Junior stays modest: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had never filled out an NCAA tournament bracket before this year, even though he’s a hoops fan.
He would have done it earlier, but he doesn’t like to lose.
“I didn’t really know if brackets were even that fun to do,” he said Friday. “I hate making the wrong pick, but what are you going to do? There’s a lot of games.”
NASCAR’s most popular driver seems to be getting a whole lot closer to some more important victories during his outstanding start to the year. With two top-five finishes already, Earnhardt is second in the standings through four races, trailing Brad Keselowski by nine points heading into Sunday’s race at Fontana.
After his second straight second-place finish at the Daytona 500, Earnhardt followed up with three solid races, coming in fifth at Phoenix, seventh in Las Vegas and sixth last weekend at Bristol despite a rough day. Earnhardt has been driving too long to get excited a mere month into the season, even if his fans don’t share his caution.
“When I hear people talking about the fast start, I just feel like you’ve got to take a lot of different factors into the equation,” he said. “We’ve had good fortune. We’ve got real lucky. ... We’ve ran well. We’ve had good cars, too. We also had real good fortunes on where we were restarting, what lane we were in, and just having good opportunities to get positions for various reasons at the end of these races.”
Hamlin wins pole: Denny Hamlin has won the pole for the second straight year at Fontana, turning a lap of 187.451 mph in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Greg Biffle finished second and Brad Keselowski was third in Friday’s qualifying session, but they’ll start at the back after engine changes.
Hamlin earned his first pole of the season and the 13th of his career. He won three last year, and has won the pole three times at Auto Club Speedway.
Biffle was right behind at 187.217 mph in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Keselowski was third, beating Kyle Busch’s 187.130 mph in fourth place.
But Biffle and Keselowski both had engine issues in practice.
Defending champion Tony Stewart qualified eighth.
George reinstated: IndyCar founder Tony George was reinstated to the Hulman & Co. board of directors on Friday, five months after resigning following a failed attempt to reacquire the series.
The decision to bring George back onto the board was made after the family members met in St. Petersburg for their annual shareholder meeting.
George resigned in October after submitting a proposal to purchase IndyCar, the series he founded in 1996. He cited a conflict of interest as his reason for stepping down, and he was allowed to return to the board Friday because he’s no longer trying to regain control of the series.
IndyCar is owned by the Hulman-George family, which has owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1945. The series is governed by the Hulman & Co. board of directors, which is back to 11 members after George was brought back Friday.
Among those on the board are his mother, Mari Hulman George, and his sisters, Nancy L. George, M. Josephine George and Katherine M. George-Conforti. Mark Miles, named to the board last year, was hired as chairman of Hulman & Co. in November.
George was ousted as CEO of IndyCar by his mother and sisters in 2009. He also resigned his spot on the board of directors, but rejoined in 2011. He was president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1990-2004, and was CEO of IMS from 1990-2009.
de Silvestro fast at St. Pete: The two title contenders from last season led the leaderboard on IndyCar’s opening day of the season.
The third fastest driver was a surprise. Simona de Silvestro posted the third-fastest time of the day on the streets of St. Petersburg, right behind Will Power and defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Hunter-Reay and Power took their championship battle to last year’s season finale, with Hunter-Reay winning his first title by four points.
Power topped the leaderboard with a lap at 1:01.4467, followed by Hunter-Reay at 1:01.625 and de Silvestro at 1:01.6895. It’s the Swiss driver’s debut race with new team KV Racing Technology.
Oriol Servia was fourth as Chevrolet drivers took the top four spots.
Takuma Sato was fifth in a Honda for AJ Foyt Racing.
Bowyer fights lawsuit: NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer has asked a South Dakota judge to dismiss a motorcycle company’s lawsuit against him that alleges he didn’t pay for $31,000 of custom work it did on his Harley-Davidson.
Klock Werks Kustom Cycles in Mitchell says it did the work on Bowyer’s motorcycle about four years ago. The company is seeking the money plus 18 percent annual interest, along with attorney and court fees.
Bowyer, 33, who was the runner-up in NASCAR’s top-tier Sprint Cup series in 2012, says he repaid the debt through promotional services, The Daily Republic reported. He also says the court in South Dakota’s Davison County has no jurisdiction over him because his agreement with Klock Werks was made in Arizona, the motorcycle was purchased in Minnesota and it was delivered to him in North Carolina.
In an affidavit filed Feb. 28, Bowyer and his Sioux Falls attorney, Steve Sanford, said he “has never set foot in South Dakota in any way related to this dispute.” Bowyer said he attended the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis three times, “but not with the motorcycle in question here.”
Malaysian GP: Kimi Raikkonen continued his surprisingly strong start to the Formula One season, posting the fastest time in the second practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix, outpacing defending champion Sebastian Vettel before rain hit the circuit Friday.
The Lotus driver sent a clear message that his victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was no fluke, as he edged triple world champion Vettel of Red Bull by .019 seconds.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso came in third and fourth followed by Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber, who earlier was fastest in the first practice session. Meanwhile, it was another disappointing day for McLaren, which has struggled since revamping its race car in the offseason. Sergio