Denny Hamlin continues comeback with Coke 600 pole

0 Comments

The previous track record at Charlotte Motor Speedway was shredded by eight drivers during tonight’s qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600, but it was Denny Hamlin who came away with the pole for Sunday night’s event with a speed of 195.624 miles per hour in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Hamlin earned his first pole since March at Auto Club Speedway. That same weekend, he sustained a compression fracture in one of his vertebra in a last-lap crash. The injury knocked him out of action until May 5 at Talladega and kept him from running a full race distance until the next event at Darlington.

To Hamlin, a win in the 600 would be, in his words, “the validation that [he’s] truly back,” and it would also be a major boost in his efforts to climb into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“For me, it’s going to take some wins and some really good consistency throughout these summer months to put ourselves in position to have a chance at a championship,” said Hamlin. “That’s what we’re here for. Even these small victories though give me that confidence that I’m still capable, and I’m still able to do the job at 100 percent like I should be. Any kind of confidence booster for me — it’s always a plus on Sunday.”

Kurt Busch was second-quickest in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet at 195.221 miles per hour. The former Cup champion felt that he didn’t quite run the best line through Turns 3 and 4 during his qualifying attempt and was hoping to catch a break. Hamlin, however, didn’t give it to him.

“It was incredible to watch as [Hamlin’s] car hugged the line in [Turns] 3 and 4 exactly liked you would watch cars back in the day, like when Jeff Gordon in the ‘90’s would hunt that white line,” said Busch. “It was awesome. You knew that would be a fast lap. So, I didn’t do my job, but my team is doing an incredible job with fast cars week in and week out.”

Matt Kenseth qualified third and will share an all-Toyota Row 2 with Mark Martin. Clint Bowyer and defending 600 winner Kasey Kahne will go off from Row 3, followed by Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch in Row 4 and Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman in Row 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and last week’s All-Star Race winner Jimmie Johnson make up Row 6.

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
0 Comments

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.