|Hamlin sets track record with pole-winning run|
|Friday, March 14, 2014 8:05 PM|
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin ended two weeks of Team Penske dominance by winning the pole at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Hamlin set a track record Friday with a lap at 129.991 mph to earn the top starting spot. It broke the mark of 129.535 set by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch a year ago and ensured that neither Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano won the pole for the first time since NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying debuted three weeks ago.
Hamlin ran only one lap in the first segment and it was good enough to lock him into the top 12 to advance into the second segment. He then ran one lap, took the pole for Sunday’s race and got out of his car to see if anyone could beat him.
“As a short track guy, I can feel when, ‘OK, this is all I’ve got.’ Or, ‘This is a really good lap’,” Hamlin said. He aborted an attempt at a second lap in the first segment because, “If that wasn’t a top-12 lap, we were in big trouble. So I knew that was going to be good. Then ultimately strategy comes into play, wanting to conserve your car and keeping everything as cool as you can for the second segment
“I was going to run two laps in the second segment but I bobbled it pretty bad into Turn 3 and didn’t finish the lap. But I knew the first one was good.”
So good that he wasn’t very worried when Keselowski and Logano both pulled back onto the track as the clock ticked down to attempt to bump Hamlin from the pole. The teammates swept the front row at Phoenix and Las Vegas, where the new format was first used this season, and they made one last run at Hamlin.
Keselowski came up just short, settling for second at 129.965.
Logano was fourth, behind Hamlin’s teammate Matt Kenseth.
“I feel like we did what we were supposed to do to be able to go out there and give it a shot for the pole,” said Logano, the pole-winner last week at Las Vegas. “Denny’s strategy was pretty good. Just not good enough for us.”
The Penske drivers were only able to make those final attempts because of a new rule this week by NASCAR that permitted the use of cooling units on pit road for teams to cool their engines following their runs. NASCAR decided Tuesday to allow the devices following a conference call with crew chiefs because of safety concerns raised by drivers.
Because the engines had been getting so hot following the qualifying runs and the cooling units were not allowed, drivers were running laps on the bottom of the track at slow speeds to cool down. It was going on at the same time as other drivers were sailing by at full speed, and many drivers complained they had near collisions.
“I think that rule change has made qualifying even better,” Keselowski said. “It’s removed danger and replaced with opportunity. I think that was for the betterment of the sport and certainly if for no other reason than safety, it was definitely worth it. But I also feel like being able to go out there and make multiple runs is now a lot more plausible.”
The early season struggles continued for Stewart-Haas Racing and even hit Kevin Harvick, who had been the lone bright spot for the organization through the first three races.
Kurt Busch was the highest SHR qualifier at 13th but Harvick was 27th and Danica Patrick was the last driver to qualify on speed at 36th. Team co-owner Tony Stewart had to use a provisional to make it in the field and will start 37th.
High speeds lead to several crashes at Bristol: Patrick wrecked just minutes into what turned into a dicey first practice session Friday at Bristol.
In all, four drivers had to go to backup cars before the halfway mark of the 90-minute session, including 15-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch.
Hamlin, who watched the first 15 minutes of practice from pit road, attributed the wrecks to drivers adapting to NASCAR’s new aerodynamic rules and Goodyear’s tire compound producing faster speeds.
“I really don’t think it’s treacherous,” Hamlin told Fox Sports 1. “It’s just the speeds are so much higher than we’ve seen. It takes a little getting used to. We are all out there fighting for a tenth-of-a-second, a hundredth-of-a-second at Bristol. I think it comes more from us pushing the edge than it is treacherous.”
Patrick was the first to wreck, losing control roughly three minutes into the session. She slammed into Parker Kligerman’s car,and his Swan Racing team appeared to be trying to fix his Toyota as Stewart-Haas Racing immediately pulled out the backup Chevrolet for Patrick.
Justin Allgaier then hit the wall, then Busch. Moments later, Greg Biffle crashed. All three went to backup cars.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. later scraped the wall but didn’t appear to do much damage.
Ryan Newman, who missed the first 15 minutes of practice because of a penalty last week at Las Vegas, found the beginning of practice entertaining.
“We sat there and watched a few guys crash,” he said. “It seems like the cars are really, really sensitive to some changes just because the cars are so stiff now because of the rigidity of how we’re running them. Once you lose it, you really lose it, which is what we’ve seen.”
Kenseth to use standby drivers at California: Matt Kenseth has a contingency plan for next week’s race at California as he awaits the birth of his third child.
Sam Hornish Jr. will be on standby for the Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway and Jeff Burton will be in place in case Kenseth needs a replacement driver for the Sprint Cup race.
“Although Jeff Burton is not crazy about going to the West Coast, he agreed to standby to practice or something if we needed that for a session,” Kenseth said.
Burton, who is running a limited schedule this season, tweeted Friday: “Friends don’t let friends drive with baby on the way.”
Kenseth has not said exactly when Katie Kenseth is due but joked several times that he has told her to have the baby girl on a Monday or Tuesday when he’s not busy with his duties as a Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
With rain expected to impact Sunday’s race at Bristol, he joked that Monday of next week is now off the table as a potential due date.
“If it rains Sunday, she was praying for Monday, so we had to change that to Tuesday if it’s going to be this week,” Kenseth added Friday.
He paused when he learned there may be bad weather in Bristol on Monday, too.
“Oh, it’s supposed to snow Monday?” he asked. “So I guess if we can’t race then we can still have her on Monday.”
Kenseth does not have standby drivers for this weekend at Bristol, where he’s scheduled to run both the Nationwide and Cup races.
Meanwhile, Paul Menard has Truck Series champion Matt Crafton on standby for a second consecutive week.
Menard’s wife, Jennifer, is expecting their first child in North Carolina and Crafton was on standby last weekend in Las Vegas. He wasn’t needed as Menard finished a season-best third.
Bourdais takes pole for Twelve Hours of Sebring
SEBRING, Fla. — Sebastien Bourdais won the pole for the Twelve Hours of Sebring on Friday, turning a lap at 120.303 mph at 3.74-mile Sebring International Raceway.
Trying to complete a Daytona-Sebring sweep in the new IMSA-sanctioned TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Bourdais will team with Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa on Saturday in the No. 5 Corvette DP.
“This was great qualifying for us,” Bourdais said. “It’s been very difficult to get a read on the car (in practice sessions); traffic has been very difficult. It’s been tough to get the balance of the car, tough to get into a rhythm. But in qualifying, you could string a few laps together. I was able to do that and by the end of qualifying the car was pretty optimized.”
Bruno Junqueira took the Prototype Challenge class pole at 117.242. He will team with Duncan Ende and David Hansson in the No. 09 ORECA FLM09.
In the GT Le Mans class, Michael Christensen topped the field with at 113.207 in the No. 911 Porsche 911. He will team with Patrick Long and Jorg Burgmeister.
Dane Cameron was the fastest in the GT Daytona class, turning a lap at 108.355 in the No. 94 BMW Z4. He will team with Paul Dalla Lana, Markus Palttala and Shane Lewis.
Langdon leads Top Fuel qualifying
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Top Fuel season champion Shawn Langdon raced to the qualifying lead Friday in the NHRA Gatornationals with a run of 3.786 seconds at 320.58 mph.
“As long as the track allows it, you can really throw down some good runs,” Langdon said. “We’re trying to make the best run we can on each session and we thought a .78 was about all we could get away with. We’re trying to get as much information as we can in each lane to get ready for Sunday.”
Bob Tasca III topped the Funny Car, Dave Connolly took the Pro Stock lead, and Matt Smith led Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying. Tasca had a 4.103 at 304.39 in a Ford Mustang, Connolly finished at 6.476 at 213.98 in a Chevy Camaro, and Smith had a 6.800 at 196.96 on a Buell.