Denny Hamlin on pole for Fontana

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Denny Hamlin will start from the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway outside Los Angeles after throwing down a lap of 187.451 mph in today’s qualifying session.

Hamlin comes to Southern California after being involved in a post-race feud with former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano one week ago at Bristol Motor Speedway. He’ll share the front row with Greg Biffle on Sunday, but only momentarily — “The Biff,” as well as current championship leader Brad Keselowski (who had the third-fastest lap), will go to the rear of the field due to engine swaps before qualifying.

In addition to Hamlin’s pole run, JGR had a good Friday afternoon overall with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth claiming Top 5 starting spots as well. Logano qualified sixth, followed by Martin Truex Jr., defending Auto Club 400 champion Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch to fill the Top 10 starting positions.

Last week’s winner at Bristol, Kasey Kahne, qualified 16th and is slated to start on the outside of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Row 8. As for Danica Patrick, she’ll have to once again attempt to fight her way from the back after posting the 40th-quickest time.

Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.)
Sunday, 3 pm ET

Track Specs
2-mile oval
Turns: 14 degrees of banking
Frontstretch: 11 degrees
Backstretch: 3 degrees

Race Distance: 200 laps/400 miles

Defending Race Champion: Tony Stewart

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.