Kevin Harvick wins Atlanta Sprint Cup pole; Stewart qualifies 12th

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While he doesn’t have Budweiser on his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet this weekend, Kevin Harvick still got a “six-pack” of sorts tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Harvick claimed his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole of 2014 with a lap of 29.118 seconds (190.398 miles per hour), and will lead the field to the green for Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500.

And helping him earn the pole was his returning teammate and boss, Tony Stewart.

“Smoke” himself qualified 12th for his first race since his involvement in an Aug. 9 sprint car crash that took the life of 20-year-old racer Kevin Ward Jr.

“It’s good to have the boss back,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “He told me to go with what I knew from practice, and we switched our line there in [Turns] 1 and 2 and we were a lot better on the bottom.

“…It seems like there’s a lot more ‘back to normal’ with Tony here this week. Hopefully, we can turn this starting stuff into a win this weekend.”

As for Stewart, his day began with a somber press conference in which he expressed his sorrow over the tragedy that took place earlier this month at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

But once on the race track, things appeared to get better. Stewart was among the Top 10 in today’s first practice session and he kept that speed up to make the final round of qualifying. He’ll start on the outside of Row 6 with Carl Edwards.

Back up front, Harvick will be joined in Row 1 by Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski. The 2012 Cup champion notched his 10th front-row start of the season thanks to a lap of 190.058 in the No. 2 “Yellow Deuce” Team Penske Ford.

“I was just lacking a little bit, I don’t know how much I missed it by,” Keselowski told Fox. “But we’re really strong in race trim. I thought we had a shot in qualifying.

“Obviously, we were really close. But it’s another front-row start and hopefully, we can carry it into a front-row finish – uh, first-place finish – on Sunday night.”

Behind them in Row 2 will be rookie Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman, who are both looking for wins that can get them into the Chase with two regular season races to go.

Newman is looking good to make the Chase on points if necessary, but Larson is still trying to recover from a crash at Michigan that severely dented his post-season hopes.

He’s currently 17th in the Chase standings, but down 26 points to Greg Biffle, who currently occupies the 16th and final position on the Chase Grid.

Several other winless drivers are also starting toward the front. Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. are in Row 3, while Kasey Kahne is in Row 5.

Then there’s the aforementioned Stewart, who has gained an exemption from NASCAR and is eligible to compete in the Chase should he win Sunday or next weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

Chase-bound Aric Almirola and defending Atlanta champ Kyle Busch make up Row 4, while Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon will start ninth alongside Kahne.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT ATLANTA – ORAL-B USA 500
Qualifying Results

1. 4-Kevin Harvick
2. 2-Brad Keselowski
3. 42-Kyle Larson
4. 31-Ryan Newman
5. 20-Matt Kenseth
6. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
7. 43-Aric Almirola
8. 18-Kyle Busch
9. 24-Jeff Gordon
10. 5-Kasey Kahne
11. 99-Carl Edwards
12. 14-Tony Stewart
13. 3-Austin Dillon
14. 22-Joey Logano
15. 1-Jamie McMurray
16. 48-Jimmie Johnson
17. 11-Denny Hamlin
18. 16-Greg Biffle
19. 55-Brian Vickers
20. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
21. 15-Clint Bowyer
22. 41-Kurt Busch
23. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
24. 13-Casey Mears
25. 7-Michael Annett
26. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
27. 10-Danica Patrick
28. 37-Mike Bliss
29. 33-Ty Dillon
30. 23-Alex Bowman
31. 51-Justin Allgaier
32. 9-Marcos Ambrose
33. 27-Paul Menard
34. 77-Joe Nemechek
35. 66-Brett Moffitt
36. 98-Josh Wise
37. 38-David Gilliland
38. 34-David Ragan
39. 83-Ryan Truex
40. 26-Cole Whitt
41. 32-J.J. Yeley
42. 40-Landon Cassill
43. 36-Reed Sorenson
DNQ: 95-Michael McDowell

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”