Joey Logano wins Vegas pole, Penske claims front row again

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For the second consecutive weekend, Team Penske will lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup field to the green flag. But this time, it’ll be Joey Logano going off from the pole position.

With about one minute remaining in the five-minute final round of knockout qualifying, Logano threw down a lap of 193.278 miles per hour to take the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway away from teammate Brad Keselowski.

It marks Logano’s eighth career Sprint Cup pole.

“I told Brad, ‘It’s one to one now,'” Logano told PRN Radio afterwards. “This whole Penske team is amazing. It’s a privilege to drive these cars. Two weeks in a row starting 1-2, that means a lot.

“Obviously, we haven’t won on Sunday so we have to figure that part out. But we got a lot of speed in our race cars and I’m really excited about it. These guys have been working really hard. It’s just a lot of fun to drive their race car and I can’t wait until Sunday.”

Keselowski, who won the pole last week at Phoenix, took the near-miss for pole in stride.

“I wouldn’t say I let him [win the pole], but he did a good job of executing,” the 2012 Sprint Cup champion said to PRN. “I was just a little bit off on my lap. But it’s good to have two good bullets and [Team Penske] has that with the 2 [Keselowski] and the 22 [Logano] this weekend.”

Clint Bowyer and rookie Austin Dillon will roll off from Row 2, while defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. start from Row 3.

Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola, Brian Vickers, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the Top 12, which made it into the last of the three qualifying rounds that took place today.

Narrowly missing that Round 3 cut were Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will start 13th and 14th respectively. Kevin Harvick, who was fastest in yesterday’s test session and won last week at Phoenix, will start behind them in 16th position.

Other notables include: NBC Sports’ own Jeff Burton in 19th, Vegas natives Kyle and Kurt Busch in 20th and 23rd respectively, Danica Patrick in 22nd, Tony Stewart in 24th, Denny Hamlin in 27th and defending Las Vegas race winner Matt Kenseth in 29th.

KOBALT 400 – LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Starting Grid
1. Joey Logano
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Austin Dillon
5. Jimmie Johnson
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
7. Jamie McMurray
8. Aric Almirola
9. Brian Vickers
10. Ryan Newman
11. Carl Edwards
12. Martin Truex Jr.
13. Kasey Kahne
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
15. Jeff Gordon
16. Kevin Harvick
17. Kyle Larson
18. A.J. Allmendinger
19. Jeff Burton
20. Kyle Busch
21. Paul Menard
22. Danica Patrick
23. Kurt Busch
24. Tony Stewart
25. Greg Biffle
26. David Ragan
27. Denny Hamlin
28. Cole Whitt
29. Matt Kenseth
30. Casey Mears
31. Josh Wise
32. Parker Kligerman
33. David Gilliland
34. Trevor Bayne
35. Michael McDowell
36. Alex Bowman
37. Justin Allgaier
38. Michael Annett
39. Ryan Truex
40. Reed Sorenson
41. Timmy Hill
42. Travis Kvapil
43. Marcos Ambrose

Did Not Qualify
Blake Koch, Landon Cassill, Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, J.J. Yeley

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