Coke Zero 400 - Practice

More rain at Daytona hands Coke Zero 400 pole to David Gilliland

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Mother Nature has helped make a surprising grid for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Four of NASCAR’s smaller teams have locked out the front two rows after rain showers hit the 2.5-mile oval following the opening round of Sprint Cup qualifying. With the NASCAR Nationwide Series scheduled to race later tonight, the sanctioning body chose to cancel the final two rounds of qualifying and set Saturday’s field on Round 1 results.

That gives David Gilliland of aptly-named Front Row Motorsports the pole position. Also capitalizing on the rain was Tommy Baldwin Racing, which will have its driver, Reed Sorenson, starting second. Additionally, Hillman Racing’s Landon Cassill and Circle Sport’s Bobby Labonte will make up the second row.

Defending Coke Zero 400 winner Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth start in Row 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gilliland’s teammate, David Ragan, are in Row 4, and Row 5 features Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle.

“Everybody at Front Row Motorsports has worked real hard on our restrictor-plate program and with our win last year at Talladega with David Ragan, I feel like this is our strong suit for our team,” Gilliland told MRN Radio.

“We knew anything could happen coming here, and Frank Kerr, my crew chief, has worked really hard on this car. It’s got a lot of speed and we’re really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Today marked the debut of NASCAR’s new knockout-style qualifying at Daytona (the Daytona 500 has its own qualifying format), and the first round saw strategies aplenty. It manifested itself on the track with major speed differences between packs of cars as they made their way around.

Sorenson told Fox Sports that he had to bide his time before he was able to put together a flyer.

“For a while there, we were going slow like forever – maybe seven or eight laps there and then we finally took off,” he said. “I actually got separated from the guys I was following a little bit and the 40 car [Cassill] was behind me and the 33 [Labonte] got in front of me, and that enabled us to get sucked up to those guys and run a good lap.”

“This is a great opportunity for us, and I don’t know about starting [up front] and whether that helps or hurts you. But it’s exciting for us to be on the front row. Hopefully, we can stay there all night and be there at the end.”

Meanwhile, as the smaller teams got to the front of the grid, many big teams will have to start from the back of it.

Among those that did not make the Top 24 were Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski in 26th, his Penske teammate Joey Logano in 28th, Danica Patrick in 29th, Kyle Larson in 35th, Denny Hamlin in 37th, Kyle Busch in 38th, and Kurt Busch in 39th.

Logano was one of several drivers that seemed befuddled over how today’s session played out.

“I don’t know about [qualifying being] crazy, we were only going 5 miles per hour for a little bit…It’s just kind of frustrating to try to figure it all out and what’s going on,” he said to MRN.

“You have a good run, then you get blocked and you try to get another run but half the cars are off the race track so you can’t get another one going.

“…I’m as confused as everybody else is right now.”

Also in the same boat was Earnhardt Jr., who like Logano, attempted to convey proper thoughts on qualifying before settling on the following:


Astronaut has different kind of out of this world experience in an Indy car

HOUSTON, TX  - MARCH 4: NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly speaks to the media after returning from a one year mission in space aboard the International Space Station, at the Johnson Space Center March 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas. Kelly's his record-breaking yearlong mission was intended to provide critical data to understand how to keep astronauts healthy during long space voyages.  (Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images)
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Retired astronaut Cmdr. Scott Kelly has had a number of out of this world experiences, particularly serving three stints on the International Space Station.

There’s not much that can top that.

But to hear Kelly tell it, his recent visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and taking a ride around the legendary 2.5-mile oval in a two-seat Indy car – may have come pretty close.

Kelly and NASA PR rep Amiko Kauderer both took to Twitter to tout their respective rides that day, along with another tweet from IMS president Doug Boles.

Check them out:

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Congratulations to IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand on marriage to Kristin Paine

Indianapolis 500 - Practice
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While he’s still in the market for a full-time IndyCar ride in 2017, JR Hildebrand is officially off the market when it comes to the single life.

The Sausalito, California native, who now lives in Colorado, tied the knot on Oct. 16 with long-time girlfriend Kristin Paine in Boulder.

We wish the new Mr. & Mrs. Hildebrand all the best.

In the meantime, now back from their honeymoon, JR posted a few photos from before and after the wedding (photos are via @JRHildebrand on Twitter):

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Perez: “This year’s Mexican GP will be even better than last year’s”

xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 31, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.
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Sergio Perez is not expecting a sophomore slump for the second edition of the Mexican Grand Prix back on the calendar since 1992, in its second year at the refurbished, renovated and relaunched Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

If anything, the Sahara Force India driver expects the race to build on what it did last year, when it came back to a Formula 1 calendar after a 23-year hiatus.

“I have no doubt this year’s event will be even better than last year – expectations are huge following the success of 2015,” he said in the team’s pre-race advance.

“For me, the biggest surprise was the passion of the fans: all the affection I received, all the messages and all the incredible moments I experienced are what really made an impression on me. I am so happy to go back there.”

This is very much a home race for Perez, who finished eighth in it last year, but who could be poised to end better this go-around.

He is from Guadalajara and not Mexico City proper, but still holds an affinity for his home country’s capital city.

“Mexico City may be quite far from my city of Guadalajara, but I go there very often for professional reasons,” he said. “It’s a city I love and there’s so much going on: the best restaurants, so many sights and so many things to do. It is a huge city and sometimes traffic makes going from one side of town to the other feel like an adventure!

“It is, not surprisingly, one of my favorite moments in the season and last year’s was special not just for me, but for my team and for anyone who came to the race.”

Perez currently sits seventh in the Driver’s Championship with 84 points, having moved ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas as “best of the rest” behind the top six drivers from Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari at last week’s United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas.

Gutierrez: “It’s a very special week for my whole career”

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Esteban Gutierrez announced as driver for Haas F1 Team on October 30, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images for Haas)
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Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez will have his first chance to race on home soil in Formula 1, when the Haas F1 Team driver competes in this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Gutierrez, then a Ferrari reserve driver, was announced in Mexico City last year as Haas’ second driver for 2016, alongside Romain Grosjean. But while he was at the track, he hasn’t been in a car here and that will change this weekend.

With the new version of the Haas VF-16 front wing expected to return to his chassis this weekend, Gutierrez is looking for a big weekend on home soil.

“It’s a very special week for my whole career,” he said in the team’s advance release. “It’s probably one of the best two weeks of my career because it represents so much to racing, to motorsports in Mexico in general, and to me. It’s a kind of connection where I can share my passion for racing and what I do with all Mexicans. I feel grateful for their support.”

Gutierrez reflected on what last year in Mexico was like for him.

“Last year was great. I could live the event from a different perspective, but now it will be even better when I will be racing there. I’m very excited to enjoy that.

“The atmosphere was amazing. I enjoyed it so much. Obviously, I would have liked to have been racing, but that was my position and the reality is that I wanted to enjoy in that perspective. It was a very special weekend and I felt very proud to see all the fans having a huge interaction. It turned out to be one of the best events of the season.”

With the new front wing expected and the circuit’s long straights expected to suit the Haas, which doesn’t have a ton of downforce, it could play to his and the team’s benefit this weekend.

“Romain ran the new front wing all weekend. Esteban did 20 laps on Friday and then we discovered a problem with the front wing. We had to go back to the old version because we had no spare because that was damaged in Japan when Esteban had the contact with Carlos Sainz. These wings are very complicated to make and they take a long time, but we should have the new version of the wing again for Esteban in Mexico,” team principal Guenther Steiner said.

Gutierrez added, “It will be important to do the best we can with our car. It’s a track we believe can suit the style of our car, and we’re hoping that will be the case. It’s going to be important to have as much track time as possible to adapt to the circuit.”

Several finishes of 11th have left Gutierrez on the fringes of scoring a point this season, but not yet having cracked the top-10 in any race this season.