Overdue top five finish for Simona de Silvestro in Baltimore

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Simona de Silvestro secured a needed and well-deserved fifth-place finish in the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sunday. Yet her two IZOD IndyCar Series career top-five finishes could not be more different in terms of magnitude. If her first was about her star potential, this one was a sigh of relief after a challenging two-and-a-half year period.

Her first, at the 2011 season opener in St. Petersburg, heralded her as a star of the future in dragging an overmatched HVM Racing Dallara up to a place it had no position being. She nearly beat Tony Kanaan for a podium as Kanaan was racing with a new team, KV Racing Technology-Lotus, and an engineer, Michael Cannon, who had served as de Silvestro’s during her 2010 rookie campaign.

Flash forward to Sunday, and honestly, this was one earned by survival rather than outright pace. But it’s funny how things came full circle. Good luck finally fell on de Silvestro on Sunday, her 25th birthday. Since that first top-five she has had to endure several bad oval accidents, a full year with the woeful and underpowered Lotus engine, and has moved to KV this year as Kanaan’s teammate but not had a great season.

De Silvestro started 17th in the No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva Chevrolet and was into the top 10 for the first time on Lap 13, at the first caution. From there she largely ran anywhere between eighth and 12th but more importantly, never had major damage from any of the contact instances that popped up in the second half of the race. She was up to sixth on the final restart on Lap 66 and passed the ailing Marco Andretti to secure the result.

“I’m definitely really happy with P5. It was kind of a crazy race. I don’t think we had the fastest car out there, but we had a pretty good call on the pits when we got stuck in one of the wrecks,” she said. “After that we were able to move forward and had some pretty good restarts. The Nuclear Clean Air Energy car was really good at the end, so I’m pretty happy with it for sure. Not a bad way to celebrate my birthday.”

Throughout the entirety of the struggles she has maintained her composure and sunny disposition in a way few have been able to do. It was nice to see her break her duck on Sunday, but it would be even better if she could replicate the result in a race that isn’t such a lottery.

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Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”