NASCAR AMERICA: Wednesday Round-Up Includes Denny Hamlin Interview (VIDEO)

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Wednesday was a big news day in NASCAR, and NASCAR AMERICA hit the key topics as Denny Hamlin weighed in on the large penalties assessed to his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s new crew chief for 2015 was named.

Hamlin joined the NASCAR AMERICA crew to discuss the penalty that was dealt to his team after the Brickyard 400. Hamlin’s crew chief and car chief were suspended for six races and he was docked 75 points in the Chase. Hamlin says the penalties will force him to be even more focused on race day.

The NASCAR AMERICA crew analyzed the points penalty,  suspension, and fine of the team’s crew chief Darian Grubb, as Hamlin’s car did not have its rear firewall block-off plates sealed off Sunday at the Brickyard 400. The penalty is ranked a P5 penalty on NASCAR’s new penalty ranking scale (with penalties ranked from P1 as the lowest and P6 as the highest).

In the wake of the penalties assessed to the No. 11 car, Joe Gibbs Racing plans to appeal. The team had three cars finish in the top four at the Brickyard 400, but the celebration was halted as Hamlin and his team were penalized after his car failed a post-race inspection. Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton believe the punishment is fair, but would like more consistency on these decisions from NASCAR.

Meanwhile the announcement Greg Ives will take over as Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief from 2015 on the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports entry was the biggest new news from Wednesday. The NASCAR AMERICA crew believes Ives is ready to handle the pressure of working with NASCAR’s most popular driver. Ives replaces NBC Sports-bound Steve Letarte.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.