Another Hendrick vs. Penske battle set for the Brickyard?

0 Comments

It almost seems preordained: The two most powerful teams of the 2014 Sprint Cup season going head-to-head for supremacy on the sport’s most hallowed ground.

Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske have combined for 11 wins in 19 races this season. Throw in Hendrick-powered Stewart Haas Racing and you have 14 in 19.

And coming to the green tomorrow for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the two sides are well-represented in the front end of the grid.

Starting alongside SHR pole sitter Kevin Harvick on the front row will be HMS’ Jeff Gordon. Behind them will be Penske’s Brad Keselowski on the inside of Row 2.

Then there’s Tony Stewart (SHR) in Row 3, Kurt Busch (SHR) and Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske) in Row 4, Joey Logano (Penske) and Kasey Kahne (HMS) in Row 5, and Jimmie Johnson (HMS) in Row 6.

You get the picture. Those that aren’t affiliated with Hendrick or Penske are likely going to have their work cut out for them tomorrow.

“We certainly look at all the Hendrick cars – and the Stewart Haas cars having Hendrick chassis and Hendrick engines and just how good they’ve been – then Penske: to me, they’re the team to beat outside of what we have,” Gordon said today at IMS regarding the teams’ rivalry.

“At times, they’ve been better than us and at times, we’ve been better than them.”

Right now, one could argue that Penske’s been better as Keselowski has won two of the last three Sprint Cup races. But Keselowski noted that while Penske and Hendrick have been the strongest teams so far, a lot can still change in the weeks ahead.

“You never know what somebody else has in their hands – much like if you’re playing a game of poker,” he said. “You think we have the two strongest hands with Penske and Hendrick, and certainly, that’s been the case to this date in the season. But you don’t know what’s out there.

“I find it hard to believe that [Joe Gibbs Racing] is gonna go a whole year without a dominant car. It’s not like them. So I’m sure they’re going to catch on as the season progresses – and maybe [Michael Waltrip Racing] or [Richard Childress Racing], who knows?

“But we’re a long ways from over and while I think you can look at the past – it’s an indicator to the future, but not a complete premonition.”

Still, it would seem that the world’s greatest race course is set for a fight between the sport’s heavyweights. And while Keselowski is wise to say that the past isn’t a window into the future, both he and Gordon surely hope that doing well at Indy will ultimately foreshadow a championship celebration this fall.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
0 Comments

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.