Multiple Chasers overcome adversity for critical results

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Winning may be more emphasized these days in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but when it comes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup – the 10-race stretch that determines the series’ champion – consistency is still king.

After today’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway went back to green around 10 p.m. ET following a five-hour-plus red flag period for rain, multiple contenders in the post-season field had to overcome assorted problems on the track and in the pits to get the good result they needed and avoid the bad one that could’ve put them in a big hole.

Third-place finisher Kevin Harvick (pictured) nearly ran into Dave Blaney on pit road during a congested stop under yellow at Lap 169, but still played a critical role in the outcome by pushing eventual race winner Matt Kenseth past Kyle Busch for the lead off a restart with 22 laps remaining.

“Our car was really good on the restarts, so you could pick a bunch of them off pretty easy there going into Turn 1 and 2,” Harvick said. All in all, it was a good night, just too loose at the end to run with those guys up off the corner, but still a good night.”

Also having to battle back was Kurt Busch, who was tagged with a speeding penalty on pit road early on in the race and was knocked all the way to 29th. However, when the race restarted after the red flag, Busch took a wave-around to get back on the lead lap.

From there, “The Outlaw” then went on a steady climb for the rest of the night, making his way into the Top 5 and locking down a solid fourth-place result.

“Top-5s are what it’s all about in the Chase,” said Kurt. “One down and nine to go. Just hats off to this crew. It’s a long day with rain delays and just in of focus, out of focus and we gave it our best effort.”

Next up in the “Overcoming Adversity” group was five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. During a stop on Lap 75, a NASCAR official reported that a lug nut was loose on one of Johnson’s tires; his team was able to prove that it was on.

Johnson lost only a few positions in that incident, but on another stop at Lap 149, a jack failure forced a lengthy wait for him and sent him down to 22nd. But his car came alive late, enabling Johnson to turn lemons into lemonade once again and claim fifth place.

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, also put on a comeback show. He was third coming to a restart with 95 laps to go but quickly dropped like a rock due to a flat left rear tire.

Gordon was put off-strategy because of that, and he needed a caution to get back in the game. He got it on Lap 226, when his HMS compadre, Dale Earnhardt Jr., suffered a major engine failure to bring out the yellow.

Lining up 18th for the restart with 37 laps remaining, Gordon would then show off the great pace he had all night in the closing stages. He moved into the Top 10 with 28 circuits to go and then went further up the pylon to an eventual finish of sixth.

“That was an incredible accomplishment,” an ecstatic Gordon said to ESPN. “It just shows how much fight this team has. They never give up.”

“To think of how far down we were with 40 laps to go…To be able to come up through there and get sixth and have a shot at a Top 5 was a lot of fun. That’s what we needed to get this thing started off right.”

These guys couldn’t win the Chase tonight at Chicagoland, but they could have darn sure lost it. Luckily for them and their teams, they can go on to New Hampshire next week with title hopes still intact.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds