Smith, Pastrana stay cool while raising money for Leffler fund

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As Chicago temperatures crept close to 90 degrees on Monday, NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers Regan Smith and Travis Pastrana cooled off in a unique way — and did a good deed in the process.

Making several stops around the Windy City, Smith, who won Saturday’s NNS race at Michigan, and Pastrana sold ice cream bars as part in an event promoting the upcoming July 19-21 Nationwide Series race weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

At a suggested donation of $1 per, Smith sold traditional ice cream sandwiches, while Pastrana, befitting of his — shall we say, more adventurous — persona, sold “bomb pops” to folks passing by and looking for ways to cool off from the heat and humidity.

When the event was over, the two drivers had sold over $600 worth of ice cream, with Smith edging Pastrana at the finish line, so to speak, outselling his rival by a mere $2 in total proceeds. With a healthy additional donation by Chicagoland Speedway’s R.A.C.E.Foundation, a total of $2,000 was raised to benefit the Charlie Dean Leffler Charity Fund, a trust fund established for the five-year-old son of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler. The elder Leffler was tragically killed in a wreck during a dirt track race last week in New Jersey.

“This was my first trip to downtown Chicago and we had a great time out here while raising money for a cause near and dear to our hearts,” said Smith, the current NNS points leader. “I want to thank everyone who came out today to help us raise money. We will see you this July at Chicagoland Speedway.”

Pastrana, an 11-time X-Games gold medalist before making a career switch to the NASCAR world — he’s in his first full season on the Nationwide circuit — couldn’t help getting in a bit of good-natured trash talking about Smith.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago over the years and it’s always one of my favorite places to be,” Pastrana said. “Regan edged me out there at the end today, although I still think he might have taken some liberties with self-funding. We enjoyed getting to meet everyone and we’re excited to be back here two more times this season (Chicagoland Speedway will also host a second NNS race on the opening weekend of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Sept. 13-15).”

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.