Tony Stewart sets fastest qualifying speed ever on 1.5-mile track (200.111 mph), but Matt Kenseth wins pole at Texas

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Sorry, but we can’t avoid saying this: Tony Stewart lived up to his nickname and was smokin’ during Friday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Stewart became the first driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup history to top 200 mph on a 1.5-mile track in qualifying, and set the TMS track record in the process, with an eye-popping speed of 200.111 mph.

“It looked pretty fast,” Stewart chuckled over his team radio after completing his lap.

Later, while being interviewed by ESPN, Stewart admitted the significance of his mark:

“It’s always cool to be the first guy to be able to do anything, so to be the first to run 200 mph average on a mile-and-a-half is pretty cool,” Stewart said.

It became the fourth qualifying lap record over 200 mph in NASCAR history, the others coming at larger tracks: Talladega (2.66 miles), Daytona (2.5 miles) and Michigan (2 miles).

It was also the 22nd new track record set in the first 34 races this season.

Stewart thought his first qualifying lap might have been even faster.

“It was going to be a big monster lap in the first round … if I didn’t have to lift coming out of (turn) four,” Stewart said. “But that’s not the one that pays. We hit it in the second round, but I missed it in the third round, so my fault.”

Unfortunately for Stewart, who sat on the pole at TMS in the April spring race there earlier this year, that 200-plus mph run came in the second of the three qualifying sessions and he did not ultimately capture the pole for Sunday’s race.

That honor went to Matt Kenseth, who had the best overall lap in the third and final qualifying round, earning his 13th career pole – on Halloween, no less – with a speed of 199.299 mph.

“I was satisfied with it,” Kenseth said. “This is the best driving car we’ve had at a mile and a half all year by far.

“It was all I wanted. I’m surprised and happy that we’re on the pole.”

Going back to Stewart, he led a Stewart-Haas Racing onslaught that grabbed the fourth through sixth places in the final qualifying finishing order. Teammates Kurt Busch (fourth) and Kevin Harvick (fifth), will start ahead of Stewart, who will start sixth. The other SHR driver, Danica Patrick, will start 27th.

Of the eight drivers still remaining in the Eliminator Round, six qualified in the top 12: Kenseth, Jeff Gordon (2nd), Kevin Harvick (5th), Ryan Newman (7th), Joey Logano (10th) and Carl Edwards (11th).

But two drivers may not necessarily be happy with their qualifying runs.

Denny Hamlin, currently ranked fifth in the Sprint Cup standings, will start 20th, while Brad Keselowski, who is ranked seventh of the eight remaining Eliminator Round drivers, will start 26th.

Here’s the starting grid for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500:

Row 1: Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon
Row 2: Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch
Row 3: Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart
Row 4: Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 5: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano

Row 6: Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Row 7: Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne
Row 8: Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose
Row. 9: Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 10: Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin
Row 11: Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola
Row 12: AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer
Row 13: Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski
Row 14: Danica Patrick, Michael McDowell

Row 15: Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier
Row 16: David Gilliland, Reed Sorenson
Row 17: Michael Annett, Landon Cassill
Row 18: Alex Bowman, Josh Wise
Row 19: David Ragan, Casey Mears

Row 20: JJ Yeley, Cole Whitt
Row 21: Brett Moffitt, Timmy Hill
Row 22: Joey Gase

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”