Sprint Cup: Brad Keselowski leading at halfway in New Hampshire

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As today’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is moving into its middle stages, Brad Keselowski is taking control.

Keselowski started 10th on a restart at Lap 119 after taking four tires under the preceding caution. But in just 21 laps, he went all the way to the lead and holds the point at halfway over Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano.

Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green flag, but on Lap 7, Johnson suffered a left-rear tire failure and had to go to the pits under green.

Johnson came back to the track in 42nd place and one lap off the pace. Then on Lap 13, things went from bad to worse when Johnson had a second left-rear tire failure that sent him spinning into the wall.

Under caution, the Top 15 drivers on track chose to stay out. However, a group of more than 15 drivers chose to take advantage of the yellow to make an early stop.

The green came back out at Lap 21, and Kyle Busch proceeded to settle in as the leader until Lap 63, when Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin got past him for P1 down the backstretch into Turn 3.

Green flag stops began just a few circuits shy of Lap 75, with Hamlin giving up the lead for service on Lap 74. However, Hamlin regained the lead by Lap 82 when the pit cycle played out among those that chose to go in on Lap 18.

On Lap 89, Keselowski – yesterday’s Nationwide Series winner – managed to get under Hamlin in Turn 3 and take P1. When the first green pit cycle had been completed, he was down two seconds to the leader.

Taking advantage of a car with great acceleration in the middle of the corners, Keselowski began stretching out his lead. The gap eventually grew to more than three seconds before the caution came out at Lap 113 for debris – the end of a 92-lap stretch under green.

Keselowski led the leaders to the pits under yellow, but while most of them decided to take two tires, Keselowski opted for four tires instead and fell all the way to 10th. Also, Kurt Busch was unable to get to his stall for service since Hamlin was coming out of his own; the Outlaw had to go back a second time and tumbled to 20th on the pylon.

Kyle Busch won the race out of the pits but Larson stayed out to get the lead on the restart at Lap 119. Larson was able to turn back a challenge from Busch in the opening laps of the stint, and on Lap 122, Kenseth was able to take second place behind the Sprint Cup rookie.

Kenseth moved in on Larson over the next several laps and on Lap 127, he moved to the inside of Larson down the frontstretch and cleared him off Turn 2 for the lead. But shortly after, Keselowski dropped Larson to third, continuing his march back up front on those four fresh tires.

Keselowski drew to within a car’s length of Kenseth, whose car was spotted with a piece of debris stuck to its grille. Then, on Lap 139, Keselowski went to the inside and re-claimed the lead while Kenseth used the airflow to knock his debris off the car.

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.”