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.

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other and four more finished the race – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

“Amazed is the right word,” Honda Performance Development president David Salters said when asked about reliability. “These are sophisticated cars. It’s not easy. It’s a testament to each group that they did a really good job. It was a fight all the way through the race. I didn’t expect that at all.”

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car. Salters said his

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021 — also in an Acura, which now has three consecutive Rolex 24s). Peter Gregg won the Rolex 24 in 1973, ’75 and ’76 (the 1974 race wasn’t held because of the oil crisis).

Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.