Kasey Kahne is steadily making his way up the Sprint Cup standings after posting sub-par results in the season’s opening events.
Kahne’s victory last Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway vaulted him into the Top 10 in the Cup championship, and he comes to Auto Club Speedway sitting seventh at 42 points off leader Brad Keselowski. His win at “Thunder Valley” came off a strong performance the previous week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he converted a Top 5 start (fourth) into a runner-up finish.
Those runs come after finishing 36th in the Daytona 500 due to getting caught in a early, multi-car crash, and then finishing 19th at Phoenix International Raceway following a front-row start.
“We got a little behind, but these points will get us up there again, and hopefully we can stay up there all season long,” Kahne said. “We just keep learning and getting better together, because we have a great team here. We’ve gained a lot of spots here in the last two weeks, and I feel really good about where we’re at, where our team’s at.
“There was a lot that went on during the off-season to get a little bit better. I felt like each one of us needed to get a touch better. So far, it’s all paying off. The guys are doing an awesome job.”
Kahne has collected two top-10s in his last three starts at ACS, where he won in 2006. He expects the racing to be very strong there this weekend with the Generation 6 machines, which are getting their first taste of the track this weekend.
“I just think that you’re going to be able to drive it in the corner harder, make more aggressive moves getting into the corner and through the middle of the corner, and that’s something that we haven’t had there before,” he said this week. “So to me, it’s going to create a much better race to where you’ll be able to pass and make those moves a little bit easier is what I’m hoping for.”
MRTI: Freedom 100, new USF-17 launch highlight Indy oval weekend
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
INDIANAPOLIS – The Mazda Road to Indy has a double dip of content this weekend with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda at the Lucas Oil Raceway short oval in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis.
Both events are on Friday; the Freedom 100 airs at noon ET and local time as part of NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage. Kevin Lee, Anders Krohn and Katie Hargitt will have the call for the Freedom.
The Freedom 100 is arguably the marquee race of the year for Indy Lights, and a good springboard to the Verizon IndyCar Series – no less than 24 of the 33 starters in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field have some degree of Mazda Road to Indy experience.
That being said, the randomness of the Freedom 100 has produced a variety of winners who haven’t exactly gone on to huge things in IndyCar.
Here’s the past winners list:
2015: Jack Harvey
2014: Gabby Chaves
2013: Peter Dempsey
2012: Esteban Guerrieri
2011: Josef Newgarden
2010: Wade Cunningham
2009: Wade Cunningham
2008: Dillon Battistini
2007: Alex Lloyd
2006: Wade Cunningham
2005: Jaime Camara
2004: Thiago Medeiros
2003: Ed Carpenter
That’s three past winners in Carpenter, Newgarden and Chaves who are racing on Sunday. Harvey, Dempsey and Guerrieri have a combined zero starts; meanwhile all of Cunningham, Battistini, Camara and Medeiros had less than a season of in IndyCar.
Polesitters have been random too, with some surprises including Ethan Ringel (last year) and Ken Losch (2007) of note.
Traditionally Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has fielded strong entries at the Speedway, and that puts any of its four cars – talented sophomore RC Enerson, Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia and fellow rookies Andre Negrao and Heamin Choi into contention almost from the off. Enerson, in particular, is due his first win of the year after niggling turbo issues have hampered most of his season.
Belardi Auto Racing, given its engineering strength in depth, is also a strong contender and a winner here twice previously in dramatic fashion with Chaves and Dempsey. This year they have Zach Veach, who topped the 200-mph mark during testing on Monday, and Felix Rosenqvist, who will look for a significantly better second oval start than his first at Phoenix.
Either of Enerson and Veach would make it seven winners in eight races this year. The other six thus far are, in order, Felix Serralles, Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Urrutia and Dean Stoneman.
Kaiser expects to be better than both he and the Juncos Racing team were here last year. Another potential surprise is Neil Alberico, who was strong in testing despite a slight incident in the first session.
Choi, replacing Scott Anderson, is the only driver change among the 16 entered for the Freedom 100. It’s the biggest field for this race since 2012, when 18 cars started – only 11 have started each of the last three years.
Arguably the more intriguing part of the weekend from the Pro Mazda or USF2000 perspective is the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 car, which gets unveiled Friday morning, 9 a.m., at IMS.
It’s the second new car to be unveiled at IMS in recent years, with the Dallara IL-15 Mazda having been unveiled in May 2014 ahead of its race debut for 20115.
The Pro Mazda and USF2000 races occur later in the day on Friday at IMS.
In Pro Mazda, the question is whether anyone can stop the Pato O’Ward roll of awesomeness for Team Pelfrey. The young Mexican has won five of six races to date, although teammate Aaron Telitz is a past winner at Lucas Oil Raceway in USF2000. The remaining six drivers in the field will look to end O’Ward’s run of form.
USF2000 sees its field temporarily cut in half for its lone oval race of the season, down from 27 cars entered at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend to a mere 14 cars on the 0.686-mile oval.
While Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Pabst Racing have three cars entered apiece – Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have propelled Cape to four straight wins this year -known oval setup ace John Walko will likely have Victor Franzoni’s car ready to go to contend.
Current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud — who comes into Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 riding a three-race winning streak — has a new addition to the family: Norman Pagenaud.
The newest Pagenaud already has his own Twitter account and while ‘dad’ was in Detroit Tuesday during the annual NASCAR cross-country media tour day, Norman REALLY got to know his new home away from home: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Check out some of Norman’s best tweets of the day, as well as a few from Simon.
Oh, and did we mention that Norman is a puppy? He’s sooooooo cute!
To further pump up the excitement of Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 – which is officially sold-out – all 33 drivers in the race field spent Tuesday flying to various cities for a number of media opportunities.
Some went to baseball games, others to the zoo, and all had countless media interviews as a prelude for Sunday’s milestone event.
The media tour, which began in 2011, scattered the drivers to a variety of markets, from New York City and Chicago to Miami, Phoenix, Toronto, Buffalo, St. Louis and even Bethlehem, Pa.
Pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe kicked off things by taking a bite out of the Big Apple (New York City), along with 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 Verizon IndyCarSeries champion Will Power and two-time series race winner Marco Andretti.
Here’s where the contingent of drivers visited, followed by a number of social media posts related to their visits:
Bethlehem, Pa.: Jack Hawksworth, Bristol, Conn. (ESPN): Tony Kanaan, Buffalo: Josef Newgarden, Charlotte, N.C.: Juan Pablo Montoya, Chicago: Helio Castroneves, Cincinnati: Sage Karam, Mikhail Aleshin, Cleveland: Pippa Mann, Columbus, Ohio: Charlie Kimball, Dallas: Graham Rahal, Dayton, Ohio: Stefan Wilson, Detroit: Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Bryan Clauson, Buddy Lazier, Louisville: Matt Brabham, Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot, Miami: Oriol Servia, Carlos Munoz, Gabby Chaves, Milwaukee: Conor Daly, New York: Will Power, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Townsend Bell, Phoenix: Scott Dixon, St. Louis: JR Hildebrand, Toronto: Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani