Iowa flashback: IndyCar’s first grid run with Miller, Wheldon in 2011

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Two years ago, IndyCar tried something at the Iowa Speedway it hadn’t done before: a grid run with Robin Miller and that year’s Indianapolis 500 champion, the late Dan Wheldon.

Versus, the previous iteration of the NBC Sports Network, had brought in Wheldon at Texas and Iowa to provide expert analysis since his only drive to that point was at Indianapolis. Wheldon had starred in the booth at Texas and came down to pit road at Iowa to help cover the field with Miller.

It was a surprising but great moment that IndyCar fans cherished (watch this video courtesy of IndyCar’s Twitter “link master” Matt Archuleta, better known as @Indy44). Miller’s “Grid runs” have now become a regular part of the NBCSN IndyCar broadcasts – last week at Milwaukee, he and NBC Formula One pit reporter Will Buxton had the opportunity to do one together.

Defending series champion and Iowa race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay remembers this moment with Wheldon for another reason: it was the weekend he’d forgot his wallet at dinner.

“I didn’t realize I had no money until we were about to get up and leave,” Hunter-Reay told the Des Moines Register, reflecting on that evening at a Mexican restaurant. “(Wife) Beccy didn’t have anything, either. The only other people in the restaurant at the time were Dan, Susie and Mickey. I had to crawl over and ask for a loan.”

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.