Earnhardt rallies from loose wheel for Top-5 result

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Junior Nation is still waiting for a win, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his above-average post-season with a fourth-place finish yesterday at Phoenix International Raceway that strengthened his grip on a Top-5 spot in the Sprint Cup championship.

Earnhardt encountered early problems on Lap 63, when he was forced to pit from sixth place under green for a loose wheel. That put him one lap down, but he was able to get the “lucky dog” free pass after a Lap 131 incident involving Dave Blaney brought out the caution.

After that, Earnhardt would race into the Top 10 as the race hit its middle stages, which saw the scoring pylon repeatedly scrambled through pit strategies. He had been cycled back to seventh by the Lap 282 caution for debris, and following the final restart with 25 laps to go, he peeled off several positions before finishing fourth after Carl Edwards ran out of gas.

“It was a good car – we knew it in practice,” said Earnhardt, who collected his third Top-5 finish in his last four races and seventh Top-10 in his last eight.

“Since this Chase has started, we have been quick. If we don’t win Homestead [next week], hopefully we have that speed when we show up in Daytona [in February].

“I have to give credit to the team. They are working hard and just because we aren’t in the title hunt doesn’t mean they have given up. They work just as hard as anyone out there.”

Earnhardt remains fifth in the Chase, but saw his gap over sixth-place Jeff Gordon grow to 17 points after Gordon logged a 14th-place result in Phoenix.

He also stands a chance to rise even further in the standings this Sunday at Homestead, as Kyle Busch only sits six points ahead of him in fourth position (Busch finished seventh in yesterday’s race).

Newgarden fastest as Castroneves returns in weather-shortened Barber test

Photo: IndyCar
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The Verizon IndyCar Series took to Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday for an open test, with 24 entries tackling the 2.38-mile road course.

Weather intervened in the afternoon, preventing nearly the entire field from going out, but the weather held off during the morning enough for one session to be run in its entirety.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden led the way, with a quick lap of 1:07.979, ahead of Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves. For Castroneves, this marked his first IndyCar outing of 2018.

Helio Castroneves was back in an IndyCar on Tuesday at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Sporting the Pennzoil “yellow submarine” paint scheme, Castroneves turned 41 laps around Barber in the morning session, with a quick lap of 1:08.315. He was also the only driver to venture out on track in the afternoon, completing eight laps.

The Dale Coyne Racing duo of Sebastien Bourdais and Zachary Claman De Melo completed the top five.

Results are below.