Harvick dominating PIR at halfway, Logano and Hamlin have struggles

0 Comments

At the halfway point of Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Kevin Harvick is dominating the lead.

Harvick, who came into the race last of the eight drivers still remaining in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, has been virtually flawless through the first 156 laps, taking the lead on Lap 44 and pacing the field for 108 laps at the halfway point.

Harvick is not only looking to advance to the Chase finale next week at Homestead, he’s also going for his sixth career Cup win at PIR.

The top 10 at Lap 156 were Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman.

Joey Logano suffered a very costly penalty on Lap 123 that dropped him from running second to 29th on the ensuing restart. Logano left the pit box before his gasman had removed the gas can.

The can fell off the car as Logano pulled away, but landed in the pit stall of the team in front, forcing Logano to have to come back onto pit road for the penalty.

Brad Keselowski has run a fairly uneventful race thus far. He’s had no apparent on-track conflicts with fellow drivers and has not taken any overly-aggressive chances up to this point.

After running fourth, Gordon dropped back several spots around a third of the way through the race when the jack slipped on a pit stop, costing him precious seconds when his team elected to go with just two right side tires. Gordon had to come back in on the following stop to take four tires and fell back further to 20th.

However, by the halfway point, Gordon had climbed back to 8th.

Carl Edwards, who struggled to find speed throughout Friday’s and Saturday’s practices, as well as in qualifying, appears to be on the right track, running 11th at the midpoint.

Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin led the first 24 laps, dropped back to third and then suffered a right rear flat tire on Lap 34, apparently due to a broken valve stem.

Hamlin has been unable to recover and is sitting in 26th place at the halfway point, his Chase chances slowly slipping away.

If the race were to stop now, Logano, Keselowski, Hamlin and Edwards would not advance to the Homestead race.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds