Joe Gibbs Racing’s search for speed turns to Kansas

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Today begins a critical three-week stretch for Joe Gibbs Racing in its search for speed, particularly at 1.5-mile tracks.

Starting today at Kansas Speedway, the Cup Series competes the next three weekends at 1.5-mile tracks (Charlotte hosts the All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 after Kansas).

After this stretch, Cup teams will race at only once more at a 1.5-mile track before the playoffs begin in September. Five of the 10 playoff races will be on 1.5-mile tracks, including Kansas and Charlotte in the second round.

“I don’t think we’ve been as strong anywhere as we want to be,’’ Matt Kenseth said. “Certainly everybody likes to talk about the mile-and-a-halves because there are a lot of intermediate tracks. I think this will be a good test for us because it’s historically been a really good track for us as an organization the last few years.’’

In the season’s first three races on 1.5-mile tracks — Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas — Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to lead a lap. Also, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Kenseth have a combined average finish of 17.5 in those events.

Kenseth has two of the team’s three top 10s on such tracks with a third at Atlanta and a ninth at Las Vegas. Hamlin’s sixth-place finish at Las Vegas is the team’s only other top 10 at a 1.5-mile track this year. Busch was headed for a top-five finish at Las Vegas until his last-lap incident with Joey Logano.

“I think we need speed,’’ Hamlin said. “There’s been some racetracks where I felt like we missed it on the handling side of things, but overall I think our window is a dramatically tighter this year, having to hit our balances just right to be competitive to win races. I think that’s been kind of the difference over the last couple of years. That comes just from a lack of overall speed. Speed comes from a lot of different things. We have to go to work on each one of those things to make speed better.’’

Kansas could help cure some of those ills. Kenseth has three top 10s in the last four races there. Busch has top-five finishes in each of his last four starts there, including a win.

While Gibbs struggles to find speed, it remains winless in a season that has seen eight different winners in the first 10 races. Those drivers represent seven different organizations.

“That’s the most frustrating part for us is we just haven’t been able to get to victory lane yet, but we know we’re on the brink of it,’’ Busch said.

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Ford chooses Sebastien Bourdais replacement for Le Mans (and it isn’t Tony Stewart … yet)

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Ford has chosen a replacement for injured Sebastien Bourdais at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to announce the driver soon – but don’t hold your breath NASCAR fans.

It isn’t Tony Stewart, who has indicated his desire to run the renowned event.

While taping an upcoming episode Thursday of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said the three time champion who returned from NASCAR’s premier series last year still is lobbying “every time he sees us” to race a Ford GT car.

“We love Tony, and he wants to get behind the wheel of that GT but not at LeMans” in 2017, Pericak told NBC Sports at the Ford Performance Technical Center.

However, the new co-driver will be relatively inexperienced on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe road course in France. Pericak said Ford’s high-tech simulator (which mainly is used for NASCAR but also is used for sports cars and street models) at its North Carolina facility would help prepare the replacement.

“We will be using the simulator heavily between now and then for that driver to become fully up to speed not only in the GT but at Le Mans,” Pericak said. “There’s a great example of where we’re going to get tons of hours behind the wheel before that driver gets on an airplanes and heads over the France.

“The realism is unbelieveable. It’s a fantastic tool to have with this situation. Otherwise, you pick a driver, send him to Le Mans and take your chances. We’re going to be much more prepared. We already have the simulator ready to run that track because we ran it all last year.”

Returning to France last year, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Chip Ganassi Racing GT driven by Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.

Bourdais, who suffered pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an Indianapolis 500 qualifying crash last Saturday, was released from an Indianapolis hospital Thursday.

“Thank God, he’s going to be OK,” Pericak said. “We’ve talked to him, he’s in good spirits, but we’re really pleased he’s going to make a full recovery.”

Pericak said an announcement of Bourdais’ replacement was likely Thursday or Friday.

NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)