Multiple Chasers overcome adversity for critical results

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Winning may be more emphasized these days in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but when it comes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup – the 10-race stretch that determines the series’ champion – consistency is still king.

After today’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway went back to green around 10 p.m. ET following a five-hour-plus red flag period for rain, multiple contenders in the post-season field had to overcome assorted problems on the track and in the pits to get the good result they needed and avoid the bad one that could’ve put them in a big hole.

Third-place finisher Kevin Harvick (pictured) nearly ran into Dave Blaney on pit road during a congested stop under yellow at Lap 169, but still played a critical role in the outcome by pushing eventual race winner Matt Kenseth past Kyle Busch for the lead off a restart with 22 laps remaining.

“Our car was really good on the restarts, so you could pick a bunch of them off pretty easy there going into Turn 1 and 2,” Harvick said. All in all, it was a good night, just too loose at the end to run with those guys up off the corner, but still a good night.”

Also having to battle back was Kurt Busch, who was tagged with a speeding penalty on pit road early on in the race and was knocked all the way to 29th. However, when the race restarted after the red flag, Busch took a wave-around to get back on the lead lap.

From there, “The Outlaw” then went on a steady climb for the rest of the night, making his way into the Top 5 and locking down a solid fourth-place result.

“Top-5s are what it’s all about in the Chase,” said Kurt. “One down and nine to go. Just hats off to this crew. It’s a long day with rain delays and just in of focus, out of focus and we gave it our best effort.”

Next up in the “Overcoming Adversity” group was five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. During a stop on Lap 75, a NASCAR official reported that a lug nut was loose on one of Johnson’s tires; his team was able to prove that it was on.

Johnson lost only a few positions in that incident, but on another stop at Lap 149, a jack failure forced a lengthy wait for him and sent him down to 22nd. But his car came alive late, enabling Johnson to turn lemons into lemonade once again and claim fifth place.

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, also put on a comeback show. He was third coming to a restart with 95 laps to go but quickly dropped like a rock due to a flat left rear tire.

Gordon was put off-strategy because of that, and he needed a caution to get back in the game. He got it on Lap 226, when his HMS compadre, Dale Earnhardt Jr., suffered a major engine failure to bring out the yellow.

Lining up 18th for the restart with 37 laps remaining, Gordon would then show off the great pace he had all night in the closing stages. He moved into the Top 10 with 28 circuits to go and then went further up the pylon to an eventual finish of sixth.

“That was an incredible accomplishment,” an ecstatic Gordon said to ESPN. “It just shows how much fight this team has. They never give up.”

“To think of how far down we were with 40 laps to go…To be able to come up through there and get sixth and have a shot at a Top 5 was a lot of fun. That’s what we needed to get this thing started off right.”

These guys couldn’t win the Chase tonight at Chicagoland, but they could have darn sure lost it. Luckily for them and their teams, they can go on to New Hampshire next week with title hopes still intact.

Rossi charges to fifth after starting 18th at Barber

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Alexander Rossi has had a black cloud hanging over his head in each of the first two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner suffered an ill-timed caution at St. Petersburg that hurt his team’s strategy and then dropped out at Long Beach after an engine failure when he was running in the top three.

That misfortune continued on into Saturday, as he and the Andretti-Herta Autosport team couldn’t find the speed in qualifying, leaving him 18th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, everything turned up roses come race time and Rossi had arguably the drive of the day. Rossi was immediately on the charge and used a combination of strategy and speed to run seventh after the opening sequence of pit stops. He hung around the top five the rest of the day, eventually moving up to fifth after Charlie Kimball and Will Power made late-race pit stops.

All told, it was a remarkable run for him.

“It’s good considering we started 18th,” Rossi told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “We were pretty disappointed yesterday. We were on the verge of desperation. We had to diagnose what happened Saturday.”

The result vaulted Rossi all the way up to 10th in the championship standings, one point ahead of Tony Kanaan. He trails points leader Sebastien Bourdais by 57 markers heading into the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

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Bourdais hangs on to points lead after Barber

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Sebastien Bourdais’ drive to eighth is not quite the headline-maker to match his win at St. Petersburg or his second at Long Beach, but it was still a championship-caliber drive on a weekend where he and Dale Coyne Racing didn’t quite have the pace they had in the opening two races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Bourdais advanced out of his Round 1 qualifying group, but went no further after turning the 12th fastest time in Round 2, leaving him 12th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, he managed to weather the storm and keep his nose clean, taking home an unspectacular but respectable eighth.

“Yeah not quite sure what did what. Maybe the conditions got us more in the operation of the tires,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee when asked about his struggles during the weekend.

Bourdais also added that might have been able to pass Tony Kanaan for seventh in the final laps, but he couldn’t quite do enough to make a run at him.

“I really thought I had (Kanaan) there. He used the pushed to pass. I didn’t forget! I really thought I had him. He used the push to pass on the way back. Shame on me. It was a good fight. Not the greatest day but top 10 is good for the guys and the Sonny’s BBQ car.”

Bourdais leads Scott Dixon by six points and Josef Newgarden by seven. Simon Pagenaud sits 10 markers behind while James Hinchcliffe is 15 back after three races.

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A full day of Fernando: Alonso takes Barber by storm (VIDEO)

Brown and Alonso. Photo: IndyCar
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Fernando Alonso was a busy man today at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as he prepares for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and made the rounds of media and promotion in doing so as part of his joint entry into the race thanks to McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion arrived on pit lane for Sunday’s morning warmup and set up in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda pit, where he’d interact with Michael Andretti and the rest of the team.

Alonso had a quick sit-in in Marco Andretti’s No. 27 Honda:

Alonso then made it to the media center for a formal press conference with Andretti, McLaren F1 executive director Zak Brown and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company. Alonso was high on life through most of the press conference and had a few playful jabs at some of his competitors.

Before the race, Alonso signed some autographs for fans, who were pleased he was on site.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

From there, it was a chance to head to the grid and speak with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell.

Alonso’s day wasn’t done, as he visited both the NBCSN booth and the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network booth for further interviews. A portion of the NBCSN interview is below.

Alonso will now head to Indianapolis with the team this week for a seat fit and further preparation for his May 3 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first run in the car. He’ll then be off to Sochi, Russia for next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which you can see on NBCSN (times here).

Dixon maintains excellent start despite another tough P2 at Barber

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Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that his start to his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – finishes of third, fourth and second – can be viewed as disappointing because potential wins have gone begging.

The latest chapter of his almost-winning-but-not-quite saga to open this year’s campaign occurred at the track where he has his best results without a win, Barber Motorsports Park.

Dixon was top Honda on the day in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but alas, one spot short of a victory as he scored his seventh Barber podium in eight races – all of them either seconds or thirds.

On this occasion, Dixon did his usual masterstroke of fuel saving by running longest in the first stint, running to Lap 24 and leading two laps.

Dixon also got ahead of Josef Newgarden on the final pit stop sequence despite running behind him and Will Power on the road during the middle stint.

But after a restart from the second and last full-course caution on Lap 68, Newgarden muscled his way past Dixon at Turns 15 and 16 for third place on the inside, leaving Dixon very little room on corner exit in a forceful but not dirty passing move.

While that was for third at the time, it wound up being the pass for the win because Dixon’s teammate, then-leader Charlie Kimball, pitted from an off-sequence strategy and the would-be winner, Power, pitted with a left rear puncture.

It left Dixon high and dry but in his usual so good, yet so close, P2, with three laps led. He felt worse for Power and gave Newgarden plaudits for the move.

“I saw him late coming into Turn 15 or 16. I tried to hold him back, but I wasn’t able to hold him back. It’s deserved for him,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider post-race.

“The NTT Data car was strong. I feel bad for Will Power. It was a false flat tire perhaps? So yeah, that and a good job to Josef.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the day in the post-race press conference.

“I typically hold a fairly tight line there. But, yeah, he dove it in there, with some speed. He couldn’t make the corner at the appropriate time, so we kind of both ran wide there. But, you know, it was a great move.

“Josef did a hell of a job there on the blacks. Obviously had a clean start and really had some good longevity on that stint and was able to pit short and jump on reds.

“I think, you know, I feel bad for Will obviously with the flat tire issue there, but then also left the door open a little bit in 16. Josef put his nose in there. Tried to turn down, but through that whole complex, 14, 15, 16, I was just so loose. If I turned more, would have spun out.

“Credit to Josef. Drove a hell of a race. Team Penske, congratulations to them. Seventh podium here at Alabama without a win. Good in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we come here to win and we came up short.”

Despite not winning, Dixon still sits second in the points, just six points behind Sebastien Bourdais, who finished eighth.

Dixon and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix next weekend (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he has a win to defend.