NASCAR: Allmendinger leads final Cup practice at Watkins Glen

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It’s only one day of practice, but pre-race favorite A.J. Allmendinger appears to be shaping up to contend in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International.

Gunning for a win that can get him into the Chase, Allmendinger posted a lap of 68.538 seconds in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet to top final Cup practice.

He was followed by another Watkins Glen favorite (perhaps a heavier one) in Marcos Ambrose, who was second in the session with a lap of 68.541 seconds.

Kyle Busch also continued to show good pace, running third with a lap of 68.553 seconds. Pocono winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth (68.767) and Ambrose’s Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Aric Almirola, rounded out the Top 5 (68.788).

Clint Bowyer was sixth, Joey Logano seventh, Jimmie Johnson eighth, Jamie McMurray ninth, and Greg Biffle 10th. Practice 1 leader Kevin Harvick was 28th in this session and ran the most laps with 32.

Final practice ended a few minutes early due to Danica Patrick going off-course at Turn 5 and into the nearby tire barriers. Patrick’s backup No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet was quickly taken off the transporter and will be pressed into service for the remainder of the weekend. You can read more about her rough Friday here.

Also having problems in final practice were the Chip Ganassi Racing duo of McMurray and rookie Kyle Larson.

A possible power steering line failure caused McMurray to smoke badly and slow on track early on. Later, Larson reportedly suffered similar issues on his own car; he was only 27th-fastest in the final practice.

The Sprint Cup drivers will qualify tomorrow morning at 11:40 a.m. ET. As with all road courses, the Glen will feature the two-round version of NASCAR’s knock-out qualifying system.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen – Practice 2 Times

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.