Mixed emotions for Stewart-Haas with near win, but double top-5

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Once Landon Cassill on old tires was done and disposed with, the two drivers that ascended to the lead at the end of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana were Stewart-Haas Racing’s pair of Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.

But while they both went for the lead into Turns 1 and 2, Stewart briefly emerging ahead before Busch powered through on corner exit, they’d eventually fall back into the clutches of a handful of other drivers.

At the end of this green-white-checkered shootout, Kyle Busch had the win ahead of Kyle Larson, with Kurt Busch third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Stewart down to fifth.

On the bright side, it was Kurt Busch’s first top 20 of 2014, and Stewart’s second straight top-five after ending fourth at Bristol one week ago.

Yet it could have been so much more.

“Unreal the amount of emotions of running well today, executing on pit road,” Busch said in the team’s post-race release. “Daniel Knost (crew chief) did a great job and this Haas Automation Chevy was fast and then to race your boss for a win. Neither one of us came home with the ‘W’ so we are both upset about that, but at the same time it was a genuine moment for Tony (Stewart) and I to race and to put it all out on the line for Stewart-Haas. I came home third, he came home fifth.”

As for the boss’ take: “It wasn’t very good at the beginning. I had a problem where I spun. Chad (Johnston, crew chief) thought it might’ve been a cut tire, and I had to tell him that it was just driver error. I messed up and spun early. The guys did an awesome job, but we kept fighting the balance (of the car). It was really loose off the corners. Chad kept working on it. We had really good pit stops when we needed it and got track position at the end, and Chad had another great call to get us another top-five.”

Danica Patrick ended a season-best 14th, while Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick had his third straight challenging weekend, as one of the several drivers affected by tire woes.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III