New Hampshire Update: Truex leading at halfway

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Days after the announcement that his main sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, would leave Michael Waltrip Racing at year’s end, Martin Truex Jr. has had a strong afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and led the Sylvania 300 – the second race in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup – at halfway.

Early morning rains eventually gave way to partly cloudy skies at the start, but also forced the Sprint Cup contingent to start on a green track for the second consecutive week. On Lap 3, Kasey Kahne was able to make the move past pole sitter Ryan Newman for the lead, with Jeff Gordon heading past Newman for second place shortly after.

Newman eventually settled in fourth position behind Kahne, Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. when a caution came out at Lap 30 for a Turn 4 spin involving Josh Wise. NASCAR had originally set a competition caution to be thrown anyway at that point of the race because of the aforementioned rain.

Kahne was able to keep the lead after the first round of pit stops, while Gordon narrowly missed hitting the pit crew of Mark Martin after contact with David Ragan following his stop; Gordon fell back to seventh for the restart on Lap 36, which saw Truex whip past Kahne for the lead coming out of Turn 2.

Truex had no chance to build up a gap as the yellow emerged again on Lap 37 for a two-car incident involving Jamie McMurray and Kevin Swindell. McMurray had contact with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and backed into the Turn 4 wall, with Swindell then hitting him and causing considerable front-end damage to his own car.

The green flag run after that yellow was also short-lived, as Bobby Labonte suffered a tire failure and then had contact with David Gilliland before hitting the frontstretch wall at Lap 52. Labonte was making his return to on-track competition after missing several races due to three broken ribs from a cycling accident; he was checked, cleared and released from the infield care center.

Truex quickly pulled away off the restart at Lap 60, leaving Kahne and Newman to fight it out for second place before the former grabbed the position. Chase leader Matt Kenseth also got by Newman for third before the field started to shake out into largely single-file racing.

Truex, Kahne and Kenseth remained the Top 3 of the race as it passed over the 100-lap mark as part of a long, caution-free run. Truex would give up the lead for service on Lap 110, but would return to the point after Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t get a yellow to get back on the same strategy as the leaders and had to pit himself at Lap 129.

At Lap 150 of 300, Truex was leading Kenseth, followed by Brad Keselowski in third after starting 20th, early leader Kahne in fourth, and Gordon in fifth.

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