Denny Hamlin continues comeback with Coke 600 pole

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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.

Daniel Ricciardo to decide soon about moving from Red Bull to another F1 team

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) Daniel Ricciardo says over the next six weeks he wants to decide between staying at Red Bull or joining another Formula One team for next year.

Ricciardo said on Thursday at the French Grand Prix, “It would be nice to go on the summer break knowing what I am doing.”

F1 is working its way toward its three-week break in August with speculation mounting that Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren are interested in luring Ricciardo away from Red Bull for 2019.

“I will be honest, everyone is talking about Mercedes and Ferrari as potential places for me to go, and I am aware that there will be interest from other teams,” he said.

The Australian driver has won seven races in his four-plus seasons with Red Bull. He is fourth in the standings behind leader Sebastian Vettel heading into the race at the Paul Ricard Circuit near Marseille.

Ricciardo’s stock has risen in recent months after his victories in Shanghai and Monaco. His Monaco win was particularly impressive because Ricciardo had to deploy some masterful defensive driving to protect his lead after losing an estimated 25 percent of his engine power.

Ricciardo said he had not directly spoken to rivals Ferrari and Mercedes, but he hedged when asked if his manager had.

“People talk, have coffees, I will leave that one open-ended,” he said with a laugh.

Ricciardo called the decision on whether to go or stay with Red Bull the biggest choice of his career following his decision to leave his native Australia and continue his racing career in Europe over a decade ago.

“For sure the priority is to get a car to win the world title because I really believe I can,” he said. “I am slightly careful because it is easy to think the grass is greener and maybe it is, but I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change but just to make change for the sake of making a change is not enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it to jump ship.”

Red Bull announced recently it would be ending its 12-year partnership with engine-maker Renault and switching to Honda motors for next year.

Ricciardo was hesitant to endorse or criticize the change, saying he was going to “try to keep putting the pieces together if it is a good move.”

But with the question of the engine manufacturer out of the way, Ricciardo said Red Bull would likely be looking to resolve its drivers’ lineup for next year.

“I haven’t been pushed yet, but I would say that there will be some movement in the next week,” he said. “Whether that is something that gets put down on paper (or not), for sure the discussions will start to ramp up in the next few days.”