Wilson comes away with hard-earned podium

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He crashed during Friday afternoon’s practice and didn’t put down a lap during Saturday’s qualifying session, but Justin Wilson was still able to improve 21 positions — the most of anybody in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach — and finish P3 for his third career podium finish at the legendary street circuit.

The Englishman was unable to set a time in qualifying because the rear wing on his No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda was missing required vinyl wrapping that teams use instead of painting the cars and his Dale Coyne Racing team ran out of time to put the wrapping on. As a result, Wilson started 24th for today’s race.

But as it turned out, the qualifying problems turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Wilson since he didn’t use up as many alternate ‘red’ tires as he would have. He pitted on Lap 4 and managed to rise through the field before ensconcing himself in the Top 5 during the second half of the event. A pass on Dario Franchitti at Lap 56 would be enough to claim a podium position.

“We just went out there and pushed hard the entire race,” Wilson said. “I think that helped, having an extra set and being able to pick a few people off. It’s great to get this result for the Boy Scouts of America and everyone at Dale Coyne Racing. They worked hard to put the car back together on Friday, so I have to thank them. It’s also good for Honda here at Long Beach to get 1-2-3-4. I think it’s fantastic.”

Wilson’s third-place effort is his best since scoring an upset win last season at Texas Motor Speedway and his second podium since the 2010 season.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.