Former Marine, Iraq War vet honored this weekend as namesake of Brickyard 400

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We may have been calling this weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by its original handle of the Brickyard 400, but indeed, that’s not the official name of this year’s running.

The race will go down as the “Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com.” I’ll leave it up to you on whether or not that somewhat cumbersome title will have you buying Canadian whiskey or country music albums.

But there’s one part of the name that’s fully exempt from any sort of snark, and that’s the part involving Deeds, 35, of Erlanger, Kentucky – a former Marine gunnery sergeant who won Crown Royal’s “Your Hero’s Name Here” competition after his wife, April, nominated him for the honor.

Deeds, a longtime NASCAR fan who medically retired from the Corps in 2011, has proven his valor in and out of uniform. In 2005, while serving in Iraq, he found an improvised explosive device (IED) as he was setting up a vehicle checkpoint. With the lives of fellow Marines on the line, he exposed himself to the device in order to save them. He has had many surgeries as a result of the blast but received multiple military accolades for his courage, including a Purple Heart.

Then in 2008, while on a family vacation, Deeds risked his life again to help save three people that got caught in a rip tide off the coast of North Carolina. According to Deeds himself, the harrowing episode came just five weeks after he had gone under the knife for abdominal surgery.

This weekend at Indy, Deeds will enjoy a VIP race experience with many perks: Meet-and-greets with the drivers, participation in Sunday’s post-race trophy ceremony, and kissing the famous Yard of Bricks with the winning team.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen,” Deeds said earlier this week to USA Today. “To give an everyday person the naming rights to one of the biggest races that NASCAR has at one of the most, it not the most, historic track in the world, is amazing.”

This is the second year that Crown Royal has held the “Your Hero’s Name Here” competition in conjunction with the Brickyard 400. Last year’s Cup race at Indy honored Alabama firefighter Curtiss Shaver.

As for who Deeds would like to see triumph on Sunday, he told USA Today that while he likes Kevin Harvick’s “passion for the sport” and Kurt Busch for his extensive work with the military, he thinks his favorite driver on Sunday “will be whoever wins the race.”

Here’s hoping he has a fantastic weekend at the world’s greatest racecourse.

Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”