Pocono Update: Stewart-Haas trio leading at halfway

1 Comment

Tony Stewart currently leads a 1-2-3 run for Stewart-Haas Racing at the halfway point of today’s Pocono 400 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono Raceway.

Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick all jumped leader Brad Keselowski off a restart at Lap 76 before a caution came out for a Dave Blaney spin at Lap 80.

Keselowski leaped to the front on the opening lap after starting third behind the front row of Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch. However, Keselowski made contact with Hamlin on the way to P1, which made the Joe Gibbs Racing driver unhappy.

While Hamlin fumed, Keselowski held the lead through the first round of pit stops that began at Lap 25. After the cycle ended, the first caution of the day on Lap 31 came out – not for a garbage bag that was spotted floating around the frontstretch in the opening laps, but for a small grass fire on the inside of Turn 3.

The field took the restart at Lap 36 with Keselowski able to keep the lead and Kevin Harvick passing Jeff Gordon for second place.

Four laps later, Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth sustained serious front-end damage after making contact with Jamie McMurray. After falling to the rear of the field, Keselowski lapped him shortly after Lap 50.

Harvick began the second cycle of pit stops with a stop on Lap 56 from second place, while Keselowski came in for service at Lap 57 along with the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But a piece of debris in Turn 3 brought out the caution at Lap 60 in the middle of those stops (Kyle Busch earned the free pass).  Some drivers – including Hamlin and Carl Edwards – had not yet pitted under green and did so during the yellow.

Meanwhile, Kenseth’s JGR team went to work trying to fix his wounded Toyota:

Keselowski managed to hold off a charge from Harvick on the Lap 65 restart, and the two built up a gap between themselves and third-place Kurt Busch. That gap was erased on Lap 71 when J.J. Yeley had something fall from the back of his car, bringing out the caution again.

That brought a solid amount of the field to the pits, led by Jimmie Johnson. Unfortunately for him, he made contact with Marcos Ambrose while coming out from his two-tire stop and was spun around.

Johnson, who had worked his way up into the Top 5, took right-front damage in the incident and had to back into his pit stall for repairs.

The front four – Keselowski, Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Tony Stewart – stayed out and on the restart at Lap 76, Keselowski was swallowed up by the three Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTLM

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne continues the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. At nine entries, it is the smallest of the three classes entered in this weekend’s Rolex 24 and down from last year’s 11 entries, but past events indicate it may be the event’s most competitive class.

The 2017 Rolex 24 saw four different marques from four different teams battling for the GTLM win late in the race, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing taking the win with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais. And in 2016, Corvette Racing saw its No. 3 and 4 entries duel to the checkered flag, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler victorious in the No. 4 machine.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GTLM class.

Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
No. 3 (Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller)
No. 4 (Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler)

Outlook: Corvette Racing has been a perennial powerhouse in GT racing over the entirety of the 21st century, and that isn’t something that’s likely to change. Coming off their 13th championship last year – Garcia and Magnussen took home last year’s GTLM driver’s crown – Corvette Racing now hunts for its fourth Rolex 24 triumph.

With an unchanged package that is proven to be both fast and reliable, Corvette Racing looks set to again feature prominently in the GTLM battle. Barring problems, both cars should be battling up front for the win.

BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M8 GTLM
No. 24 (Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus)
No. 25 (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi, Bill Auberlen, Philipp Eng)

Outlook: Of all the GTLM entries, BMW Team RLL sees by far the most change to its program. Out is the M6 GTLM and in is the brand new M8 GTLM. Jesse Krohn, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Connor De Phillippi are all new drivers to the team, while veteran Bill Auberlen will only contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018.

At the Roar Before the 24, the program appeared to lack speed. Sunday qualifying, to decide pit stall and garage selection, saw the No. 25 qualify the better of the two BMWs, but one second slower than the next quickest car – the BMW set a 1:45.056 for seventh in GTLM, behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which set a 1:44.037.

It remains to be seen if there is more speed in the BMW machines, but they remain the most unproven of the GTLM entries. A victory seems out of reach at the moment, but that could change if the package improves.

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
No. 62 (Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Davide Rigon)

Outlook: Risi Competizione came excruciatingly close to winning last year’s Rolex, but a late-race battle between James Calado and Dirk Mueller, of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, saw Mueller come out on top, while Calado was shuffled back to third by the time the checkered flag fell.

They did not win an event last year, but this is a team that knows how to win big races – they have previously won the Motul Petit Le Mans – and should once again prove to be a major player in the GTLM battle.

The only major change comes in their driver lineup, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and David Rigon joining the lineup and Giancarlo Fisichella departing. But, with Calado and Toni Vilander returning to anchor the driving team, this change is not expected to slow the team down. Expect them to battle at the front all race long.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
No. 66 (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais)
No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon)

Outlook: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing returns to the Rolex 24 as defending race winners – Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais delivered the victory in 2017. Further, they return with the same driver lineups and car they used. In short, every indication is that they enter this year’s event as favorites to repeat.

The Roar Before the 24 gave further evidence of this. Both of the cars were among the quickest in every session at the Roar, and Sunday qualifying saw its No. 66 end up at the top of the board, with the No. 67 in third.

The GTLM field is strong all the way around, but this team is likely the favorite entering the event.

Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR

No. 911 (Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki)
No. 912 (Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni)

Outlook: Porsche GT Team brings with it a star-studded driver lineup that features former class winners of the Rolex 24, former overall winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a ton of all-around talent.

The team finished a close second at last year’s Rolex 24, with the No. 911 entry, behind the race-winning Ford from Chip Ganassi’s stable. Later that year, they visited victory lane – Porsche finished 1-2 at Lime Rock Park, with the No. 911 taking the victory – proving that the mid-engine 911 RSR is more than up to the task and gives the team everything they need to be contenders.

Porsche will have a fight on their hands, but this is a team that expects to compete for a victory, and they did win this event in 2014. They round out a titanic GTLM grid and should be a fixture throughout the day.

Follow@KyleMLavigne