Some bits and pieces on this year’s Indy 500 field

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– If you’re into numerology, it would appear that the number four is playing a role in how this 97th Indianapolis 500 is playing out so far. The field for this year’s running features four former winners of the “500” (Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Buddy Lazier), four rookie drivers (Carlos Munoz, A.J. Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly), and four female drivers (Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, and Katherine Legge). One wonders if this bodes well for J.R. Hildebrand in the No. 4 Panther Racing Chevrolet. Or maybe it means good luck for the driver starting fourth on Sunday, Andretti Autosport’s E.J. Viso?

– There is a combined total of 144 Indianapolis 500 starts across this year’s field, up from the 103 years of combined experience in last year’s field. However, it’s a long way off from the race record of 260 years of experience, which has been set twice in 1987 and 1992.

– The oldest driver in the field also has the most previous starts of anyone in the field, too. Buddy Lazier, 45, managed to make his 17th Indy 500 this afternoon during Bump Day. But it’s likely safe to assume that Lazier will never get the record for most starts all-time, which belongs to four-time “500” winner and current IndyCar team owner A.J. Foyt. “Supertex” notched 35 Indy starts, all consecutive, from 1958 to 1992.

– This year’s field averaged a qualifying speed of 226.176 miles per hour, good enough to be the fourth-fastest field in “500” history. The fastest grid ever at Indy was the 2002 edition, which averaged 228.648 miles per hour.

– The starters will now be heading off across the continent to promote this year’s race. Here’s where they’ll be going for their respective media tours:

  • New York: Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti
  • Detroit: Will Power, Townsend Bell and Simona de Silvestro
  • Cincinnati: Ed Carpenter, Justin Wilson and Tony Kanaan
  • Philadelphia: Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe
  • Birmingham, Ala.: Josef Newgarden
  • Charlotte: A.J. Allmendinger
  • Columbus, Oh.: James Jakes
  • Chicago: Graham Rahal
  • Dallas: Marco Andretti
  • Dayton, Oh.: Buddy Lazier and Pippa Mann
  • Houston: Takuma Sato
  • Lafayette, Ind.: Ana Beatriz
  • Louisville, Ky.: Conor Daly and Katherine Legge
  • Los Angeles: J.R. Hildebrand
  • Miami: Carlos Munoz, Sebastian Saavedra, Oriol Servia, and E.J. Viso
  • Milwaukee: Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball
  • Tampa Bay: Sebastien Bourdais and Tristan Vautier
  • Toronto: James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani
  • Washington, DC: Ryan Hunter-Reay

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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