NNS Notes: Regan Smith retains early points lead

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After winning the season opener at Daytona International Speedway one week ago, Regan Smith continued his solid start to 2014 by retaining the Nationwide Series points lead with an eighth-place showing today at Phoenix International Raceway.

The JR Motorsports driver now holds a five-point lead over Trevor Bayne, who finished one spot ahead of him in seventh place.

Altogether, it was another solid day for JRM, which had Kevin Harvick racing in their No. 88 car today. Harvick, always strong at Phoenix, was able to come away with a runner-up finish, while rookie driver Chase Elliott earned his first Top-10 finish in Nationwide competition with a ninth-place result.

After the race, Harvick said he was simply trying to “maintain” the second-place position due to his car being loose on restarts.

[Winner] Kyle [Busch] had the best car today,” he told the NASCAR Wire Service. “We probably finished where we should have.”

Brad Keselowski finished third from the pole position but a run-in with Daryl Harr on Lap 20 had the former Sprint Cup champion feeling some remorse.

Harr appeared to come down to the inside of Turn 1 but Keselowski was unable to slow himself down enough and tapped Harr, sending him spinning into the wall.

“It’s a lot like going down the freeway – you’re in the left lane, someone’s in the right lane and they switch lanes while you’re going a little bit faster,” Keselowski told ESPN in the first moments of the red flag that came out for rain with 32 laps to go (the race would not be restarted).

“You can’t react but it’s your fault because you’ve hit him from behind. I couldn’t slow down enough to keep from hitting him from behind and causing him to wreck. I feel bad for those guys. I know they’re trying their best to make it in this series, and it’s unfortunate.”

Keselowski suffered some front-end damage in the incident and had a long stop in the pits to tape it up. However, his pace was strong enough to make up the track position he lost.

Later in post-race, Keselowski talked about the loss of his Sprint Cup crew chief, Paul Wolfe, for tomorrow’s The Profit on CNBC 500. Wolfe has flown back to North Carolina to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

“We were definitely prepared [for that], but that doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned,” Keselowski said. “There is always concern. There is a reason Paul is the crew chief on the 2 car. He is a great guy, knows what he is doing and is our best guy from that perspective.

“There is always a concern there but you prepare the best you can and try to understand the personal significance of what it is to go through what he is going through. Hopefully it all goes great.”

Keselowski will look to win from the pole tomorrow.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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