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

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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

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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