Kurt Busch tops “Happy Hour” at Pocono

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Kurt Busch certainly hasn’t been lacking in the speed department as of late, and he was at the top of the charts again during final practice for tomorrow’s Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway. “The Outlaw” went P1 in the session with a lap at 175.333 miles per hour around the triangular 2.5-mile oval.

“The guys just keep bringing fast cars,” Busch told SPEED Channel afterwards. “It’s really nice to drive consistent week in and week out, and then we polish up on some items once we unload. We’re just a little warm on the brakes right now. [We have] just a couple more maintenance items that we have to throw at the car because it’ll be a lot warmer tomorrow with the sunshine out.”

After rain washed out all on-track activity on Friday, Pocono is expected to see drier, sunnier conditions for Sunday’s 400-mile main event. At 17th in the Sprint Cup points, Busch is aiming for a critical victory that can get him into contention for a wild-card spot in the Chase.

Jimmie Johnson, who will start on pole following Friday’s washout, was second-quickest in “Happy Hour” with a lap at 175.305 mph. Carl Edwards was third-fastest (175.206 mph), followed by last week’s winner Tony Stewart in P4 (175.159 mph) and one of Stewart’s teammates, Ryan Newman, in fifth (174.988 mph).

Defending race champion Joey Logano was 15th-quickest in the session. He’ll now head off to the 7/8-mile Iowa Speedway in order to qualify and race in tonight’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event there, then come back to Pocono for Sunday’s Cup race.

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”