Momentum continues for Stewart-Haas Racing after strong qualifying

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Tony Stewart’s pole for tomorrow’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is another sign that the newly expanded four-car squad at Stewart-Haas Racing is finding its stride.

Stewart in particular has been earning momentum in recent weeks with two Top-5s (fourth at Bristol, fifth at Fontana) in his last three races. But overall, SHR’s performance has improved markedly and they’re now sitting as the only team with multiple drivers effectively in the Chase after Kevin Harvick’s win at Phoenix and Kurt Busch’s win at Martinsville last week.

“I don’t think it’s any one thing,” said Stewart of his team’s resurgence. “Our cars have had speed. I mean, Kurt and Kevin have been qualifying well all year and this week, [the 14 team] had a good run. The good thing is it’s not just one team, it’s the whole organization is having a really good start as far as qualifying’s concerned.

“So, I don’t know if we can really point to one thing to be truthful…It’s early in the year, the atmosphere in our shop’s really good right now – it has been ever since the end of the season last year. It’s just a lot of new faces and with that, there’s kind of a new excitement around our shop and it seems to be translating to what we’re seeing on the race track.”

As for the early-season issues that SHR had to deal with – including a notably poor run for Stewart in Las Vegas due to car issues – “Smoke” said they were just byproducts of both the expansion of SHR to a four-car franchise and working with the new rules package.

“Everything that we did last year is kinda out the window and now you’re doing things that are totally different, and you’re not doing it for one car, you’re doing it for all four cars,” Stewart said. “There’s just been a lot of changes – obviously, adding the fourth team but changing things, set-ups from last year to this year.

“What happened to us in Vegas was something that nobody would’ve predicted would happen. The good thing is they found it when they got the car back to Charlotte, found what the problem was. We’ve learned those things early, so hopefully that won’t bite us later in the year.”

Harvick set a new track record in the first round of qualifying before winding up third on the grid for tomorrow’s race, while Busch also made the final round and qualified 11th (the fourth SHR driver, Danica Patrick, will start 24th).

In his post-qualifying comments, Harvick noted that Stewart’s pole was as “good as it gets for the organization” and that it was “a huge improvement” from where SHR was just a few weeks ago.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface as a team,” Harvick said. “We’re still trying to get all the cars built, everything organized, flowing exactly how it needs to flow in the shop with all the stuff that we’ve changed over the winter…Adding a whole new team and bringing in new crew chiefs.

“I think everybody’s getting their – as you can see with [Stewart] – just getting their feet on the ground and getting to where we’re competing for poles and competing for wins. Having speed in the car hasn’t been the issue for the 4 team as we’ve gone through the weeks, and we’ve just got a few things to clean up and things are gonna be coming together even better.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.