NASCAR: 3 Sprint Cup stars lead 1st Michigan N’Wide practice

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Sprint Cup interlopers Paul Menard, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano led the way in the first Nationwide Series practice session at Michigan International Speedway ahead of Saturday’s 250-mile undercard.

Menard posted a lap of 190.411 miles per hour in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to take top honors in the first of two N’Wide practices today at MIS.

Larson, who drives for Turner Scott Motorsports in N’Wide, wasn’t too far behind Menard with a lap of 189.514 mph in the No. 42 Chevy. Behind him was Team Penske’s Joey Logano at 189.459 mph in the No. 22 Ford.

A pair of N’Wide regulars, rookie Chase Elliott and RCR’s Brian Scott, completed the Top 5 speeds. Elliott got up to 189.354 mph on his best lap, while Scott posted a lap of 189.011 mph.

Two more Cup competitors were also quick this morning in N’Wide, with Kyle Busch in P6 (188.952) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in P8 (188.783). Earnhardt is running a special eBay-backed No. 88 JR Motorsports car for Saturday’s race.

The N’Wide group will have one more practice today from 2 to 3:25 p.m. ET. Qualifying will take place tomorrow morning at 10:40 a.m. ET.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.