening stint) and he and the team were fighting it the entire day.

“I think there’s still something I’m missing or something’s gone away with the car since the (practice) crash. It never really felt right and it was just very difficult to drive, but we fought through a tough day. We didn’t give up. The guys kept working hard and I can’t thank them enough for the recovery and for putting this all together,” Pigot detailed.

Michael Shank Racing, the third team making its Verizon IndyCar Series debut, endured the most challenging race of the three new teams. For them, it was a race that concluded a difficult month riddled with problems, which began with a foreboding and bizarre steering failure that resulted in wall contact during opening day practice for driver Jack Harvey.

Harvey and Michael Shank’s No. 50 Honda team were enjoying a solid race until Conor Daly’s lap 65 crash in Turn 3. Harvey hit debris from the accident and spun into the inside wall between Turns 3 and 4. It ended a difficult month for a driver and team who truly made a herculean effort to field an entry.

Jack Harvey and Michael Shank Racing endured a month filled with challenges. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s a super disappointing day because we worked so hard to get here so to have the day end like this is heartbreaking,” Harvey lamented afterward. “Everyone is trying to slow down so quickly and trying to then dodge the debris. I was slowing down and trying to avoid everything so I don’t know what else I could have done at that point.”

Still, Harvey was enthusiastic to simply have a chance to compete. “This was still the best experience I’ve ever had,” he asserted. “The Indianapolis 500 represents so much in the state of Indiana and to the racing world, but it just didn’t go the right way for us today.”

Of those three, Harding Racing is the only one scheduled to run more IndyCar races this year. They will return for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10 and the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway on August 20.

Juncos Racing will continue with its efforts in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, where it has drivers currently atop the championships in both Indy Lights (Kyle Kaiser) and Pro Mazda (Victor Franzoni).

Michael Shank Racing will continue its Acura NSX GT3 program in the GTD class of WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, resuming next weekend at Detroit.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Karam: ‘Tough luck stops a great month for DRR, Mecum Chevy’

Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, 3GT Racing Lexus driver in IMSA, a past Indy Lights and USF2000 champion and Verizon IndyCar Series podium finisher, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month for a second straight year (2016 archive here).

Here’s his fifth and final entry, as he recaps Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, where an alternator problem forced him into an early retirement.

You can read his firstsecondthird and fourth blogs of 2017 here. He’ll run the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in partnership with Kingdom Racing. 

Hi again, it’s Sage Karam after the running of the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Well, the race didn’t go as we wanted Sunday at the greatest race track in the world.

I was hoping to get to the finish but our No. 24 Mecum Auctions DRR Chevy had an alternator let go and the engine just stopped on lap 125. Not much I or the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team can do much about that. Just some tough luck.

This was my fourth Indy 500 and I was still the youngest driver in the field at age 22. But I felt so much calmer and not as anxious as in previous years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the biggest race in the world and every driver is anxious for the start.

Karam with Jake Gyllenhaal (to his right). Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

But I felt we would be more calculated with our strategy and my decision-making early in the race. And that is what happened for me. I wasn’t going to put myself in a bad spot in the early portions of the race. I was more conservative than I had ever been in the 500.

Unfortunately, things started off a little rough for us when we had a radio problem. I could hear the pit box and the spotters in the corners but they couldn’t hear me. So, we had to work on a code to communicate with each other on the fly. Just keying up the radio for yes or no and turning fuel mixture switch for more wing, less wing, rear wing and front wing. It was kind of sketchy out there but we were doing okay. We were running inside the top 15 and the top 10 shortly but something was killing the battery in the car and killed the radio.

So, an electrical gremlin put us out of this one. The car was really good all month. It’s a shame – the DRR boys, Mecum Auto Auctions put together a great car this month. It’s tough to see it go down like that. But that’s racing. The beauty of this place is it makes you want to come back more and more because you go through all these hard times. You just want to win. So, after I get back to the DRR garage, I was cheering on Fernando Alonso because I’m a big fan of his. But he had trouble too.

With the alternator letting go, there is nothing we can do. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens here. These times are tough, but it’ll make the triumph much better in the future. I thought we ran a smart race.

A lot of people were doing risky things out there. I backed out of about four or five situations that could have caused a big crash. My plan was to get into the top-10 by lap 150 or so. We were moving up the field and the race car was good.

To be honest, we didn’t have the straightaway speed. I used hand signals during the yellow flag period to try to explain to the crew what I needed. I pointed to the back of the car to adjust the rear wing for my straight-line speed. I thought the race car was pretty good overall though. I could pass in several areas. But some of the guys were doing some wild moves.

I played it conservative around many of them. I’m not going to point out some of the them by name, but it was downright scary in certain places. I thought there were going to a bunch of big wrecks if that stuff continued.

Speaking of wrecks, I was so thrilled to see my friend Scott Dixon jump out his race car after that wild crash. Scott is one of the best drivers in IndyCar history and truly one of the nicest guys too. That was a scary wild for Dixey. I will be so glad to talk with him at the Indy 500 Awards banquet. And was so happy that Sebastian Bourdais was back at the track for the race too. His crash was so nasty and it could have been a lot worse.

As a racing driver, you know you have risks. And then you see those crashes and how the safety equipment on the cars and at the tracks save people. I’m proud of the safety developments which have been made in our sport. And you see crashes like Scott and Seb’s and know those safety developments have made a big difference.

Well, I enjoyed this year’s Indy 500 experience and just wish it could have finished up better. But that’s racing. I’ll plan to be back again in 2018. Now, it’s off to the streets of Belle Isle for the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship race, I’ll be racing in the Lexus sports car for 3GT Racing.

Thanks for reading my thoughts this month and we’ll plan to do it again next May.



Sainz hails ‘perfect weekend’ after finishing sixth in Monaco

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Carlos Sainz Jr. paid tribute to his Toro Rosso Formula 1 team after enjoying a “perfect weekend” in Monaco that ended with a sixth-place finish on Sunday.

Toro Rosso displayed good pace throughout practice in Monaco, with Sainz continuing this form into qualifying as he qualified P6.

The Spaniard held position through the early part of the race, keeping the chasing pack back before coming under pressure from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton late in the race.

Sainz defended well to fend Hamilton off and take sixth at the line, matching his best finish in F1.

“What a result, what a perfect weekend! We need to enjoy this moment, because it’s not usual to achieve a faultless grand prix on the streets of Monaco, and this time we did,” Sainz said.

“We put in good laps in practice, in yesterday’s qualifying session and, in today’s race, we were able to keep a world champion in a faster car behind and finish P6. It definitely feels so good!

“We’ve also been quicker than the rest of the midfield throughout the whole weekend and I’d like to thank the whole team for this, they gave me a very good car to drive.

“I really enjoyed today’s race. Now it’s time to celebrate this well-deserved result with the team before starting to think about the Canadian GP, which is up next!”

Fuel issues hamper Alexander Rossi’s Indy 500 title defense

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Alexander Rossi spent much of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil battling amongst the leaders. However, for the second consecutive year, the efforts from him and Andretti-Herta Autosport team were hampered by fuel issues.

During a pit for the lap 134 engine failure of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi’s No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda team had trouble engaging the fuel nozzle, resulting in a longer pit stop that dropped him to the middle of the field.

While he and the team used strategy to rebound from such an incident during last year’s race to take victory, circumstances did not play out in his favor this year. Rossi spent the rest of the race mired in traffic and was not in position to take advantage of alternate strategies.

Rossi rebounded to finish seventh, but he and the team know they missed an opportunity to contend for victory.

“Two years in a row to have fuel problems is pretty tough to swallow,” he lamented. “Obviously, it worked last year. You can’t rely on not fueling the car every year and getting results; it’s difficult. The NAPA Auto Parts Honda was awesome from the get-go. Then we didn’t have the downforce to be that far back.”

Rossi has shown an uptick in speed this year and has been a frontrunner at most events, but bad luck has kept he and the No. 98 team from contending for victory. Nonetheless, he now sits fifth in the championship following their performances at Indianapolis.

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