Friday's motors: Harvick, Hamlin try at Pocono to end long losing streaks

Associated Press

Long Pond, Pa. — Denny Hamlin swept Pocono as a rookie in 2006 and won again last season, his track record-tying sixth victory. Kevin Harvick joined Hamlin in the win column on the same weekend at Pocono in 2020, his first victory at the tri-oval track, and they both left the June twinbill weekend seemingly positioned as the drivers to beat in the championship race.

Chase Elliott spoiled their chances when he won the 2020 title.

FILE - In this June 28, 2020, file photo, Denny Hamlin celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, in Long Pond, Pa. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick flipped their 1-2 finish in Pocono's doubleheader weekend last year but they each come back for this weekend's races winless and trying to chase Kyle Larson.

This season, NASCAR wonders, can anyone catch Kyle Larson, who goes to Pocono Raceway for a weekend doubleheader on a four-race winning streak that includes the non-points $1 million All-Star Race?

Hamlin and Harvick suddenly have a more pressing question to answer than whether they can win the championship.

Can either star driver win a race?

Both are winless — a year after Harvick won a series-best nine races and Hamlin counted the Daytona 500 among his seven victories — and hope to reverse the trend at Pocono. They did, in fact, flip results last year when Harvick and Hamlin went 1-2 in Saturday’s race and Hamlin and Harvick went 1-2 in Sunday’s race. Pocono Raceway is the site of the only NASCAR doubleheader this season (325 miles Saturday; 350 Sunday).

“There is a panic button. I’m not really there yet,” Hamlin said. “Frustrated, yeah, because you want to go to the racetrack and know that you’ve got a car capable of being the fastest, but again, we’ve got a few weeks to really start looking at that and say, ‘OK, we really have to catch up here.’”

Harvick finished fifth last week at Nashville and Hamlin was 13th — he has one top 10 over his last four starts.

Harvick won the 2014 NASCAR championship in his first season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. He hasn’t finished worse than eighth — with a championship, a runner-up, three third-place finishes and a fifth — over his time at SHR. But the team has struggled all season and none of its four Cup drivers have a win through 17 races. Harvick had four wins at this point last season but he’s led only 39 laps this year. SHR doesn’t have the speed to challenge Larson or Hendrick Motorsports.

Harvick said the No. 4 Ford team is “not to that point” where it can start winning weekly.

Hamlin would pass Jeff Gordon for most wins at the 2 1/2-mile track, with two wins for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2006, and one each in 2009, 2010, 2019 and 2020.

“I don’t think we can correlate, just because we had success last year, it’s going to equal success this year,” Hamlin said. “Now, over the long term, I would say whatever I’m doing at the race track is working because it’s working with multiple cars, multiple different aerodynamic packages. I think we always will have an advantage when we go there simply because of how my driving style fits that track.”

Larson, meanwhile, has been the talk of NASCAR as he rebounded from a nearly season-long suspension into the hottest driver in the field. Jimmie Johnson in 2007 was the last to win four straight Cup races.

Verstappen fastest at Styrian GP, Bottas spins in pit lane

Spielberg, Austria — Formula One leader Max Verstappen was fastest in both practices at the Styrian Grand Prix on Friday, with defending champion Lewis Hamilton finishing nearly four-tenths of a second off the pace in fourth place.

Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was punished with a three-place grid penalty at Sunday's race and two penalty points for “dangerous driving in the pit lane” after his involvement in a rare incident in the second practice.

His Mercedes spun shortly after its release following a tire change and Bottas just avoided colliding into McLaren mechanics in the next box.

According to the FIA, Bottas said in the hearing with stewards "that in the past they have been losing time in the pit departure. So they tried something new, which was to leave in second gear. As a result, the wheel spin was much higher and the result unexpected.”

Bottas didn’t return to the track and finished P2 in 12th.

Practice took place in a drizzle, though the track was not slippery.

Verstappen shaved 0.5 seconds off his leading P1 time in the afternoon session.

“Although there are a few things to look into, which is very normal for a Friday, I am quite happy with where the car is at the moment,” Verstappen said.

“In the second practice, Lewis had a faster lap time that was deleted so it looks a bit different to what is shown at the moment on the timesheets but we expect to see both teams at the top.”

Hamilton's lap, .077 faster, was invalid as the seven-time world champion exceeded the track limit in one of the turns. He was third in the first practice.

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Renault’s Esteban Ocon were over three-tenths of a second behind in second and third places respectively.

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, who posted the second fastest time in P1, sat out the afternoon session while team mechanics were working on his car. Team principal Franz Tost said data from the first practice showed irregularities, indicating an unknown issue with the power unit.

Both Ferraris failed to make the top 10.

The third practice is scheduled for Saturday, followed by qualifying.

Hamilton and Bottas won the two races held on the track in the Austrian Alps last year, while Verstappen triumphed in 2018 and 2019.

Verstappen leads overall with 131 points, followed by Hamilton on 119, and Sergio Perez third on 84.

Perez clocked only the 13th and ninth fastest times, respectively.

Red Bull arrives at its home track on the back of a three-race winning streak, the team’s first since the introduction of the hybrid power units in 2014.

For its engine supplier Honda, three wins in a row is its first time since 1991 when Ayrton Senna won the opening four races.