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.

Mercedes power: Hamilton, Bottas fastest during 1st French GP practice

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) — Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas posted the top two times during the opening practice for Formula One’s French Grand Prix on Friday.

Defending champion Hamilton clocked the best lap time at 0.140 seconds faster than Bottas.

Red Bulls’ Daniel Ricciardo had the third best effort, followed by Ferrari pair Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel leads Hamilton by one point atop the standings after seven of 21 races.

The session had one red flag near the end when Marcus Ericsson spun out of control and slammed into the barrier on Turn 11. The right rear of his Sauber burst into flame before the Swede got out. Sauber said he was unharmed.

Hamilton also had a scare when forced to swerve off course to avoid ramming a slow-going Stoffel Vandoorne and slalomed around two rows of bollards before returning to the flow. Hamilton said on his team radio the McLaren driver was going “dangerously slow” when he came upon him.

Later, Hamilton complained his Mercedes was having trouble turning. After coming back out, the four-time world champion quickly went to the top of the timesheet.

This was the first chance drivers had to run on the 5.8-kilometer (3.6-mile) Paul Ricard Circuit, as F1 makes its return to France for the first time in a decade.

The track resting in wooded hills just inland from the Cote d’Azur was basked in the Mediterranean sun and subject to moments of gusting winds.

Raikkonen, Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso), Esteban Ocon (Force India) and Vandoorne all spun their cars onto the blue-striped run-off areas at Turn Six because of a tricky tailwind but managed to stop before hitting the barrier.

Charles Leclerc (Sauber) twice spun to a brief stop, while Max Verstappen drove wide on consecutive corners and had a near-miss with Sergio Perez of Force India.

Vettel took the lead in the standings two weeks ago in Montreal where he won the Canadian GP after starting from pole position. That victory erased a 14-point lead held by Hamilton after he could manage only a fifth-place finish.

There will be two more practices on Friday and on Saturday before qualifying for Sunday’s race.

The last time a F1 race was held here at Le Castellet was in 1990 when Alain Prost won for Ferrari.