Chase co-leader Denny Hamlin earns pole for Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix

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Denny Hamlin set a new Sprint Cup qualifying track record en route to a critical pole for Sunday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix International Raceway.

Hamlin’s lap of 142.113 mph in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was enough to earn him his third pole of 2014 and a psychological boost going into Sunday’s race, which will determine the four drivers that will compete for the Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend.

Six of the eight Chasers advanced to the final round of qualifying, which began with Matt Kenseth (sixth in points, -1 point behind cutoff) being the first to post a time. Early on, Phoenix master Kevin Harvick (eighth, -6 points behind cutoff) hit the top with a lap of 141.995 mph, but he was eventually eclipsed by Hamlin’s 25.332-second blitz around the one-mile oval.

After qualifying, Hamlin admitted he wasn’t sure if his lap would hold up.

“[I just] hit my marks perfectly, and the adjustments kept getting better,” he told ESPN. “The team just kept making my car better and allowed me to drive harder and harder.

“We showed up today and had decent speed in race trim, not great speed but decent speed. But we didn’t show decent speed in qualifying and it just shows today that it’s possible. We’ve got it in our car. We just gotta get for 312 laps now.”

Hamlin and Chase co-leader Joey Logano both carry 13-point cushions over the cutoff to advance to Homestead. They each need finishes of 11th or better on Sunday to enter the final battle.

After Hamlin set his hot lap, Brad Keselowski (seventh, -5 points behind cutoff) moved up to second on the leader board with a lap of 142.079 mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford.

The Michigan native made another late run but was unable to get one spot better. Either way, he’ll be starting on the front row alongside Hamlin, who told reporters earlier this week that Keselowski must show more respect for his fellow racers after he and Jeff Gordon were at the center of a post-race fight last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Harvick, who has won five times at PIR, will start third and is joined by Logano in the second row. Kenseth ultimately slid to Row 3, which he’ll share with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Jeff Gordon (fourth, +1 point above cutoff) starts on the inside of Row 4.

Kurt Busch, who is now having to deal with allegations of domestic assault that came out just earlier today, qualified 10th.

The other two men in the Eliminator 8, Carl Edwards (fifth, -1 point behind cutoff) and Ryan Newman (third, +11 points above cutoff), qualified 13th and 20th respectively.

“The battle for us was that we were very slow in practice, but [crew chief] Jimmy [Fennig] and the guys did a great job,” Edwards said. “They basically rolled the dice, changed six things [on the car], and it worked…I know 13th’s not great, but considering that I thought we were gonna be 25th, I’m real happy.”

Meanwhile, Newman will now focus on improving the driveability of his Richard Childress Racing Chevy in the two practice sessions on Saturday.

“You only get so many options here to pit and work on your race car, so you better have it good on your first run,” said Newman.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT PHOENIX
Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (Eliminator Round Finale)
Starting Lineup
1. 11-Denny Hamlin
2. 2-Brad Keselowski
3. 4-Kevin Harvick
4. 22-Joey Logano
5. 20-Matt Kenseth

6. 18-Kyle Busch
7. 24-Jeff Gordon
8. 42-Kyle Larson
9. 55-Brian Vickers
10. 41-Kurt Busch
11. 27-Paul Menard
12. 13-Casey Mears
13. 99-Carl Edwards
14. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
15. 48-Jimmie Johnson
16. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
17. 15-Clint Bowyer
18. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
19. 1-Jamie McMurray
20. 31-Ryan Newman
21. 9-Marcos Ambrose
22. 5-Kasey Kahne
23. 43-Aric Almirola
24. 47-AJ Allmendinger
25. 3-Austin Dillon
26. 33-Ty Dillon
27. 51-Justin Allgaier
28. 16-Greg Biffle
29. 14-Tony Stewart
30. 7-Michael Annett
31. 95-Michael McDowell
32. 10-Danica Patrick
33. 36-Reed Sorenson
34. 38-David Gilliland
35. 34-David Ragan
36. 98-Josh Wise
37. 23-Alex Bowman
38. 40-Landon Cassill
39. 37-Mike Bliss
40. 26-Cole Whitt
41. 83-JJ Yeley
42. 32-Joey Gase
43. 66-Mike Wallace
DNQ: 75-Clay Rogers
Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers in italics

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.