Dale Jr. battles through trying day, on and off track

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Hours after losing his uncle to cancer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to overcome an up-and-down day at the Brickyard 400 before taking a sixth-place finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A loose wheel forced Earnhardt to pit on Lap 12, which sent him all the way down to last on the scoring pylon. Relying on an alternate strategy as a result, he stayed out when the leaders began to pit under green shortly before the first caution of the day came out on Lap 59.

That yellow put him and the No. 88 back in business, and a call by crew chief Steve Letarte to keep Earnhardt out during another caution at Lap 80 wound up sticking him in fourth position for the subsequent restart. He would eventually grab four tires and fuel at Lap 98 during another cycle of green stops, and he would run in the Top 10 for the remainder of the afternoon.

In post-race, Earnhardt made sure to credit Letarte for making their strategy work out after the unexpected early problems.

“It’s his kind of race where he can do some things on pit road and really give us the opportunity to get out front,” Earnhardt told ESPN. “I was really depending on him today and he came through today.”

But despite his final result turning out much better than it could have been, today was still a somber day for Earnhardt and his entire family. In addition to being Junior’s uncle, 60-year-old Randy Earnhardt was the brother of the late seven-time Sprint Cup champion, Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

Kelley Earnhardt Miller, the co-owner of JR Motorsports and Randy’s niece, tweeted the sad news this morning and asked for “prayers for [their] family.” Ty Norris, a former general manager of Dale Earnhardt Inc., also tweeted condolences – calling Randy his “sounding board at DEI for a decade.”

”It is just very, very sad, but I am glad his suffering is over with,” Junior said according to the Associated Press. “He is going to be missed. He was awesome, such an awesome guy.”

IndyCar: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports expands mentoring program for tech school students

Photos: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
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IndyCar team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced today that it is extending and widening a unique sponsorship and mentoring program that began last season with students from Lincoln Technical Institute.

The program began last year, with students from several Lincoln Tech branches attending select IndyCar events for an entire weekend.

The students, primarily from auto and diesel training programs, got an insiders experience with the team, taking part in team meetings, watching team workers prepare and service the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe, sat on pit boxes during practices, qualifying and, of course races.

The overall experience was to get students more interested and involved in potential careers in the IndyCar field.

“We said at the beginning of last season that we knew our students would benefit and learn from the professionalism and drive of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team,” Lincoln Tech President and CEO Scott Shaw said. “But the experience they received working with the entire pit crew team and in particular crew member Cole Jagger – a Lincoln Tech graduate himself – went beyond even our own expectations.

“We were grateful for the time they spent mentoring our students, and we are thrilled to once again be part of the racing legacy of team owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson.”

Lincoln Tech will once again serve as an associate sponsor on Hinchcliffe’s car for the entire 2018 IndyCar season. In addition, it is expanding its Mentor Program to select students to attend a minimum of nine IndyCar races from six last season.

Students are selected based upon their grade point average, attendance, conduct and overall commitment to becoming outstanding automotive technicians. An interest in IndyCar and a desire to work in the industry is also considered.

One student that took part last season, Tyler Crist of Lincoln Tech’s Denver campus, joined the team at the IndyCar race in Long Beach last April, watching as Hinchcliffe won the event.

“It was the best weekend of my life,” Crist said after the event. “It reminded me of why I joined this field in the first place and to never give up on my dreams.”

Jagger will oversee the expanded mentoring program this season. For Jagger, being involved especially hits home, as he is a graduate of Lincoln Tech’s Indianapolis campus.

“I totally enjoyed working with the Lincoln Tech students that participated in the Mentor Program last year and look forward to meeting this year’s group,” Jagger said. “Being a Lincoln Tech grad, I hope the students realize that if you have a passion for cars, a career in racing is something that’s not out of reach. If I can be an example for them to follow, that makes it even more rewarding.”

In addition to the at-track activities of the mentoring program, several Lincoln Tech branches across the country will utilize CNC computerized machining and manufacturing tools to assist in creating car parts for SPM.

“Through this unique partnership, we’re able to hopefully find the next class of talent that could one day be part of our organization,” SPM president Jon Flack said. “We’re looking forward to another year of the mentorship program and having their students be ‘boots on the ground’ gaining real-life experience with our team.”

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