Subway Fresh Fit 500 - Practice

Crew chief Tony Gibson reflects on Danica Patrick’s season thus far

1 Comment

It’s been a rough road for Danica Patrick in her first full season in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Other than winning the pole and finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick has struggled for much of the 16 races since then.

In fact, Patrick has finished in the top 20 just twice since Daytona: 12th at Martinsville and 13th at Michigan three weeks ago.

In the 14 other races, she has finished between 20th and 29th 11 times and three times between 30th and 39th.

But it’s not only Patrick who has born the brunt of the struggles. So, too, has veteran crew chief Tony Gibson, who shifted over to lead Patrick’s team this season after spending the last three four seasons atop the pit box for Ryan Newman.

Gibson was on Tuesday’s weekly NASCAR media teleconference and talked about working with Patrick, returning to his native Daytona Beach for this Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 and where Patrick earned the pole in February, and what the rest of the season holds in store for the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet:

Reflecting back on what Patrick did in February at Daytona: “It was obviously extremely gratifying to go down there and run well (in February). To go to your hometown where I grew up and all your friends and family, and to go there and to do something that is pretty amazing, to make history, to just be a part of that is incredible. It was something that obviously will never be done again, and I feel real fortunate to be a part of that. … It was pretty crazy, too, with all the media and all the hype going into it, and actually the pressure of actually testing well and going down there and repeating and making it happen, it was a huge relief, but it was also very gratifying and probably ranks up there as probably one of the greatest things I’ve accomplished in my career.”

On the gameplan for this weekend’s return to Daytona: “Goals for July are the same as they were in February when we went to Daytona. We want to go down there and we want to make a statement. We want to try to sit on the pole again, obviously, and this time come up (finish) a few spots further up. We felt like we had a shot to win it, ran in the top three or four all day and had a fast car, and it came down to the last lap and kind of got snookered a little bit there at the end. But we felt like we were definitely in contention to win it, so we’re going back there with the same mindset, to try to be the fastest car in qualifying and try to close the deal at the end of this thing.”

On whether the No. 10 team is put under the microscope more so because Danica is the driver: “Yeah, we do, and we knew that going into it. Most of us on the 10 car, most of my guys were with me when we were with Dale Jr. at DEI, and we’ve been through some of the microscope deal with a high-profile driver. So we were kind of used to it. At least we thought we were. But obviously it’s a little bit more than that with Danica. The fan base is a little more spread out. There’s kids and little girls and boys and women and men, and she has a huge fan base now. You’re dealing with a lot of different folks at the racetrack and talking to different people and things like that.”

On how the microscope is different with Patrick than with other drivers you’ve worked with, like Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., etc.: “It’s a little different than what we’ve experienced in the past. So moving forward you want to please everybody. You want your performance to be good because you don’t want to let your fans down. You don’t want to let her fans down. When you’ve got to look a little girl in the eye and she asks you what happened last week or why didn’t Danica win, it’s pretty hard to come up with an answer that’s going to satisfy a little girl. But it’s crazy. It’s different. But we approach every week the same. We want to go in, and we set goals, and we want to do the best we can every week as a team, and we want to build a stronger team and a relationship with Danica because it’s only going to help us down the road. But the demands to perform and run better and to do things like that seem to be a little higher than they were because of the expectations she puts on herself and that the fans want to see her do good. So that’s a little bit different for us. That’s been a little bit of a struggle for us to get our hands wrapped around and absorbing that and trying to make things — try to justify each thing we do and keep ourselves in check, you know.”

On Danica having better performances and consistency in the last month-plus: “I think we’ve definitely made some gains as a company. We’re nowhere near where we want to be or where we need to be each and every week on every level, from the 39 (Ryan Newman), the 14 (Tony Stewart) or the 10 (Patrick). I mean, our goals are a little bit less than the other two guys, at least the goals we set for ourselves are a little lower but reachable. But we have struggled as a company and with the Gen-6 car, and we’ve worked really hard. We’ve done a lot of testing here lately, and I think the testing that we’ve done has definitely paid off in her performance. Has it taken us from a 15th-place organization to a winning organization? Well, not really. Dover was a good day and it was a good race for the 14 to win it, but they weren’t the dominant car all day. They put themselves in a good position. They were a top-10 car and put themselves in position to win it and did so. But the performances have been better, but our expectations and where we need to be is not there yet.”

On the plusses of Patrick getting in as much testing as possible: “Yeah, it’s huge. Any time that we can get to go do a test at the right racetrack on the right tire, even if you’re not on the right tire, but to be at that racetrack that you’re going to compete on is huge. Any lap behind the wheel of this Gen-6 car for her is a plus. You know, it’s definitely been a plus for the seat time side of it. The tests that we have done have been huge, and the biggest thing that’s really helped her is having the data from the other two drivers, the EFI data from the other two drivers as far as breaking traces and throttle traces and steering traces and those things that we really — that we can sit down and look at, and she can talk to Stewart or Newman and they can help her if she’s struggling and they can kind of go to some of these racetracks where she hasn’t been. Some of these tracks she’s never been to in any kind of car. Having those two guys at a test when we go has been huge for us. And it shows. I know it doesn’t make us run top 10, but it makes us run 15th to 20th. That has been huge for her. That’s been the biggest thing I’d say for us is going to those tests and being able to do that, and if we could do it more, we would, and we go to VIR, we go to Road Atlanta, we go to Nashville, we go to Greenville Pickens, we go anywhere we can go to make laps and learn.  And a lot of these tracks we have — even when we go to Nashville, all of our drivers have been there and the Hendrick guys have been there obviously, so we have a lot of data we can look at that helps her on the driving side as well as on the setup side, too.”

On how excited the team is to return to Daytona, particularly after what Danica and the team did in February down there: “Yeah, you can feel the excitement in the shop. The guys are just rubbing and detailing and they’re pumped up and they’re excited. We have our trophy from Daytona for the pole down here, and so that stuff we bring out — we brought it out this week just to remind everybody of what we can do when we get down there. It’s a little bit of a morale booster. The vibe is different. When we get ready to go here, everybody gets jacked up, and we know we can go here and we can do really well.”

On the team’s chances returning to Daytona: “I think it’s obviously a track that we feel like we can win at. I feel like that’s right in Danica’s wheelhouse there. She likes the drafting. She likes the high speeds, and I think most of that comes from the IndyCar side of it. So yeah, it’s exciting for us. We went to Daytona — and before when she was running the Nationwide car, she was really good at the restrictor plate stuff with the drafting and the air and that kind of deal. So we were pretty excited for going into this year, and then when we went to Daytona and tested, we knew that we were going to be fairly strong down there. So it’s exciting for us, and we’re working really hard. We work hard every week, but when it comes to the restrictor plate racing, especially going to Daytona, we go all out. We put every little thing we can into those cars, because we know that that’s a track that we can win at and we can really do some damage, on the good side.”

McFADIN: Return of ‘old-school Texas’ worth the wait

FORT WORTH, TX - AUGUST 27: James Hinchcliffe driver of the #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda leads Tony Kanaan driver of the #10 NTT Data Chevrolet and Graham Rahal driver of the #15 Mi-Jack/RLL Honda going into the final lap during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on August 27, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
(Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Leave a comment

FORT WORTH – If you squinted hard enough, it was 2002 all over again.

“It took some old-school Texas right there,” said Tony Kanaan, who was actually there. “I had to dig into my hard drive and remember how to do pack racing again, and it worked out pretty well.”

For a few hours Saturday night, it was as if 14 years hadn’t passed since Texas Motor Speedway’s peak era of “pack racing.”

James Hinchcliffe wishes that were the case. If it were, he might have won the 2016 Firestone 600.

“My night was great until about eight minutes to go,” Hinchcliffe joked in the TMS media center after finishing second to Graham Rahal in a race that began 77 days earlier on June 12.

Hinchcliffe led 188 laps between June 12 and Aug. 27, but Rahal led only one – the big one – by a track record .008 seconds.

“I’ve seen so many races won here on the high line, coming to the line because you just have that momentum off of (Turn) 4,” Hinchcliffe said. “I was going — thinking back to my IRL Classic days and Sam Hornish Jr.’s tricks and all the rest of it, but man, Graham just pulled through (Turns) 3 and 4 like no one had all night.”

Hinchcliffe, who lapped the field up to fifth place, said his No. 5 Honda was an “absolute rocketship.”

But after a late afternoon practice session, Rahal told his team over the radio that his No. 15 Honda was “a f—ing rocketship.”

Rahal initiated The Dive as he, Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan approached Turn 3 for the last time.

Other drivers, including Kanaan, had made similar desperate maneuvers in the seven laps since the last restart.

Rahal, who had restarted the race in 12th and at one point in the night survived a four-wide pass, was the only one who made it work.

“Once I could get there, I could drive through them,” said Rahal, who had to juggle battling Kanaan for second while also trying to overtake Hinchcliffe. “It was just a matter of trying to pick your spot, and very fortunately at the end, I knew I was going to have to try to take Hinch to the top side because there was only one way actually to clear him, which was to the bottom, and I was just very lucky it worked.”

After constantly fending off Kanaan, Hinchcliffe had expected to contend with him coming to the checkers. To Hinchcliffe’s surprise, it was the No. 15 that finally bested him as Kanaan settle into third.

“I hadn’t been next to a car all night that cleared me that quickly,” Hinchcliffe said, his right hand on his face in disbelief. “You know, he had the pace when he needed to. That was the time to make that move, and like I said, credit to him.”

Rahal, who won three times in the last two seasons, was gracious to Hinchcliffe as he wore the cowboy hat that winners at TMS are bestowed. The hat he lost to Justin Wilson in 2012.

“I have to thank Hinch a lot because, first of all, we’re flying home together tonight, so at least it’s not going to be awkward,” Rahal joked. “Second of all, he gave me some good room at the bottom and didn’t end up in tears. Have to thank him for good, clean driving.”

As Rahal and his car were pushed toward a waiting victory lane, his teammates would not stop yelling.

Amid the hollers, one gray-clad team member declared simply – “That’s racing!”

Even though he led 188 laps and finished second, Hinchcliffe agrees with those who snatched away his shot to wear a 10-gallon hat and fire off six-shooters.

“I had a blast. That’s the problem. I had an absolute blast. Had I not led every lap of the race, I would be much happier than I am,” Hinchcliffe said. “Certainly at the end we put on a hell of a show for the fans, and that’s what we’re here for … It would have been a lot more boring if some car just won by half a straightaway.”

That’s coming from the driver who until a series of late cautions, likely would have done that exact thing.

“It’s also a lot different than what it used to be,” Rahal said. “It is not just flat-out easy pack racing anymore. I mean, you were lifting a heck of a lot in traffic, but the way these cars suck up nowadays, the draft is huge so it just makes the racing awesome.”

It may have looked like 2002. But in 2016, it might have been better.

Pagenaud takes pivotal fourth place finish in Texas

during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The resumption of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway offered Simon Pagenaud a challenge: recover from his first and thus far only mistake of the year on Monday in Pocono and put forth a championship-caliber performance, or incur a second straight dud result that could put pause to those hopes.

But despite the “weird” nature of the day that faced him going into it, Pagenaud delivered a key drive aided by a good strategic call from his No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Team Penske Chevrolet team to secure a potentially pivotal fourth place finish for the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

After a spate of late-race accidents, Pagenaud was one of two drivers along with Tony Kanaan who opted to pit for fresh Firestone tires.

The gamble paid dividends because inevitably, those cars with the fresher tires would move towards the front in the later stages.

Pagenaud, who’s certainly been better on ovals this season in his second year with Team Penske but hasn’t yet had that incredible “tip of your tongue” memory oval drive, had to balance fighting for the win with three hungry drivers who hadn’t yet won this year – Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and eventual winner Graham Rahal.

But he did just that, fighting hard yet clean in an intense four-way battle on a night he needed a big result to restart his title momentum, in a race that was looming large on the calendar.

Yeah, he ended fourth – but with Will Power in eighth, he gained eight points to stretch his lead to 28 points – and that provides the latest pendulum swing between the two in a year full of them.

“My spotter said, ‘four-wide’, and I’m like uh, oh, that’s no good,” Pagenaud said post-race. “And then Rahal touched me and I touched Hinchcliffe, so I was actually loose going into the corner and had to back out of it.

“It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to get that first oval win. But, I think no matter what, that was a great performance. The HP car was amazing all night. Thanks to Chevy, obviously; this aero kit is really amazing. It really shows what the IndyCars can do. I think tonight we had a great show. Did you guys enjoy it? I did. I didn’t have any breath left, you know?

“Wow. That was exciting! I don’t think I have any breath left. I thought we were going to get it, but when it went four wide I got touched and pushed me into (James Hinchcliffe) and I had to back out of it or there was going to be a big wreck. The Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevy just got better and better all night. I really thought it was going to come together right at the end when we got back on the lead lap. We were able to come in for tires. Everything nearly came together.”

Dixon, Carpenter disagree over contact at Texas (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Scott Dixon and Ed Carpenter are both good dudes, dads, husbands, and fathers to multiple children. They’re both good friends who embrace Indianapolis. And they both happen to wheel an IndyCar pretty well.

Yet rarely do their paths cross on the racetrack – primarily because Carpenter only races in the Verizon IndyCar Series on ovals – but tonight they did at Texas Motor Speedway in the resumption of the rain-delayed Firestone 600.

And it got interesting when the two collided in the final 40 laps of the race.

Carpenter, who was wearing a throwback helmet, restarted in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet from fifth place and Dixon from 14th in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet when the race resumed.

For a while, Carpenter had about the only car capable of challenging the pretty much dominant driver and car of the night, James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

For a moment, it appeared as though Carpenter would seek to match Hinchcliffe’s strategy to get to the finish on potentially one less stop than their competitors.

Any strategy hopes went out the window though when Dixon, who was lapped at the time, and Carpenter made contact on Lap 213. The first replay made it appear as though Carpenter chopped Dixon, but that was misleading; upon a second replay, appeared actually more of a racing incident.

As Carpenter took the second apex in the tri-oval, Dixon also moved up, and it sent Dixon spinning out of control into Turn 1 – and then back across the track where fortunately all other cars (except the seemingly luckless Helio Castroneves, who’s been a magnet for other car contacts this year) managed to avoid hitting him.

A less than pleased Dixon channeled his inner Will Power at Loudon in 2011 responded by giving Carpenter an infamous “double bird” salute. Carpenter continued, and Dixon was done on the spot.

But Carpenter’s race didn’t last much longer, as he got loose exiting Turn 4 and crashed out, again collecting Castroneves. Max Chilton spun in avoidance to the infield grass on the tri-oval.

With both drivers out, it marked a frustrating end to their nights.

Dixon’s continually frustrating 2016 season sees his championship hopes all but mathematically end tonight. After finishing 19th and with a maximum of 158 points left on the table, Dixon sits 132 back with just two races to go. His perhaps greater streak, finishing in the top three in points every year since 2006, is also in jeopardy; he sits sixth.

“I like Ed [Carpenter] and he’s a good friend, but I don’t know what the hell he was doing out there,” Dixon said, via post-race quotes distributed by Chevrolet.

“Three laps before that he nearly crashed me doing the same thing going into Turn 3. And then going into Turn 1 he just turned left into me. I don’t know if his radio wasn’t working or he didn’t have a spotter, but how you don’t get a penalty for that I have no idea.”

Carpenter ends his 2016 season behind the wheel with only one race finish – a lapped 18th in Iowa – in five starts. What he thought was his best chance to bank some sort of result tonight went awry after the contact, and later, his own car getting loose out of Turn 4. He ended 18th tonight.

“The car was awesome. On long runs, I think we were for sure the best car out there. I’d cut into James’s lead every stint. He was a little quicker. We didn’t have the fastest car, but it was good on the long runs,” Carpenter said.

“I’m just bummed. It’s been such a rough year. We’ve had such better cars that what we had last year and really just can’t catch a break.

“Whatever happened with Scott and I there, when my left rear touched his front wing, it must have cut a tire and that led to the accident.

“I’m just really bummed. I thought tonight was a night that we could have gotten a good result. It’s going to be a long off-season before I can get back in the car, but we’ll come back strong next year.”

Spencer Pigot returns to Carpenter’s No. 20 Chevrolet for the final two races at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway. The latter site is where Pigot made his IndyCar test debut a year ago driving for Team Penske last year, and captured the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title in 2014.

Kanaan praises “old school Texas” as he delivers another star drive (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

The haters can say Tony Kanaan should retire. The haters are incorrect.

Kanaan’s incredible 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet rolled on Saturday night in the resumption of the rain-delayed Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, when he finished a perhaps hard-luck third after another stout drive.

Kanaan’s been among the best – if not the best – drivers in the field to have not won this year. He came close to ending a near two-year winless drought Saturday night in Texas after fighting with James Hinchcliffe for the lead of the race in the waning stages, with team owner Chip Ganassi and strategist Barry Wanser opting to pit him for fresh Firestone tires in the waning stages.

Graham Rahal got them both by the checkered flag, but Kanaan, 41, still proved there’s plenty of life left in the “old dog.”

“Oh, that was so much fun. I’ve got to thank the fans that came back. I didn’t think there was going to be a lot of people but whoever didn’t come missed a hell of a race,” Kanaan told NBCSN’s Robin Miller post-race.

“That was some old school Texas right there.

“It was a good night. We started way in the back, but we made up positions right away. I think with INDYCAR not changing the rules and the earlier race being a day race, we had a ton of downforce that we had to run during tonight’s race, so the cars felt a lot closer as you could see. I had to dig into my hard drive and remember pack racing again. It worked out pretty well.

“Big props to the guys in front who gave each other room, that’s why we finished the way we did. It’s always a pleasure to race like that. I feel bad for the people that didn’t come back tonight from the first race to watch because it really was a hell of a show.”

Kanaan described the finish: “On the inside. But if Graham (Rahal) wasn’t pushing Hinch (James Hinchcliffe), I was going to have it. So, I was hoping for Graham to get greedy and go three wide. That was going to slow everybody down, but that didn’t happen. He was smart enough.”

With this result, Kanaan is now third in the points, only behind Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. Although he hasn’t won yet in 2016, he has five top-five finishes and only one finish (25th at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis) outside the top-12 all season.