Carl Edwards tops Friday PM practice at Vegas

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In yesterday’s test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Roush Fenway Racing drivers were 27th, 29th, and 34th on the time charts.

That made the slowest of those three, Greg Biffle, a little pessimistic about his team’s chances this weekend on the 1.5-mile Vegas oval. But he also noted the difficulties of finding the Gen-6 car’s sweet spot.

“These cars are really, really finicky,” he said yesterday. “We know that, so that speed could just come up somewhere and that’s what we’re hoping for.”

And what do you know – it did. At least for this afternoon’s Sprint Cup practice session, in which all three Roush Fenway drivers cracked the Top 10 in speeds.

Carl Edwards (27th-fastest yesterday) topped the session with a lap of 191.980 miles per hour in his No. 99 Ford Fusion, ahead of Team Penske’s Joey Logano (191.320 mph) and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (191.137).

RFR’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (29th-fastest yesterday) was fourth-fastest at 190.873 mph, and Biffle himself was 10th-fastest (189.887 mph).

So perhaps the RFR camp indeed will have something for the field in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at LVMS, a track where they’ve won seven times (tops among all teams). That said, the team is coming off a down year on the intermediate tracks such as Vegas, which have traditionally been RFR’s strongest suit.

Other notables on this afternoon’s time sheets included defending Las Vegas race champion Matt Kenseth in 8th (189.947 mph), Danica Patrick in 13th (189.760 mph), current Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 19th (189.076 mph), and last week’s winner Kevin Harvick in 20th (189.056).

The first three-round run of NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying format will begin later today at 6:40 p.m. ET.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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