For a while, it looked like a 13th different Sprint Cup driver would lock in a Chase berth with a victory tonight at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But instead, Joey Logano entered the 3-Win Club in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Logano took the lead with 45 laps to go and saw off a last-lap challenge from Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski to win the Irwin Tools Night Race – becoming the fifth different driver to win three races this year (Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr.).
Following a restart with 63 laps left, Logano quickly moved into the Top 5 and then dispatched Carl Edwards for second place before setting his sights on the winless Matt Kenseth.
After an extended period of working the inside line, Logano finally made it stick with 45 to go when he slid up in front of Kenseth to claim the lead.
But Logano still had to out-hustle former Cup champion Keselowski, who went in deep on the inside of Logano in Turns 3 and 4 on the last lap.
It was an admirable last-ditch effort, but Logano held firm and motored by on the high line to take his first career win at NASCAR’s most infamous half mile.
“I wasn’t sure when I woke up this morning if we had a winning car or not,” Logano said to ESPN in Victory Lane. “[Crew chief] Tod Gordon is a good salesman – he pretty much sold me into thinking I had a winning car and made some small adjustments with it all night, and we got our third win of the year.
“…This is like one of the three biggest races of the year – the Bristol night race. And to have this in the record books with your name on it, it’s just really, really cool.”
For Logano, the win seemed to come down to knowing when and when not to use patience. Off of the restart with 63 to go, Logano rocketed from the sixth position to second in the span of just a few laps.
But when he finally got near Kenseth, he didn’t push the issue immediately, instead waiting for a perfect opportunity to strike.
“On the restart when we were sixth, I said ‘I’ve got to capitalize right now,'” said Logano. “So I went as hard as I could, raced the 20 [Kenseth] really hard…I was trying to keep up with him for a while. The 20 was really fast.”
After Logano finally assumed the lead, it appeared the race was pretty much done. But with just a few laps left, he sensed something amiss with his No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford.
“I don’t know if it was brakes or a hub failing in the rear, but it started vibrating really bad, getting really loose,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Ugh, hold on, a couple more laps, couple more laps!’
“Of course, there’s always added drama at the end that you don’t want…I was just able to make it there at the end.”
As for Kenseth, he eventually settled for third position ahead of fourth-place Jimmie Johnson and fifth-place Kurt Busch.
However, Kenseth continued to solidify his hold on a Chase Grid position, extending his cushion over 17th place to a sizable 83 points.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bristol spring race winner Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, and Greg Biffle rounded out the Top 10.
McMurray, who pretty much needs a win to make the post-season, led a race-high 148 laps. But after pitting for four fresh tires under a caution with less than 70 laps to go, he took the restart in fifth and couldn’t recover the lost track position.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT BRISTOL – Irwin Tools Night Race Unofficial Results
1. 22-Joey Logano, led 76 laps
2. 2-Brad Keselowski, led 46 laps
3. 20-Matt Kenseth, led 62 laps
4. 48-Jimmie Johnson
5. 41-Kurt Busch
6. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
7. 99-Carl Edwards
8. 1-Jamie McMurray, led 148 laps
9. 27-Paul Menard
10. 16-Greg Biffle
11. 4-Kevin Harvick, led 75 laps
12. 42-Kyle Larson
13. 31-Ryan Newman
14. 47-AJ Allmendinger ONE LAP DOWN
15. 14-Jeff Burton
16. 24-Jeff Gordon, led 17 laps TWO LAPS DOWN
17. 15-Clint Bowyer
18. 95-Michael McDowell THREE LAPS DOWN
19. 51-Justin Allgaier
20. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
21. 55-Brian Vickers
22. 40-Landon Cassill FOUR LAPS DOWN
23. 34-David Ragan
24. 36-Reed Sorenson FIVE LAPS DOWN
25. 38-David Gilliland
26. 13-Casey Mears SEVEN LAPS DOWN
27. 10-Danica Patrick
28. 3-Austin Dillon EIGHT LAPS DOWN
29. 98-Josh Wise
30. 26-Cole Whitt NINE LAPS DOWN
31. 33-David Stremme
32. 23-Alex Bowman, Lap 489
33. 32-JJ Yeley, Lap 489
34. 9-Marcos Ambrose, Lap 480
35. 5-Kasey Kahne, Lap 477, led 40 laps
36. 18-Kyle Busch, Lap 442, Accident, led 8 laps
37. 83-Ryan Truex, Lap 338, Engine
38. 7-Michael Annett, Lap 243, Accident
39. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., Lap 176, Accident
40. 11-Denny Hamlin, led 28 laps, Lap 160 Accident
41. 43-Aric Almirola, Lap 123, Accident
42. 66-Brett Moffitt, Lap 78, Engine
43. 37-Dave Blaney, Lap 37, Overheating
Lewis Hamilton was left confused and disappointed after finishing half a second behind pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel in Formula 1 qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Hamilton arrived in Russia looking to cut the gap to Ferrari driver Vettel in the championship standings after falling seven points behind last time out in Bahrain.
Vettel rallied to take his first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday in Sochi, while Hamilton finished half a second back in fourth place, lagging behind Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton has long stated his desire to have Ferrari fighting with Mercedes at the front of the pace, but he was disappointed not to be able to fight Vettel for pole in Russia.
“This means we have a real race. It’s just a shame today, I definitely wasn’t at my optimum,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the session.
“Normally I’m a lot quicker than I was today. I need to go and work out why and if I can do anything.
“Obviously I can’t change the car, so I’ll see what I can do tomorrow.”
Speaking in Mercedes’ post-qualifying release, Hamilton said that he is hopeful of making use of the long straights at the Sochi Autodrom to catch and pass the Ferrari driver, with Mercedes bidding to maintain a 100 per cent record at the track.
“Sochi isn’t the easiest track to follow on, but there are long straights which should offer the opportunity to move forward. That’s our goal,” Hamilton said.
“I’m on the dirty side of the grid so I haven’t done myself any favours off the start. But that was the best job I could do today. We’ve got a real race to look forward to.
“There’s no point being upset. We’ll channel our positive energy and hopefully Sunday will be better.”
The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.
Kimi Raikkonen was left lamenting traffic at the start of his final qualifying run in Sochi after narrowly missing out on his first Formula 1 pole in almost nine years.
Raikkonen last started a grand prix from pole in France back in 2008, but sat on provisional pole after the first Q3 runs had been completed in Russia on Saturday.
The final laps saw Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel improve to wrestle pole away, with a mistake sending Raikkonen wide at the final corner, meaning he was unable to improve.
Raikkonen was left to settle for second place, 0.059 seconds off Vettel’s time, with the Finn saying his inability to get his tires up to temperature early was the main issue.
“Obviously the aim is to be in the front. The feeling has been more better this weekend,” Raikkonen explained.
“Now we just got some traffic on our out lap in the last set and couldn’t really make the tires work as well as the first run. It was a bit more trickier. They were thereabouts and I just about got it back in the last corner, but obviously didn’t pay off.
“I’m happier than previous qualifyings, but obviously we had all the tools to be in the front today. One-two for the team is not bad.”
While Raikkonen was unable to take pole, Ferrari did capture its first front-row lock-out since the race at Magny-Cours in 2008. Raikkonen took pole that day ahead of teammate Felipe Massa, with the latter going on to win the race.
The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel was quick to heap praise on the Ferrari Formula 1 team after taking his second pole position for the Italian marque in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Vettel edged teammate Kimi Raikkonen by just 0.059 seconds in the final stage of qualifying to grab his first pole position since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, heading up a Ferrari one-two, the first since France 2008.
The result saw Ferrari end Mercedes’ 18-race streak of pole positions and continue its impressive start to the season that has seen Vettel win two of the first three races.
“I had a good start to the session to qualifying this afternoon,” Vettel explained. “I was feeling reasonably comfortable. Then I think in Q2 I lost a little bit the rhythm, so my final run in Q2 which I thought would give me enough of an idea for Q3 for the final segment would put me in place, but it went wrong. I locked up and lost a bit the rhythm.
“Then in Q3, the first run was not really tidy, so I left it to the end. Then I got a good lap in and improved in the final sector, made up some time from the lap before. I knew it would be tight, I knew also that I would be the first one to cross the line.
“By going quicker than what I saw on the screen before with Kimi, I knew that for now I’m ahead, but then I immediately opened the radio and asked about everyone else, ‘tell me about the others!’, and then my race engineer Ricardo told me they are closing the lap, closing the lap, I said ‘yeah let me know, how are the sectors, how are the split times!’ The first one I got was Valtteri, who didn’t manage to improve, and then when I got the message that we got it, I was over the moon.”
Vettel thanked the Ferrari team that had put together the SF70H car, but stressed that there are no points awarded for Saturday.
“Big thank you to the team, I think the car was phenomenal this afternoon. It really was a pleasure to take a seat and go around with low fuel and just try and push it to the limit,” Vettel said.
“If you have rhythm here it’s just fantastic. Glad I got it back, and big thanks to the team. It’s a team effort and a great result for us to have both cars on the front row. It’s only part of the job. The main job is tomorrow, but for now, yeah, it’s an important step.
“We managed to improve a little bit. Maybe the circuit came our way as well. But it’s a very good result and I’m sure everyone is very happy and very proud, so we’ll enjoy that, but in a couple of hours obviously start focusing on the race.”
The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.
AVONDALE, Ariz. – The word “retire” is often thrown around to describe Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, as the longtime friends and rivals are now almost a quarter of the way through their 20th seasons in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
One of the great aspects about them both is that while they’ve endured through so much change in IndyCar, the series, their competitiveness, banter and great form is still as evident now as when they were kids being groomed for success in the Indy Lights series, as teammates for Steve Horne’s Tasman Motorsports.
Since 1998, IndyCar’s been through a boatload of different sponsors, drivers, teams, chassis, engine manufacturers, series chiefs, marketing firms, buzzwords, rivals, controversies, question marks and fantastic finishes.
But this pair of Brazilians, friends since before they were teenagers, has been a guarantee to endure.
Fittingly, then, in a city whose track’s history with North American open-wheel racing dates to the 1960s, the weekend kicked off with an homage to the two Brazilians at the Heard Museum, moderated by veteran broadcaster Gary Gerould.
These two hesitate to use the word “old” even though they are both north of 40 years old – and as Dario Franchitti joked, “no one knows how old Tony really is” – yet continue to kick ass on a weekly basis.
Before their CART and IndyCar careers started, only one of them was going to win the 1997 Indy Lights title, both in their second seasons. And although Castroneves – then hyphenated as Castro-Neves – held a three-two win advantage, Kanaan won the championship by just four points.
Not that Castroneves thought it was all fair and square, as he joked going into Thursday night.
“I didn’t win the championship because I didn’t finish where I needed to,” he told NBC Sports. “On the celebration lap, the cool down lap, I saw something stuck on his hula hoop – or roll hoop. I stopped and after that we talked about it, ‘Tony, I meant to ask you a question, you’ve got something stuck?’
“Man, I’m telling you we didn’t have HANS devices at the time. To try to disrupt the whole rhythm and get a caution I think he was going to throw his neck support! His plan didn’t work out – he got stuck. So it was funny!”
Kanaan, who won the championship over him, noted how intense the battle between the two really was because they were unsure what would happen if only one of them made it to IndyCar.
“Probably the best was the year we were going for the Indy Lights championship in ’97,” Kanaan recalled to NBC Sports during this year’s St. Petersburg weekend.
“That was ‘make it or break it’ for us. We actually got told that year that whoever won the championship was going to get a chance in IndyCar. At the time, in our heads, it was only going to be one of us. And we were going head-to-head. We had the same equipment. I ended up winning, but we both moved up.”
They survived that run in Horne’s team’s base of Columbus, Ohio – as the two of them joked Thursday night, there was not much to do – and then were in a sense lucky to both be able to advance into IndyCar the following year.
“Without Steve, we wouldn’t be anywhere,” Kanaan admitted. “It was a combination of Philip Morris in Brazil and him, But, he was the one who had a good team that picked us. We went to a test and it was ten guys and he hand-picked me and Helio out of those ten guys and gave us the opportunity. Without him, I definitely wouldn’t be here.”
Not that Castroneves would be sold short either. He pushed through in that aforementioned test at Firebird Raceway’s East road course – south of Phoenix – with a rib injury. While he exited the car in pain, the determination and pace shown was enough to justify Horne’s faith.
Horne was among many who paid tribute to the two Thursday night in a prerecorded message, and also gave them stick for when they collided on the first lap of an Indy Lights race in Toronto in 1996. Castroneves led Kanaan in a 1-2 in Toronto a year later, which was a welcome payback.
Others included two of Kanaan’s past teammates in Franchitti and Bryan Herta, part of Andretti Autosport (then Andretti Green’s Racing) fabled four-car lineup in the mid-2000s, and Franchitti’s old teammate and current NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy. “PT” had perhaps the best one-liner of the night when he took the opportunity to ask Castroneves how he was taking care of his 2002 Borg-Warner Trophy, as Tracy always felt as though he and not Castroneves was the rightful winner of that year’s Indianapolis 500.
The one shock bit of news that came out Thursday night had nothing to do with the on-track product these two drivers have delivered. It came with the off-track product Castroneves uses to keep his hair as magical as it is.
“Bedheaded,” he laughed, which caught most of the room off guard. “It doesn’t take as long as you think to get it ready. People think it takes a long time but it’s quick.”
The two drivers reflected on their careers. Castroneves has spent all but two seasons with Team Penske; that incredible 18-year run, and counting, came after a year apiece with the midfield Bettenhausen Motorsports and Hogan Racing teams in the 1990s, where he scored his first career podiums. Sadly, with Tony Bettenhausen Jr. having died in an early 2000 plane crash and Carl Hogan dying a year later, his first two owners have long since been unable to see his career rise. His Penske opportunity also arose from tragedy with Greg Moore’s 1999 fatal accident in Fontana, but having been in the right place at the right time, he seized his chance.
Kanaan, meanwhile, had his heyday at Andretti after five stop-start years with Tasman, McDonald’s Championship Racing (a Forsythe satellite team, where he won his first race in 1999 at Michigan) and Mo Nunn Racing that always saw him showcase a lot of potential, but not consistent results. His post-Andretti career saw his attempt to lift KV Racing Technology to the top of the ascendancy, and did when he and the KVSH Racing effort broke through in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 – a result, as it turned out, which extended the careers of both entities when it was possible mid-2013 could have been the end for both.
A late career renaissance has occurred with Chip Ganassi Racing, Kanaan having been meant to be added in a fourth car for 2014 but shifted to become Franchitti’s replacement in the No. 10 car once injuries forced the champion Scot into retirement.
Castroneves holds the wins, poles and Indianapolis 500 victories edge, but Kanaan’s got two championships – one each in IndyCar and Indy Lights – that remain elusive for Castroneves.
Yes, they haven’t won since 2014 and yes, the questions are always whether they should move on and provide an opportunity for the younger crowd to step up to two of the primo, marquee seats in IndyCar.
But the younger drivers who have raced against them over the years will likely tell you that if you’ve beaten Castroneves and Kanaan, you’ve beaten two of the best. Doing so at Indy, where both drivers have starred and have a combined four wins, is even more of a successful feather in the cap.
Said Kanaan about his future, “In my mind, I’m still very young. I take care of myself a lot. I think I’m still in the game. I think I still I had a decent season last year, despite not getting a win. So, as long as I feel this way, I’m going to keep going. So, how I feel…I feel great.
“We’re raising the bar, between some guys in IndyCar and some guys in NASCAR, with how much we do nowadays to keep ourselves in shape. So, as long my reflexes and my health allow me to do it and I still have the motivation to stay away from the house…once this starts to weigh over me then it will be time to start thinking about that. But I still have the desire, especially with two young kids at home, I want to be on the road!”
And Castroneves added, “I was talking to someone else regarding our lives. We’re friends. We’re competing for the same job. The same seat. We were in separate parallel series, we were teammates, then we had a rivalry, and we have had all these scenarios together.
“But one thing I feel is awesome, we both work really hard and achieve the goals we’re looking for. And we still get it done!”