NASCAR: Extra laps lead to Gordon, Harvick running out of fuel

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Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick looked like they would pick up Top-5 finishes in today’s Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway thanks to a call to stay out on track under a Lap 249 caution.

But their plans went awry when Justin Allgaier’s crash with four laps remaining in regulation sent the race into Green-White-Checkered.

Gordon would run out of fuel during the caution leading to the G-W-C restart, while Harvick himself hit empty as the field came down for the green flag.

The fuel woes relegated Gordon and Harvick to results of 26th and 30th, respectively. Not everything is bad for Gordon, however, as he retains the Sprint Cup championship lead by 12 points over Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After Denny Hamlin had to give up second for a splash of fuel under the final yellow, Gordon was to be behind leader and eventual winner Brad Keselowski for the G-W-C restart until his No. 24 Chevy went dry on Lap 302.

After getting to the pits for a splash, Gordon took the restart in 27th and gained one spot in the last two laps. Despite the heartbreak, both Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson still thought their late strategy was worth the risk.

In an interesting note, Gordon had actually fallen back as far as 26th during the early portion of the race due to handling issues.

He needed a wave-around to get back on the lead lap at Lap 113, but Gordon was able to move into the Top 10 by the caution flag at Lap 211. In subsequent pit stops, he was able to go even further up to third place.

Then, after staying out with 51 to go, Gordon assumed the lead for 18 laps before he lost it to Keselowski on Lap 270. Gordon would cede second as well to Hamlin at Lap 281 before Allgaier’s crash changed the complexion of the race.

“We knew we were very close,” said Gordon. “That pick-up is in the right side and so I was scuffing my tires and think I just took enough fuel out of the pick-up and I could never get any back in there. I tried.

“I think if we would have gone green, we would have been fine. I think it was really just because under caution it wouldn’t pick-up the amount of fuel that was in there. We might have run out anyway. But, it was the best effort and chance we had at winning this race.”

As for Harvick, he ran within the Top 10 before falling back to 19th shortly after halfway. On his final stop at Lap 213 (two tires, fuel, chassis), he was told to save fuel:

By this point, Harvick had climbed back within the Top 10 and he stayed in that bracket until the Lap 249 caution, where he did not pit. As the race hit its final stages, Harvick jumped into the Top 5.

When G-W-C went into effect, Harvick moved up to third with Hamlin pitting and then to second when Gordon ran dry. But instead of racing Keselowski for the win…

After the race, crew chief Rodney Childers both hailed Harvick and rued the late caution and extra laps.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.