NASCAR: Almirola crashes, Keselowski fastest in 2nd Cup practice at N.H.

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Last week’s winner at Daytona, Aric Almirola, crashed with around 20 minutes remaining in second practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this morning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Going into Turn 3, Almirola lost control, spun, and then slammed into the wall. The impact flattened the left side of his primary No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and has forced RPM to roll out his backup car.

Almirola later confirmed that a blown tire was the cause of his crash, making him the second driver this weekend to crash after suffering a tire failure. Joey Logano lost his left-rear and hit the wall during Friday’s first practice.

Logano also needed a backup car but was able to qualify sixth yesterday for the Camping World RV Sales 301. Almirola qualified 19th, but will have to start from the back of the grid for Sunday’s main event since his incident took place after qualifying.

“It was fine down the back straightaway and right about the time I was getting on the brakes into Turn 3, I felt [the tire] go down and I was just along for the ride,” Almirola told Fox Sports.

“It’s disappointing. Our [car] was decent – we still had some work to do, but it was decent…We’re gonna have to make our backup car work for us.

“Our backup car may be even better than our primary car. We were struggling a little bit to get this [primary] car to go across the center of the corner like we wanted it to.”

Brad Keselowski was fastest in the 50-minute practice session with a lap of 133.745 mph around the Magic Mile. Jamie McMurray was second-quickest (133.086), followed by Jeff Gordon (133.035), Denny Hamlin (132.901), and Kyle Larson (132.868).

Kyle Busch, who will start on the pole for Sunday’s race, was 19th on the time sheets this morning (132.158). Sprint Cup final practice is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. ET.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT NEW HAMPSHIRE – SECOND PRACTICE TIMES

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”