Calm before the storm: Chase finalists ready for Homestead

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Wednesday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Media Day was a mix of seriousness and laughter, as all four drivers tried to remain calm and collected as the pressure countdown began ticking down to Sunday’s green flag.

Here’s some of the top highlights from Wednesday’s session with the media, by driver:

* Harvick, who has led over 2,000 laps this season (more than the last seven combined for him), was asked to compare this year’s championship bid to others he’s been involved, but has always come up short.

Well, first off, I’m just glad to get here tonight and not know there wasn’t a fifth participant added,” Harvick said with a laugh. “I didn’t know if I was going to show up and Jeff Gordon was going to be here or not.”

Getting more serious, Harvick added, “I think for us as a team, I think everybody has just really hit it off, and I think with (crew chief) Rodney Childers and the cars and things that they’re putting on the racetrack, those guys just do a great job on a week-to-week basis.

“I think the biggest key for this whole scenario is you’re not behind. You’re on even footing with the other three guys.  So for us, I think we’ve had a great year. We’ve led a bunch of laps and won races and done what we’ve needed to do, and all in all, it’s just been a great year. I’m looking forward to Sunday afternoon.”

* Newman on being considered the Cinderella of the Chase:

I didn’t know Cinderella was a race car driver,” he said with a laugh. “For me, really it’s just another opportunity, for all four of us, to go into the last round, the Championship Round.

“What really matters is racing each other, and we’ve had a lot of fun getting to this point, and we need just to keep doing what we’re doing on the 31 side. It’s really a storybook, I guess in some form or fashion. But hopefully we can get through Sunday and write our own book.”

* Logano on living up to all the predictions of success over the years:

“Obviously it means a lot to be one of the Final Four, and racing for a championship is a dream come true,” Logano said. “I’ve been through kind of the tougher times and trying to understand what it takes to drive a Sprint Cup car and how to make one go fast and how to race other guys out there, and I was able to do that kind of in the limelight in front of everyone.

“To be in this position now and on the verge of hopefully winning a championship, it’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve got a great team behind me. We’ve all been working well together, so we’ll just keep plugging along, doing the same thing we’ve been doing all year, and see where we turn out at the end.”

* Hamlin, asked to reflect back on letting the 2010 championship slip out of his hands and into Jimmie Johnson’s, and what it means to get another shot at the title:

Well, I’ve been here nine years, so I’ve lost eight, if we’re keeping track,” Hamlin said. “You know, it’s totally different circumstances.

“We went into 2010 a lot like Kevin did, very dominant and very fast at every racetrack we went to. This year has been different.  We came back in 2013 from the adversity of the wreck (missed four races due to a wicked wreck and back injury suffered at Fontana earlier that season) and having to miss races.

“You really have a totally different outlook from that point on after you have to sit out a few races and watch your car go round. You kind of get a perspective of what it’s like to not be part of this sport, and it allowed me to appreciate this whole process.

“In 2010, even though I appreciated it, I didn’t. I just thought it would come every single year. And when you have a tough year like 2013, it allows you to refocus and put the bigger perspective in front of you. I think that’s allowed me to race a lot easier this year, even though performance hasn’t really shown it a whole lot.

“We have struggled a little bit with speed, but we’ve faced elimination each and every round, and we’ve overcome it every single round. We face elimination once again on Sunday, and now we have to overcome it.”

 

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Will Sunday’s race wind up being a demolition derby, or will all four drivers race each other cleanly. Like in boxing, no hitting below the belts, right?

* Hamlin: “I’ve raced everyone with respect. I feel like respect is something that’s hard to come by in our sport, but it’s not going to take someone wrecking someone to win this championship.  You can do it without doing that.

“And I believe that it’s very possible.  It’s just to each his own, I think. Everyone is going to have a different way of doing it, but for me, it’s about going out there and doing your team 100 percent and also not compromising who you are as a person for myself.  Each person might be different, though.”

* Harvick: “I don’t plan on racing any of them. I just want to beat them all and try and stay in front of them so we don’t have to put ourselves in position all day. You ask if we were going to plan it out, that would be how I would plan it out. The rest of it, we’ll just have to see how it comes from the rest of the race on. Do what you have to do, I guess.”

* Logano: We’ve been racing each other all year and we haven’t had an issue with each other. All of us have raced each other up front and all of have raced each other for the lead at some point, and we’ve been fine.

“Obviously, there’s a lot on the line, and we’ll be racing each other really hard, I’m sure, but we want to be able to win the championship the right way. That would be the goal, and obviously all of us have the same common goal out there. And we’re all going to be racing each other, and it’s going to be entertaining to watch, that’s for sure.”

* Newman: “We want to put on a good race for the fans. We want it to be interesting and exciting at the same time. You know, if we can finish four-wide coming off Turn 4 (on the final lap), then that would be great.

“But we just need to have a good, clean race for all of us, for all of our sakes, before, during, and after the race, which seems to be somewhat of an issue at times.”

 

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Last but not least, what’s the key Sunday:

* Newman: Winning the race. That’s the toughest part each and every week, winning the race. You win the race this weekend, you win the championship. To me, that’s really what it’s all about, and that’s why, on our side at least, our intent is the same.

“We’ve gone into every race with the intention of winning it and leading the most laps and winning the pole and everything else that goes along with it. We just haven’t been as successful as some of these other guys. But our consistency has been there, so we just have to be there at the end.”

* Logano: I feel like execution is the biggest deal. There’s going to be obviously a lot of distractions this weekend, and you’ve got to be able to put that behind you and race with a clean mind, and not just myself as a driver, but my whole team.

“And I feel like that’s been our strong point all year. I feel like my team has been very strong, keeping the pressure to a low point and being able to do their job in those situations. I feel like that’s our strongest point as the 22 team, and I like our chances because of that.”

* Harvick: “We had good practice at it last week (at Phoenix). I feel like everything we did last week — it was one and done. You show up to Phoenix and you know you have to win the race. The guys did a great job preparing the car, called a good race, had good pit stops.

“I feel like they had more pressure last week than they did this week, so I feel like we’ve already experienced it, and it was just last week. I feel like that was a good exercise as a team for us to go through, and you know, I just told everybody this week, just go out and do exactly what you did last week, and everybody knows what to expect.”

* Hamlin: “It’s about execution and not making mistakes, and all these teams have made some kind of mistake throughout this Chase. And it’s how you get over those mistakes that kind of defines what happens to you.

“Last week was obviously a tough one for us, having the pit road deal and a tire go flat, but then we battled back, and that showed — that to me was very encouraging from our race team. I think that’s something that’s going to be very tough to overcome at a place like Homestead.

“Of the four of us, your winner is probably going to be the one that doesn’t make any mistakes. It’s a fully-executed race from pit stops to pit lane to restarts and obviously green-flag speed, so hopefully all the pieces of the puzzle of that are put together.”

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

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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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.