After Charlotte, Kenseth up four points on Johnson in Chase

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What seemed to be a sure win for Jimmie Johnson tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway instead went to Brad Keselowski. And what seemed to be the perfect situation for Johnson to overtake Matt Kenseth (pictured) for the lead in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup instead ended with Kenseth still atop the standings with five races left.

Kenseth and Johnson ultimately finished third and fourth in the Bank of America 500. That effectively constitutes a draw, as Kenseth was only able to extend his lead in the Chase by one point to a margin of four as the scene shifts to Talladega Superspeedway next weekend.

But Kenseth will surely take it, especially as it appeared that Johnson would be the new Chase leader coming out of North Carolina this evening. He’d been crushing the competition in the middle stages of the race, but a debris caution with 27 laps left changed everything.

As the yellow waved, Johnson led the race leaders to the pits for their final stops of the night but dropped back to third when he took four tires, while Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne took two and grabbed first and second positions respectively.

Then, instead of capitalizing on his four fresh Goodyears, Johnson fell all the way back to seventh after a poor restart. He would regain three of those lost positions back, but an opportunity to seize control of the championship had vanished.

Still, Johnson – as usual – tried to keep on an even keel about the situation.

“I wish we’d finished better, but it was still a strong performance for the Lowe’s car,” Johnson said to ESPN. “I’m very proud of the effort – we had a fast car, great qualifying, great pit stops. Everything’s there. We’ll just keep doing our jobs and work at it week after week, and see what we can get.”

But with Charlotte in the rear view mirror, the biggest wild card in the post-season now beckons. Nothing more and nothing less than a 200 mile-per-hour game of Russian Roulette, Talladega and its dreaded “Big One” can wipe out championship dreams in an instant.

For his part, Kenseth emphasized both Dega’s unpredictable nature and the fact that he still has the Chase lead when asked about what awaits him and the rest of the Chasers in Alabama.

“Jimmie’s certainly been strong in the [restrictor] plate races and Harvick’s always been good there, but you never really know what’s going to happen at Talladega,” he said.

“But I’m glad we’re still in the lead. We have a lot of racing to do, we made it through the first half of [the Chase] and have maintained a very small lead, so it’s better than being behind. We’ll go to Talladega, race hard, hope our car has some speed in it, and be able to hang up front.”

IndyCar: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports expands mentoring program for tech school students

Photos: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
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IndyCar team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced today that it is extending and widening a unique sponsorship and mentoring program that began last season with students from Lincoln Technical Institute.

The program began last year, with students from several Lincoln Tech branches attending select IndyCar events for an entire weekend.

The students, primarily from auto and diesel training programs, got an insiders experience with the team, taking part in team meetings, watching team workers prepare and service the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe, sat on pit boxes during practices, qualifying and, of course races.

The overall experience was to get students more interested and involved in potential careers in the IndyCar field.

“We said at the beginning of last season that we knew our students would benefit and learn from the professionalism and drive of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team,” Lincoln Tech President and CEO Scott Shaw said. “But the experience they received working with the entire pit crew team and in particular crew member Cole Jagger – a Lincoln Tech graduate himself – went beyond even our own expectations.

“We were grateful for the time they spent mentoring our students, and we are thrilled to once again be part of the racing legacy of team owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson.”

Lincoln Tech will once again serve as an associate sponsor on Hinchcliffe’s car for the entire 2018 IndyCar season. In addition, it is expanding its Mentor Program to select students to attend a minimum of nine IndyCar races from six last season.

Students are selected based upon their grade point average, attendance, conduct and overall commitment to becoming outstanding automotive technicians. An interest in IndyCar and a desire to work in the industry is also considered.

One student that took part last season, Tyler Crist of Lincoln Tech’s Denver campus, joined the team at the IndyCar race in Long Beach last April, watching as Hinchcliffe won the event.

“It was the best weekend of my life,” Crist said after the event. “It reminded me of why I joined this field in the first place and to never give up on my dreams.”

Jagger will oversee the expanded mentoring program this season. For Jagger, being involved especially hits home, as he is a graduate of Lincoln Tech’s Indianapolis campus.

“I totally enjoyed working with the Lincoln Tech students that participated in the Mentor Program last year and look forward to meeting this year’s group,” Jagger said. “Being a Lincoln Tech grad, I hope the students realize that if you have a passion for cars, a career in racing is something that’s not out of reach. If I can be an example for them to follow, that makes it even more rewarding.”

In addition to the at-track activities of the mentoring program, several Lincoln Tech branches across the country will utilize CNC computerized machining and manufacturing tools to assist in creating car parts for SPM.

“Through this unique partnership, we’re able to hopefully find the next class of talent that could one day be part of our organization,” SPM president Jon Flack said. “We’re looking forward to another year of the mentorship program and having their students be ‘boots on the ground’ gaining real-life experience with our team.”

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