Harvick Edges Bowman For First Pole
Kevin Harvick has clinched the pole in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This is Harvick’s first pole of 2016. His last pole came at Phoenix in March of 2015.
“This has just been a fun car to drive today. Hopefully, we can get it dialed in for race trim. We struggled when we first rolled off the truck in race trim and we just got it better and better and better. We applied all that stuff to qualifying so hopefully we’ll what we learned in qualifying we can apply to the race trim stuff and go from there,” said Harvick about his car today.
As the first round of qualifying went green, numerous cars were caught in the inspection. However, Harvick was the fastest in the first round at a speed of 194.756 mph. AJ Allmendinger was second at a speed of 194.252 mph, Alex Bowman was third at a speed of 194.140 mph, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was fourth at a speed of 193.840 mph, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five at 193.833 mph. Within the last 30 seconds of round one, Matt DiBenedetto was able to bump Kyle Larson out of the 24th position to transfer. All drivers made time on the track. All 12 drivers remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup advanced into the second round. Notable drivers who did not advance include Larson who qualified 25th, Trevor Bayne who qualified 27th, and Clint Bowyer who qualified 31st.
The second round of qualifying saw Bowman at the top of the board with a speed of 196.200 mph. Harvick was second at 195.494 mph, Chase Elliott was third at 195.228 mph, Kasey Kahne was fourth at 195.087 mph, and Martin Truex Jr rounded out the top five at 194.925 mph. Chase drivers who did not advance to the final round include Matt Kenseth who will start 17th, Austin Dillon who will start 19th, and Brad Keselowski who will start 20th.
The third round of qualifying saw Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch run the same speed at 195.228 mph. Harvick will start on the pole. Bowman will start second at a speed of 196.029 mph, Elliott will start third with a speed of 195.759 mph, Ky. Busch will start fourth, and Stewart will round out the top-five. Jimmie Johnson was the lowest qualifying chaser in this round. He qualified 11th at a speed of 192.630 mph.
Next up for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from Charlotte Motor Speedway will be two practice sessions at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN.
Harvick Wins Rain-Delayed Bristol Night Race
Kevin Harvick holds off weather and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to win the almost 24-hour long Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five. Harvick started from 24th to win today’s race. This is Harvick’s 33rd victory in 561 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series started.
“We should have won a lot of race this year, and we’ve just had things not go our way, made mistakes, or whatever the case may be, but to get back in victory lane here at bristol feels really good. We’ve had some good cars here the last few years. And to have Busch Beers on the car, we’ve had some crap luck with these guys on the car. Just really happy for Busch Beers and Jimmie Johns, and really proud for all these guys on the 4 team,” said Kevin Harvick in post-race victory lane interview.
“Just frustrating. Starting sixth on that last restart with him (Harvick) starting on the front row was tough. We were going to have to get everything perfect. It took me a minute to get the top going, but I wanted to give up there, but I remembered we had Bryan Clauson’s tribute car here. The guys dug deep to make our Fastenal Ford a lot better. We really wanted to park in victory lane for his whole family, friends, and fans. We were just a little bit short. I thought we were matching lap times there at the end; I just needed a restart or to start a little bit closer. I am definitely happy with how the weekend ended,” said second place finisher, Stenhouse Jr. post race.
Despite the race was delayed due to lightening in the area, the race began shortly after 9:00 pm eastern on Saturday night. Drivers were debating on whether to run high or on the bottom, but the lower groove prevailed at the beginning of the race. After getting the race underway for 31 laps, rain returned to the Bristol area bringing out the caution and ultimately the red flag. As the track dried, the engines refired shortly after 10:40 pm eastern. The red flag was displayed for 1 hour 24 minute and 4 seconds. While the cars were on the track and the jet dryers were finishing up drying pit road, the rain returned on lap 47. The race was postponed shortly after 11:20 pm eastern, and was scheduled to begin at 1 pm on Sunday. However, when 1 pm came on Sunday, rain was still a factor, delaying the even more. The red flag was lifted shortly after 4:30PM (EST). Green flag racing resumed on lap 58. When the race resumed, drivers were on the high and low lines trying to gain positions. The first half of the race was a dominating performance and a blistering pace set Kyle Busch, who lead 184 of 250 laps in the opening portion of the race.
Just as the race crept past halfway, the caution flew for debris. Busch continued his early dominance from the first half of the race into the second half. Tony Stewart, who had a terrible qualifying effort at Bristol, ended behind the wall to fix the tire vibration issues, but did return back on the speedway. The bottom and high line began to equalize in the second half of the race. Teams began to play cat and mouse on pit road in an effort to restart on the outside line. After dominating most of the are, Ky. Busch reported that the rear-end housing might be broken, but ended up crashing before heading to the garage. Unlike the first half of the race, cautions were breeding cautions. Weather brought out a caution on lap 433, but cars were brought onto pit road with 54 laps remaining as the red flag delayed. After a brief timeout the red flag was lifted after 6 minutes, 47 seconds. The end of the race went business as usual. The second half of the race was dominated and ultimately won by Harvick and the 4 team.
Overall, the 56th annual Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway say 20 lead changes among 8 different drivers. Ky. Busch led 256 laps, the most laps led, before getting caught up in an accident. The caution flag flew nine times for a total of 106 laps. The red flag was displayed three times all for weather. The average speed of the race was 77.968 mph. The official time of race was 3 hours, 25 minutes, and 5 seconds. The margin of victory was 1.933 seconds.
Harvick continues his reign as the point leader. Brad Keselowski is 27 points behind, Kurt Busch is 70 points behind, Carl Edwards is 73 points back, and Joey Logano rounds out the top five behind 78 points.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup grid has shifted some after today’s race. Buescher has raced his way into the top-30 and points, shifting the grid to only four spots remaining in the next three races. Ryan Newman is currently in the 12th spot on the grid. Because of Beuscher’s run, Kyle Larson was bumped out of the Chase.
The next race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to the Irish Hills of Michigan for the second time in 2016 for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Alex Bowman will be in the no. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy at Michigan if Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not medically cleared to race due to concussion-like symptoms. The Pure Michigan 400 will be on NBCSN and Motor Racing Network beginning at 2:00PM (EST).
Cole Custer Not Yet Sure of Future
With Stewart-Haas Racing announcing that they will have an entry in the XFINITY Series next season, all eyes point to Cole Custer as the guy to drive the car.
Currently, Custer drives for JR Motorsports in his rookie campaign of the Camping World Truck Series with sponsorship from Haas Automation. His father, Joe Custer is the executive vice president at Stewart-Haas Racing and chief executive officer of the Haas F1 Team.
Through 12 races this season, Custer sits 11th in the point standings, five points off the Chase cutoff, held by Cameron Hayley. With a fifth-place finish at Pocono, the No. 00 truck gained 20 points on the Chase bubble.
“We’ve definitely struggled,” Custer told Speedway Digest of his 2016 season. “We thought that we were going to be better this year. I think we are getting better and I think we will have a chance to get in the Chase.”
Custer has back-to-back top-10 finishes, increasing his total to five on the season, with a best finish of second at Iowa in mid-June. Leading three laps this season, the No. 00 truck is looking to regain its momentum that it had when they didn’t compete in a full season.
At age 16 Custer became the youngest winner in Truck Series history, in a dominating performance at New Hampshire, leading 148 of 200 laps in 2014. Last year, the team was victorious at Gateway leading 19 laps.
“A little bit of everything,” Custer said of what the team needs to improve on. “It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that you’re struggling on. We just need to get the whole thing rolling.”
Competing in a handful of XFINITY Series races this season, Custer has a little bit of extra racing on his hands. In three starts this season for JR Motorsports, he has a best finish of fourth at Charlotte, leading one lap.
Like many developing drivers, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. puts his faith in the younger generation of drivers. This is the third season that the duo has worked together, making Custer look up to the 15-time Most Popular Driver as a role model.
“He’s had a really big impact on me,” Custer said of Earnhardt. “He’s a real fun guy to be around and he will help you from time-to-time. He’s been a big help to me.”
As the season progresses and Custer has four races to jump three positions in the standings, the series goes to two tracks that the team is looking forward to – Bristol and the road course of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. In two career starts at Bristol the 18-year-old has a finish of eighth.
As far as the future goes, Custer isn’t sure what it holds. With his relationship with Gene Haas and Haas Automation, it’s possible that he drives full-time in the XFINITY Series next season.
“I’m not positive yet,” Custer said of his plans for next season. “We’ll see. Hopefully in the next few weeks or in the next month or so.”
Stewart Begins Final Comeback
In a day that arose with smoke, it ended with Smoke in victory lane as Tony Stewart does a bump and run to Denny Hamlin coming off the final turn at Sonoma Raceway to win the Toyota Save Mart 350. Hamlin finished second, followed by, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, and Martin Truex Jr. This win by Stewart snaps a three year winless streak.
Stewart talks about the final couple of laps that led to him losing the lead, but regaining it in the final turn. "I made mistakes the last two laps. I had just a little bit too much rear brake for Turn 7, and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row. But, I felt a nudge when I got down there and he knew where it was and he did the right thing doing it there; but if I could get to him, he knew what was coming. He told me he was proud of me. He knows what it means. We were teammates for a long time and we respect each other a lot.”
Denny Hamlin recalls the final laps from his perspective. “Tony (Stewart) was doing a good job maintaining his tires, a good job of running consistent laps there. Really he gave me an opportunity to get close. On the second to last lap he wheel hopped into (turn) seven, allowed us to get close and I just did a poor job of getting through 11. I was expecting to really drive in deep and I really thought that was going to happen and he did, but I also left the bottom open and that was a bad mistake on my part.”
The Toyota Save Mart 350 saw 12 lead changes among eight drivers. Hamlin led the most laps with a total of 33, followed by Carl Edwards (24), Tony Stewart (22), AJ Allmendinger (20), Danica Patrick, Paul Menard, and Kevin Harvick led three, and Kyle Busch led two.
The caution flag flew four times for 10 laps. The flag flew twice for accidents and for debris.
Kevin Harvick maintains a 34 point lead over Kurt Busch, followed by Carl Edwards (-52), Brad Keselowski (-56), and Joey Logano (-69).
The Chase Grid is now a battle to be in thhe top-15 in points. Despite his win today, Stewart is nine points away from 30th to be considered in the Chase. When Stewart gets in the top-30, Kasey Kahne would be on the outside looking in, and Jamie McMurray would have the final spot.
The Toyota Save Mart 350 lasted 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 43 seconds. The average speed was 80.966 mph. The margin of victory was .625 seconds.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to Daytona International Speedway for the annual Fourth of July spectacle. Coverage from Daytona will begin on Thursday, June 30, on the NBC Sports Network for the first practice at 3 pm Eastern.
Danica Patrick Looking to Find the Right Balance in 2016
Just over three years into her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, Danica Patrick is constantly searching for the right direction with Stewart-Haas Racing. It is a constant battle to improve and be better than she was the last time she came to the track.
Heading into Pocono Raceway Patrick sits 23rd in the point standings, 73 markers off the Chase cutoff held by her former Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman. The results may not show it, but the “Tricky Triangle” is one of her favorite tracks on the circuit.
“I would say Pocono is a place I’ve done well,” Patrick told Speedway Digest, while touring the Kalahari Resorts in Pocono Minor, PA. “I’ve not had great results, but usually run a little better than I do at some other places on a consistent basis. That always makes it better.”
In six starts at Pocono, Patrick has a best finish of 16th and in her last outing in August led five laps.
But this year she brings in new crew chief Billy Scott atop the pit box, hopeful to lead to better results.
Through 13 races in 2016, the No. 10 team is still looking for its first top-10 finish. Patrick’s best result came two races ago at Dover, rebounding from a crash in practice, five laps into a run.
She believes that the team has grit and determination that could lead it to better results in the last two-thirds of the season. Gaining a better relationship with Scott is one of the keys to that turn around.
“It’s a matter of developing a language and setup relationship with trial and error,” Patrick said. “I think every driver has their way of driving and every crew chief has their way of making their typical changes and the way that they go about things and how you can pair them together and optimize each other in the best way possible. It just takes time.”
While Patrick has struggled with top 10s over the past two seasons, her teammates, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have led Stewart-Haas Racing in arguably it’s best driver lineup to date. Tony Stewart increased the depth of the driver lineup once he came back from his back injury that forced him to miss the first two months of the season.
Dating back to the beginning of the 2014 season, Harvick has nine victories, 43 top-five finishes and 58 top 10s. Busch has three triumphs, 20 top-five finishes and 43 top-10 results.
Statically speaking, the two veteran drivers have out ran her as she only has posted five top 10 finishes in the same time span. The performance is one thing that she knows she needs to improve on.
“I know I have good teammates, which is a good thing,” Patrick said. “On the other hand Rodney’s [Childers] is not my crew chief, Tony [Gibson] was my crew chief. We operate a little different than some other teams. It’s crew chief driven. Your relationship with your crew chief and the things they do to optimize at the track within the team is different from crew chief to crew chief.”
Patrick is aware that she can lean on her teammate for advice, but there is only so much they can do to help. She still has to go out on track and drive the racecar on a weekly basis to try and improve the results, which is something she wants to do.
She has always been a racer, since the time she was a little girl. Now that she is getting later into her racing career the performance needs to improve to solidify herself in NASCAR and keep herself around for years to come and be a role model to the team.
On Thursday evening she took two families on tours around Kalahari Resort. She met one of her biggest fans, also named Danica. She appeals to the fans, but needs to appeal on the track to compete up at the front of the field.
After the 2015 season, Patrick lost her GoDaddy.com sponsorship, but had another primary sponsor waiting in the wing in Nature’s Bakery for 28 races, fulfilling the schedule that GoDaddy.com was on the car. Racing is a sponsor driven sport and without the patience of those sponsors, she may not be here.
As the 2016 season progresses, Patrick is going back to some of her better tracks on the circuit. She is always a force on the restrictor-plate tracks, though she has two DNF’s in the two plate races this season. Her best 1.5-mile track result this season is a pair of 20th-place finishes at Atlanta and Kansas. The mile-and-a-half tracks are a bulk of the schedule, so it’s all about making progress on the tracks that she struggles on.
She knows that the performance has lacked on the racetrack, and racing for Stewart-Haas Racing, it needs to improve though she is signed with the team through the 2018 season.
”It’s a matter of setting small goals along the way,” she said of her focus for the rest of 2016. “For us it’s got to finish on the lead lap, top 15s. We’ve been finishing around 20th, which is very mediocre and we need to step it up.”