Jeff Gordon wins 75th career Sprint Cup pole at Watkins Glen

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Jeff Gordon has won four times at Watkins Glen International in his illustrious career, but hasn’t gone to Victory Lane there since 2001.

It looks like he stands a good chance to end that drought. The current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship leader set a new track record with a lap of 68.126 seconds (129.466 mph) to claim the pole position for tomorrow’s Cheez-It 355.

His 75th career Sprint Cup pole also served as a nice birthday present for his son, Leo, who turns four today.

“Today is Leo’s birthday and I told him on the phone earlier that I was gonna try and get a pole for him – not realistically thinking I had a shot at it,” Gordon told ESPN. “But we were going for it and we got it done. Happy Birthday, buddy.”

With less than four minutes to go in the 10-minute final round, Gordon leaped to the top of the charts ahead of Marcos Ambrose. As the clock wound down, the Australian raced out of the pits in a bid to retake the pole with one last flyer.

But he did not make it to the start/finish line in time to begin the lap, ensuring that Gordon would claim his third career Cup pole at the New York State road course.

The pole also snaps a string of poor starts for Gordon at the Glen. He had started outside the Top-10 in the previous five races there.

“Qualifying is what’s really been hurting us here at Watkins Glen and I blame myself mainly,” said Gordon. “[But] I’m so happy today to get three shots at it – I think that made the big difference.

“The first lap, I did OK but I got held up a little bit coming back to the checkered. The second one was a really good lap that got us into the Top 12, and I just tried to do the same things on the last lap.

“[Crew chief] Alan [Gustafson] made a slight adjustment and I thought it was about the same I ran before. I didn’t think it’d be that much better, but, wow, what a lap.”

Meanwhile, Ambrose will start on the outside of the front row as he seeks to break into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with what would be his third win in the last four Cup races at the Glen.

For now, though, the Aussie will shift his attention to today’s Nationwide Series Zippo 200, where he’ll start fourth behind polesitter and fellow Sprint Cup regular Brad Keselowski.

Jimmie Johnson will try to stop his recent run of bad luck on Sunday from the inside of Row 2. Joining him there will be Kevin Harvick, who led Friday’s first practice session.

Kurt Busch and another potential darkhorse in A.J. Allmendinger start from Row 3. Pocono winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are in Row 4, and Row 5 consists of Keselowski and Ryan Newman.

Other notables include five-time Glen winner Tony Stewart in 13th; defending Cheez-It 355 winner Kyle Busch in 19th; solid road racers Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. in 24th and 25th respectively; Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Nelson Piquet Jr. in 32nd; and Danica Patrick in 43rd after having to go to a backup car.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen – Starting Lineup

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Friday notebook

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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INDIANAPOLIS – Teams have loaded in for this weekend’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with testing set all day on Saturday and Sunday for all three rungs of the series: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Some notes from the day are below.

  • Pabst Racing has been busy with testing its new Tatuus PM-18 in recent weeks, to add to its trio of USF-17s. The team has two PM-18 chassis with one completed and built up, and which Calvin Ming will test this weekend. Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team won the team championship in USF2000 this season.
  • Look for Ayla Agren to test Pabst’s PM-18 next week for several days. The talented Indianapolis-based Norwegian/Swede is a past F1600 champion and has raced in parts of the last three USF2000 seasons with Team Pelfrey and John Cummiskey Racing; Agren is working on stepping up into Pro Mazda next season.
  • Another intriguing Pabst USF2000 product this weekend is New Zealander Hunter McElrea, a 17-year-old go-kart veteran who completed his first season of car racing this year in Australian Formula Ford. He was unlucky to only end fourth in the year’s championship, with several poles and wins but a bit of inconsistency that cost him the title. His father, Andy McElrea, has been in the U.S. before moving back home, where he’s enjoyed success as a driver, engineer and team director. The younger McElrea said he “learned heaps” this year and is optimistic of building a budget to come Stateside in 2018, and said it was a bit surreal to have his first real run at IMS. Born in the U.S., McElrea holds both U.S. and New Zealand dual citizenship.
  • Arguably the busiest driver in the month or so since the Watkins Glen season finale has been Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who’s had several Pro Mazda tests with three different teams (Pabst, Juncos Racing and Exclusive Autosport) and will run this weekend with Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights, and will work with engineer Kent Boyer. VeeKay would succeed in North America for a second year, as he contemplates whether to move up from USF2000 into Pro Mazda or emulate RC Enerson in going from USF2000 straight to Indy Lights. VeeKay’s No. 4 car was Shelby Blackstock’s chassis from the 2017 season.
  • Teammate Nico Jamin, who was busy with several different types of cars this year besides his primary role in Indy Lights, will test Belardi’s No. 5 car, which was Santiago Urrutia’s chassis, and work with engineer Tim Neff. Jamin got the call a couple weeks ago and has come back from his home country of France, where he’s been since shortly after the season ended.
  • The third Belardi car, the No. 9 car still in the Mazda “soul red” livery for 2016 Pro Mazda champion Aaron Telitz, is on site this weekend. Telitz will test with RJB Motorsports’ USF2000 team – the car having been returned from ArmsUp Motorsports for this test – and the Birchwood, Wis. native will have the chance to work with open-wheel veterans Alex Barron and Mirl Swan as part of RJB’s crew. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Telitz also running in other cars and series this weekend.
  • At least for this test, Cape Motorsports’ Pro Mazda car has a cool “magic 8 ball” livery for Oliver Askew. The primarily black with some white paint scheme probably wouldn’t stay that way provided Mazda’s scholarship comes with the switch to a “soul red” livery once the season properly commences.
  • Jake Craig, who will test with Newman Wachs Racing this test, has been awarded the eKartingNews.com Karting Entry Ticket for this year’s Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. The 19-year-old native of Mission Viejo, Calif. is the 12th driver who has a confirmed ticket so far for the shootout, which takes place in December in Arizona.
  • Colton Herta is in a funny spot with regards to World Series preference depending on whether the New York Yankees or Houston Astros wins tonight’s Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, as the Yankees lead the series 3-2 heading into tonight’s game and look to advance to the World Series to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Herta grew up a Dodgers fan but his Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing team features team principal George Michael Steinbrenner IV, son of Hank Steinbrenner, and the Steinbrenners of course are the Yankees’ principal owners. Perhaps it’s a good problem to have?
  • Myles Rowe, who’s won three races in six starts in the Lucas Oil School of Racing, will be in one of John Cummiskey Racing’s Tatuus USF-17 chassis this weekend. The Smyrna, Ga. native has a good head on his shoulders and could well impress.