Ryan Newman rockets to top of speed charts (179.167 mph) in Darlington Happy Hour

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NASCAR’s rocket man, Ryan Newman, lived up to his nickname in Friday’s Happy Hour final practice for Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

In his first season for Richard Childress Racing, Newman took just nine laps of practice, but his seventh lap was the overall fastest of the entire field at 179.167 mph. No other driver exceeded 179 mph in the one hour session.

Second-fastest was a surprisingly stout effort by Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcus Ambrose, who grazed the wall once during his five-lap spin, yet still managed to top everyone else in the field other than Newman at 178.978 mph.

Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon was third-fastest at 178.906 mph. Gordon is the winningest active driver at Darlington with seven career Cup wins there.

NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson holds the all-time wins mark at the so-called “Track Too Tough to Tame” with 10 victories during his illustrious career.

He’s looking not only for his eighth career win there Saturday, but is also seeking to become the eighth different race winner in the Cup series in as many races this season.

Kyle Busch was fourth-fastest at 178.802 mph, followed by Monday’s race winner at Texas, Joey Logano, at 178.731 mph.

Other runs of note:

* Aric Almirola, RPM’s other driver, was sixth-fastest at 178.562.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr., still smarting from the driving mistake he made at Texas that left him with a last-place finish, was 11th-fastest at 178.200 mph.

* Three-time Darlington winner and six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson was 13th-fastest at 177.955 mph.

* Rookie Kyle Larson, who hit the wall in the first practice session Friday morning, bounced back for 16th-fastest in the second session at 177.742 mph.

* While most drivers put in between five and 20 runs, Kevin Harvick, who has struggled since his win earlier this season at Phoenix, did an eye-popping 63 laps around the so-called Lady In Black.

Here’s the complete run-down of the 44 drivers who took practice laps. Remember, qualifying for Saturday’s race will be tonight.

1 Ryan Newman 179.167 mph

2 Marcos Ambrose 178.978

3 Jeff Gordon 178.906

4 Kyle Busch 178.802

5 Joey Logano 178.731

6 Aric Almirola 178.562

7 Austin Dillon 178.543

8 Jamie McMurray 178.439

9 Kasey Kahne 178.400

10 Kurt Busch 178.206

 

11 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 178.200

12 Clint Bowyer 177.974

13 Jimmie Johnson 177.955

14 Brian Vickers 177.916

15 Paul Menard 177.762

16 Kyle Larson 177.742

17 Martin Truex Jr. 177.665

18 Justin Allgaier 177.595

19 Denny Hamlin 177.435

20 AJ Allmendinger 177.396

 

21 Casey Mears 177.358

22 Greg Biffle 177.185

23 Carl Edwards 177.070

24 Tony Stewart 176.759

25 Brad Keselowski 176.714

26 Matt Kenseth 176.549

27 David Ragan 176.006

28 Josh Wise 175.786

29 Kevin Harvick 175.779

30 Parker Kligerman 175.466

 

31 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 175.334

32 Alex Bowman 174.954

33 Dave Blaney 174.941

34 Danica Patrick 174.711

35 Michael Annett 174.699

36 David Reutimann 174.303

37 Ryan Truex 174.007

38 Cole Whitt 173.920

39 David Gilliland 173.773

40 David Stremme 173.571

 

41 Travis Kvapil 173.522

42 Reed Sorenson 173.430

43 Joe Nemecheck 173.399

44 Landon Cassill 170.691

 

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INDYCAR’S contract at Laguna Seca not affected by new track management

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INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports.com that INDYCAR’s season-ending race at WeatherTech Raceway in Monterey, California is not in any type of jeopardy after Monterey County officials sought a new management company for the Laguna Seca facility.

After 62 years of continuous management of the Laguna Seca Raceway, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) was advised via email by County of Monterey Assistant County Administrative Officer (ACAO) Dewayne Woods last month. The email said, “…the County is now in negotiations with another proposer for management services at Laguna Seca Recreational Area.”

At a November 19 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, a proposal centered on Monterey County’s direct management of the Raceway and Recreation Area.  The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to have a management group led by Monterey businessman John Narigi take over for SCRAMP.

The NTT IndyCar Series returned to Laguna Seca in September for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. It was the first time IndyCar had competed at Laguna Seca since September 12, 2004 after it had been a regular on the CART schedule from 1983 to 2004.

NBC Sports.com asked Miles if the new management group would impact the multi-year contract at the picturesque road course near Monterey, California.

“I’m happy to answer that,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “We have following the situation closely for several months. At this point, we don’t have any concerns. Our sanctioning agreement is with the county and not was not with SCRAMP. The county is excited about the event and looking forward to the next edition in 2020.

“The county has appointed a new management team for the operation of the facility. There is plenty of work to do on their part and on our part to make sure they understand the requirements for the event and to make sure they execute well.

“The event is certainly going on. The financial underpinnings and the contractual obligations are between us and the county. They think they have selected the best possible management team and we look forward to working with them.”

Miles said INDYCAR vice president of promoter and media partner relations Stephen Starks has been working directly with the new management group at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

“The agreement is between us and the county and the county is absolutely comitted and excited about the future, they have appointed a new management team at Laguna Seca, and we look forward to working with them,” Miles said.

INDYCAR officials believe the series return to Laguna Seca was very successful in terms of promotion and spectator turnout.

“We were really pleased,” Miles said. “I think we under-estimated how outstanding it is both for the race and for the venue and the region. I thought it was better than we expected but it bodes well for the future.

“We’re going to be looking at how to take better advantage of it in the promotion of the series.

“There is plenty of room for growth and they will find ways to manage that from a traffic perspective,” Miles said. “We thought it was a great success. We think it can be even bigger. We have the commitment of the county and look forward to working with the new management team.”

Miles and INDYCAR are optimistic of continued success at WeatherTech Raceway with new management. However, the decision to end a 62-year relationship with SCRAMP was a surprise.

“This news comes as a surprise to the SCRAMP organization,” said Tim McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and SCRAMP, who took over the position in June 2018. “We were starting to make real progress on getting the facility and the raceway operations turned around and poised for the future, but it appears at this time we may not have the opportunity to see these plans through.”

SCRAMP believed the Monterey County Board of Supervisors denied the chance for it to continue with its plan.

“As the existing facility operator, we were stunned by the fact that we were not provided the opportunity to discuss our proposal with the ACAO,” McGrane said. “The entire process has been unconventional, ranging from the bypassing of the County’s usual Request For Proposal (RFP) process, the announcement in mid-October requesting proposals from any interested parties with only two weeks’ notice, and complaints that SCRAMP had not met deadlines to submit a proposal when in fact a submission date had been agreed upon in May, and subsequently met, has been challenging.

“We have been in this position before with the County administration, but we, our fans, racing series and teams, do have to look at the possibility of the era of SCRAMP operating Laguna Seca Raceway coming to an end.”

In 2015, Monterey County began private talks with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) who, after a careful review of the operational parameters of the facility, determined not to submit a formal proposal for management of the track. In 2016, the Monterey County Administrators Office entered into negotiations with another group to replace SCRAMP for 2017 but were unable to agree to terms that were mutually acceptable. The County then reverted back to a three-year agreement with SCRAMP to continue running Laguna Seca.

According to a statement from SCRAMP, in 2018, the SCRAMP-run Laguna Seca Raceway attracted 263,888 attendees and generated $84.4 million in direct spending generated by event attendees over 26 days of the seven major events. 2019 saw SCRAMP orchestrate the long-awaited and highly successful return of IndyCars to Laguna Seca, with a larger than anticipated spectator count for the weekend.

2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

“We’ve delivered an extensive, forward-looking proposal to the County for a new, long-term 20-year management and operating agreement that incorporates solid plans for revenue generation and expense reduction, expansion of the use of existing facilities, and development of Laguna Seca into a world-class destination,” said CEO McGrane. “We are building the right team, both paid staff and volunteers, with extensive motorsports experience, institutional knowledge, and the dedication to lead this important Monterey County asset into a successful future. We hope we still have the opportunity to present our plans directly to the County Board of Supervisors and we would be proud to continue SCRAMP’s 62-year stewardship of Laguna Seca on behalf of Monterey County.”

The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, a 501(c)4 not-for-profit, was formed in 1957 by local business owners and civic leaders. SCRAMP’s goal was to raise the funds needed to construct a permanent motor racing circuit to maintain the tradition of sports car racing on the Monterey Peninsula which had begun in 1950 in the Del Monte Forest at Pebble Beach. SCRAMP is comprised of a Board of Governors, Race and Events Committees, and hundreds of loyal volunteers who donate thousands of hours each year to ensure the successful operation of events here.

The SCRAMP organization acquired leased land from the US Army at Fort Ord on August 7, 1957, and the now-legendary track, built with funds raised by SCRAMP, held its first race, the 8th Annual Pebble Beach at Laguna Seca SCCA National Championship Sports Car Road Races, on November 9 & 10, 1957. In 1974 the site was transferred from the Army to Monterey County, who together with SCRAMP, have managed the facility through this year.

SCRAMP’s current three-year management and operating agreement with Monterey County ends on December 31, 2019. SCRAMP currently employs a full-time professional staff of just over 40 team members.

INDYCAR, itself, is about to have an ownership change as racing and business icon Roger Penske and the Penske Corporation completes its acquisition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, INDYCAR and IMS Productions sometime after January 1. Miles and the INDYCAR staff as well as the staffs at IMS and IMS Productions will be retained.

Miles will become CEO of Penske Entertainment and will continue his duties that he currently has. Since the sale was announced on November 4, Miles and key officials have met with Penske and his top officials on a weekly basis.

“It’s been great,” Miles said. “We are covering tons of ground. Roger and his team are all about adding value.

“It’s a very focused effort that is making great progress.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500