Dale Jr. claims Sprint Cup pole for Dover

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With his championship hopes seemingly all but extinguished, Chase contender Dale Earnhardt Jr. is setting his sights on winning races and letting the chips fall where they may.

The son of the Intimidator bagged his second Sprint Cup pole of 2013 earlier today at Dover International Speedway with a track-record lap of 161.522 miles per hour around the concrete “Monster Mile.”

Earnhardt finished sixth last weekend at New Hampshire, but still lost ground to Chase leader and good friend Matt Kenseth and now sits 62 points off the pace with eight races remaining in the season. But he maintains that fretting over the points picture is not of concern to him.

“We are just going to show up and try to run hard and be smart,” Earnhardt said Friday after his pole run. “If we can unload great cars like this it makes that all easier.

“We are going to try to win some races before the year is out. I would be really disappointed if we don’t win a race this season, because I think we are a better team than we were last year. I felt we’ve came so close so many times so we would just like to get out there and get some trophies. The points will take care of themselves when you are doing that.”

Meanwhile, Kenseth is once again seemingly in strong position this weekend after qualifying second with a lap at 161.805 miles per hour. The 2003 Cup champion, who has had a blazing start to the Chase with back-to-back wins at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, seemingly blamed himself for missing out on pole position for Sunday.

“You feel like, especially with me driving the car, we don’t get that many chances at the pole so I hate that we missed it by that little bit,” said Kenseth, who finished 40th this past summer at Dover due to an engine failure. “I probably steered [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] wrong a little bit and warmed up a little and just got too free.”

Four other Chasers will be among the Top 10 of the AAA 400 grid. Row 2 features Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards, while Jimmie Johnson starts eighth and Kurt Busch will start ninth. Non-Chase contenders in this part of the grid are Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski in Row 3, Jamie McMurray in seventh, and Martin Truex Jr. in 10th.

Other Chasers qualified as follows: Joey Logano in 11th, Kevin Harvick in 12th, Kyle Busch in 14th, Jeff Gordon in 16th, Greg Biffle in 19th, Kasey Kahne in 20th and Clint Bowyer in 23rd.

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