Kevin Harvick wins at Charlotte while Keselowski, Johnson and Earnhardt on brink of elimination

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CHARLOTTE – The law of averages caught up with Kevin Harvick in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

After suffering several issues in recent weeks, from bad tires to parts failure to slow pit stops, Harvick’s bad luck of late finally turned good, dominating en route to his first win of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“It feels great, to be honest with you,” Harvick said in an understatement to ESPN in Victory Lane. “Everybody on our team just continue to build better race cars. We know we’ve had the cars to run up front, lead laps and to do the things we need to do.

“But things just haven’t gone right. We made some mistakes and things hadn’t gone right more than not. … This is the night that we needed to win.

“We figured this was going to be the hardest round to get through because of Talladega, there’s so much you can’t control there.”

Harvick, who led 162 of the race’s 334 laps, is now guaranteed a berth in the upcoming Eliminator Round. As a result, he doesn’t have to worry about where he finishes in next Sunday’s race at Talladega, the final event in the current Contender Round.

“I won’t be anorexic and throwing up this week,” Harvick laughed in his post-race media session. “Talladega is going to be so crazy. If everyone is going to be in the same kind of offensive mind that they were tonight, they may have to move some of the seats back.”

Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers, made the call of the race when on the final caution with five laps remaining, told Harvick to stay out on the track and not pit for tires or fuel.

“It was definitely the right decision to stay out,” Harvick said. “I saw them fan out two or three wide there at the end. But you never know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’ve won this race on two tires, I’ve won this race on four tires and now no tires.

“It’s always interesting to see what that strategy is and where everybody’s head is, but those guys (crew chiefs) have a much better perception on what’s going to happen on the pit box because they hear the radio chatter and they hear everything that’s going on. You just believe in what those guys are doing, and you listen to them on the restart and pick your best lane and hope it all works out, and it did tonight.”

Jeff Gordon finished second, followed by Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

“Kevin was tough,” Gordon said. “I knew when he got out in front, he was going to be tough to beat.”

Sixth through 10th were Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.

Chase standings after Charlotte:
1. Joey Logano
2. Kyle Busch -6
3. Kevin Harvick -7
4. Ryan Newman -11
5. Carl Edwards -12
6. Jeff Gordon -14
7. Denny Hamlin -15
8. Kasey Kahne -31
9. Matt Kenseth -32
10. Brad Keselowski -50
11. Jimmie Johnson -57
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -57 

As good as Harvick’s luck was, it was the exact opposite for Brad Keselowski (finished 16th), Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (20th).

Keselowski remains 10th in the Chase standings, unofficially 50 points out of first and 19 points out of eighth, while Johnson and Earnhardt are tied for 11th, both 57 points out of first and 26 points out of eighth place.

All three drivers are in a must-win situation heading to Talladega.

Earnhardt’s championship hopes are now on life support after the shifter lever in his Chevrolet snapped off about one-third of the way through the race.

Earnhardt had to work with an improvised shifter for much of the race, but the damage was done.

“We had a bad vibration,” Earnhardt said. “The vibration broke the shifter in half. It just wasn’t a good night. The car wasn’t handling well and the vibration was giving us a lot of problems.”

Tempers flared after the race, with two drivers wanting a piece of Keselowski. And Tony Stewart got his pound of flesh by backing up and slamming into the front end of Keselowski’s car on pit road after Keselowski appeared to inadvertently hit Stewart’s car.

Then came the temper issues.

First, Keselowski appeared to intentionally run into Denny Hamlin’s car on the final lap. Then, Keselowski ran into the rear of Matt Kenseth’s car on pit road.

“He just plowed into us,” Hamlin said. “(Keselowski’s) just out of control. He’s desperate, obviously, and ie’ts either four or five us are wrong or he’s wrong because he’s pissed off everyone. … He was just acting like a dumbass instead of a champion.”

When asked what he expects from Keselowski next week at Talladega, Hamlin again did not mince words.

“My guess is that he will probably try to wreck everyone, that’s his only shot,” Hamlin said. “He’ll just be out of control like normal. … Luckily (when Keselowski hit him on the final lap) it didn’t cause us to wreck. If it would have caused us to wreck, I’d be waiting for him right now.”

Kenseth wasn’t waiting, he went hunting for Keselowski and both the No. 20 and No. 2 teams erupted into a brawl between team haulers in the garage area.

“When Matt Kenseth loses his temper,

Gordon remarked with a smile about the incident, saying, “How about this drama? I’m loving this new format.”

On Lap 246, Danica Patrick tangled with Joey Logano and almost collected Ryan Newman in the process. Patrick suffered moderate damage while Logano had only minor damage.

But Logano did not endear himself to Patrick, prompting the latter to say over her team radio, “I’d love to go out and take him out.”

She received a response from some unidentified team member, who replied, “Go ahead.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”