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The “6-Pack” is on ice, but Johnson still must close the deal

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If you believe the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup effectively ended yesterday, you can’t be blamed for that.

One day after Jimmie Johnson appeared to put a stranglehold on the championship while Matt Kenseth struggled futilely, it does seem like the game is up and that in six days’ time, Johnson will get his hands on Sprint Cup No. 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

You’re probably thinking the fat lady’s sipping her hot tea and honey right now, looking over her sheet music, preparing for her performance on Sunday.

But Johnson knows better. And you know better.

And we all know that in racing, seeming inevitability can transform into utter madness in the blink of an eye.

There’s still 400 miles to go. 28-point lead over Kenseth be damned – the prize may be in sight, but Five-Time knows it’s not yet his. Homestead is the final hurdle.

“It’s far from over,” said Johnson, who finished third yesterday at Phoenix International Raceway after charging from 26th following a Lap 163 incident with Carl Edwards that nearly put him in the wall.

“You’ve got to finish that race. Although we have a nice cushion, we still have to go down there and take care of business.”

And in last year’s season finale at Homestead, Johnson couldn’t do that.

He entered South Florida down 20 points to Brad Keselowski after crashing at PIR the week before, but still found himself with a chance to win the championship in the second half of the race.

But after pitting on Lap 214, Johnson was forced to come back after he pulled out of his pit box with a loose lug nut. Then, on Lap 226, a rear end gear broke on his car and he went to the garage, basically handing the championship to Keselowski with around 40 laps to go.

Johnson finished 36th and dropped to third in the standings, while Keselowski claimed the Cup with a 15th-place result. That episode from one year ago – not to mention Kenseth’s problems yesterday at PIR – illustrates the importance of being perfect in the Chase.

It may not be the most popular way to crown champions, but it certainly provides the pressure-packed environment that breeds champions.

“There’s so many variables in one of our races – I think, more variables than any pro sport out there,” Johnson said. “We have all 43 teams playing, driving, racing, all the mechanical components on the race car, pit stops, other issues on other cars that can take you out, tires…We don’t take any of these weekends lightly.

“Even with a nice points lead, I’m not going to take any week any differently. There’s still a lot of pressure to get the job done, and it’s no lay-up at all.”

And so, while he only needs to finish 23rd or better at Homestead, Johnson is not planning to ease off the throttle and play conservative. He and his Hendrick Motorsports camp recently had a test session on the 1.5-mile oval, and he’ll be back soon enough with the intent to make a statement.

“We’re going to go down there and race as hard as we can,” he said. “…I would love to win the race and win the championship, but we’ll just have to see how things develop in the race and where we are relative to [Kenseth].

“The big prize at the end of the day is what we’re focused on, it’s not so much that individual win, but we need to go down there and be prepared and treat Friday and Saturday like we need to win the race so we can make the car as comfortable and as fast as possible to give us all our options on Sunday.”

Doesn’t sound like a guy that believes the title is all sewn up, does it? If Johnson doesn’t believe it, then you shouldn’t either. At least, not yet.

A lot can happen in 400 miles. This is far from finished.

Tornado near IMS also interrupts Indy Lights road course Cooper Tire test

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17:  A general view of the Pagoda during practice for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 17, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was meant to be having a full day of Cooper Tire testing for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Zach Veach was the one undertaking the testing in a Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda.

Veach had a busy morning, noting he’d run two full race distances.

And then an afternoon interruption came in the way of a tornado near Speedway, Ind.

Testing was paused this afternoon and those on site at IMS went for cover.

A tornado struck near Kokomo Speedway this afternoon, where a celebration of life for Bryan Clauson was taking place, and leveled a Starbucks.

Here’s a number of tweets and social posts from near IMS for this tornado:

Wow…not sure it that touched down but it was darn close. #tornado #Indianapolis

A photo posted by Michael Young (@trackdude500) on

BREAKING NEWS: Tornado strikes just few miles from Bryan Clauson tribute

clauson tribute kokomo
(Photo courtesy of USACNation Twitter page)
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A celebration of the life of late Sprint car driver Bryan Clauson has been interrupted — but not impacted — by a tornado that has caused considerable damage just a few miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

The celebration of Clauson’s life brought out a packed house at Kokomo Speedway, one of Clauson’s favorite racetracks. He lived in nearby Noblesville. The celebration began shortly after 1 p.m. ET.

Kokomo Speedway, which apparently did not suffer any damage from the tornado, is located about four miles northwest of the mall.

The tornado struck near the Markland Mall, located on the east side of Kokomo at the intersection of 17th and Reed streets, causing significant damage, including the flattening of a Starbucks coffee shop that abuts the mall.

A large presence of first responders is on-scene at the mall, and there are other reports of significant property damage in other areas, particularly the east side of Kokomo.

The city of Kokomo, the 13th largest city in Indiana with a population of approximately 60,000, is about 50 miles due north of Indianapolis.

Here are some of the first reports on Twitter, including several from many of Clauson’s fellow drivers and other motorsports officials:

 

 

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Veteran NHRA crew chief Jim Oberhofer forms foundation to honor late wife

Jim Oberhofer, right, and his late wife, Tammy.
(Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports)
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Even though she died of cancer in 2013, a new effort will assure that the memory and spirit of Tammy Oberhofer lives on.

Tammy was the wife of Jim Oberhofer, vice president of Kalitta Motorsports and crew chief for Doug Kalitta’s Top Fuel team. Having worked in drag racing for over 20 years, Tammy was well-known within the sport and a friend to many.

Tammy and Jim’s relationship was a true love story. Her passing left a huge hole in Jim’s heart. He partly filled that void by writing and publishing a touching and very personal book about his wife last year called “Top Fuel For Life: Life Lessons From a Crew Chief.”

Now, Jim Oberhofer has gone one step further to make sure Tammy’s impact upon the sport isn’t soon forgotten. On Tuesday, Oberhofer – known in the sport by the nickname of “Jim O” — announced the formation of the “Tammy O Foundation” to raise money for charitable causes in and around the world of drag racing.

Donations as well as proceeds from “Top Fuel For Life,” which is available at the Team Kalitta website, at NHRA national events, the Patrón merchandise hauler and on Amazon.com, will provide funds for a number of Tammy Oberhofer’s favorite charities, including BRAKES, Pandas International, Racers for Christ, DRAW and Infinite Hero Foundation.

Tammy O Foundation

“I wanted to do this the right way,” Jim Oberhofer said in a statement. “This allows me to be able to donate to things that I know Tammy would have wanted me to donate to.

“Ashley O (the couple’s daughter) and I have made a list and we are going to continue to support as many people as we can.”

The panda logo for the Tammy O Foundation – pandas were one of Tammy Oberhofer’s favorite things – was designed by renowned motorsports artist Kenny Youngblood.

All four Kalitta Motorsports cars – the Top Fuel dragsters of Doug Kalitta and J.R. Todd, as well as the Funny Cars of Del Worsham and Alexis DeJoria – will carry stickers of the Foundation starting at next week’s U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis.

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Red Bull GRC: Eriksson, Wiman keen to secure Honda’s first final win

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Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross resumes this weekend at Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J. (Sunday, 3 p.m., NBC) with the longest course this season (1.102 miles), and one which could play into the hands of Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE drivers Sebastian Eriksson and Joni Wiman.

Eriksson was the top rookie in last year’s season and finished second in points; Wiman captured the 2014 series championship. But it’s been a learning year for both drivers and the Andreas Eriksson-led team this year with a brand new car.

With a longer course that features faster corners, Eriksson rates the new Honda Civic Coupe’s chances of getting its first final round win (they’ve won heats before) a bit higher.

“It should be a fast track. I like that,” Sebastian Eriksson told NBC Sports. “The engine has good power and we’ve had good starts and launches all season. Since it is a fast track, that will suit our car better. It’s a bit longer. Smaller cars do better at hairpins. But at a fast track, our car is best.”

Wiman added,  “Just looking at the track map, I can tell we are really going have a blast in the Civic this weekend. It looks long and fast and I think that bodes well for us. Sebastian [Eriksson] and I are eager to be on the top step of the podium and represent Honda, Red Bull and the entire Olsbergs MSE team.”

Eriksson expanded on how much the team has grown with Honda this year throughout this development campaign.

“The season is shorter this season than before; it started later and finishes earlier,” he said. “So for us with a brand new car, we tried to develop between races. We try to find as much as possible.

“You need to remember, the car was brand new! We started with the build very late – it was a January build for three cars. There was not a ton of testing. But we have gotten better and better. The last race was really good. We found some improvements before this time off. We hope to be competitive, and fighting for the wins.”

Eriksson also hailed BFGoodrich, which has taken over as Red Bull Global Rallycross’ tire manufacturer this year.

“The BFGs are much better. Grip-wise, it is about the same. But the Yokohamas only had one lap before falling off. Now here, it’s faster on all the laps. That makes the racing more fair. Everyone competes at the same level at the time.”

In his second year in Supercars, Eriksson’s learned a lot. He admitted he made a lot of mistakes last year and while driving better this year, hasn’t had the luck he had in his first go-around.

“I think I’ve grown a lot. I made a lot of mistakes last year. I should have been able to score more points even than I did,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of struggles this year with the car… too many DNFs in the finals, with three of them. And you lose a lot of points. All the points are in the final. In this series, you need a solid finish every race and we haven’t had that.

“Daytona was the best result-wise as you said (two third places), but in New River, we really had the pace and we had the semifinal win. Should have started from first row in the final because they canceled it because of the rain. I was positive we had the pace.

“In Washington, both Joni and second in semis. But I had the puncture. It has been a lot of bad luck. We have more speed than we have shown.”

Eriksson said growing with Honda has given him a much greater insight into their love and passion for racing. He had a chance to explore Honda Performance Development headquarters in California earlier this month.

“The thing that Honda that is so cool is it might be the only brand in the world that builds their brand and cars around racing,” he said.

“It feels almost like racing is in the first place and building cars is the second. They have a lot of tradition on both two and four wheels. IndyCar, Formula 1 and Motocross, and road racing. And now here in Red Bull GRC.

“It’s clear racing is big in the Honda family.”