Four-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson to miss first three months of season

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In a surprise announcement, four-time NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson will sit out the first three months of the 2014 season due to health-related reasons, according to NHRA.com.

Anderson, 52, of Mooresville, N.C., will undergo heart surgery in the coming days to repair a heart condition that he’s had since birth. He is expected to miss the first six races of the season.

“It’s really not a big deal,” Anderson told NHRA.com. “I was born with a bicuspid aortic heart valve (two valve openings instead of three). It’s something we’ve kept track of over the years, and my doctor has decided it’s time to make some repairs so I stay in good shape.

“I will miss the first few races of the season, but once the doctor says I’m good to go, I’m gonna be right back at it looking for another Pro Stock championship.”

Although Anderson will be sidelined, his Summit Racing Equipment/KB Racing Camaro will not, as eight-time FIA European Drag Racing Pro Stock champ Jimmy Alund will campaign the car in Anderson’s absence.

The new season opens Feb. 6-9 with the annual 54th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

A native of Sweden, Alund is one of the most dominating drag racers in Europe, having won the Pro Stock championship eight times in the last 10 seasons (2004 through 2009, 2011 and 2013). En route to last year’s championship, he won five of the last six races and also set that continent’s Pro Stock elapsed time (6.534 seconds) and speed (213.31 mph) records in the quarter-mile.

Ironically enough, Alund’s championship winning car last season had a KB Racing motor under the hood, so he already has a familiarity about the type of horsepower he’ll be trying to reign in while driving Anderson’s car.

“I’m really honored to be a part of this organization,” Alund told NHRA.com. “I have some big shoes to fill — Greg is one of the best Pro Stock drivers in the world, bar none. I believe that I’m up to the challenge, though. I’m looking forward to helping KB Racing win another championship.”

This will mark Alund’s second stint on the U.S.-based NHRA national tour, having competed in several Pro Stock events during the 2010 season.

“In the U.S., you are running against the best of the best,” Alund said. “After all, this is the home of drag racing, so you expect that. We don’t race full-time in Europe like the Pro teams do here, but racing is racing — we are just as competitive as the racers in America. This is a great opportunity for me to show that to American race fans.”

Alund’s first two qualifying attempts to make the Winternationals field will take place Friday, Feb. 7.

Josef Newgarden wins for 3rd time in 4 years in rain-shortened Honda Indy GP of Alabama

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Given how well he’s done there, they may want to consider renaming Barber Motorsports Park to Newgarden Motorsports Park.

Josef Newgarden won for the second straight year and third time in the last four races at BMP to capture Monday’s rain-delayed Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“I like it here,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We could do the whole series at Barber. That’d be great.”

Newgarden won his ninth career IndyCar race on what he considers his home track, just three hours from his home north of Nashville, Tennessee.

Monday’s race on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course was a timed event of 75 minutes after Sunday’s rain-postponement after 22 laps of the scheduled 90 laps.

As it turned out, both ends of Sunday’s start and Monday’s finish, a total of 82 laps were contested.

Rain once again became an issue in about the last 15 minutes of Monday’s rescheduled event but Newgarden – who started from the pole – made a stop for rain tires with 14 minutes left and that proved to be the winning strategy. He also regains the lead in the IndyCar point standings from Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi.

“The rain made it more eventful than I would have liked,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We had good fuel mileage and good reliability, that’s what we needed to win this race.

“It seemed like smooth sailing for the most part — we had no yellows, which we were hoping for no yellows — and then the rain crept in. … Fortunately, we had a big gap, which helped us win the race, just building that gap over the beginning part. … It’s a great day for Team Penske.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, followed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens, with Sebastien Bourdais finishing fifth.

“Solid weekend for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 in qualifying and two cars in the top 5 in the race. Pretty proud of these boys. It’s good to get a couple Hondas up there. Maybe not the top steps in the podium, but we took the rest of it.”

Bourdais had hoped to finish the race on slicks and win. But he was forced to pit with 7:15 left after his car became too difficult to control in heavy rain, swapping to rain tires.

Unfortunately, pitting essentially cost Bourdais the win.

“We were in the catbird’s seat for second and were hoping that he’d get some good times on the drives in the wet, but the wet just kept coming and we had to bring him in,” team owner Dale Coyne said.

Added Bourdais, “We’re in it to win it, did everything we could, it was seemingly going to be good enough. … I think we had beaten (Newgarden). Yet, the sky opened and that was it.”

Scott Dixon finished sixth, followed by Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti.

Eleventh through 20th were Rossi, Matheus Leist, Zach Veach, Jordan King, Spencer Pigot, Rene Binder, Gabby Chaves, Tony Kanaan, Zach Claman De Melo and Ed Jones.

Rounding out the final three finishing positions were Will Power, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.

INCIDENTS:

* Spencer Pigot and rookie Zach Claman De Melo got into a tangle early on, but both were able to get going and damage appeared minimal.

* With 8:30 left, Rossi spun into the Turn 5 gravel but was able to get going.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* Will Power’s team was able to get his damaged car repaired and he was back on-track roughly 10 minutes into Monday’s action.

* Scott Dixon lost much of the electronics on his car with about 28 minutes left. He essentially had to handle things old school, going by feel. He wound up being penalized for speeding on pit road when his dashboard went out.

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