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.”

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.