Pocono Update: Johnson cuts tire, hits wall to bring out yellow at halfway

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The GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway is under yellow at the halfway mark after race leader Jimmie Johnson suffered an apparent right-front tire failure and took bodywork damage after brushing the Turn 2 wall. After his crew worked to tape up the damaged section of his car, he finds himself in 28th.

As a result of Johnson’s incident, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne leads at halfway, followed by Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and last week’s winner, Ryan Newman.

The race got off to a ragged start with two incidents within the first 15 laps. Moments after the green flag, Ricky Stenhouse slid into the Turn 1 wall in an incident that also involved Juan Pablo Montoya and Matt Kenseth. Then on Lap 14, Denny Hamlin got loose in Turn 3 and slid up into the wall, knocking him out of the race.

Johnson chose to stay out on the track during the Hamlin caution, as did Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and three others.  On Lap 34, Johnson relinquished the lead to come to pit road under green, but retook it on Lap 48 after the pit cycle ended.

Lap 53 saw David Gilliland tag the wall in Turn 2 to bring out the third yellow of the day. Strategy shuffled the field once more as Johnson opted to pit and second-place Keselowski decided to stay out and take the point.

When the green came back out at Lap 58, the Top 11 drivers were the ones who didn’t pit under the Gilliland caution. Kurt Busch took 2 tires to win the race off pit road and restarted 12th, while Johnson was 13th after taking four tires.

Kahne put up a strong challenge against Keselowski off the restart and was able to get in front of the reigning Sprint Cup champion in Turn 1 at Lap 59. He then promptly stretched out his advantage to several seconds until he gave up the lead to pit on Lap 71.

That was part of a green pit cycle for those that didn’t pit on the previous yellow, enabling Johnson to return to the front at Lap 74. But two laps later, he went into the Turn 2 fence to bring out the most recent caution.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.