Dale Jr. bounces back with sixth-place showing in N.H.

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Time will tell if a spark of life has been put into the Chase hopes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he finished sixth on Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt jumped two spots to 11th in the championship, but still faces a mountain to climb if he wants to truly be back in post-season contention. Despite the move up the table, he lost ground to leader Matt Kenseth; he entered New Hampshire down 53 points after an engine failure last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, but left with a 62 point gap to overcome starting at Dover next weekend.

But today certainly fared better for him than the Windy City did, even though things didn’t start well. A loose lug nut forced Earnhardt to make a second stop under the first caution of the day, putting him on an alternate strategy.

That strategy enabled Earnhardt to get to the lead at Lap 114 before he pitted again shortly before the halfway point. During a caution at Lap 164, the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team opted to go with two tires on his stop in a bid to gain track position.

The move worked, and on the final restart of the day, Earnhardt was able to move up to second before he began to lose rear grip and give up several positions in the remaining laps.

“I ran out of rear tires trying to hold him [fifth-place finisher Jamie McMurray] off,” Earnhardt said. “[I] couldn’t get the power down just off the corner and he was a pretty fast car to begin with. I knew it was going to be difficult to hold him off, but we had a good car yesterday. Almost as good as it was today.

“Just real happy to be able to rebound from earlier on pit road and get a good finish. The car was fast as heck yesterday – one of the top three cars I thought. Glad we were able to get a decent finish out of it. Just want to win one, I’m trying hard.”

Looking ahead, Earnhardt has one career win at Dover but has been up-and-down at the Monster Mile in recent times (five finishes of 20th or worse in his last ten starts there). However, he did finish 10th there this past June.

Carlos Munoz back at Andretti Autosport for 2018 Indy 500

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After posting two runner-up finishes and three top-five results in four starts with Andretti Autosport at the Indianapolis 500, Colombian Carlos Munoz will come home to the team as its sixth driver in the 2018 race. He’ll instantly vault into win contention, given his pedigree at the Speedway and joining Andretti’s team that has won three of the last four ‘500s there.

Munoz raced full-time with Andretti Autosport from 2014 through 2016. While he scored his first career win at Detroit race one in 2015, and was series rookie of the year in 2014, it’s his runner-up results as a race rookie in 2013 and again in the 2016 race to teammate Alexander Rossi that loom largest.

Now, Munoz, who spent a single season at A.J. Foyt Enterprises before both he and Conor Daly were not retained for a second year, will join Andretti’s full-season quartet of Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach along with previously announced fifth driver Stefan Wilson.

This will add another confirmed Honda entry to next year’s race. Honda has 12 full-season entries expected among Andretti’s four cars, then two apiece from the Ganassi, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Schmidt Peterson and Coyne teams.

That number grows with Andretti’s two extra cars, and the combination of the SPM/Michael Shank car for Jack Harvey to confirm at least 15 Hondas for the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Honda has traditionally capped its number of entries at 18 cars.

The full release is below.

A familiar face will make its way back to the Andretti Autosport stable for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race as Carlos Muñoz returns to the team, vying for his chance to kiss the bricks.

Muñoz made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport at the 2013 Indianapolis 500, where he finished second, earning himself Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors. The Colombian-native went on to compete full time with the team the following year. In 2016, Muñoz once again finished runner-up when his rookie teammate, Alexander Rossi, crossed the Yard of Bricks on a fuel-saving strategy to win the 100th Indy 500.

“I am very excited to be a part of Andretti Autosport again,” said Muñoz. “The team has been like family to me since day one, when I joined them five years ago to race Indy Lights. We have been so close to winning the Indy 500 – twice with the team – so I am especially excited to be back for that race and hopefully we will have a good result this year. I need to thank Michael [Andretti] and J-F [Thormann] for believing in me and wanting me to back in their car for the Indy 500. I am also excited to be back with my teammates, and I think we will continue to work really well together. We have six cars, so hopefully we will have a strong team working with the new [aero kit]. I am really looking forward to it – hopefully we can finally get that win we’ve been so close to.”

Muñoz will look to pick up where he left off with Andretti Autosport and add to the team’s historical success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The team mirror’s Muñoz’s enthusiasm and is excited to have secured its complete lineup before the new year.

“We’re thrilled to have Carlos back in an Andretti car for the Indy 500,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “There is no denying that Carlos has talent at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway], he’s finished runner-up twice and that has fueled his determination to get to victory lane. He has already built relationships with his teammates and many of those on our crew, so it should be a seamless process for our six cars when they head out for the first time together.”

The veteran driver has built a resume that consists of 70 Verizon IndyCar Series starts, one win (Detroit Race 1, 2015), one pole position (Texas, 2016) and seven podiums. Muñoz competed under the Andretti shield from 2013 to 2016 and finished 17th in the 2017 IndyCar season.

Andretti Autosport has collected five Indianapolis 500 victories (Wheldon/’05, Franchitti/’06, Hunter-Reay/’14, Rossi/’16, Sato/’17) and seeks to become only the second team to earn three consecutive Indy 500 wins. Muñoz will join teammates Rossi, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Stefan Wilson on opening day in May for the team’s six-car effort.