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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IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.