Kenseth, Logano top final Sprint Cup practice; Tony Stewart 18th-fastest

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano put the Happy in Happy Hour Saturday evening at Atlanta Motor Speedway, setting the top speeds in the final tuneup for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500.

Kenseth topped the 43 drivers that took laps with a speed of 188.251 mph, followed by Logano at 187.869 mph.

Kenseth, who won a series-high seven races last season, is still looking for his first win of 2014.

Logano, meanwhile, is still riding the momentum from his win last Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin was third-fastest (187.114 mph), followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon (186.956) and Jimmie Johnson (186.855).

Sixth- through 10th-fastest were Kyle Larson (186.761), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (186.190), Carl Edwards (186.028), Brad Keselowski (185.834) and Kyle Busch (185.791), who made a significant gain after being 22nd-fastest in the earlier practice in the day.

Marcos Ambrose was 11th-fastest (185.449), followed by Austin Dillon (185.430), Greg Biffle (185.412), Martin Truex Jr. (185.189) and Aric Almirola (185.139).

Brian Vickers was 16th-fastest (185.127), followed by Ryan Newman (184.806), Tony Stewart (184.720), Paul Menard (184.542) and Jamie McMurray (184.480).

Stewart is back to racing after missing the last three events (Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol) due to the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy.

Other notables included:

Kasey Kahne was 21st-fastest (184.407), followed by three Stewart-Haas racing teammates all in a row: Kurt Busch (184.131), Kevin Harvick (183.473) and Danica Patrick (183.339).

Ty Dillon, who will make his first career Sprint Cup start on Sunday, was 28th-fastest (182.362).

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Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.