Cheez-It 355 At The Glen - Practice

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

5 Comments

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

Exclusive: Austin Coil returns to ‘help’ John Force in 2016

Austin Coil is coming back to 'help out' at John Force Racing in 2016.
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
1 Comment

The man most responsible for John Force’s career success – other than Force himself – is coming back to John Force Racing.

Force exclusively confirmed to NBCSports.com that former crew chief Austin Coil is coming out of retirement and returning to the JFR fold for 2016.

“Coil said to me, ‘You’ve managed to screw this up, but I can help you’,” Force said with a laugh during a phone interview from NHRA preseason testing in Phoenix. “He’s helping me, to help the people with me, to look at the things we need to get this thing right.”

First joining forces in 1986, Force and Coil went on to become the winningest driver-crew chief combination in NHRA history, earning 15 Funny Car championships and 132 national event wins together.

Coil abruptly retired one day after leading Force to his 15th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2010.

Since the breakup, Force has won just one additional Funny Car championship (2013) and 11 national event victories. The veteran driver is coming off an especially tough 2015 season, one he calls “my worst season in 25 years,” finishing seventh in the standings and recording just two wins (Las Vegas 1 and Epping, New Hampshire).

And even though Force is now 66 and Coil is 70, they believe they can regain some of their old magic together. Force has also brought back former tech whiz Ron Armstrong into the JFR fold.

“We’re putting the old band back together,” Force said with a laugh.

As for what Coil’s role will be exactly, Force was quick to point out Coil will not return to his old crew chief role, nor will he be considered a “consultant” or “advisor.”

Rather, Coil simply wants to be “help out,” Force said.

“Coil, I want to be clear, is not going to come out here on the road, he doesn’t want to do that,” Force said. “But he’s helping us with stuff.”

Coil will not have an office at JFR and will work at his own pace, Force said. But given that Coil called the shots for 24 years before, Force is more than happy to let his old buddy “help out” in any way he sees fit.

“I’m really excited to have him on board,” Force said. “Just talking to Coil, for me, we’ve only had three or four lunches together, but just talking helps get my heart back right. He made me who I am and I’m never going to forget that.

“I asked Coil what did I do wrong? He said, ‘You’ve been on overload. You had good people and you lost some. What you have to do is get back on track.

“He told me to split the team in half, start building the dragster side (with 11-time Top Fuel champion Alan Johnson overseeing the team with Force’s daughter, Brittany, behind the wheel), and on the other side, build the Funny Car side, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Coil had resisted prior efforts to return to the JFR fold. But when Force came calling over the winter, Coil apparently had a change of heart.

“Over the winter, Robert (JFR president and Force’s son-in-law Robert Hight) and I got together (with Coil) and said, ‘Let’s talk about things,’” Force said. “We knew there were issues. He quit, he walked away, he said he just didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought he might be going to Schumacher (arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing), but that’s not where he went.

“He said, ‘I’ve done my thing, I’ve won’ and we really were best of friends. He said to my face, ‘I love you, Force, I always have. But I’m in a different mode in my life of what I want to do. I’m in retirement, I can’t run to the airports like I used to.’

“He’s the one that put me here 25 years ago. Thirty years ago, we started building it. People give me the credit for it, but no, it’s the people I put around me like Coil, Armstrong, Mike Neff (crew chief for Hight and director of operations for JFR) and with AJ (Alan Johnson) coming in here and Brian Husen (as Brittany Force’s crew chief).”

With Johnson now running the Top Fuel side of JFR, and with Coil’s return, Force is very optimistic about his four-car organization’s chances in 2016.

“I always listen to Austin Coil,” Force said. “He says let Alan Johnson run that dragster, he’ll put your kid in the winner’s circle, and let Mike Neff run that Funny Car. He’s won championships for you and he’s going to build those Funny Car teams to where they need to be.

“So, I’m excited about it. We’re going to be okay. We’re going racing now.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Bird: Buenos Aires Formula E win ranks among career best

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 06:  Sam Bird of DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team celebrates at the podium after winning the Buenos Aires ePrix as part of 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship at Puerto Madero Street Race Track on February 06, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird believes that his victory in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix ranks among the very best in his racing career after he fended off championship leader Sebastien Buemi in the final stages of the race.

Bird led the majority of the race from pole position, but came under intense pressure late on from Buemi who was bidding to complete a last-to-first comeback.

A mistake in qualifying had resigned the Swiss driver to the back of the grid, yet he was crawling all over the back of Bird’s DS Virgin Racing car with a few laps to go.

However, Bird managed to produce a superb defensive display to keep Buemi back and secure his third win in Formula E, which he believes ranks among the best in his career.

“I think it’s up there, I think it’s really good,” Bird told MotorSportsTalk. “I enjoy all the victories. I look back on all of them with fondness but considering we were fighting with two cars that are really good at the moment, to come out and beat them hands down feels very nice.

“We’ve learned a lot from Punta del Este, like I’ve told everbody and we put that into good practice and we did the best we could. We maximized everything and we’ve come away with 28 points so really happy.”

Despite sitting third in the championship standings, Bird does not believe that he is in a position to mount a challenge for the title this year.

“Hare and the tortoise and all that, that’s what I’ve said, hare and the tortoise,” Bird said. “It’s way too early. There are two guys out there that are just so fast. If I can take it to the end, great. I’m not even thinking about it to be honest.

“There are so many decent drivers in this championship that one minute you might win, the next minute you might be P10. So we need to wait and see. Consistency is the key. The two guys ahead of me, they’re relentless, so beating them will be tough.”

Sam Bird takes memorable Formula E victory in Buenos Aires

Bird 62a
© Formula E
Leave a comment

BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird emerged victorious from one of the most thrilling Formula E races in the short history of the series after fending off a charging Sebastien Buemi in the closing stages to bag his third win.

Championship leader Buemi started the race from the back of the grid after making a mistake in qualifying, leaving him with a mountain to climb to even score points, let alone win the race.

However, the Swiss driver produced a driving masterclass and was aided by a safety car period to come into contention late on, only for Bird to produce an equally-excellent display and keep his cool to win in Buenos Aires.

Bird led all but one lap of the race, dropping down to second when Nelson Piquet Jr. went one lap longer during the pit window, and managed to see off challenges from Nicolas Prost and Antonio Felix da Costa in the first half of the race.

Da Costa’s hopes of repeating his victory in Buenos Aires from 2015 were ended just before pitting when his car came to a halt, prompting the stewards to send out the safety car which bunched the field.

Buemi had fought his way up into the points from 18th on the grid by the time he came in to swap cars, and made light work of Stephane Sarrazin before setting his sights on perennial title rival Lucas di Grassi in second place.

An exquisite move into the hairpin saw Buemi move into P2, and despite appearing to have a pace advantage over Bird in the closing stages, the Briton put up an impenetrable defence to keep the Renault e.dams driver back on the final two laps.

Low on power, Buemi had to drop back at the final few corners, giving Bird the breathing room to take his third Formula E win and the first since the start of the DS Virgin partnership.

Di Grassi was unable to join the leading pair at the front for the last fight, dropping back to save power, but managed to finish third. Sarrazin finished fourth for Venturi ahead of Prost and Loic Duval, while Nick Heidfeld’s return from injury went well as he finished seventh.

Robin Frijns enjoyed a good start in the Andretti, running as high as fourth early on, but ultimately dropped back to finish seventh. Oliver Turvey and Bruno Senna rounded out the points in P9 and P10 respectively.

Jean-Eric Vergne bounced back from food poisoning overnight to finish 11th, narrowly missing out on points, while Nelson Piquet Jr. ended the race P13. Daniel Abt and Simona de Silvestro enjoyed quiet races en route to 13th and 14th, while Mike Conway blew his chance of points on debut with a late spin, dropping him to P15 at the end. Jerome d’Ambrosio was the last classified finisher in 16th place.

Manor WEC program launched

Photo: Manor
Photo: Manor
1 Comment

One of the intriguing elements to come out of yesterday’s entry list reveal for the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans was the confirmation of Manor in LMP2.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth hinted something new was up not long after the final Grand Prix of the season, when the pair took their bows from what had been the Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That “something” was revealed on Friday as an Oreca 05 Nissan in the stacked LMP2 class – a 10-car class – with Tor Graves, a past Manor driver, confirmed as the first new driver for the effort.

“We are delighted to be joining the World Endurance Championship. It is a fantastic series that visits iconic tracks all over the world. The level of competition is very high and we are really looking forward to racing again,” Booth said.

“The LMP2 class is specifically designed for teams independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers which places the focus firmly on how the team performs.

“I can’t wait to see the car running now. We have lots to do but we have a great team of people to get it all done.”

The team might be out before the Prologue test at Paul Ricard end of March, but it’s likely that test will mark the team’s first significant running. It should have its driver lineup settled by then, as well.

Lowdon, who’s been bit by the sports car racing bug, expanded on the announcement.

“It’s really great to be racing again and the FIA World Endurance Championship provides a fantastic challenge for us,” he said

“Preseason testing starts soon and there is a lot to do but we have never been afraid of a bit of hard work.

“There is a real buzz within the team at the moment, we have enjoyed great support from the fans over the last few months and we are very keen for them to get fully involved in what we are doing. We all have a great passion for motorsport and we are keen to share that passion.”