Matt Kenseth fastest in Friday’s Sprint Cup practice at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Kenseth took the first step towards his first win of 2014 – and his first career win in the Brickyard 400 – recording the fastest speed in Friday’s sole Sprint Cup practice session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kenseth, who was one of only two drivers over 186 mph (186.285 mph), has struggled to reach victory lane this season after earning a series-high seven wins in 2013.

“I felt like we had a really good hour-and-a-half,” Kenseth said. “It was productive, so one of our goals was to get a good lap in case it does rain tomorrow, they always go off first practice speeds and we’ve been bit by that this year.

“We wanted to try to lay down a lap early when the track was as good as it could be and we were able to do that in case there is bad weather for qualifying, then we just worked hard on race trim the whole time. Felt like we got through a lot of stuff. Felt like we gained a lot. I feel like we’re closer than we’ve been in a long time in balance and in speed. Still have a lot of work to do tomorrow, but I felt pretty good about today.”

His 24-lap effort Friday could be more important than just a routine practice session. Heavy thunderstorms are predicted for Saturday, and the second Cup practice is slated to go off between 9 and 11 am ET, followed by qualifying from 2:10 pm to 3:45 pm ET.

If Saturday’s practice and qualifying are washed out, the qualifying field for Sunday’s race would be based upon Friday’s practice session speeds.

Clint Bowyer was the second-fastest in Friday’s session at 186.070 mph, followed by Brad Keselowski (185.939), four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson (185.647) and Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson (185.445).

Sixth- through 10th-fastest were Kurt Busch (185.117 mph), Kyle Busch (185.113), Joey Logano (184.858), Marcos Ambrose (184.740) and Kevin Harvick (184.721).

Tony Stewart, seeking his third Brickyard victory and first win of 2014, was 11th-fastest (183.793), followed by Ryan Newman (183.587), Brian Vickers (183.307), four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon (182.408) and Kasey Kahne was 15th-fastest (182.290).

Danica Patrick was 16th-fastest (182.216 mph), followed by Aric Almirola (181.973), Austin Dillon (181.962), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (181.910) and Carl Edwards was 20th-fastest (181.496).

The rest of the field was:

21 Trevor Bayne 181.477

22 Ryan Truex 181.283

23 Michael Annett 181.061

24 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 180.937

25 Paul Menard 180.897

26 Martin Truex Jr. 180.636

27 Denny Hamlin 180.166

28 Juan Pablo Montoya 180.144

29 Brett Moffitt 180.040

30 David Ragan 179.971

 

31 Greg Biffle 179.842

32 Jamie McMurray 179.194

33 Michael McDowell 179.019

34 Casey Mears 178.923

35 Justin Allgaier 178.593

36 AJ Allmendinger 178.398

37 Travis Kvapil 177.725

38 David Stremme 177.438

39 Reed Sorenson 177.284

40 Landon Cassill 177.050

 

41 Bobby Labonte 176.025

42 Josh Wise 175.771

43 Alex Bowman 175.524

44 David Gilliland 175.022

45 Cole Whitt 174.132

46 Matt Crafton 173.444

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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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