Oh, baby: Dad-to-be Paul Menard gets best result since 2012

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Paul Menard’s third-place finish in today’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will no doubt earn him a tidy bit of prize money.

And there’s likely no doubt some of that moolah is going toward a steady supply of diapers.

Menard and his wife are awaiting the birth of their first child, which caused Richard Childress Racing to have Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton on standby to take over the No. 27 Chevrolet in case its regular driver had to book it back to North Carolina.

Crafton finished 12th in yesterday’s Nationwide Series event but was not needed for today’s main event as Menard stayed in town. The Wisconsin native then drove like, well, a guy trying to get to the hospital for the birth of his kid, and earned his best result since a third-place finish at Kansas in October of 2012.

“The due date is Tuesday,” Menard said after the race. “My phone is back at the hauler so she might have called, but I told her to call. Matt Crafton is my backup and he really wants to get in the car, so I told Jennifer if it’s important, call Matt because he’s sure as hell going to tell me.

“I didn’t get the call, though, so I guess everything is good.”

And for this week at least, everything was good on track as well for Menard and the No. 27 team. The group knew it had a strong car in race trim during Thursday’s test session, but lacked the pace in qualifying trim and had to start in mid-pack.

Still, the team tinkered away.

“We did a few adjustments from yesterday, felt like we ended [final practice] good, did a few adjustments overnight, anticipating the track was going to be a little bit hotter, slicker, [and it] kind of played into our favor, and really had a solid car from the green flag,” he said.

“We tightened it up a little bit the first couple runs, then we freed it back up and kind of bounced back and forth. [We] felt like we had definitely a top 3 car and at times, the best car.

Menard even got a turn at the lead, managing to get past defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson with around 70 laps to go and staying at P1 before pitting under green with 62 laps left.

“It was cool going up and passing Jimmie for the lead and passing him for a few laps, but [I’m] just proud of my guys,” he said. “We’re clicking really well, we got a couple new engineers and of course [crew chief] Slugger [Labbe]…So, a good group of guys. Our pit crew’s pit stops were awesome.”

As for whether he thought RCR could contend across the board at this point of the year, Menard said it was too early to tell.

“Our short track program, I feel like is where we need to focus on,” he said. “Intermediate track – I think Ryan [Newman] finished 7th and Austin [Dillon, finished 16th] had a good car all day. We just need to – we’ve got a good baseline for intermediate stuff, we’ve just got to work on our short track stuff more.”

Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”