Hunter-Reay grabs crucial Mid-Ohio pole

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Ryan Hunter-Reay missed the track record by a few thousandths of a second, but took a pivotal pole position for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network).

The driver of the No. 1 DHL Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport lapped the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1:05.3519 to win the Verizon P1 Award, just off the jointly shared (Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti) track record of 1:05.347. He beat three Ganassi, another Andretti and another Penske car in the Firestone Fast 6.

Hunter-Reay won the only prior permanent road course race of 2013 at Barber Motorsports Park in April. A rough three-race stretch now sees him 69 points behind series leader Helio Castroneves entering the weekend. But Hunter-Reay’s third pole of the season could not have come at a better time, and it came after a tire gamble.

“Anytime you qualify around this place in IndyCar is one of the best times you’ll have in a car,” said Hunter-Reay. “Michael made the call to (save reds). I was skeptical at first, but I kind of just wanted to plug my ears and let them make the decision. I’d go out and drive it as best I could.”

Power qualified second as he continues his search for his first win of 2013. Marco Andretti, in his first Firestone Fast 6 appearance of 2013, has his best start of the year just behind, with Scott Dixon fourth.

Dixon is surging as he seeks his fourth consecutive win of the season, his third in a row at Mid-Ohio and fifth in the last seven years at the track. He outqualified Ganassi teammates Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti on the day.

Kimball posted a nice rebound after a morning crash sent him to a backup car. It marks the first time all three Ganassi cars have been in the Fast 6 this season.

Going back to the start of qualifying, those who advanced from Group 1 in Q1 included all three Ganassi cars, Simona de Silvestro, Justin Wilson and E.J. Viso. Those from Group 2 were Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Power, Tristan Vautier, Andretti and James Jakes.

Tough luck loser from Group 2 in Q1 was Barracuda Racing’s Luca Filippi. The Italian caused a red flag and lost his two fastest laps; his best of 1:05.9847 would have put him fourth in the session, but as it is, he’ll start shotgun on the 24-car field for his IndyCar debut.

Wilson, Pagenaud, de Silvestro, Jakes, Vautier and Viso were knocked out in Q2 and take up spots P7-12 on the grid.

Power and Hunter-Reay made their fifth Firestone Fast 6 of 2013, Franchitti his fourth, Dixon his third, Kimball his second and Andretti his first.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.