Indy 500 rookie Carlos Munoz hits front row

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So far, Indianapolis 500 rookie Carlos Munoz is making this IndyCar thing look easy.

Munoz is making his big-league debut in the 97th running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but there’s been no sign of first-time jitters for the young Colombian. Driving a fifth car for Andretti Autosport (the team he races for in IndyCar’s top feeder series, Firestone Indy Lights), he carried over the impressive speed he had in this week’s practice sessions and shot to the inside of the front row for next week’s “500” with an average of 228.342 miles per hour.

“I don’t have too many words to describe how happy I am, just a rookie to be in the front row, [it’s] just a dream,” said Munoz, who will be joined on the front row by another Andretti Autosport teammate, Marco Andretti (third, 228.261 mph). “I was like crossing my fingers that it rained [so] we can stay in the front row. I was happy with the car in the first qualifying [session], but we did a couple of changes and it worked out.

“…We didn’t expect [pole winner Ed] Carpenter to go so fast. He just did really good laps out there. I can’t say anything – just front row is perfect for the race. I have my teammate just on the side of me, I have great people around me with a lot of experience.”

Next weekend will be a busy one for Munoz as he’ll be migrating back and forth between his “500” duties and the Indy Lights series. On Thursday, the Lights camp will practice and qualify in preparation for their biggest race of the year, the Firestone Freedom 100, which will take place during Friday’s Carb Day festivities (Noon ET, NBC Sports Network). As the current FIL championship leader, Munoz will be participating.

However, while he admits that the weekend will be a trying one for him, he remains confident that he’ll be able to start up front in both events and perform well when it’s time to go racing.

“It’s going to be tough doing 600 miles in one weekend, but I think we have perfect cars in both Indy Lights and IndyCar, so I’m going to be hopefully in the front row in both categories,” he said.

Danica Patrick to sign off driving career at 2018 Indy 500

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With her full-time career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now coming to an end, following the end of the 2017 season this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick is embarking on a new path in 2018 with the two biggest 500-mile races in North America.

Patrick confirmed plans to participate in North America’s most marquee 500-mile races, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, during a press conference today in Miami. A team for the Indianapolis 500 has not been determined, and her options for the Daytona 500 are limited to NASCAR teams with three or fewer full-time cars, because a four-car full-time team cannot enter a fifth for the Daytona 500.

Patrick ended her full-time career in IndyCar after 2011 to head to NASCAR. She drove 10 races in 2012 before her first full Cup season in 2013, where she won the pole for that year’s Daytona 500 and ultimately finished eighth.

Her Cup career has seen her finish between 24th and 28th in points with seven career top-10 finishes, all between sixth and 10th place. She ranks 27th heading into this week’s finale too.

It was her IndyCar career though where she first entered the national conversation after a few years of apprenticeship driving for Bobby Rahal’s Barber Dodge and Formula Atlantic teams. A fourth place finish in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 with a number of laps led launched her into the racing stratosphere and helped produce the Indianapolis 500’s biggest rating in years.

Ultimately her best finish in the ‘500 in seven starts was third place in 2009, behind Helio Castroneves and the late Dan Wheldon.

She won at Motegi, 2008, for her first and only win in IndyCar.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 29: Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team GoDaddy Dallara Honda, makes a pit stop during the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

A visibly emotional Patrick announced this was the end of her full-time driving career to kick off the press conference, but switched to her future plans once she got through the opening remarks.

Patrick “never thought” she’d do the Indianapolis 500 again but when tossing around future ideas, the concept of running both Daytona and Indianapolis came up.

“I never thought I would do it. I always thought never, but I never said never. Here I am,” she said.

“Out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ That was really the first sort of idea that got me excited. Let’s do it. I called Haley (Moore, longtime PR rep). What did I just say I would do? She said, ‘Hell yes that’s a good idea.’

“I’m still surprised.”

Patrick will need to participate in the Indianapolis 500 refresher program for drivers that aren’t full-time drivers, so that will provide her a couple hours additional track time before practice opens to the full field in mid-May.

The new 2018 Dallara universal body kit comes into being this year too, and Patrick thinks she has improved as a driver over the last six seasons to be able to come back.

“(Going) 240… it’ll be no problem,” she deadpanned. “It’ll take a bit of adjusting. It’s different for sure. But I think I’m a better driver now. It’ll take a bit of acclimating. Yeah, I would like to get in a car before I get to Indy.”

Patrick said running the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 “could” occur with her same teams she last ran with full-time, Stewart-Haas Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively. But her options remain open for both.