Sprint Cup: Brad Keselowski leading at halfway in New Hampshire

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As today’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is moving into its middle stages, Brad Keselowski is taking control.

Keselowski started 10th on a restart at Lap 119 after taking four tires under the preceding caution. But in just 21 laps, he went all the way to the lead and holds the point at halfway over Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano.

Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green flag, but on Lap 7, Johnson suffered a left-rear tire failure and had to go to the pits under green.

Johnson came back to the track in 42nd place and one lap off the pace. Then on Lap 13, things went from bad to worse when Johnson had a second left-rear tire failure that sent him spinning into the wall.

Under caution, the Top 15 drivers on track chose to stay out. However, a group of more than 15 drivers chose to take advantage of the yellow to make an early stop.

The green came back out at Lap 21, and Kyle Busch proceeded to settle in as the leader until Lap 63, when Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin got past him for P1 down the backstretch into Turn 3.

Green flag stops began just a few circuits shy of Lap 75, with Hamlin giving up the lead for service on Lap 74. However, Hamlin regained the lead by Lap 82 when the pit cycle played out among those that chose to go in on Lap 18.

On Lap 89, Keselowski – yesterday’s Nationwide Series winner – managed to get under Hamlin in Turn 3 and take P1. When the first green pit cycle had been completed, he was down two seconds to the leader.

Taking advantage of a car with great acceleration in the middle of the corners, Keselowski began stretching out his lead. The gap eventually grew to more than three seconds before the caution came out at Lap 113 for debris – the end of a 92-lap stretch under green.

Keselowski led the leaders to the pits under yellow, but while most of them decided to take two tires, Keselowski opted for four tires instead and fell all the way to 10th. Also, Kurt Busch was unable to get to his stall for service since Hamlin was coming out of his own; the Outlaw had to go back a second time and tumbled to 20th on the pylon.

Kyle Busch won the race out of the pits but Larson stayed out to get the lead on the restart at Lap 119. Larson was able to turn back a challenge from Busch in the opening laps of the stint, and on Lap 122, Kenseth was able to take second place behind the Sprint Cup rookie.

Kenseth moved in on Larson over the next several laps and on Lap 127, he moved to the inside of Larson down the frontstretch and cleared him off Turn 2 for the lead. But shortly after, Keselowski dropped Larson to third, continuing his march back up front on those four fresh tires.

Keselowski drew to within a car’s length of Kenseth, whose car was spotted with a piece of debris stuck to its grille. Then, on Lap 139, Keselowski went to the inside and re-claimed the lead while Kenseth used the airflow to knock his debris off the car.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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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.

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