Starring roles for Viso, Conway, Jakes and Tag in Detroit Fast Six

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It’s hard to call anything in IndyCar this year “surprising” but a Firestone Fast Six that includes E.J. Viso, Mike Conway, James Jakes and Alex Tagliani might fit that description.

Viso has taken like a duck to water (and note both were present on Friday) to his new team of Andretti Autosport this season and has his second consecutive Fast Six appearance. He qualified fifth for this race last year, and second last time out on a street course in Brazil. He’ll start first in Race 1 tomorrow after a 10-spot grid penalty has hit Dario Franchitti, for an unapproved engine change.

“This qualifying was fun,” Viso said of the effort executed by the No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti/HVM team. “One of the sessions was a fully wet session, then the second one was damp, then the third one was fully dry.”

Just Wednesday, Conway went from the sidelines to a race seat by taking over Dale Coyne’s second car for this weekend, after Ana Beatriz’s deal ran out. Conway – regarded by many in the paddock as one of IndyCar’s top street racers – fit in immediately in the No. 18 Honda and was bang-on pace from the get-go.

“Yeah, I mean, obvious not easy jumping in and getting the job done,” Conway admitted. “I think obviously Justin (Wilson) has done a great job with the car over the year.  It felt good.  It’s definitely a handful around here. I just felt comfortable as soon as I got in. If you can just get up to speed really fast knowing everything is all good, it makes your job a lot easier.”

Jakes (pictured), third on the grid, has his best ever IndyCar qualifying effort (beats eighth at Motegi, Japan in 2011) and is the second of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers to make a Fast Six this year – Conway did in his one-off appearance at Long Beach.

“I think the biggest key was staying patient,” said the driver of the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda. “We were out in the first group, of the first 12.  It was quite a bit wetter, you just had to make sure you had a clear lap at the end of the session with a couple of minutes to go to maximize the potential out of the car.  I think we did that.”

Tagliani led the morning’s practice session, which was frequently interrupted. He kicked off a string of four consecutive Fast Six appearances with third in Detroit last year, and has his first Fast Six entry now in 2013 in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda.

“Yeah, it’s really nice to be back in the front,” he said. “Obviously we struggled a little bit with the new tires this year, from the beginning of the year. The team worked a lot to get it back.”

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.