Harvick leads, Stewart third, all 4 SHR cars top 7 in Charlotte first practice

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Kevin Harvick dropped the hammer, per usual this season, to kick off the Bank of America 500 weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Harvick denied team boss and teammate Tony Stewart the chance to lead his first session since returning to the track back at Atlanta Motor Speedway the last weekend in August, at a nearly identical 1.5-mile track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Harvick’s late flier, set within the final 10 minutes of the opening 90-minute practice session Thursday afternoon, was a 196.192 at 27.524 seconds. It was his fourth and final run of the session. Harvick has a series-leading eight pole positions in 2014.

Stewart-Haas Racing had been lined up for a 1-2-3 with Harvick ahead of Stewart and Kurt Busch, before Austin Dillon broke it up at 196.108 (27.536 seconds) to end second for Richard Childress Racing.

Stewart and Busch were 1-2, both over 194 mph, for most of the session with Stewart on top of Busch by exactly 0.001 of a second (27.704 to 27.705 seconds, respectively; 194.918 to 194.911 mph).

Stewart improved to third at 195.327, with Jeff Gordon fourth and Busch’s speed holding on for fifth.

Danica Patrick was also in the top 10 for the majority of the session, fell outside late as others ran quicker in the final stages, and then jumped back up to seventh with 194.770 set near the end of the session. Patrick posted her best career finish of sixth at Atlanta.

Besides the SHR quartet, Chevrolets were dominant overall. The “Bowtie Brigade” locked down 15 of the top 21 spots in the session.

Kyle Busch was the best Toyota in sixth, at 194.805, with Greg Biffle the top Ford in eighth at 194.679. Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top 10.

Of note, Jimmie Johnson was 14th, Kasey Kahne 20th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 21st and Brad Keselowski only 31st. These four currently sit on the outside of the top eight in points.

Qualifying occurs tonight from CMS, starting at 7:20 p.m. ET.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.