TUSC: The Rolex 24 finally arrives after long anticipation

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It’s hard to quantify what’s going to come out of the 2014 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

On-track, the four classes of the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship – Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona – are pretty much wide open, even though Corvette DPs have dominated the P and overall timesheets this week.

The backstory of the 16 months leading up to today’s moment is that of unification in North American sports car racing at long last, after more than a dozen years between two combined series (GRAND-AM Rolex Series, American Le Mans Series).

Discussion has centered on rules, regulations, rankings, ramblings and regurgitations of platitudes we’ve all heard before in various years or series.

Today, none of that matters.

TUSC has a golden opportunity to seize its moment both in the motorsports landscape and additionally, the sporting world at large.

The manufacturer interest is legitimate. The media interest is legitimate – the press room for this year’s Rolex 24 is filled to the brim, much as you’d see for a Daytona 500.

And more importantly, the fan interest is legitimate. The infield is packed with fans, campers and filled grandstands.

It won’t look that way from the outside, because the outside grandstands of the oval never have that many folks sitting them.

But the discussion is robust, and the chance for this mix of cars, sounds, partners is there to capitalize.

Whether it does or not is a question mark. To my mind, the confusion that sports car racing presents, by its very nature, is going to be the hardest thing for this new series to overcome in the long run. But that question can wait.

As for the next 24-plus hours though, it’s time to ignore the BS, watch the cars, have a beer or two and enjoy the on-track action as the sweet symphony of engine noise wakes the racing world up from its winter hibernation.

A full day of Fernando: Alonso takes Barber by storm (VIDEO)

Brown and Alonso. Photo: IndyCar
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Fernando Alonso was a busy man today at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as he prepares for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and made the rounds of media and promotion in doing so as part of his joint entry into the race thanks to McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion arrived on pit lane for Sunday’s morning warmup and set up in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda pit, where he’d interact with Michael Andretti and the rest of the team.

Alonso then made it to the media center for a formal press conference with Andretti, McLaren F1 executive director Zak Brown and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company. Alonso was high on life through most of the press conference and had a few playful jabs at some of his competitors.

Before the race, Alonso signed some autographs for fans, who were pleased he was on site.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

From there, it was a chance to head to the grid and speak with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell.

Alonso’s day wasn’t done, as he visited both the NBCSN booth and the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network booth for further interviews. A portion of the NBCSN interview is below.

Alonso will now head to Indianapolis with the team this week for a seat fit and further preparation for his May 3 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first run in the car. He’ll then be off to Sochi, Russia for next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which you can see on NBCSN (times here).

Dixon maintains excellent start despite another tough P2 at Barber

Photo: IndyCar
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Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that his start to his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – finishes of third, fourth and second – can be viewed as disappointing because potential wins have gone begging.

The latest chapter of his almost-winning-but-not-quite saga to open this year’s campaign occurred at the track where he has his best results without a win, Barber Motorsports Park.

Dixon was top Honda on the day in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but alas, one spot short of a victory as he scored his seventh Barber podium in eight races – all of them either seconds or thirds.

On this occasion, Dixon did his usual masterstroke of fuel saving by running longest in the first stint, running to Lap 24 and leading two laps.

Dixon also got ahead of Josef Newgarden on the final pit stop sequence despite running behind him and Will Power on the road during the middle stint.

But after a restart from the second and last full-course caution on Lap 68, Newgarden muscled his way past Dixon at Turns 15 and 16 for third place on the inside, leaving Dixon very little room on corner exit in a forceful but not dirty passing move.

While that was for third at the time, it wound up being the pass for the win because Dixon’s teammate, then-leader Charlie Kimball, pitted from an off-sequence strategy and the would-be winner, Power, pitted with a left rear puncture.

It left Dixon high and dry but in his usual so good, yet so close, P2, with three laps led. He felt worse for Power and gave Newgarden plaudits for the move.

“I saw him late coming into Turn 15 or 16. I tried to hold him back, but I wasn’t able to hold him back. It’s deserved for him,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider post-race.

“The NTT Data car was strong. I feel bad for Will Power. It was a false flat tire perhaps? So yeah, that and a good job to Josef.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the day in the post-race press conference.

“I typically hold a fairly tight line there. But, yeah, he dove it in there, with some speed. He couldn’t make the corner at the appropriate time, so we kind of both ran wide there. But, you know, it was a great move.

“Josef did a hell of a job there on the blacks. Obviously had a clean start and really had some good longevity on that stint and was able to pit short and jump on reds.

“I think, you know, I feel bad for Will obviously with the flat tire issue there, but then also left the door open a little bit in 16. Josef put his nose in there. Tried to turn down, but through that whole complex, 14, 15, 16, I was just so loose. If I turned more, would have spun out.

“Credit to Josef. Drove a hell of a race. Team Penske, congratulations to them. Seventh podium here at Alabama without a win. Good in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we come here to win and we came up short.”

Despite not winning, Dixon still sits second in the points, just six points behind Sebastien Bourdais, who finished eighth.

Dixon and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix next weekend (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he has a win to defend.

NHRA: Pro Stock teams get into confrontation during Houston race

Photo courtesy GasMonkeyEnergy.com
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The temperature was only around 70 degrees but tempers got into triple digits Sunday at the NHRA Springnationals in suburban Houston, Texas.

The crews of Pro Stock drivers Tanner Gray and Alex Laughlin did a lot of pushing and shoving during a confrontation between both sides in the pits at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

Gray had defeated Laughlin in their first round of eliminations matchup Sunday.

The relationship between the two teams had apparently become strained when Laughlin switched from Gray Motorsports engines to Elite Motorsports engines in his race car for this weekend’s event.

Laughlin told FoxSports.com, “I got down there, turned the car off and got out. We were both walking over to the ticket stand to get our time slips and I had absolutely nothing to say to him. He grabbed his ticket before I got mine and then he slapped me on the back and said ‘how the [expletive] did that work out for you?’”

Tanner Gray — Photo courtesy NHRA

After the first incident at the timing/scoring booth at the end of the track, the two teams confronted each other once both cars returned to the pits.

“We got back to the pit and I was telling Richard (Elite Motorsports boss Richard) the story and Tanner is standing over there smiling at us from his pit,” Laughlin told FoxSports.com. “Richard said, ‘What are you looking at?’ and Tanner throws his hands up like ‘bring it on,’ and that’s when the crews came together.”

Tanner Gray, who turned 19 years old on April 15, is in his rookie year of racing in the NHRA Pro Stock ranks.

“The whole thing is just stupid and could have been avoided if he just grew up a little,” the 28-year-old Laughlin told FoxSports.com. “He’s going to have a very hard career if he acts like a spoiled kid every race.”

There was no immediate comment from the Tanner Gray camp.

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Deflating end for Will Power’s Barber win hopes (VIDEO)

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Will Power’s luckless run of races continued in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as the polesitter and driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet saw a sure win evaporate with a left rear puncture inside the final 15 laps of the 90-lap race.

Both Team Penske and Firestone have confirmed the left rear puncture to Power’s car, which forced an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 77.

Despite leading 60 of 90 laps, Power was left to finish 14th – his fifth consecutive result of 13th or worse in the Verizon IndyCar Series dating to Watkins Glen on Labor Day weekend last September.

Power controlled the race from the front of the field, losing the lead only during the various pit stop sequences. He didn’t run as long as Scott Dixon on the first stint – Dixon was able to run 24 laps out of the gate – and then fell behind his recent sparring partner Charlie Kimball after Kimball ran a random off-sequence pit strategy to lead laps late in the race, even though he’d need to pit.

The Australian inherited the race lead once Kimball pitted on Lap 75 and looked poised to snap his recent run of rough luck, but fell victim to a left rear puncture after cutting his tire in the laps previous.

The Team Penske team had told Power to pit for a couple laps, with Power instead going against the call as he thought the tire wasn’t bad enough to merit giving up the lead and losing the race.

But he answered the call to the pits on Lap 77 and that was it as far as his day went. Power fell to 17th place and was only able to recover three positions afterwards.

Speaking to NBCSN’s Robin Miller, Power lamented another lost day.

“It was such a great effort. The car was awesome and so fast. I feel bad,” Power told NBCSN. “It was literally five races in a row. Three mechanical issues. And just yeah, I don’t know what to say.

“I was feeling it. I felt it start to bottom (out). I tried to tell ’em for as long as I could it was alright, but I could feel it. Yep, that’s it. Move onto the next one.”

The next one for Power is next week’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, where he finished third last year in his first start of the 2016 season. After the five P13 or worse races and an eighth at Texas, it’s been since IndyCar’s last oval race – August 22 at Pocono Raceway – where Power last stood on the podium. That race, he won.

Small consolation was that Power did move up four positions in the points standings from 17th to a tie for 13th with Graham Rahal, and is just 10 points outside the top 10. He sits 67 markers behind series leader Sebastien Bourdais.