Another Hendrick vs. Penske battle set for the Brickyard?

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It almost seems preordained: The two most powerful teams of the 2014 Sprint Cup season going head-to-head for supremacy on the sport’s most hallowed ground.

Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske have combined for 11 wins in 19 races this season. Throw in Hendrick-powered Stewart Haas Racing and you have 14 in 19.

And coming to the green tomorrow for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the two sides are well-represented in the front end of the grid.

Starting alongside SHR pole sitter Kevin Harvick on the front row will be HMS’ Jeff Gordon. Behind them will be Penske’s Brad Keselowski on the inside of Row 2.

Then there’s Tony Stewart (SHR) in Row 3, Kurt Busch (SHR) and Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske) in Row 4, Joey Logano (Penske) and Kasey Kahne (HMS) in Row 5, and Jimmie Johnson (HMS) in Row 6.

You get the picture. Those that aren’t affiliated with Hendrick or Penske are likely going to have their work cut out for them tomorrow.

“We certainly look at all the Hendrick cars – and the Stewart Haas cars having Hendrick chassis and Hendrick engines and just how good they’ve been – then Penske: to me, they’re the team to beat outside of what we have,” Gordon said today at IMS regarding the teams’ rivalry.

“At times, they’ve been better than us and at times, we’ve been better than them.”

Right now, one could argue that Penske’s been better as Keselowski has won two of the last three Sprint Cup races. But Keselowski noted that while Penske and Hendrick have been the strongest teams so far, a lot can still change in the weeks ahead.

“You never know what somebody else has in their hands – much like if you’re playing a game of poker,” he said. “You think we have the two strongest hands with Penske and Hendrick, and certainly, that’s been the case to this date in the season. But you don’t know what’s out there.

“I find it hard to believe that [Joe Gibbs Racing] is gonna go a whole year without a dominant car. It’s not like them. So I’m sure they’re going to catch on as the season progresses – and maybe [Michael Waltrip Racing] or [Richard Childress Racing], who knows?

“But we’re a long ways from over and while I think you can look at the past – it’s an indicator to the future, but not a complete premonition.”

Still, it would seem that the world’s greatest race course is set for a fight between the sport’s heavyweights. And while Keselowski is wise to say that the past isn’t a window into the future, both he and Gordon surely hope that doing well at Indy will ultimately foreshadow a championship celebration this fall.

NHRA Gatornationals: John Force qualifies 15th with no motor explosion, says ‘I need to race smart’ Sunday

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There’s good news and bad news for John Force fans.

The good news is the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ did not suffer yet another motor explosion after enduring his third in three races during Friday’s qualifying session at Gainesville (Florida) Raceway.

In fact, Force intentionally feathered the gas pedal on his Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car to make sure it wasn’t again overtaxed, qualifying 15th with a run of 4.281 seconds at 222.88 mph.

Now for the bad news.

When Sunday’s final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. ET, Force will be matched against daughter and No. 2 qualifier, Courtney Force (3.914 seconds at 332.18 mph).

“It is a little bit of a bummer that I have to race him in the first round,” Courtney Force said of her father. “Tomorrow is a new day and we will have all our stuff ready and we will put on our game faces to go for that win.”

Courtney Force is seeking her second consecutive win, having also won two weeks ago at the second national event of the season in suburban Phoenix.

“I want to have a good side-by-side safe race tomorrow in round one,” Force said. “Our goal is to take my dad down and have a long day at the track winning rounds.

“We want to move the momentum over from Phoenix. I feel like my guys have a good handle on this Advance Auto Parts Camaro.”

But don’t count out dear old dad, an eight-time Funny Car winner at Gainesville.

“I am the kind of guy that, when it is qualifying day, I run it to the edge.,” John Force said. “I run it even if I know it will hurt itself.

“(With his three motor explosions this season) I am rethinking all that. What I am looking is the long haul. To go out here and say I have to win this race or I have to qualify low after as much stuff as we have put on the ground in Pomona and Phoenix and then to come here and do it again is bad. … We want to fix this problem and move on.

“Tomorrow I am going to have to play the odds game. I am going to run it to 700 or 800 feet and hope (Courtney) gets in trouble. I need to race smart.”

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