Stewart: Track position critical, but “not absolutely everything” at Indy

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After winning a well-received pole for tomorrow’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ryan Newman said that track position will be more important than ever before at Indianapolis. But his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and boss Tony Stewart had a slightly different take on the subject.

“This is one of those tracks where track position is important, but it’s not absolutely everything,” said Stewart, who will start fifth tomorrow and looks to add a third Brickyard 400 crown to his resume.

Stewart can make that argument pretty convincingly. Both of his Brickyard wins had him starting outside the Top 10 – 22nd in 2005 and 14th in 2007.

“You have got to have a car you can race with,” he continued. “If you can get it to qualify well, normally it will race well too. Just having a car that is balanced is the biggest thing.”

But this year, he won’t have to deal with too much traffic at the drop of the green flag thanks in part to some tweaks made to his No. 14 SHR Chevrolet between this morning’s final practice and the afternoon qualifying session.

“I feel like we have a car we can race with tomorrow,” said Stewart. “So far, so good. I am really, really happy with the changes that [crew chief] Steve Addington and our guys made between ‘Happy Hour’ and qualifying. It gives us a good idea what we need to do for the race because that is exactly what we were working on during practice.”

All things considered, Stewart expects to be a threat once again at the track he loves more than any other.

“I think we have a pretty good shot at this thing tomorrow,” he said. “There’s about 10 really good cars right now in the field. I feel like we are right there in the hunt. We just have to put the whole day together tomorrow.”

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.