RLL duo notch double Top-10s in Houston Race 1

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For the first time since the June doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s tandem of James Jakes (pictured) and Graham Rahal both came away with Top 10 finishes in yesterday’s first race of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

Jakes, who finished sixth after starting ninth, was able to overcome a pit miscue in which a radio miscommunication caused him to enter the pits for his first stop – only to have his No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts crew not be ready to service his car.

That forced the Englishman to come back in on the following lap, sending him to the rear of the field. But with the help of some timely yellows and hard driving on his part, Jakes was able to claw his way back up the pylon during the remainder of the 90-lap event.

“We managed to pick a lot of people off [in the first stint] and the car was working well but then we had a miscommunication in the pits and did an extra pit stop than we needed to,” Jakes said. “We had to work our way up from there. It’s a shame because I think without that we could have been on the podium. We will see what [today] brings.”

The sixth-place run also snapped an extended cold streak for Jakes, who had not banked a Top-10 run since placing second in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit. Additionally, he had bowed out early from the two previous races at Sonoma and Baltimore due to mechanical problems.

As for Rahal, he turned in a stellar performance, rocketing from 24th starting position to seventh at the finish in a drive that may have impressed his primary backer for the weekend, Blu Electronic Cigarettes (which has a major presence in the paddock this weekend at Reliant Park).

Adding more impressiveness to Rahal’s effort is that he was one of several drivers that were assessed a 10-spot grid penalty for an unapproved engine change on his No. 15 Honda.

“To go from 24th to seventh is always a good day – you can’t complain,” Rahal said. “I think we could have, and should have had [Jakes] and [fifth-place Josef] Newgarden there at the end but ran out of time. There was some close racing there so I just figured I would be a little bit smarter and lift off.”

With this morning’s qualifying session for Race 2 canceled due to heavy rains, both drivers will have to start toward the back once again as the grid will be set by entrant points. Rahal will go off 18th, Jakes from 20th.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/