Marco Andretti’s pole leads Andretti Autosport Milwaukee qualifying romp

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Marco Andretti set the pace in both practice sessions for the Milwaukee IndyFest (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) and followed it up with his third career pole in the IZOD IndyCar Series later Friday afternoon. His first came at Milwaukee in 2008, and he also won the pole at last year’s season-closer in Fontana, Calif.

“We rolled off pretty good,” Andretti said. “We knew Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) would be the one to beat. I’d have to go flat in 1-2 both laps. Like I said the (No. 25) RC Cola car has been right where we need to be. Good in race trim too.”

It was an Andretti Autosport benefit in qualifying for the Andretti Sports Marketing-promoted event. Andretti’s teammate James Hinchcliffe qualified second, with Ryan Hunter-Reay fourth and E.J. Viso fifth on the grid.

Hinchcliffe’s GoDaddy team made a good recovery from the Canadian’s contact in first practice to fix his No. 27 Chevrolet.

“From where we were on the 27 car, if you’d have told us three hours ago we’d be on the front row, we would have laughed at you back at the truck,” he said. “The first practice I tried to move the wall in Turn 2. It didn’t work. The second practice, we just fought an ill-handling car. We made changes, but we didn’t end up happy. To go out there was great, with the first ever flat qualifying lap at Milwaukee.”

Will Power was the only driver outside the thus far dominant team this weekend to break up the party with third place in the Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Chevrolets swept the top seven spots on the grid, with Dragon Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra posting a career-best qualifying effort in sixth ahead of Tony Kanaan in seventh.

Three Hondas – Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) and Schmidt teammates Simon Pagenaud (HP Schmidt Hamilton) and Tristan Vautier (Schmidt Peterson) – completed the top 10.

No grid penalties for engine changes have been assessed to this point and the final grid will be issued before Saturday’s race.

IZOD IndyCar Series – Milwaukee IndyFest
Unofficial Starting Lineup

Row 1
25-Marco Andretti
27-James Hinchcliffe

Row 2
12-Will Power
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay

Row 3
5-E.J. Viso
6-Sebastian Saavedra

Row 4
11-Tony Kanaan
67-Josef Newgarden

Row 5
77-Simon Pagenaud
55-Tristan Vautier

Row 6
9-Scott Dixon
16-James Jakes

Row 7
19-Justin Wilson
7-Sebastien Bourdais

Row 8
14-Takuma Sato
98-Alex Tagliani

Row 9
10-Dario Franchitti
3-Helio Castroneves

Row 10
4-Ryan Briscoe
18-Ana Beatriz

Row 11
20-Ed Carpenter
83-Charlie Kimball

Row 12
15-Graham Rahal
78-Simona de Silvestro

(Updated) NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations immediately, cancels NHRA Summernationals

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

UPDATE: Hatcher reached out again to NBC Sports later Wednesday afternoon with an addendum that could be promising for race fans in other markets: “Upon hearing the news about the Englishtown track, we’ve received a significant level of interest from other track operators about hosting a national event in 2018.  We’re not sure if this is possible for 2018, but we’re definitely looking into it, if not for 2018, then perhaps for 2019.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”