NASCAR: Jeff Gordon unconcerned about Penske’s qualifying success

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In the aftermath of Team Penske’s third front row sweep of the season in Sprint Cup qualifying, Jeff Gordon said he’d be more worried if the Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were beating him when it counts.

Keselowski and Logano have won this season (in Logano’s case, twice), but Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports outfit has been the dominant team as of late with five victories in the last six Sprint Cup points races.

The one they didn’t win in that span was last weekend at Sonoma – and HMS still had all four of its drivers finish within the Top 10 behind winner Carl Edwards.

Gordon qualified third for tomorrow night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, and while he was complimentary of what the Penske camp has done in qualifying, he also wasn’t exactly shaking in his driving shoes.

“At this point, we’ve kind of gotten used to it and we’re always going to work hard and try to beat it,” he said. “They’re really doing an amazing job with their cars for qualifying.

“But we seem to have something for them when they drop the green flag for the race. So whatever it is doesn’t seem to correlate to race runs as much.”

Gordon also indicated that Keselowski and Logano have capitalized on short runs to get their wins so far in 2014.

“Those guys are just so spectacular in qualifying but it doesn’t – they’ve won races, don’t get me wrong – but they’ve typically won races when it’s a real short run and they’ve got to get it done in [those],” he said.

That’s partially true overall. Logano’s win over Gordon at Texas was in Green-White-Checkered mode, and his win later on at Richmond came after he started fourth on the final restart with nine laps left (he took the lead with four to go). However, Keselowski’s win over Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Las Vegas was done with the final 42 laps under green-flag conditions.

At any rate, Gordon will be seeking his first win at Kentucky tomorrow night, which would also allow him to say that he’s won at every active track on the Sprint Cup circuit.

It’s a goal that the four-time series champion would be happy to reach.

“It would be very cool,” he said. “Most of my energy is spent with do we have a shot at winning at this track. I feel like we have run solid here the last few times we have been here.

“I feel like as good as our cars are this year that this is probably the most legitimate shot that we’ve had of crossing that one off the list.

“It would mean a lot. It would be quite an accomplishment and it’s something that I would love to say I have done.”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds