Jamie McMurray claims 2nd consecutive Sonoma pole

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Last year in qualifying at Sonoma Raceway, Jamie McMurray put together a late flyer to snatch the pole from Marcos Ambrose.

Today in Northern California, he did it again. This time, A.J. Allmendinger was the victim as McMurray posted a lap of 74.354 seconds in the waning moments to capture pole for tomorrow’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.

“I was really shocked that I could run faster on our third run,” McMurray told PRN Radio.

“We went faster every time we went out. We made a couple of changes to the car, and I’m not sure where the speed came from. But it was a really good lap.

“The key here is to get off [Turns] 11 and [then] 7 with the drive, and I could never really get wide open in any of those in first, second or third gear off of those corners. But we kind of had all the rest of it down.”

As for tomorrow’s race, McMurray believes that there will be a major difference compared to Sonoma races of years gone by.

“I think you’re going to see more pit stops when the cautions come out,” he said. “Tires are so important, more important than ever.

“Normally at a road course, you run [the strategy] backwards and everyone pits 10 laps before they can make it on fuel hoping they can get some cautions. But I think you’ll see guys put [more] tires on tomorrow, so it should be a good race.”

McMurray’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, rookie Kyle Larson, had a strong effort in qualifying and will line up on the inside of Row 2.

Larson will get additional track time today by competing in the K&N Pro Series West race, joining fellow Cup racers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier and Austin Dillon.

Carl Edwards will start along side Larson in Row 2, followed by Stewart Haas teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick in Row 3. Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers are in Row 4, and Paul Menard and Joey Logano will roll off from Row 5.

Also having solid qualifying days were Danica Patrick and Casey Mears, who are set for Row 6 on the grid.

As for Hendrick Motorsports, which has won the last five Sprint Cup points races, they’ll have some work to do in order to push that hot streak to six.

All four HMS drivers failed to make the final round: California native Jeff Gordon qualified 15th, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 17th, Michigan winner Jimmie Johnson in 22nd, and Kasey Kahne in 30th.

“We pride ourselves on being good at the road courses especially at Sonoma, and [being] six-hundredths of a second from making it [to the final round] is disappointing,” Gordon said.

“But I think the bigger disappointment for us is how many guys went out and were so much faster the second time out – and we didn’t pick up. That’s a bit of a concern. Obviously, we’ll talk to our teammates and see what they were dealing with as well.”

Earnhardt appeared to blame his failure to advance from the first round on Tomy Drissi, one of the road course “ringers” in this weekend’s race:

As for Johnson, it’s his worst starting spot at Sonoma since the 2007 race (started 42nd, finished 17th).

Defending Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. qualified in 18th position, while a trio of NASCAR’s best road racers – Tony Stewart, Marcos Ambrose and Clint Bowyer – shall start in mid pack.

Stewart, Ambrose, and Bowyer are all searching for a win that will get them into the Chase, but will have to come from 21st, 23rd, and 25th respectively.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT SONOMA – STARTING LINEUP
Toyota/Save Mart 350
1. Jamie McMurray (74.354 seconds, 96.350 mph)
2. A.J. Allmendinger
3. Kyle Larson
4. Carl Edwards
5. Kurt Busch
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Ryan Newman
8. Brian Vickers
9. Paul Menard
10. Joey Logano
11. Danica Patrick
12. Casey Mears
13. Brad Keselowski
14. Matt Kenseth
15. Jeff Gordon
16. Denny Hamlin
17. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
18. Martin Truex Jr.
19. Greg Biffle
20. Kyle Busch
21. Tony Stewart
22. Jimmie Johnson
23. Marcos Ambrose
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
25. Clint Bowyer
26. Austin Dillon
27. David Gilliland
28. Michael McDowell
29. Aric Almirola
30. Kasey Kahne
31. David Ragan
32. Cole Whitt
33. Josh Wise
34. Ryan Truex
35. Justin Allgaier
36. Alex Kennedy
37. Timmy Hill
38. Alex Bowman
39. David Mayhew
40. Reed Sorenson
41. Boris Said
42. Michael Annett
43. Tomy Drissi

F1 launches official eSports competition

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Formula 1 is going virtual in a way it hasn’t previously, with an official F1 eSports competition launched today for competitors using Codemasters’ F1 2017 game (launches on Friday, August 25).

The eSports series will run from September to November, with the first F1 virtual world champion to be crowned the Monday after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Per the official f1esports.com site, which launched today, qualifying will take place Sept. 4 at the Monza and Suzuka circuits before the semifinal occurs on Sept. 10, and will see 40 drivers race from the Gfinity esports arena in London to cut the field to 20. The two-day final occurs in Abu Dhabi in November.

Users of the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC (steam) platforms are eligible to enter.

This new series represents “an amazing opportunity for our business: strategically and in the way we engage fans,” said Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations of F1, via Reuters.

The esports arena has recently emerged in racing with competitions such as McLaren’s The World’s Fastest Gamer sim racing program, CJ Wilson Racing’s 570 Challenge (with McLaren; team also held a Cayman Cup challenge in 2016) and Formula E’s eraces, which are often part of an ePrix weekend. Formula E held a standalone erace in Las Vegas earlier this year.

Still, this marks a big step for F1 to formally sign off with it in this partnership with Codemasters and Gfinity.

Hinchcliffe’s epic save goes for naught after crash with Hildebrand (VIDEO)

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James Hinchcliffe had hoped for Pocono Raceway to be a place to turn around sagging fortunes in his Verizon IndyCar Series season, and for most of the first half of the race it looked that way.

From 12th on the grid, his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew delivered him an early excellent stop that vaulted him five positions – 10th to fifth – on Lap 26. With a risky but good low downforce setup, Hinchcliffe continued to advance forward and was into the lead by Lap 86.

But shortly thereafter Hinchcliffe locked up his tires on another stop, having overshot his box, and dropped back.

What followed in the next few laps shifted from heroic to gut-wrenching in the span of one caution.

Hinchcliffe somehow, miraculously, saved his No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda through Turn 1 when in traffic past the halfway point. While outside of Carlos Munoz on Lap 102, Hinchcliffe washed up and somehow saved his car at more than 200 mph.

“I was at Grandview Speedway watching a dirt race the other night so I guess I learned some tips,” Hinchcliffe joked to NBCSN’s Robin Miller when describing how on earth he hung on.

Alas, it all came unglued for him a bit later after teammate Sebastian Saavedra wasn’t so lucky in Turn 1, having pancaked the wall with his No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda on Lap 116.

Following the restart, Hinchcliffe washed up into JR Hildebrand on Lap 125, which took his longtime friend and competitor in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, with the two cars both having heavy contact.

Hinchcliffe took the blame after the incident, but even Hildebrand felt apologetic as well.

“It was a racing deal. There were a bunch of guys two wide (ahead); I was on inside of JR,” Hinchcliffe told Miller. “There was a bunch of understeer, and it pitched him sideways.

“Ultimately it’s my fault because we shouldn’t have been back there. Guys had a killer first stop. Had a really good race going, but I screwed up on the stop.”

The incident for Hildebrand capped off a tough weekend where he was slowest qualifier, but started 19th ahead of three drivers – teammate and team owner Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay – who were unable to complete or make qualifying attempts.

“We ran two-wide, and the guys in front of us went two-wide. I had a bunch of push. It wasn’t leaving enough room,” Hildebrand said.

“We fought the car all day. We made good fuel economy. It’s frustrating to have it end that way. And it’s a bummer to have it take out Hinch that way. We tried to find it; tried to tune the car. But it wasn’t quite there. Maybe it would have been towards the end. A really unfortunate way to end a tough weekend. We’ll get through it.”

If there’s a saving grace for Hildebrand ahead of next week’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park, it’s that the Ed Carpenter Racing team’s best performances of 2017 have come on short ovals, and Hildebrand has scored two podium finishes at Phoenix (third place) and Iowa (second).

For Hinchcliffe, Gateway represents the final oval for the SPM team to get some kind of result – his 10th place at Iowa is the team’s only top-10 result in the five oval races this season.

Team Penske wins fourth straight race; first time since 2012

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When Will Power took the checkered flag in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, he delivered Team Penske its fourth straight win in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season.

And although Penske has won three straight races multiple times in recent races, it hasn’t won four times in a row in more than five years.

Power’s win Sunday in Pocono followed Josef Newgarden’s wins at Mid-Ohio and Toronto, and Helio Castroneves’ win at Iowa, to give Penske eight total wins on the season (Power three, Newgarden three, Castroneves one, Simon Pagenaud one) – the same eight Chevrolet has achieved with one team, while Honda has won the other six races with all five of its teams.

The last time Penske pulled off four wins in a row in IndyCar was in the first four races of the 2012 season, the first four races when the base Dallara DW12 chassis was introduced.

Castroneves won the season opener at St. Petersburg, while Power won the next three races at Barber, Long Beach and Brazil.

LONG BEACH, CA – APRIL 15: Will Power of Australia drives the #12 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet during the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the streets of Long Beach on April 15, 2012 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Twice last year, Penske won three in a row, when Pagenaud won at Long Beach, Barber and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then Power (Toronto), Pagenaud (Mid-Ohio) and Power (Pocono) completed a same three in a row run later in the year.

The last IndyCar team to win four races in a row in a season was Chip Ganassi Racing in 2013, when Scott Dixon went three-in-a-row at Pocono and Toronto’s two races, then Charlie Kimball won at Mid-Ohio.

Power is also the first driver in 24 Pocono IndyCar races to win back-to-back races at the track, and it’s also impressive considering how much better he’s gotten on ovals over the years.

“It seriously means a lot. I love racing on ovals. Every oval win I get, I really, really enjoy because we don’t have many of them,” he said. “Yeah, to come back and win it again in a very different way this year, it was a crazy race, exciting to me, but yeah, feels fantastic to go back-to-back.”

Castroneves (3), Newgarden (2) and Pagenaud (1). Photo: IndyCar

Penske will head to Gateway Motorsports Park for this weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) with a chance to win its fifth straight race.

The last time the team did that was in the team’s record-setting 1994 CART season, when Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr. and Paul Tracy won an incredible seven races in a row from Round 2 that year in Phoenix through Round 8 in Cleveland.

Fittipaldi won Phoenix, Unser won three in a row at Long Beach, Indianapolis and Milwaukee, Tracy won in Detroit and Unser won in Portland and Cleveland.

Jack Harvey confirmed for final two races with SPM

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Jack Harvey will make his return to Verizon IndyCar Series competition for the final two races of the year at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, driving the No. 7 AutoNation SiriusXM SPM Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the team announced Monday morning.

The 24-year-old Englishman made his series debut in this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in a Michael Shank Racing entry with Andretti Autosport, and his results (started 27th and finished 31st) did not do justice to the effort he turned in and consistent improvement he made throughout the month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Harvey was unlucky to get caught out by Conor Daly’s crash in Turn 3, with debris knocking his car into a spin and coming to a stop in the North Chute in-between Turns 3 and 4.

From that point, Harvey has been working tirelessly to get back in a car for further races, with Sonoma being the target point identified as early as the week after the Indianapolis 500 in Detroit.

Shank confirmed to NBC Sports last week that he wouldn’t be attending any further races beyond the remainder of his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season with his Acura NSX GT3 program, thus removing the possibility of a Shank-crewed, extra Andretti Autosport IndyCar at Sonoma.

Meanwhile Harvey’s opportunity arose at SPM – a team he twice nearly won the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title with – following Mikhail Aleshin’s roller coaster of a season that has seen the Russian and the team go their separate ways.

Harvey stayed connected to SPM, where he made his first two IndyCar tests at Sonoma in 2015 and Mid-Ohio in 2016, and as the team’s Indy Lights driver coach last year. This year he has coached for Neil Alberico at Carlin in Indy Lights.

Rumors of Harvey’s arrival into the No. 7 SPM Honda have circulated over the last week or so and were initially reported Sunday by the Indianapolis Star, and now today’s confirmation sees the likable young driver have his first crack at a pair of road courses in an IndyCar. He won at Sonoma in Indy Lights in 2014.

“It’s obviously a really exciting time for me, and I’m really pleased to rejoin everyone here at SPM,” Harvey said. “We had a lot of success together in Indy Lights, and I’m excited to be back with so many familiar faces. I’m really looking forward to getting on track at Watkins Glen, and although I haven’t driven there, it’s definitely been a bucket list track and one that I’ve been looking forward to driving on even before I came to America.

“I’m really excited to continue this journey with AutoNation and Sirius XM – I wouldn’t be racing this season without them. I can’t thank them enough for their continued support and I hope to be able bring home two solid results for the end of the year.”

SPM general manager Piers Phillips added, “We are very pleased to welcome Jack back to the team for our final two events of the season. Jack’s done a great job for the team throughout his Indy Lights career, and we have been looking at ways of incorporating him into our IndyCar program, so it’s been wonderful to see it come to fruition. We look forward to finishing out the year with he and James and hopefully with some results up front.”

Harvey follows Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra and Robert Wickens as drivers of the No. 7 car this season. James Hinchcliffe, who has been in the team’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda all season, told NBC Sports last week that the team has done an “incredible” job handling the adverse circumstances of frequent driver changes.