Hendrick, Toyota camps not able to hit sharp end of Kansas grid

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It’s not where you start, but where you finish. But qualifying farther up certainly would’ve helped Hendrick Motorsports going into tomorrow night’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway.

The Hendrick camp will have a bit of work ahead of them, as all four of its drivers – Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon (13th), defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (14th), Kasey Kahne (17th), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (22nd) – were unable to get themselves into the final round and contend for the pole.

Gordon and Johnson were surprised that they didn’t have the speed to advance from Round 2.

“I really thought in practice we had a car that would have easily qualified in the top 24 for that first round and made it into round 2 just to start working on how we could sit on the pole and be in the top five,” Gordon said. “I did not expect to be here in 13th or 14th.”

“We felt like we had a car that could get into the final round and came up short,” Johnson told MRN. “I ran my fastest lap of the weekend so far, but it wasn’t enough to get us there. So, we’ll have to do a little bit more work in qualifying trim to get it.”

Johnson was more optimistic about his car in race trim after successful practice sessions earlier today, but wasn’t ready to declare an idea of what to expect tomorrow, when the Sprint Cup Series holds its first-ever night race on the 1.5-mile Kansas oval.

“We kind of get trends that certain tires show us and certain surfaces, but until you get out there and live it and experience it for yourself, you’re just guessing until then,” he said.

Also having to come from the pack tomorrow will be several drivers from the Toyota camp. Only one of the manufacturer’s drivers, Brian Vickers (15th), was able to qualify within the Top 20.

Home-state hero Clint Bowyer will roll off 23rd for his 300th Sprint Cup start, and is joined in Row 12 by Kyle Busch. Busch’s JGR teammates, Matt Kenseth and Talladega winner Denny Hamlin, start 28th and 30th respectively.

Other Toyota runners starting deep include rookies Ryan Truex (31st) and Cole Whitt (36th), as well as veteran Joe Nemechek (43rd).

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).