Newgarden grabs first career oval top five in Pocono

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The Chip Ganassi Racing podium sweep grabbed most of the headlines at Pocono, but “best in class” behind the Ganassi trio and Team Penske’s Will Power was Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing sophomore Josef Newgarden, who grabbed his second top-five finish of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season in fifth place.

Newgarden, who wasn’t even born the last time IndyCar raced at “The tricky triangle” in 1989, equaled his best result of the year set in Brazil in May. It’s also his first top-five on an oval in his IndyCar career.

The Hondas had a fuel mileage edge over Chevrolet – not for the first time, as anyone who watched the 2012 Indianapolis 500 can attest – but it was particularly prominent at Pocono on Sunday. Newgarden’s result was made all the more remarkable given that the No. 67 Honda needed an additional stop when fuel ran low on his car.

“We were buried twice today,” he said. “We started 15th and we were buried again about half way through, but we just kept our heads cool and continued to push.”

He pitted under caution twice, once for fuel and once for tires. He was ninth after his final pit stop on Lap 131, but enjoyed a methodical march back toward the front afterwards, culminating with a pass of Simon Pagenaud with just two laps to go for fifth.

“We just kept digging,” Newgarden said. “I didn’t want to settle for anything today. We took everything we could and nothing less. That’s hats off to the team because they kept pushing me in the car and telling me to keep digging. They gave me an incredible car to drive, and I can’t thank the team enough for that.”

Incidentally, Newgarden and Pagenaud were in podium position contention at Toronto last year before contact between the two sent Newgarden into the Turn 3 barriers. The Nashville native seeks a rebound as the series heads north of the border this weekend.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/