Harvick leads Thursday Las Vegas test (UPDATED)

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Kevin Harvick has carried in some Phoenix momentum early in the Las Vegas weekend.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led Thursday’s four-hour test session for this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In 42 laps, Harvick was the only driver to set a lap north of 190mph, at 190.148 at the 1.5-mile oval.

Harvick’s pace was best on a day that provided the first real chance at a race weekend for teams to get a better handle on the new aerodynamic adjustments implanted by NASCAR’s competition department.

Changes to the intermediate track rules package, per NASCAR, include statically setting the race car ride height, a square leading edge on the splitter, side skirt and rear fascia adjustments and an eight-inch rear spoiler. A 43-inch by 13-inch radiator pan rounds out changes for 2014.

“We were three or four tenths off [at the start of the test] and had to kind of abort on what we were doing and go a different route,” Harvick said, via a NASCAR release. “The next route was not as good and the third route finally wound up being good.”

Harvick’s old ride – the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet now driven by Austin Dillon – clocked in second at 189.540.

Chevrolets and Toyotas dominated the top 10, with Trevor Bayne in third the only Ford among the fastest runners of the day. Bayne’s best speed was 188.620.

Ryan Newman (RCR) and Danica Patrick (SHR) completed the top five.

Spots 6-10 were occupied by Cole Whitt (Swan Racing), AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing), Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton (Michael Waltrip Racing) and 2013 Las Vegas winner Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing).

Josh Wise (Phil Parsons Racing) and Michael McDowell (Leavine Family Racing) were respectable 11th and 12th in the single-car, lesser budget operations.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 19th. 48 cars took times on the day, ahead of the weekend.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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