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Near death last year, Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner Felix Sabates returning to track soon

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Last October, Chip Ganassi bought a blue suit to wear to the funeral of Felix Sabates.

Fortunately, he hasn’t had to use it.

Sabates, the co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, recounted the story and other details of a serious ailment that felled him last August during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Late Shift” on Monday.

Sabates said he was in intensive care for 73 days and in a coma for 29.

“I was really sick,” Sabates said. “There were times that my family and the doctors didn’t think I was going to make it.”

One of those times was the week of the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which was held Oct. 9.

“During the week of the Charlotte race, my daughter texted Chip in Pittsburgh and said ‘He may not make it through the night,’ and Chip was coming down for the race,” Sabates said. “He went out and bought a blue suit to go to my funeral.

“They thought I was going to die that night. That’s just the way it was. Fortunately, the good Lord kept me here.”

Sabates, 71, said he’s at “95 percent good” and “ready to go.” He plans to return to the track (for the first time since his illness last year) either at Richmond International Raceway or Texas Motor Speedway.

“I can’t get in a plane and fly,” Sabates said. “I’m still not in a good enough shape because my lungs won’t take it.”

Sabates has been a co-owner with Ganassi’s NASCAR operation since 2001 but has been a NASCAR owner since 1989 when he started SABCO Racing. He owned the No. 42, which Kyle Petty drove from 1989-96.

He’ll make his return to the track with CGR enjoying its best success in years. Kyle Larson, who is on top of the Cup point standings, captured his second series win Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

That was after the 24-year-old finished second in three straight races and led the Daytona 500 at the white flag before running out of gas.

Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet, is sixth in the standings after earning three top 10s in the season’s first five races.

Both teams are improving on the momentum from last season when the team drivers qualified both of its driver for the playoffs in the same year for the first time.

“Last year we realized some engineering advantages that we were not doing,” Sabates told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Chip made the commitment that we were going to hire the best engineers, the best people that we could, and we did. If you remember the second half of the year last year, both Jamie and Kyle ran pretty well. Both cars made the (playoffs). That was pretty remarkable for where we were at the beginning of the year.

“I got an email last night from Jamie, from the plane (saying), ‘Our cars are so much better than they were in the past that it makes it fun to drive again.'”

Knowing his team’s co-owner is still around to see it probably makes it even better.

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.


Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

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Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

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Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”