IndyCar could tie mark for most season winners, 11, at MAVTV 500

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Although two of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ most dominant teams, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, collide for the title this weekend at the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), they haven’t had it all their way this year when it comes to owning victory lane.

This year, Ganassi and Penske drivers have won just eight of 18 races. While that’s still a lot, it marks the pair’s first combined sub-.500 winning percentage since 2007 (eight of 17), and unsurprisingly, their lowest win total since.

We touched on it earlier this year, but the parity is statistically unmatched this year with 10 different winners from seven different teams. By contrast, NASCAR Sprint Cup has had 14 different winners, but in 31 races. Thus far, IndyCar’s 2013 race winners are:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon (4 season wins), Charlie Kimball (1)
  • Team Penske: Will Power (2), Helio Castroneves (1)
  • Andretti Autosport: James Hinchcliffe (3), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2)
  • Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports: Simon Pagenaud (2)
  • KV Racing Technology: Tony Kanaan (1)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Takuma Sato (1)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Mike Conway (1)

There are 16 drivers in this weekend’s race at Fontana who could tie the all-time IndyCar record of 11 different winners in the season, set in back-to-back years of 2000 and 2001 in the CART series. Those eligible to tie the record include:

  • Andretti Autosport: Marco Andretti (2 career wins), E.J. Viso (0)
  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Alex Tagliani (1)
  • Team Penske: AJ Allmendinger (5)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Justin Wilson (7), Pippa Mann (0)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal (1), James Jakes (0)
  • Dragon Racing: Sebastien Bourdais (31), Sebastian Saavedra (0)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter (2)
  • Panther Racing: Oriol Servia (1)
  • KV Racing Technology: Simona de Silvestro (0)
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Josef Newgarden (0)
  • Barracuda Racing: JR Hildebrand (0)
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Tristan Vautier (0)

Of those 16, there’s five I think have a realistic shot to tie the mark this weekend. In no particular order…

  • Justin Wilson. His newfound confidence on ovals over the last two years and working relationship with engineer Bill Pappas has been an impressive transformation. He’s driven too well all year to have not scored a victory; at a track where managing his car, tires, and equipment over 500 miles is a challenge, he’s a contender.
  • Marco Andretti. He’s been too good on ovals this year – wins went begging at Milwaukee and Pocono – to have not gotten a win. His biggest issue will be managing fuel mileage.
  • Ed Carpenter. I mentioned it separately yesterday but Carpenter has to be included among the “big dogs” for the all-too-rare oval races. Really showed a lot of people something with his win at Fontana last year, proving Kentucky was no fluke, and will be a contender for all 500 miles.
  • Alex Tagliani. He’s been out of an IndyCar since Toronto in July but hasn’t lost his competitive spirit, racing sports cars with Ferrari. Provided the best opportunity of his career under less than ideal circumstances, Tagliani will seize his chance with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
  • JR Hildebrand. A tough call to include JR here but consider the factors. He probably could have won this race last year, the Barracuda Racing team also could have won last year with Tagliani, and there’s the added motivation of needing a huge result to gain entry into IndyCar’s Leaders Circle Top 22 in entrant points for 2014. Big weekend needed for team and driver as they sort out their respective futures; their only downside to me is missing the series’ open test here last month.

Of the remaining 11, Allmendinger has a good shot given his equipment but knows he will have to play gunner to Castroneves. Servia is probably better than his team over 500 miles, Rahal’s a sleeper if the team’s engineering improves on the oval as much as it has on the street courses of late, and Viso could surprise given the Andretti team’s pace. But they’re longer shots.

The championship is the main storyline heading into the race, but don’t be surprised if we’re looking at victory lane at night’s end with a record-tying mark achieved.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.

Haas’ sophomore F1 season starts badly with double DNF in Australia

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The Haas Formula 1 team’s sophomore campaign got off to a bad start on Sunday as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were both forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, making its debut in Australia 12 months ago.

Grosjean scored a memorable sixth-place finish on that day in Melbourne, and looked poised to repeat the result in 2017 after qualifying sixth on Saturday.

A poor start was Grosjean drop to seventh, but he managed to hold position through the opening stint of the race ahead of the pit stop cycle.

However, Grosjean had no chance to wield some strategic genius as Haas did last year, with a water leak forcing him to retire while inside the top 10.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car,” Grosjean explained.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that. I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car.

“I guess the key for us is to keep the momentum and get the consistency we didn’t have last year, where I’d be fifth in Bahrain then 19th in China. I really want to improve on that and get more consistency in terms of results. If we do that, then I’m sure there are going to be plenty of races where we can score good points.”

Grosjean’s new teammate for 2017, Kevin Magnussen, suffered an early setback when he clashed with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson on the first lap, and ultimately retired due to a suspension issue stemming from the incident.

“I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit,” Magnussen said.

“We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast.

“That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “Not the race we wished for, or we expected. With Romain it looks like we had a water leak. We don’t know yet where that came from.

“Obviously, Kevin’s race was destroyed in the third corner after the contact with Ericsson. He then ended up later with a suspension failure, which we still have to investigate why.

“The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast. We need to work on a few parts and, hopefully, we can get back strong again in China in two weeks.”

Sam Posey previews 2017 with ‘The Winds of Change’ (VIDEO)

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As the 2017 kicks off from Australia, our resident poet laureate Sam Posey has penned his latest essay on what’s to come ahead of the new year.

Here’s a look ahead to the new season, with Posey’s “The Winds of Change” looking at the vast transformation in the sport that occurred over the winter, from the change in ownership, to the change in cars, to the change in the lineups… and to the change in the pecking order.

An archive of Posey’s 2016 essays are linked here.

Sprint car veteran Dave Steele killed in accident at Desoto Speedway

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Open-wheel veteran and occasional NASCAR racer Dave Steele was killed Saturday night in an accident at Desoto Speedway in Bradenton, Florida during a sprint car race. The veteran driver out of Tampa was 42 years old.

According to SPEED SPORT, Steele reportedly crashed while driving for position in his winged sprint car, in the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series event.

The track confirmed Steele’s passing in a Facebook post, writing: “Desoto Speedway owners and staff are saddened by tonights passing of David Steele in the Sprint car feature. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends who were all in attendance, to see him try to win his 100th florida race.”

Steele made three starts in the Indy Racing League in 1998 and had been brought on by Panther Racing as a development driver for the team’s first crack at a two-car effort, then teammate to Scott Goodyear, the last two races of that season. He was entered as a second car for the 1999 Indianapolis 500 but did not qualify. He also drove in the Indy Lights series a few years later in a handful of races.

In USAC though, Steele was regarded as one of the top drivers on the circuit, with a sterling record. As of the end of 2016, he had 26 USAC National Sprint Car wins, 16 Silver Crown wins (third all-time) and 18 National Midget wins, for a total of 60 wins that proved his versatility in USAC’s three primary types of cars, both on pavement and on dirt.

A number of tributes and condolences have already come in on social media. Note the one from Michael Lewis, an up-and-coming sports car driver out of California who’s won races in Pirelli World Challenge, and whose father Steve Lewis was the architect of the old Beast/Pink entries, which Steele used to drive for.