NASCAR: For third straight race, all Hendrick drivers score Top-10s

Leave a comment

No doubt that Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway belonged to Team Penske. Between winner Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, a Penske car led 236 of 267 laps in the Quaker State 400.

But while Penske dominated, the Hendrick Motorsports camp still had a good night in the Bluegrass State.

For the third consecutive Sprint Cup race, all four of their men came away with Top-10 finishes led by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fifth.

Jeff Gordon, the current Sprint Cup points leader, finished sixth, followed by Kasey Kahne in eighth and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in 10th.

Gordon was seeking to become the first driver ever to win on every active Sprint Cup track by taking the checkered flag Saturday night. But an air gun malfunction during a pit stop at Lap 127 caused him to fall from the Top 10 all the way to 23rd, severely damaging his hopes.

The four-time Cup champ was able to rally back inside the Top 10 late, but admitted to TNT afterwards that he thought their overall pace was going to be better.

“We did have the issues and got behind,” he said. “It seemed the car was pretty decent there at the end but not enough to really move up through there. It was pretty tough to pass and I thought we made the most of what happened to us today.”

Gordon also took back his comments on Friday about what he saw as Penske’s inability to carry over their stout qualifying pace to Race Day.

“I said they hadn’t been backing up their speed from qualifying, but they seemed to find it this weekend,” he said. “Wow, they were fast.”

Kahne also had to regroup during the race after trouble. On Lap 153, Kahne sustained some damage to his car in an incident that also involved Alex Bowman, Jamie McMurray, and Aric Almirola.

A slow late-race stop sent him further back, but Kahne was able to climb into the Top 10 by the checkered flag.

“I had to fight,” Kahne said. “We had some damage when the 1 [McMurray) stopped when another car was spinning.  I couldn’t get stopped I hit him, the 43 (Almirola) hit him, just too many cars in one spot on the road.

“We had a bad pit stop at the end that put us 18th and got back to eighth, so I was really happy with the speed of our Great Clips Chevy – just too many errors if you want to run up front.”

As for Johnson, he said that his poor 25th-place starting position had an impact on his race.

“I would work my way to the front and get in the top 10, top five and then come down pit road and because of our poor qualifying position we just didn’t have a good pit stall,” he said.

“I was between the 10 (Danica Patrick) and the 18 (Kyle Busch) and they were both fast all night long. I would lose five or six spots on pit road each time.

“…I think we were a competitive car and we could have been up there and maybe had a look at those guys in some clean air. But we just messed up on Friday and got behind the eight ball.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne