Munoz, Allmendinger impress in their Indy 500 debuts

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Considering the manic amount of lead changing that took place during the 97th Indianapolis 500, it’s possible to assume that Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz (pictured, right) could have won the biggest race in the world.

Munoz had already impressed with his front-row start for today’s race, but then went even further by staying a legitimate threat to win the “500” throughout the day. The Colombian, who races for Andretti’s Firestone Indy Lights squad, went along with Tony Kanaan past Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final restart with three laps to go.

Any hopes of somehow defeating the former IZOD IndyCar Series champion went away when Dario Franchitti’s crash between Turns 1 and 2 ended the race under yellow with Kanaan as the winner and Munoz in second. But it was still a phenomenal effort from Munoz, who has to be making team owner Michael Andretti wonder about bringing him back to the big leagues for at least a few more races this year.

“I really wanted to fight for the win,” said Munoz. “Maybe I could win, maybe not, but I really wanted to fight. I have nothing to be ashamed of. To be second and a rookie and the best [finisher] of the team is a great job. At the beginning, I was a little bit nervous with the pit stops but in the end, the car was great and it’s a good second place.

“Hopefully in the future, I will be able to drink milk. Right now, I’m thirsty, but hopefully, it’s in the future for me.”

Also having a great day in his first ‘500’ was A.J. Allmendinger, who led three times for 23 laps and finished seventh for Team Penske. The former Champ Car star initially fell back into the field in the opening stages, but bounced back and took the lead on Lap 98. His time at the front, however, came to an abrupt end when his seat belt came undone and he was forced to go to pit road on Lap 113 to sort it out.

“I guess it’s God’s way of saying, ‘Maybe you’re not going to win it your first time,'” said Allmendinger. “…Maybe it was because my heart was beating too hard from leading the race. But it came undone. I tried to do it down the back straightaway. I tried to loose it back up and stick it back in, but it wasn’t going to happen.”

Allmendinger went down a lap but managed to regain it and made his way right back to the point at Lap 137. Unfortunately for him, the seat belt stop had an adverse effect on his pit strategy for the second half of the “500.”

“It killed our pit windows [for] the rest of the race,” he said. “That last stop [on Lap 173], we barely got into our pit window. The pit stop was long just for the mere fact we had to get it completely full of fuel while all of those guys had a little bit shorter stops.”

At least Allmendinger has another race to look forward to for Team Penske. He’ll race in next weekend’s doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park – and his work at Indy this afternoon may have gotten him a few more runs with Penske as well.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.