Cheez-It 355 At The Glen - Practice

Jeff Gordon buries Michigan track record, earns Sprint Cup pole for Sunday

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Jeff Gordon collected his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole this afternoon with a new track record lap of 206.558 miles per hour at Michigan International Speedway – a lap that also now stands as the seventh-fastest pole of all time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Gordon and Team Penske’s Joey Logano (206.381 mph) will make up the front row for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 after they and several others obliterated Kevin Harvick’s old MIS record of 204.557 mph multiple times in the three rounds of qualifying.

Carl Edwards, who will start third on Sunday, was the first to break Harvick’s record in Round 1 with a 205.169 mph lap.

Then in Round 2, Logano raised the bar with a lap of 205.491 mph. Harvick then posted a 205.620 mph lap to reclaim the record for himself, but a lap of 205.885 mph allowed Gordon to swipe it.

Finally in Round 3, Logano (206.381) and Edwards (206.115) both broke Gordon’s mark – only to have Gordon eclipse them both with his monster 206.5 lap around the two-mile MIS oval.

“We made a qualifying effort in practice that didn’t go so well, then we made another one and it wasn’t bad,” Gordon said to MRN Radio after his 76th career Sprint Cup pole. “I wasn’t sure what I was gonna have when we rolled out here for qualifying, but the first lap was just really, really good.

“I felt like I needed to be more aggressive, and the next two runs, I was able to be aggressive and those guys made great adjustments. Man, the thing just stuck [to the race track] so well. That’s a lot of fun when it’s stuck like that.”

Edwards and Brian Vickers will make up Row 2, followed by Michigan native Brad Keselowski and Harvick in Row 3. Richard Childress Racing’s Paul Menard and Austin Dillon start from Row 4, and Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. complete the Top 10 spots on the grid.

Some big names failed to make it out of the first round, however, and will have to start from the back of the field on Sunday. Chief among them are two of Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and June Michigan winner Jimmie Johnson, who will go from 25th and 30th respectively.

“The car’s pretty good – just the second run there, we expected to go out and actually run quite a bit quicker and just didn’t have any rear grip,” Earnhardt told MRN. “Really sliding around in the back and just didn’t run a fast lap.

“We feel good about the race car in race trim. I actually think we should’ve definitely qualified much better, but we didn’t get it done…I think we understand the changes that the track’s gonna make and we prepared for those, and we didn’t do a good enough job, I guess.”

Jeff Burton, substituting for Tony Stewart this weekend, qualified 27th for Sunday’s race. Ryan Blaney qualified Trevor Bayne’s car in 28th, while Matt Crafton qualified 39th in Martin Truex Jr.’s car.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT MICHIGAN – Pure Michigan 400
Qualifying Results

1. 24-Jeff Gordon
2. 22-Joey Logano
3. 99-Carl Edwards
4. 55-Brian Vickers
5. 2-Brad Keselowski
6. 4-Kevin Harvick
7. 27-Paul Menard
8. 3-Austin Dillon
9. 1-Jamie McMurray
10. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
11. 16-Greg Biffle
12. 31-Ryan Newman
13. 42-Kyle Larson
14. 10-Danica Patrick
15. 5-Kasey Kahne
16. 41-Kurt Busch
17. 51-Justin Allgaier
18. 20-Matt Kenseth
19. 15-Clint Bowyer
20. 9-Marcos Ambrose
21. 11-Denny Hamlin
22. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
23. 43-Aric Almirola
24. 18-Kyle Busch
25. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
26. 13-Casey Mears
27. 14-Jeff Burton
28. 21-Ryan Blaney
29. 38-David Gilliland
30. 48-Jimmie Johnson
31. 83-Ryan Truex
32. 23-Alex Bowman
33. 98-Josh Wise
34. 34-David Ragan
35. 7-Michael Annett
36. 26-Cole Whitt
37. 37-Dave Blaney
38. 32-Travis Kvapil
39. 78-Matt Crafton
40. 36-Reed Sorenson
41. 33-Alex Kennedy
42. 66-Joe Nemechek
43. 40-Landon Cassill

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.