Friday’s roundup: Edwards wins Sprint Cup pole
Bristol, Tenn. — Carl Edwards won his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup pole Friday, helping Joe Gibbs Racing take four of the top five spots in qualifying Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Edwards, the winner at Bristol in March 2014, earned his third pole at the track and second consecutive No. 1 spot after also topping qualifying last week at Texas. He had a fast lap of 127.997 mph in the No. 19 Toyota Camry on the 0.533-mile track. Kurt Busch also won consecutive poles this season.
That could bode well for Edwards, whose previous two Bristol poles yielded a second in March 2011 and one of his three wins in August 2008.
“This one’s really special because Bristol is tough,” Edwards said. “I feel really good about chances in the race because of the race trim we ran.”
Next was teammate and defending race winner Matt Kenseth at 127.419, with Joey Logano third in a Ford at 127.191. That duo each has two wins over the past five Bristol races.
Denny Hamlin will start fourth and Kyle Busch fifth in JGR Toyotas. Busch has swept the past two NASCAR weekends.
Edwards stood 10th after the first practice and was second to Logano after the first qualifying round. He fell a spot to third after the second round but turned it on in the final session for his 18th career pole.
“That’s pretty cool to run a less than 15-second lap,” Edwards said. “It’s a real testament to my guys and everybody on this team has been working so hard.
“You see it each week the JGR Toyotas are up front and these cars are really nice to drive. Dave Rogers (crew chief) and everybody did a really nice job.”
Martin Truex Jr. qualified eighth to make it five Toyotas in the top 10. Trevor Bayne (10th) was the other Ford driver.
Jimmie Johnson (sixth), Kevin Harvick (seventh) and A.J. Allmendinger (ninth) rounded out the top 10.
What to expect: Kyle and Kurt Busch have the most Bristol wins among active drivers with five each, while Kenseth has four. Given Kyle Busch’s overall record here and recent sweep of Martinsville and Texas, it wouldn’t be a stretch if he took charge again on Sunday. He could have plenty of company from guys who have been just as strong here.
Xfinity looks for thrill with heats
In a gimmick move intended to add excitement to the show, NASCAR will use heat races for the first time in the Xfinity Series on Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The heat races will set the field for the main event, and by trying it in the second-tier series, NASCAR doesn’t have as much to lose. The heat races have been extremely popular for the Truck Series, which uses them to set the field at the Eldora Speedway dirt track. But this will be the first time NASCAR tries it with a stock car in a national series.
It likely will lead to varying strategies. Some drivers won’t risk wrecking their cars on the day of the race, and others could sandbag in the heats to hide how good they are for the main event.
“It’s going to be different — a lot of people are going to be racing, a lot of people are going to be just being smart to be safe for the main race,” said points leader Daniel Suarez. “I’m going to go out and race.”
Here’s the wrinkle that NASCAR has forced teams to handle: If they wreck or blow an engine and aren’t ready for the start of the main race, the team doesn’t get to race.
The heat races Saturday will be the first of four Xfinity events that will use the format. All four races, at Bristol, Richmond, Dover and Indianapolis, are part of the Dash-4-Cash promotion. The format:
■Drivers will use single-car qualifying to set the heats. Odd-numbered qualifiers will run in the first heat; even-numbered qualifiers will race in the second heat.
■The heats at Bristol are 50 laps each and will set the field for the main event.
■The Xfinity Series race will go off after the heats and be 200 laps.
The race is important for Xfinity Series regulars because the highest-finishing non-Cup driver will earn a cash prize at the end of each Dash-4-Cash event. If the same driver earns two of the top finishes, the driver automatically earns a berth in the series’ Chase playoff, which debuts this season.
Drivers will be banking on those finishes to secure their shot at the championship because Cup drivers have dominated the series so far this season. Sprint Cup drivers have won all six of the races this year, and four of those victories have gone to Kyle Busch.
Busch is looking forward to trying the heat races at Bristol.
“I think it will be fun for the fans, like an All-Star race, broken up into segments, with the ability to make improvements to the car in between,” Busch said. “We’ll have to see what that looks like and hopefully it will go in our favor.”
IndyCar domed skids
IndyCar will use domed skids — curved pieces that are affixed to the bottom of the cars — for the Indianapolis 500 in an effort to prevent cars from flying into the air after spins.
Four cars went airborne in the lead-up to last year’s race, and Chevrolet and Honda both agreed that the domed skids could return to the current cars. The pieces have been used on previous generations of Indy cars.
Drivers who tested at California and Indianapolis Motor Speedway used the domed skids, and the Honda camp complained the pieces made their cars too unstable while driving.
The domed skids also are scheduled to be used this year at Texas Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway, but their return next month at Indy likely will be controversial if the Honda camp believes it puts them at a disadvantage.
To make room for the skids, the car must be raised, and that will create a reduction in downforce. Drivers want as much downforce as possible, so they’ll have to raise the wings of the cars. That maneuver will add drag and disrupt the air behind each car, which is what made the Honda drivers argue the cars were too unstable in the dirty air.
Scrambling for a dragster
Both Dave Connolly and Leah Pritchett were left scrambling for new Top Fuel dragster seats after Bob Vandergriff announced his sudden retirement this week from NHRA.
Pritchett won this year at Phoenix for Bob Vandergriff Racing. The team owner said he’d been considering retirement since he stopped driving after the 2014 season. He said the death of friend and team supporter Josh Comstock of C&J Energy Services caused Vandergriff to reflect on “my priorities in life.
“I’ve missed a lot of things in my children’s lives over the years and the desire to spend more time at home with my family has weighed on me greatly the last few years,” he said. Vandergriff has four children.
Connolly is seventh in the NHRA standings and Pritchett is 10th.
“It is beyond unfortunate, surprising, and a tip of a seahorse to say the least with the retirement news of Bob Vandergriff, and ultimately the doors officially closing of BVR,” Pritchett wrote on her Facebook page. “I have beyond huge gratitude to Bob for believing in me, on and off the track.”
Vandergriff won three national events in 17 final rounds over 16 seasons of driving in the Top Fuel category. His best points finish was fifth in 2007.
Food City 500
Track: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (oval, 0.533 miles)
Schedule: Saturday, practice (FS1, 8:30 a.m.), practice (11 a.m.); Sunday, race, 1 p.m. (Fox)
Distance: 266.5 miles (500 laps)
2015 winner: Denny Hamlin
Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, (FS1, 9:30 a.m.); race, 12:30 p.m. (FS1)
Distance: 159.9 miles (300 laps)
2015 winner: Joey Logano
Grand Prix of Long Beach
Track: Long Beach (Calif.) street course (1.97 miles)
Schedule: Saturday, practice (1 p.m.), qualifying (5-6:15 p.m., NBCSN, 6-7:30 p.m.); Sunday, race, 4:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Distance: 157 miles (80 laps)
2015 winner: Helio Castroneves
Chinese Grand Prix
Track: Shanghai International Circuit (road, 3.39 miles), Jiading, Shanghai
Schedule: Sunday, race, 2 a.m. (NBCSN)
Distance: 190 miles (56 laps)
2015 winner: Lewis Hamilton