(Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Pocono notebook: Several Chase hopefuls wreck, remain winless; Jeff Gordon continues to lead points

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Several drivers who remain winless and need at least one win to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup failed to do so once again due to a big 13-car wreck in the second half of Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Still looking for their first Chase-qualifying win were Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth, all who were involved in the wreck and saw their race day end early.

The baker’s dozen wreck occurred on Lap 118, just one lap after the track went back to green flag conditions following a caution brought out by Jimmie Johnson’s solo crash on Lap 112.

Based upon TV replays, it appeared Denny Hamlin got loose, and a domino-effect situation followed.

One of the more notable end results of the wreck was Stewart’s car wound up on the hood of Paul Menard’s car.

Quipped Stewart, “We ended up on top of Paul Menard’s hood, but it wasn’t where we wanted to end up by any means.”

Added Menard, “There was just nowhere to go.”

Other drivers involved in the wreck were Vickers, Kenseth, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Michael Annett, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier and Martin Truex Jr.

“I was just following Denny, he went to the middle and I stayed on the bottom and got behind Brian,” Kenseth said. “I went up to go up to the corner and saw the 11 car sideways, the 55 tried to miss him and we all got collected. I’m good (uninjured), just crabby.”

Added Vickers, “One thing led to another and I wound up in the wall.”

Ironically, Hamlin only skimmed the outside wall with the rear of his car and was able to continue, but that couldn’t be said about so many others who were trailing him.

Later in the race, Allmendinger was able to get back on track after repairs were made, but smacked the wall on Lap 140, ending his day.

 

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Motor and tire issues affected several drivers in Sunday’s race.

Kyle Busch’s day ended early when his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota suffered apparent engine failure on Lap 23. Busch radioed in that there was smoke in the cockpit and then theorized it might be a broken piston in the motor. After pitting, his team quickly pushed his car back to the garage to begin repairs.

Tire issues caused problems for several drivers early on.

Jimmie Johnson suffered a cut tire in the opening laps and had to pit for a new set of rubber. To add insult to injury, Johnson was penalized for pitting too early when a caution was called for debris on the racetrack.

Another driver who suffered tire issues early on was Danica Patrick. Patrick was running 10th on Lap 16 when a right side tire went out, forcing her into the outside retaining wall. The damage was minimal, but it still required a lengthy pit stop, causing her to lose numerous spots on-track.

Later in the race, Johnson was running fifth on Lap 112 when he suffered another tire failure that sent his Hendrick Motorsports car into the Turn 2 wall, causing extensive damage. Unable to steer due to the damage, Johnson took the car to the garage for repairs, but his crew was unable to repair the damage in time to get him back on the racetrack.

“On that one, I’m clueless,” Johnson told ESPN when asked about what happened. “It didn’t act like a tire went down, so I’m not exactly sure if it did. Normally, when they go down that quickly, they explode, but there was no explosion and the tire did not come apart. It just went straight. … It wasn’t the best weekend, but still gave ourselves a chance for a win or top-five. We just came up a little short.”

 

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Jeff Gordon remains the leader in the Sprint Cup points standings, but opened up a rather substantial lead on drivers from third through 10th.

Gordon leads Pocono race-winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 17 points. But then things really open up dramatically.

Brad Keselowski remains in third place, but finds himself a distant 70 points behind Gordon.

Matt Kenseth remained in fourth place, 89 points back.

Ryan Newman was one of three drivers that made upward movement in the top 10 after Pocono, jumping from seventh to fifth place, 115 points behind Gordon.

Jimmie Johnson, who had a rough day at Pocono, dropped from fifth into a tie for sixth with Joey Logano, both drivers 124 points behind Gordon.

Carl Edwards remained in eighth place, 139 points back, followed by Clint Bowyer in ninth, 140 points behind Gordon.

And rounding out the top 10 was Kyle Busch, whose motor failure at Pocono caused him to drop four places in the standings, from sixth to 10th. He’s also 146 points behind Gordon now.

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‘Fast Jack’ Beckman back to living up to his nickname at Gateway

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“Fast Jack” Beckman came into this weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in a big predicament.

He didn’t live up to his colorful nickname during last week’s Carolina Nationals, the opening race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Beckman was actually more like “Slow Jack,” as he failed to advance past the first round at Carolina in last Sunday’s eliminations.

He also failed to advance past the first round in the final pre-Countdown qualifying race, the U.S. Nationals, which he won last season.

All those things combined have put even more pressure on Beckman. He left Charlotte eighth in the 10-driver Funny Car Countdown standings.

2016_Jack_Beckman headshot

Being scored 110 points behind Funny Car points leader Ron Capps, Beckman had his work cut out for him heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway, in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

And as he has done numerous times in his career, when the pressure was on him, Beckman responded, qualifying No. 2 on Saturday for Sunday’s eliminations.

Robert Hight earned the No. 1 qualifier position (3.893 seconds at 328.38 mph), but Beckman wasn’t far behind (3.907 seconds at 325.22 mph).

That’s a big start for Beckman, who won at Gateway in 2012 and ended up second in last year’s championship battle that was won by fellow veteran Del Worsham. Beckman will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round of eliminations.

Last season, Beckman won seven races in the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. This season has been much different, as he has just one win (Chicago in July).

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t win each of the five remaining Countdown races – which obviously would go a long way towards earning him his second career Funny Car championship (and in five seasons).

Beckman isn’t panicking after Charlotte. He’s finished first, third and second in three of the last four seasons. He knows he and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger have the capability to make a serious championship run.

In addition to hoping he wins Sunday, Beckman is defending champion of next week’s Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove (Pa.) Raceway.

“Since you can’t control how the leading cars do, really the goal is simple: you just need to win the race,” Beckman said in a media release. “At some point we have to win the race if we have a chance.

“There’s not any other path to a championship. We lost ground we couldn’t afford to lose (at Charlotte) and we can’t afford to lose any more ground. I don’t see those teams not continuing to perform well and the only way we win the championship is to outperform them. It’s imperative we get back to our capabilities.”

A major change for Saturday’s qualifying effort paid off handsomely with his No. 2 spot for Sunday – although admittedly it was a gamble of sorts for Beckman and crew chief Jimmy Prock.

“We’re still running a five-disc clutch and we have one disc on there that when it works it’s great and when it doesn’t it smokes the tires instantly and becomes too aggressive,” Beckman said. “We’re going to take that one out and take our chances with a brand new disc. We’re taking a calculated risk but I think it’s the only choice we have.

“We have to take baby steps but we have to take them quickly or we run out of races. Before we can go quick consistently we have to get back our predictability and we have to do that by the end of (this weekend’s race at) St. Louis.

“All we can control right now is our lane. Because we’re running out of rounds, every single pass becomes more important. But if you dwell on that, there’s a high likelihood you’re not going to do as well as you want.

“As the season winds down, the pressure goes up, but if you let it affect you, you’re not going to be at your best. The only thing you can do is take a positive mindset every time you go up there.”

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Touring car legend Yvan Muller to leave WTCC after 2016

STRASBOURG, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:   Yvan Muller of France attends the FIA pre event press conference at rally headquarters after the Shakedown of the WRC France on October 04, 2012 in Strasbourg , France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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Touring car racing legend and four-time world champion Yvan Muller will leave the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at the end of the 2016 season.

Muller made his name in the British Touring Car Championship before making the switch across to WTCC in 2006 with Seat.

The Frenchman claimed his first world title in 2008 before enjoying further successes in 2010, 2011 and 2013, the latter three championships won while behind the wheel of a Chevrolet.

Muller joined Citroen following its arrival in WTCC for the 2014 season, but has been unable to add to his haul of championship as teammate Jose Maria Lopez romped to three straight crowns.

With Citroen set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, Muller has decided that the time is right to follow suit and call time on a stint in the series that has seen him score 47 wins, 119 podium finishes and over 2,600 points.

“I am not sure that age is the main factor when it comes to ending a career. It’s more a matter of desire and motivation,” Muller said.

“With all the testing, the simulator sessions, the physical training and the travel to the race venues, a season of professional motor racing requires a level of personal commitment that I am no longer prepared to put in.

“At the same time, I am at a time of my life where I want to do something else and I am happy to be able to make that decision after eleven seasons of FIA WTCC.

“I’ve had some great experiences over my career. These three seasons with Citroën Racing have been particularly special, even though I never managed to be world champion with this team. But I will always be proud of having helped to build our racing programme and develop the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I have also met some great people who are passionate about their job and have a fierce competitive spirit.

“Driving has been part of my daily life for so long that I can’t see myself stopping racing entirely. But I am going to spend more time with my family and developing my team, Yvan Muller Racing. Before that, though, I am going to put everything I’ve got into meeting the team’s goals.”

Lopez is also set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, having agreed a deal to race for Citroen sub-brand DS in Formula E for the all-electric series’ third season.

The 2016 WTCC season closes on November 25 at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.

Report: Sam Schmidt to receive America’s first driver’s license for semi-autonomous car

2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 29, 2016
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt is set to receive America’s first driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle, according to a report from Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Schmidt sustained a spinal cord injury in a testing accident at Walt Disney World Speedway ahead of the 2000 IRL season, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Schmidt went on to establish Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with programs in IndyCar and Indy Lights, both of which he still heads up.

Schmidt has previously completed laps behind the wheel of a modified 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray at Indianapolis in 2014 and in Long Beach last year, dubbed the ‘SAM project’ – semi-autonomous motorcar – developed with Arrow Electronics.

Schmidt controls the car using a breathing tube for acceleration and braking, and steers using his head movements that are picked up by infrared cameras.

Now, the SAM project is set to hit the road, with Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting that Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles will grant Schmidt the first road license for a semi-autonomous car in the country.

The report says that Arrow has worked closely with the Nevada DMV to update regulations so that Schmidt is able to drive on state roads.

“Nevada is leading the nation in promoting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies that can bring mobility and independence to people with physical disabilities, including our wounded warriors,” officials from the Nevada DMV said.

Robert Kubica scores podium finish on Renault Sport Trophy debut at Spa

16 KUBICA Robert (POL) HAMON Christophe (FRA) RENAULT RS 01 Team Duqueine action during the 2016 Renault Sport series  at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, September  23 to 25  - Photo Eric Vargiolu / DPPI
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Robert Kubica enjoyed a successful debut in the Renault Sport Trophy at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday, finishing third alongside Christophe Hamon.

Former BMW and Renault Formula 1 driver Kubica announced last week that he would be entering the race weekend at Spa after accepting an invitation from the French manufacturer.

Kubica spent five seasons racing in F1 and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW before having his stint in the series cut short after a rally crash ahead of the 2011 season.

Severe injuries sustained to his right arm and hand meant left Kubica spending a lengthy spell in rehabilitation before making his return to motorsport in the World Rally Championship.

The Pole made his final WRC appearance in January at the Monte Carlo Rally before making his circuit racing return in the 12 Hours of Mugello with Mercedes.

Kubica enjoyed his first qualifying session since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of the Renault Sport Trophy weekend, finishing third.

After seeing Hamon complete the first 10 laps of the race and suffer contact, Kubica completed the final 17 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.01 car.

A late charge saw Kubica rise from P6 with 10 minutes remaining to cross the line third, six seconds behind race winners Raoul Owens and Fredrik Blomstedt.

Curiously, Kubica’s last F1 podium finish also came at Spa in 2010, finishing third for Renault behind Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber.

Kubica will return to Spa on Sunday for the sprint race, where he will race in the Pro class.