Pocono Update: Stewart-Haas trio leading at halfway

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Tony Stewart currently leads a 1-2-3 run for Stewart-Haas Racing at the halfway point of today’s Pocono 400 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono Raceway.

Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick all jumped leader Brad Keselowski off a restart at Lap 76 before a caution came out for a Dave Blaney spin at Lap 80.

Keselowski leaped to the front on the opening lap after starting third behind the front row of Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch. However, Keselowski made contact with Hamlin on the way to P1, which made the Joe Gibbs Racing driver unhappy.

While Hamlin fumed, Keselowski held the lead through the first round of pit stops that began at Lap 25. After the cycle ended, the first caution of the day on Lap 31 came out – not for a garbage bag that was spotted floating around the frontstretch in the opening laps, but for a small grass fire on the inside of Turn 3.

The field took the restart at Lap 36 with Keselowski able to keep the lead and Kevin Harvick passing Jeff Gordon for second place.

Four laps later, Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth sustained serious front-end damage after making contact with Jamie McMurray. After falling to the rear of the field, Keselowski lapped him shortly after Lap 50.

Harvick began the second cycle of pit stops with a stop on Lap 56 from second place, while Keselowski came in for service at Lap 57 along with the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But a piece of debris in Turn 3 brought out the caution at Lap 60 in the middle of those stops (Kyle Busch earned the free pass).  Some drivers – including Hamlin and Carl Edwards – had not yet pitted under green and did so during the yellow.

Meanwhile, Kenseth’s JGR team went to work trying to fix his wounded Toyota:

Keselowski managed to hold off a charge from Harvick on the Lap 65 restart, and the two built up a gap between themselves and third-place Kurt Busch. That gap was erased on Lap 71 when J.J. Yeley had something fall from the back of his car, bringing out the caution again.

That brought a solid amount of the field to the pits, led by Jimmie Johnson. Unfortunately for him, he made contact with Marcos Ambrose while coming out from his two-tire stop and was spun around.

Johnson, who had worked his way up into the Top 5, took right-front damage in the incident and had to back into his pit stall for repairs.

The front four – Keselowski, Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Tony Stewart – stayed out and on the restart at Lap 76, Keselowski was swallowed up by the three Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”