Jeff Gordon buries Michigan track record, earns Sprint Cup pole for Sunday

5 Comments

Jeff Gordon collected his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole this afternoon with a new track record lap of 206.558 miles per hour at Michigan International Speedway – a lap that also now stands as the seventh-fastest pole of all time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Gordon and Team Penske’s Joey Logano (206.381 mph) will make up the front row for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 after they and several others obliterated Kevin Harvick’s old MIS record of 204.557 mph multiple times in the three rounds of qualifying.

Carl Edwards, who will start third on Sunday, was the first to break Harvick’s record in Round 1 with a 205.169 mph lap.

Then in Round 2, Logano raised the bar with a lap of 205.491 mph. Harvick then posted a 205.620 mph lap to reclaim the record for himself, but a lap of 205.885 mph allowed Gordon to swipe it.

Finally in Round 3, Logano (206.381) and Edwards (206.115) both broke Gordon’s mark – only to have Gordon eclipse them both with his monster 206.5 lap around the two-mile MIS oval.

“We made a qualifying effort in practice that didn’t go so well, then we made another one and it wasn’t bad,” Gordon said to MRN Radio after his 76th career Sprint Cup pole. “I wasn’t sure what I was gonna have when we rolled out here for qualifying, but the first lap was just really, really good.

“I felt like I needed to be more aggressive, and the next two runs, I was able to be aggressive and those guys made great adjustments. Man, the thing just stuck [to the race track] so well. That’s a lot of fun when it’s stuck like that.”

Edwards and Brian Vickers will make up Row 2, followed by Michigan native Brad Keselowski and Harvick in Row 3. Richard Childress Racing’s Paul Menard and Austin Dillon start from Row 4, and Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. complete the Top 10 spots on the grid.

Some big names failed to make it out of the first round, however, and will have to start from the back of the field on Sunday. Chief among them are two of Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and June Michigan winner Jimmie Johnson, who will go from 25th and 30th respectively.

“The car’s pretty good – just the second run there, we expected to go out and actually run quite a bit quicker and just didn’t have any rear grip,” Earnhardt told MRN. “Really sliding around in the back and just didn’t run a fast lap.

“We feel good about the race car in race trim. I actually think we should’ve definitely qualified much better, but we didn’t get it done…I think we understand the changes that the track’s gonna make and we prepared for those, and we didn’t do a good enough job, I guess.”

Jeff Burton, substituting for Tony Stewart this weekend, qualified 27th for Sunday’s race. Ryan Blaney qualified Trevor Bayne’s car in 28th, while Matt Crafton qualified 39th in Martin Truex Jr.’s car.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT MICHIGAN – Pure Michigan 400
Qualifying Results

1. 24-Jeff Gordon
2. 22-Joey Logano
3. 99-Carl Edwards
4. 55-Brian Vickers
5. 2-Brad Keselowski
6. 4-Kevin Harvick
7. 27-Paul Menard
8. 3-Austin Dillon
9. 1-Jamie McMurray
10. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
11. 16-Greg Biffle
12. 31-Ryan Newman
13. 42-Kyle Larson
14. 10-Danica Patrick
15. 5-Kasey Kahne
16. 41-Kurt Busch
17. 51-Justin Allgaier
18. 20-Matt Kenseth
19. 15-Clint Bowyer
20. 9-Marcos Ambrose
21. 11-Denny Hamlin
22. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
23. 43-Aric Almirola
24. 18-Kyle Busch
25. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
26. 13-Casey Mears
27. 14-Jeff Burton
28. 21-Ryan Blaney
29. 38-David Gilliland
30. 48-Jimmie Johnson
31. 83-Ryan Truex
32. 23-Alex Bowman
33. 98-Josh Wise
34. 34-David Ragan
35. 7-Michael Annett
36. 26-Cole Whitt
37. 37-Dave Blaney
38. 32-Travis Kvapil
39. 78-Matt Crafton
40. 36-Reed Sorenson
41. 33-Alex Kennedy
42. 66-Joe Nemechek
43. 40-Landon Cassill

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

Leave a comment

NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”