Team Penske again dominates Sprint Cup qualifying; Brad Keselowski on pole, Joey Logano alongside at Kentucky

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Team Penske once again dominated Sprint Cup qualifying Friday, taking the top two spots for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 race at Kentucky Speedway.

Brad Keselowski, who won there in 2012, earned the pole with a track record speed of 188.791 mph, more than 1.5 mph faster than teammate Joey Logano, who qualified No. 2 (187.175 mph).

“We’re glad we got the run in,” Keselowski told Fox Sports 1. “The Miller Lite Ford Fusion has just been real good this weekend, Paul (crew chief Paul Wolfe) did a great job with the adjustments and I’m just real proud of this effort.”

Keselowski didn’t just break, he obliterated Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s old track record of 183.636 mph – set last year – by more than five mph.

This is Keselowski’s third pole of the season and only the sixth of his career. This also marks the fourth time Keselowski has qualified for the front row on five different 1.5-mile tracks this season, but is the first time he’s earned the pole (he was on the outside pole in the other four races).

Logano appeared as if he’d earn the pole, but Keselowski’s late run in the final round was more than just stout.

“That’s a really good lap right there,” Logano said. “It says a lot about Team Penske. … It’s frustrating at the same time, we won the first two segments. Brad had a lot of speed in practice, and we kind of wondered where it went in the first couple rounds of qualifying, and then he figured it out again, obviously. We still have a good start, a good pit stall and can’t wait for tomorrow night.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Keselowski also qualified No. 1 for Friday night’s Nationwide Series race.

Jeff Gordon qualified third (186.832), followed by Denny Hamlin (186.374), Kevin Harvick (186.104), Kyle Larson (186.034), Ryan Newman (186.014), Jamie McMurray (185.957), Kurt Busch (185.950), Danica Patrick was 10th (185.803), Clint Bowyer (185.414) and Paul Menard rounded out the top 12 (185.026).

Teams barely dodged a rainstorm at the start of the three-session knockout qualifying session, but all 42 cars entered were able to make runs.

“I’m just thankful it didn’t rain and we got all three runs in,” Keselowski said. “If you looked at the radar before qualifying, there was no way it wasn’t going to rain. … There was a huge rainstorm coming at the racetrack and then it stopped.”

Among highlights (and where appropriate, lowlights) of the three qualifying rounds:

* 25 drivers broke Earnhardt’s old track record in just the first session.

* Defending race winner Matt Kenseth failed to get out of the second round of knockout qualifying. He’ll start Saturday’s race 14th, alongside Tony Stewart in Row 7.

* Of note in the first round, Danica Patrick recorded the fifth-fastest speed at 185.899.

* Two of the biggest surprises in the overall session were the qualifying efforts of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In a phrase: not so good.

Johnson qualified 25th and failed to transfer to the second round.

“We didn’t get the lap we needed out there and didn’t transfer, but I feel actually decent about our car in race trim,” Johnson told Fox Sports 1. “We just couldn’t get out of our own way in the interim.”

Earnhardt, meanwhile, will start 29th.

“We were slow in practice, have been fighting the car all day and haven’t had any gains, haven’t really been able to figure out what we need to do,” Earnhardt said. “We just had a real rough go of it.

“The car is just way too rough, way too much movement and it’s hard to control it that way. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that this front straightaway is pretty mean. … It’s something else. I ain’t never seen anything like it.”

* This will mark the first time since Nov. 2001 that a Sprint Cup race has not had a full 43-car field. Only 42 drivers/cars entered and qualified for Saturday night’s race.

Here’s the starting lineup for Saturday’s Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway:

Row 1 Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

Row 2 Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin

Row 3 Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson

Row 4 Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray

Row 5 Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick

Row 6 Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard

Row 7 Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth

Row 8 AJ Allmendinger, Austin Dillon

Row 9 Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch

Row 10 Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne

Row 11 Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola

Row 12 Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle

 

Row 13 Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears

Row 14 Justin Allgaier, Cole Whitt

Row 15 Dale Earnhardt Jr., Reed Sorenson

Row 16 Michael Annett, Alex Bowman

Row 17 Josh Wise, Marcos Ambrose

Row 18 Travis Kvapil, David Ragan

Row 19 Landon Cassill, David Stremme

Row 20 Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek

Row 21 David Gilliland, Mike Bliss

* Note: Only 42 cars/drivers entered this race.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.

Bottas remains confident he can close gap in F1 title race

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MONACO (AP) Valtteri Bottas has put his recent bad luck behind him and remains confident he can close the gap in the Formula One title race at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver’s fledgling Mercedes career has been a topsy-turvy one since he joined from Williams as a replacement for F1 champion Nico Rosberg.

He drove brilliantly to win his first career race at the Russian Grand Prix after securing his first ever pole position in Sochi last month. But two weeks ago he was undone by engine problems in practice for the Spanish GP and then failed to finish because of a turbo issue late in the race.

“It’s one to forget for sure. It’s been a bit up and down for me this year,” Bottas said Wednesday at the Monaco GP. “Bad result, good result.”

His other results so far are two third places and one sixth place, putting him 41 points behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and 35 behind three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate.

“The gap to Sebastian, to Lewis, is bigger than I was hoping for this year. But things can change quickly,” Bottas said. “What gives me confidence is that there is still 75 percent of the season left. I feel my best races are ahead this year. I feel I’ve done a good job in some races, but I feel there is more to come to be at a consistently good level.”

Although Bottas has impressed with this speed, he has yet to show the hallmarks of a genuine title contender.

His magnanimous approach goes somewhat against that.

Bottas showed his team ethic by allowing Hamilton past him in Bahrain so that the British driver could chase after Vettel.

He did so again in Barcelona, holding up Vettel for a crucial few laps. That allowed Hamilton to gain some precious seconds on Vettel’s chasing Ferrari. Hamilton won a thrilling race, Vettel was second and Bottas got nothing – except praise for his efforts.

It is a difficult situation for Bottas, who is on a one-year contract and has the added pressure of the demanding Hamilton as a teammate. With 55 race wins to his name, Hamilton is clearly the No. 1 driver, even though the team has not officially said so.

Over the past three years, Hamilton was on an equal footing with Rosberg as they fought each other for the title. This led to tensions and fall outs.

The 27-year-old Bottas is not relishing the prospect of finding himself in a similar position. But it might become inevitable if he does manage to close the gap on Hamilton and turn the title race into a genuine three-way battle.

“I can’t even imagine how it can be after a few years with a teammate battling for the title always. There is respect both ways (with Hamilton), which is good,” Bottas said. “(We are) just enjoying working together and hopefully that will help us in this close fight with Ferrari. It is a team sport anyway, so we need to push forward together.”

It’s hardly the talk of a driver desperate to win the title.

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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From the streets of Monte Carlo, Monaco, comes the crown jewel of the Formula 1 season (all times for the weekend via NBC or NBCSN here) this weekend, the Monaco Grand Prix.

And here with the pre-race updates from the paddock are NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales, along with the race crew from the F1 on NBC team who are on site in Monaco.

This is an interesting weekend for Monaco, given the Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle for race wins and the championship so far in 2017. There’s also the question of whether someone can spring a surprise in Monaco, as has been done on several occasions over the years.

Here’s the show, below:

Brown wants to see F1 back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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McLaren executive director Zak Brown would like to see Formula 1 return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the future, saying it would “make sense” for the sport.

The United States Grand Prix was held on the old IMS road course between 2000 and 2007 before dropping off the calendar, with a low point being hit in 2005 when just six cars started the race over tire safety concerns.

IMS re-designed its road course in order to host MotoGP and, from 2014, an IndyCar road course race as a prelude to the Indianapolis 500.

F1 is known to be looking to expand its footprint in the United States following Liberty Media’s takeover of the series, with additional races to the current USGP at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas being sought after.

Southern California has also been a talking point; Long Beach’s future has been discussed in the press more so than has Indianapolis, as a consulting firm has been brought in to examine what would be the best case scenario for the city.

Brown has spent a significant amount time this last month in Indianapolis as part of two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 entry, and feels the sport would be wise to push for a return to the Brickyard in the near future.

“I am of the opinion that Formula 1 at IMS works. I think they’ve changed the configuration of the track a little bit,” Brown said during a teleconference on Wednesday.

“I think it makes sense for Formula 1 to be at the world’s greatest racetrack. I think the city of Indianapolis is well catered to take care of Formula 1, just like it did in the past, and the Super Bowl.

“I think the drivers like it. I think Indianapolis is easy to get to geographically. I realize it may not have the glamour of some of the other markets that are being spoken about, but it’s here, it’s ready to go.

“I think economically, given that Liberty is taking a different view on some of their future partnerships, I think there is an opportunity there. Personally I’d like to see it happen.”

J. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President, told a group of reporters on site that no talks had been held with Liberty as of yet, and while the circuit would be open to negotiations, it would have to be financially viable.

“I have not had any talks directly with the folks with Liberty or with Formula 1. We’d certainly entertain a conversation,” Boles said.

“We’d have to figure out the economics. That’s why it wasn’t here after 2007; in order for it to come back here, the economics would have to make sense.

“At some level that conversation, Mark Miles [CEO of Hulman & Co., INDYCAR/IMS parent company] and Zak have a really good relationship, I think we’d ultimately lead it through Mark.

“When we redid the road course between 2013 and 2014, one of the things that was important to us was to make sure our road course remained FIA Grade 1, so if that there ever was a point in time where we had the opportunity to host an F1 race, we wouldn’t have to go through a complete renovation of our road course again.

“There’s two tracks in the U.S. that are that. COTA’s one, and we’re the other. So theoretically they could run here.”