It’s one step at a time for Luke Lambert, Ryan Newman and 31 team

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Well, here they are: The winless team that could turn the Chase for the Sprint Cup upside down and pull perhaps the biggest upset in the history of NASCAR.

Ryan Newman, crew chief Luke Lambert, and the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team have been methodical and consistent this post-season, and it’s worked.

Granted, it took Newman’s well-timed shove of Kyle Larson on the final turn of last weekend’s Eliminator Round finale to get them into this Sunday’s Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But that’s neither here nor there now (besides, Larson’s cool with it). The 31 camp has joined Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano in the main event.

And as Lambert said today during a NASCAR teleconference, they’re not about to change what got them there.

“We got here because every week we’ve kept ourselves in the fight, and we didn’t go to the third race of the season and make it to the Championship Round; nobody did,” he said. “And throughout the Chase, nobody could assure themselves a ticket to Homestead the first race into the Chase. Because of that, we’ve just been having to take everything one step at a time.

“We will not be able to assure that we can be a champion the first run of the race, so we don’t put that pressure on ourselves.  What we need to do as a race team is to just focus on what’s just in front of us, and for right now, that’s that Friday morning practice. When the race starts, it’ll be the first run of the race, and then for the pit stop guys it’ll be the first pit stop they do.

“So the thing that I’m going to emphasize with my group is we just take things one step at a time, look at what’s ahead of you, focus on doing the best job you can at that, and then we’ll take things the next step as they come. When things happen that we don’t want  to happen, it’s important that you put that behind you and focus forward on what’s next ahead of you.”

As for the strategy that Lambert plans to employ during Sunday’s race, he figures that the early part of Sunday’s race will have each of the Championship 4 teams worry about themselves, not so much on what their rivals are doing.

But as the race progresses and the end gets in sight, he expects to see things get more tense between the title rivals.

“For the first part of the race for us, for me as a crew chief and our race team, we’re going to be focusing on our problems – the things that we need to do to make our car better, and to improve our execution,” he said.

“Then once we find ourselves in the closing stages of the race where we’ve done one of our final pit stops and you can kind of see the final run, run and a half, maybe two runs of the race and how they’re looking like they’re going to unfold, then we can start kind of racing against our competitors.”

From there, Lambert expects all of the Championship 4 to be right at the front by the finish.

“I see these four cars are all going to be on point, and I think it would be very likely to see all three of them, four of them in the top 5 at the closing stages of the race,” he said. “I would be surprised if the champion isn’t the winner of the race.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.