Everything you need to know for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono

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Less than two months after Dale Earnhardt Jr. won there, Pocono Raceway will again host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend for the GoBowling.com 400.

With six regular season races left, six drivers have officially clinched a post-season berth: Earnhardt, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Sunday’s winner at Indianapolis, Jeff Gordon.

But with time running out, the focus will be on those still trying to get a win that will lock them into the Chase Grid.

While Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman are still looking good to make the Chase on points alone if need be, the fates of other winless drivers such as Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart remain undetermined.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s all the notes and numbers to keep in mind for Round 21 of the 2014 Sprint Cup championship…

POCONO-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· Two wins, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 14.8
· Average Running Position of 10.4, third-best
· Driver Rating of 105.5, third-best
· 312 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 162.147 mph, third-fastest
· 2,521 Laps in the Top 15 (76.6%), fifth-most
· 722 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), eighth-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Michael Baker International Chevrolet)
· One win, eight top fives, 12 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 15.8
· Average Running Position of 14.4, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.8, 11th-best
· 79 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 161.624 mph, ninth-fastest
· 2,147 Laps in the Top 15 (62.2%), 11th-most
· 664 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Fastenal Ford)
· Two wins, five top fives, eight top 10s
· Average finish of 14.8
· Average Running Position of 14.4, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 96.0, sixth-best
· 176 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 161.774 mph, eighth-fastest
· 2,238 Laps in the Top 15 (64.8%), eighth-most
· 701 Quality Passes, 10th-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet)
· Six wins, 19 top fives, 30 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 10.0
· Average Running Position of 10.2, second-best
· Driver Rating of 101.8, fourth-best
· 143 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 1,477 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 162.014 mph, fifth-fastest
· 2,626 Laps in the Top 15 (76.1%), second-most
· 827 Quality Passes, third-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota)
· Four wins, nine top fives, 11 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 12.1
· Average Running Position of 10.8, fourth-best
· Series-best Driver Rating of 109.0
· Series-high 434 Fastest Laps Run
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 162.311 mph
· 2,404 Laps in the Top 15 (78.9%), sixth-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
· Five top fives, nine top 10s
· Average finish of 14.0
· Average Running Position of 14.0, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 90.7, 12th-best
· 1,668 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· 744 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
· Three wins, 10 top fives, 17 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 8.7
· Series-best Average Running Position of 9.8
· Driver Rating of 108.7, second-best
· 272 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 162.201 mph, second-fastest
· Series-high 2,723 Laps in the Top 15 (78.9%)
· 819 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet)
· Two wins, five top fives, seven top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 18.2
· Driver Rating of 91.5, 10th-best
· 297 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· 1,529 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 161.869 mph, sixth-fastest
· 2,057 Laps in the Top 15 (59.6%), 12th-most
· 732 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford)
· One win, three top fives, four top 10s
· Average finish of 12.3
· Driver Rating of 92.8, ninth-best
· 96 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most

Kyle Larson (No. 42 Target Chevrolet)
· One top five, one top 10
· Average finish of 5.0
· Average Running Position of 13.3, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 96.0, seventh-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 162.080 mph, fourth-fastest

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet)
· One win, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 11.5
· Average Running Position of 11.2, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 95.8, eighth-best
· 1,522 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 161.617 mph, 10th-fastest
· 2,598 Laps in the Top 15 (75.3%), third-most
· Series-high 851 Quality Passes

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Code 3 / Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
· Two wins, 12 top fives, 22 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 11.0
· Average Running Position of 11.8, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 98.9, fifth-best
· 99 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· 1,620 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 161.830 mph, seventh-fastest
· 2,549 Laps in the Top 15 (73.8%), fourth-most
· 840 Quality Passes, second-most

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Pocono Raceway Track Data
Season Race #: 21 of 36 (08-04-14)
Track Size: 2.5-miles
Banking/Turn 1: 14 degrees
Banking/Turn 2: 8 degrees
Banking/Turn 3: 6 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 3,740 feet
Backstretch Length: 3,055 feet
Shortstretch Length: 1,780 feet
Race Length: 160 laps / 400 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Pocono
Denny Hamlin………………………. 109.0
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 108.7
Kurt Busch………………………….. 105.5
Jeff Gordon………………………… 101.8
Tony Stewart…………………………. 98.9
Carl Edwards………………………… 96.0
Kyle Larson………………………….. 96.0
Ryan Newman……………………….. 95.8
Brad Keselowski……………………. 92.8
Kasey Kahne………………………… 91.5
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2014 races (19 total) among active drivers at Pocono Raceway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light Pole winner: Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 180.654 mph, 49.819 secs., 08-02-13
2013 race winner: Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 129.009 mph, (03:06:02), 08-04-13
Track qualifying record: Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 181.415 mph, 49.610 secs., 06-06-14
Track race record: Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 145.384 mph, (03:26:21), 06-12-11

Pocono Raceway History
· Opened in 1968 as a three-quarter-mile track, Pocono Raceway held the first race on the 2.5-mile track in 1971.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was in 1974 – won by Richard Petty, Dodge, 115.593 mph, 08/04/1974.
· The 2.5-mile track was repaved during the fall of 2011.

Pocono Raceway Notebook
· There have been 73 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway, one race from 1974 through 1981, and two per year since.
· 2012 marked the first season the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono were scheduled for 400 miles. Prior to 2012 all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were 500 miles at Pocono Raceway.
· 322 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway; 222 in more than one.
· Ricky Rudd leads the series in starts at Pocono with 55. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 43 starts.
· Buddy Baker won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Pocono in 1974 with a speed of 144.122 mph.
· 39 drivers have posted Coors Light poles at Pocono, led by Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader with five each; Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin lead all active drivers with three each.
· Five drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Pocono. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Pocono with three; fall 1984 and both races in 1985.
· Two active drivers have posted consecutive Coors Light poles at Pocono: Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep) and Joey Logano (fall 2011 and spring 2012).
· Youngest Pocono pole winner: Joey Logano (08/07/2011 – 21 years, 2 months, 14 days).
· Oldest Pocono pole winner: David Pearson (06/10/1984 – 49 years, 5 months, 19 days).
· 32 different drivers have won at Pocono Raceway, led by Jeff Gordon with six wins.
· Six drivers have posted consecutive wins at Pocono Raceway, including three consecutive by Bobby Allison (1982 sweep and spring 1983) and Tim Richmond (1986 sweep and spring 1987).
· Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner of the June Pocono race, will attempt to capture the second season sweep of his career, and first since Talladega in 2002.
· Youngest Pocono winner: Joey Logano (06/10/2012 – 22 years, 0 months, 17 days).
· Oldest Pocono winner: Harry Gant (06/17/1990 – 50 years, 5 months, 7 days).
· Hendrick Motorsportshas the most wins at Pocono in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 16: Jeff Gordon (six), Tim Richmond (three), Jimmie Johnson (three), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (one), Kasey Kahne (one), Geoff Bodine (one) and Terry Labonte (one) – including the last four consecutively.
· Eight different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Pocono; led by Chevrolet with 29 victories; followed by Ford with 21.
· 15 of the 73 (20.5%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Jimmie Johnson (June, 2013).
· The Coors Light pole position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (15) than any other starting position at Pocono Raceway.
· 24 of the 73 (32.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the front row: 15 from the pole and nine from second-place.
· 51 of the 73 (69.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Five of the 73 (6.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Pocono is 29th, by Carl Edwards in the spring of 2005.
· Mark Martin leads the series in runner-up finishes at Pocono with seven; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six.
· Mark Martin leads the series in top-five finishes at Pocono with 20; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19.
· Mark Martin leads the series in top-10 finishes at Pocono with 34; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 30.
· Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Pocono with a 6.176.
· Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Pocono with an 8.720.
· Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards are the only two active drivers towin at Pocono in their first appearances.
· Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Pocono without visiting Victory Lane at 38; followed by Matt Kenseth with 29 and Kevin Harvick with 27.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono Raceway was the July 23, 2000 race won by Rusty Wallace over Jeff Burton with a MOV of 0.126 second.
· There have been three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Pocono Raceway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): spring of 2005 (200/201); fall of 2005 (200/203); spring of 2010 (200/204).
· Six of the 73 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono Raceway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was the event on 8/5/2012.
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono Raceway five times; most recently the spring of 2013.
· Casey Mears (8/1/2004) posted his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Pocono Raceway.
· One active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver has posted his first career win at Pocono Raceway: Denny Hamlin (06/11/06).
· Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Pocono with 974 laps led in 43 starts.
· Two female drivers have competed at Pocono Raceway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie and Danica Patrick.
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NASCAR in Pennsylvania
· There have been 107 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among nine tracks in Pennsylvania.
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· 141 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Pennsylvania.
· Three of the 141 have won in NASCAR’s premiere series: Dick Linder (3 Sprint Cup), Jimmy Spencer (2 Cup, 12 Nationwide, 1 Truck), and Mark Donohue (1 Cup).

Indy field keen to beat him, but agree Alonso Indy 500 win would boost IndyCar globally

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INDIANAPOLIS – Graham Rahal wants to win Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. If not him, he’d like to see a Honda driver in victory lane.

Ditto for James Hinchcliffe, who’d like to win but would also be happy to see a Honda winner, as well.

Will Power is also of the same mindset. If he can’t win, he’d like one of his Team Penske teammates take the checkered flag.

But those same drivers interviewed by NBC Sports Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, are also well aware of the potential impact of having two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in the race.

And make no mistake, even though this is Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar and oval racing, when it comes to Sunday’s race, he’s in it to win it. And some of the drivers he’ll challenge for the ‘500 win are well aware of that.

“Obviously, selfishly, for a lot of us, we hope he doesn’t,” Rahal said with a smile.

Rahal then grew serious, adding, “But I’m not going to lie to you, he’s driving the same car Townsend (Bell) drove last year, which was one of the favorites to win until the pit lane accident. So it’s a fast car, it’s a good machine, I’ve worked with some of his mechanics in the past.

“They’re quality guys. It wouldn’t surprise me. He’s going to be in the hunt. But I hope it just continues to draw more eyes. I think he’s had a great time here this month. It would be great to have him continue to come back, amongst others. Clearly, we hope one of the regulars wins this thing, there’s a lot of guys that deserve a lot of credit and maybe have been overlooked this month, but that’s just part of it. We’ll see what happens Sunday.”

Hinchcliffe also wants to win Sunday, but knows Alonso brings an additional dynamic to the table that is kind of a mixed blessing.

“That’s one of those bittersweet situations,” Hinchcliffe said with a chuckle. “Obviously, it would be a tremendous amount of coverage for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, but if a rookie comes in and wins it on pace, it just makes us look a bit silly.

“Now, if you’re going to be made to look silly, if it’s going to happen at the hands of Fernando Alonso, you’ll sleep a little bit better at night because he’s pretty much the greatest living racing driver.

“The fact of the matter is he’s got a really good shot at it, man. He’s been incredible. There’s a lot of difficult situations that you get put into during a 500-mile race here or in practice and we’ve watched him handle them like a seasoned veteran. It’s been very impressive, honestly. He’s in one of the best cars, he’s starting near the front (middle of Row 2), he’s got as good a shot as anyone.”

In addition to Alonso’s massive talent, Hinchcliffe has also been impressed at the Spanish driver’s personality.

“He’s super down to earth, very friendly and has really embraced this experience,” Hinchcliffe said. “The IndyCar paddock is a very different world from the F1 paddock.

“I know for a fact that there are a lot of (F1) drivers that wouldn’t handle the atmosphere here very well, but Fernando hasn’t been like that. He’s embraced the whole experience, the fan interaction we have, which is a massive degree higher than what you see in F1. He’s been an awesome addition to the field. I hope it’s not the last IndyCar race that we see him at.”

And then there’s Will Power, who has an IndyCar championship trophy on his mantle, but not the Borg-Warner Indy 500 winner’s trophy.

Power feels he has a good chance to finally break through and win the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. But he also knows Alonso presents a formidable challenge in addition to the regular IndyCar drivers he does battle with in every series race.

But Power agrees with his counterparts that an Alonso win would bring a great deal of worldwide attention that would provide a big boost of attention and popularity into the IndyCar Series.

“I think you’d have a new group of Spanish fans if Alonso happened to win the race, plus a lot of interest from Europe, which there already is,” Power said. “He definitely has the car and the capability to do it – but so does a lot of people in the field.”

When asked if he can relate his own first 500 (finished 13th in 2008) to that of Alonso, Power said it was completely apples to oranges.

“It’s not similar,” Power said. “When I came here the first time, the team had never raced ovals and we got the car two weeks before the first race of the season and had no idea of the setup. And my engineer had never run ovals, either.

“(Alonso’s) been placed with one of the best teams, one of the best cars and much more experience. I would have dreamed of having that experience in my first time. It would have made it much easier and given me way more confidence on the oval.”

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Matheus Leist scores pole for Indy Lights’ Freedom 100

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – Persistent rain threatened to halted all track activity Thursday for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, before efforts to dry the track came good later on Friday.

But once qualifying occurred, Matheus Leist secured the pole for the marquee race of the Indy Lights season, Friday’s Freedom 100 (live, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Freedom 100 has a knack for throwing up surprise polesitters – Ethan Ringel and Ken Losch immediately come to mind – and Leist, the Brazilian rookie in his first-ever oval start, now joins that list.

Leist, driver of the No. 26 Carlin Dallara IL-15 Mazda, looked a promising prospect after posting the first official lap over 200 mph in series history, a tow-assisted lap of 201.032 mph (44.7690 seconds), and also the best no-tow speed of 199.354.

He backed up with laps of 199.268 and 199.128, respectively, for a new two-lap record of 199.198 mph. The previous mark was held by Ringel, in the first year of the new car in 2015, at 197.684 mph.

Despite seven other drivers that took their shot to beat him, none did. Colton Herta came the closest with a two-lap average of 198.648 in the No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing entry.

Two more of Herta’s Andretti Autosport teammates posted excellent qualifying runs. Dalton Kellett, who was third here last year in what stands as his best Indy Lights finish to date, will roll off from the same position in his teal-and-white No. 28 car, while rookie Ryan Norman will start alongside in the No. 48 Andretti Autosport entry, keeping up his strong weekend.

Zachary Claman De Melo completed the top five in the second of four Carlin entries, while Aaron Telitz upheld Belardi Auto Racing’s honor with sixth on the grid.

While Herta enters Friday’s race third in points, 18 behind the top two, neither Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) nor Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport), had good qualifying runs.

With speeds of 196.058 (Kaiser) and 195.661 (Jamin), they’ll roll off from positions 11 and 13 in the 14-car field.

Here are your qualifying speeds and provisional starting lineup for Friday.

Prior to qualifying, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crew got the track dry in time for a 20-minute practice, which Leist also led.

As you can see below, drivers spent the rain delay trying to make due of things.

The points standings heading into tomorrow’s race are below:

1. 18-Kyle Kaiser, 139
2. 27-Nico Jamin, 126
3. 98-Colton Herta, 121
4. 22-Neil Alberico, 103
5. 9-Aaron Telitz, 97
6. 26-Matheus Leist, 89
7. 5-Santiago Urrutia, 87
8. 13-Zachary Claman De Melo, 87
9. 51-Shelby Blackstock, 80
10. 31-Nicolas Dapero, 75
11. 48-Ryan Norman, 71
12. 28-Dalton Kellett, 64
13. 2-Juan Piedrahita, 55
14. 11-Garth Rickards, 54

Hinchcliffe will donate brain to study race-related concussions to help safety of sport

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INDIANAPOLIS – James Hinchcliffe is well known throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series for his sense of humor.

He’s the kind of guy that keeps not just his own team loose, but also does the same for other teams and fans.

Even when he’s talking about a serious topic, he can usually be counted on interjecting at least one or two great one-liners.

Hinchcliffe was in his usual form during Thursday’s Indianapolis 500 Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But while he joked at times, the underlying message he tried to get across was very serious and very poignant to all forms of motorsports.

Namely, concussions and concussion research.

Hinchcliffe went so far as to say that when he passes away, he’s ready to donate his brain to science so it can be studied, particularly for some of the impacts and resulting concussions he’s endured throughout his racing career.

“Oh yeah, 100 percent, absolutely, it’s a done deal,” Hinchcliffe replied when asked if he’d ever consider donating his brain.

He then added with a whimsy but serious reality, “If it can help, if it can be put to use, I’ve got no need for it at that point. Absolutely, I’d donate it to the cause.”

Hinchcliffe said he’s studied the topic of racing-related concussions in all forms of motorsports, particularly IndyCar and NASCAR.

The Canadian driver, who sat on the pole for last year’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, said he’s thought on occasions about the ramifications of concussions upon race car drivers.

But it was NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion that forced him to sit out the entire second half of last season that greatly increased the attention of a number of drivers across all forms of motorsports.

“Honestly, I think most guys would be in a similar situation,” Hinchcliffe said. “Dale’s (Earnhardt’s) situation, I think that was something that a lot of guys had never been asked.

“But as soon as it was brought up, it was a no-brainer.”

Hinchcliffe then grew embarrassed when he realized his verbal faux pas and apologized, but his message was still on-point.

“It’s a very easy decision for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “If we can do something now, especially with something we don’t need anymore (after dying) and it’s going to help benefit the future safety of our sport, then it’s an easy call.”

Hinchcliffe starts 17th in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for Sunday’s race, a year after qualifying for the pole position.

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Vice President Mike Pence confirms Indy 500 visit

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INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence, the former Gov. of Indiana, will be “back home again” this weekend for the Indianapolis 500.

The slight difference, of course, is that his main residence is now in Washington, D.C. since the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January.

Pence is a longtime fan and visitor of the race, so while he confirmed he’ll attend on Thursday, it will not be in any official capacity.

“The Vice President is a Hoosier, grew up here, and tweeted some photos. He will be here as a fan. There will be no official role for him at the Indianapolis 500,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles on Thursday.

Rumors percolated on Wednesday he’d be in attendance. On Wednesday, Boles said IMS was in the process of preparing for Pence’s arrival from security and operational protocols.

“We have heard, as have all of you, that there is a possibility the Vice President of United States,” Boles said Wednesday. “We are not in position yet to confirm or deny yet; however I can tell you we are preparing for it. As soon as we know, we hope to know by end of the day tomorrow, we’ll have another one of these briefings.”

Indeed they have on Thursday. The only major change announced was that there will be no pedestrian traffic at Gate 4.

“The Turn 2 suites, just South of those suites is what we call Gate 4. Gate 4 will be closed to pedestrian traffic beginning tomorrow,” Boles said.