Johnson dominates, but winds up second at Indy

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At several points during today’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was making it look easy. But while he led a race-high 73 laps before finishing second after a slow final pit stop, the five-time Sprint Cup champion admitted that having the clean air while leading was critical to him doing as well as he did.

“It wasn’t the easiest [car] to drive,” Johnson told ESPN. “I was real tight in and loose off [the corner], and if I had clean air and the track to myself, I could get my mind right and run the laps I needed to. But in traffic, it was a little tougher than what I wanted.

“It was still an awesome race car. We just came up a little short today but we’ll load up and go to the next one and try to win next week.”

Johnson, along with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (who finished seventh), was seeking to become the first five-time winner of the ‘400.’ But while he was in front for extended stretches, he could never completely shake Ryan Newman, who showed that he had the pace to challenge for the win.

Then came Johnson’s four-tire stop with 27 laps remaining, which went long at 17 seconds and cost him the lead after Newman quickly pitted for just two tires on his own final stop. When both of them were back on the track after service, Newman had an initial gap of more than seven seconds over Johnson. The cushion was more than enough for Newman, who went on to win by more than two and a half seconds to the delight of his home fans.

“Ryan was fast all day long,” Johnson said. “I can’t take anything away from him. At the beginning of the race, he was pacing everything for a long time. Then he got mired back in traffic for a while there, and then toward the end of the race, he worked his way back to the front. He was plenty fast.”

Johnson led a strong day overall for the Hendrick camp, which also got a third-place effort from Kasey Kahne and a sixth-place run from Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Schmidt Peterson confirms all-Canadian lineup of Hinchcliffe, Wickens

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The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is going for a diet of denim, maple syrup, pace and politeness in its 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup, with an all-Canadian pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens confirmed for next season.

Hinchcliffe was known to want a driver of Wickens’ caliber alongside him in the second seat after three less-than-fruitful seasons with James Jakes (2015), Mikhail Aleshin (2016) and a combination of drivers (Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Harvey) rotated through the second car the last three years.

Recent changes have brought them to this point and now leads them to becoming full-time teammates for the first time in a decade, since the defunct country-focused A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008.

Hinchcliffe has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson after three seasons with the team. His first was shortened due to his near life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident in practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500. A rapid and welcome recovery followed throughout the second half of 2015 before his comeback to action in 2016, with an Indianapolis 500 pole and a couple near-misses on wins that followed. In 2017, he won Round 2 at Long Beach but faltered in the second half of the year through a litany of mechanical woes and bad luck.

Wickens, meanwhile, faced an uncertain future when Mercedes-Benz announced earlier this year it would withdraw from DTM at the end of 2018. One of Hinchcliffe’s long-time friends, Wickens hasn’t raced full-time in North America in more than a decade since they were both in Formula Atlantic in 2007, at separate teams (Wickens at Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe at Sierra Sierra Enterprises). As he pursued his Formula 1 dream and had a wealth of success in the junior series, he never got a proper shot, and has since gone onto several successful years with Mercedes in DTM.

A ride-swap between the two of them came together earlier this year where Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring’s short course, while Hinchcliffe then flew to Italy to sample Wickens’ Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM after the St. Petersburg season opener. Hinchcliffe ended 13th in points in IndyCar, Wickens ninth in DTM this year, both with one win each during the year. Wickens also had a Friday to sample the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Road America this year, but had to relinquish the seat once Aleshin returned from a visa issue.

“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” said Hinchcliffe.

“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.

“I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the SPM organization, from having Robbie here to the team’s new partnership with Honda and the 2018 aero kit; I just can’t wait to get back on track and bring some good results home for the Arrow Electronics crew.”

Wickens added: “This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me.

“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about.

“I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”