Newgarden gets career-best finish in Brazil

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Taking advantage of a fast Honda and a race-record number of cautions, Josef Newgarden put himself in position to score an upset victory in Sao Paulo this afternoon before dropping back to fifth place at the finish on worn tires.

“I thought we had a really strong race and a top-five is really good going into Indy,” he said. “Given where we started, that’s exactly what we wanted to do, score solid points and get some momentum going into the 500. I think we’ve absolutely done that.”

The Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver didn’t qualify on Saturday because of an engine change and had to start 25th at the rear of the field. But Newgarden and SFHR played the strategy game perfectly, and the young American was able to climb to second on the final restart of the day at Lap 60. That set up a fight for the lead between himself and Takuma Sato, who gave no quarter to Newgarden whenever he attempted to take the lead from him.

Newgarden and Sato’s battle enabled eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe to reel them in. With three laps remaining, the Canadian took back second from Newgarden, who still mustered an ultimately vain three-wide attempt in Turn 11 with Hinchcliffe and Sato before his fading Firestones caught up with him.

But while Marco Andretti and Oriol Servia managed to pass him on the final lap, Newgarden’s fifth is the best result of his young IndyCar career. Still, as he now prepares for the Indianapolis 500, he felt like he could’ve done even better on Sunday.

“It was a little bit of a disappointment,” he said. “I think we had a better car than fifth. You have to take what you can sometimes. We’re really pleased at all of the hard work that gets put in from everyone here. It’s good to get representative results. We’ll try to take that momentum and do well at the ‘500’.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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