Kevin Harvick wins 4th pole of 2014, sets Brickyard 400 track record

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INDIANAPOLIS – Kevin Harvick set a new Indianapolis Motor Speedway track speed record in a stock car on Saturday, earning the pole for Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

Harvick was the only driver to exceed 188 mph, recording a freaky fast mark of 188.470 mph. He finds himself in the same spot he was in the 2003 Brickyard, earning the pole and eventually winning the race.

Harvick has now won four poles in the first 20 races this season.

“They’ve turned me into a halfway-good qualifier with fast race cars,” Harvick told ESPN with a laugh. “To have the first pit stall, your problems will be a less starting from the front.”

Four-time Brickyard winner and current Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon qualified second with a speed of 187.770 mph and will start on the outside of the front row Sunday.

“I know we weren’t as good as Kevin today,” Gordon said. “But to have that awesome of a day and to be that close … to be on that front row 20 years after the first one, I get excited, what can I say?”

Chevrolet is going for its 12th consecutive win at the 2.5-mile oval. It’s certainly in good shape with six Chevy-powered drivers in the top 10.

But Chevy will have a strong challenge from Ford, particularly those of Penske Racing, which placed three drivers in the top-9: Brad Keselowski will start third, Juan Pablo-Montoya starts eighth and Joey Logano ninth.

Only one Toyota-powered driver qualified in the top-10, Brian Vickers.

Four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson, who is being picked by many as the favorite to win Sunday, qualified 11th.

“Decent performance, of course we’d like to be better, but at least we can see the front from there,” Johnson said.

Also having a decent qualifying run was Danica Patrick, who will start 14th.

Making only his third start of the 2014 season, Bobby Labonte made the field not on speed but on a past provisional, having been a former Brickyard 400 champion back in 2000.

Also, Aric Almirola will start near the back of the field due to going to a back-up car after hitting the wall during practice.

Brett Moffitt, Indiana native David Stremme and Camping World Truck Series regular Matt Crafton all failed to qualify and will miss Sunday’s race.

Here’s the starting grid for the 21st annual Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Row 1: Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon

Row 2: Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman

Row 3: Brian Vickers, Tony Stewart

Row 4: Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya

Row 5: Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne

Row 6: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch

Row 7: Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick

Row 8: Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer

Row 9: Austin Dillon, Carl Edwards

Row 10: Greg Biffle, Trevor Bayne

Row 11: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Marcos Ambrose

Row 12: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray

Row 13: Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears

Row 14: Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell

Row 15: Paul Menard, Josh Wise

Row 16: Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex

Row 17: Michael Annett, David Gilliland

Row 18: Alex Bowman, AJ Allmendinger

Row 19: Landon Cassill, David Ragan

Row 20: Cole Whitt, Travis Kvapil

Row 21: Aric Almirola, Reed Sorenson

Row 22: Bobby Labonte

Did not qualify: Brett Moffitt, David Stremme, Matt Crafton

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.