Everything you need to know about Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol

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Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s all the important numbers and notes you need to know going into this coming weekend’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway – round 4 of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

BRISTOL-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Meguiar’s Ford)
· Six top fives, 12 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 12.0
· Average Running Position of 12.7, third-best
· Driver Rating of 94.8, fifth-best
· 318 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· 764 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 115.009 mph, fourth-fastest
· 6,393 Laps in the Top 15 (70.9%), third-most
· 483 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), fifth-most

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· Five wins, seven top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 14.0
· Average Running Position of 14.3, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 92.0, sixth-best
· 338 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· 850 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.978 mph, sixth-fastest
· 5,657 Laps in the Top 15 (62.8%), seventh-most
· 480 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Skittles Toyota)
· Five wins, eight top fives, 12 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 9.9
· Average Running Position of 13.0, fourth-best
· Series-best Driver Rating of 101.8
· Series-high 585 Fastest Laps Run
· Average Green Flag Speed of 115.066 mph, third-fastest
· 6,008 Laps in the Top 15 (66.7%), fifth-most
· 456 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
· One win, seven top fives, 14 top 10s
· Average finish of 11.5
· Average Running Position of 13.6, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 89.3, 10th-best
· Series-high 1,003 Green Flag Passes
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.918 mph, seventh-fastest
· 5,656 Laps in the Top 15 (62.8%), eighth-most
· 485 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Kelloggs/ Frosted Flakes Ford)
· Two wins, four top fives, seven top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 15.9
· Average Running Position of 15.1, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 87.7, 12th-best
· 340 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.798 mph, 11th-fastest
· 5,590 Laps in the Top 15 (62.0%), ninth-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet)
· Five wins, 16 top fives, 23 top 10s; five poles
· Average finish of 12.3
· Series-best Average Running Position of 9.5
· Driver Rating of 101.2, third-best
· 409 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 115.110 mph, second-fastest
· Series-high 7,413 Laps in the Top 15 (82.2%)
· 523 Quality Passes, third-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota)
· One win, four top fives, seven top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 16.1
· Average Running Position of 14.9, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.3, eighth-best
· 382 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 833 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.874 mph, ninth-fastest
· 4,689 Laps in the Top 15 (58.5%), 12th-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet)
· One win, nine top fives, 12 top 10s
· Average finish of 13.4
· Average Running Position of 13.6, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 89.8, ninth-best
· 285 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 887 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.994 mph, fifth-fastest
· 5,523 Laps in the Top 15 (61.3%), 10th-most
· 406 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet)
· One win, seven top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 15.3
· Average Running Position of 13.2, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.4, seventh-best
· 469 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.793 mph, 12th-fastest
· 6,247 Laps in the Top 15 (69.3%), fourth-most
· 411 Quality Passes, 11th-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet)
· One win, five top fives, nine top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 17.4
· Driver Rating of 87.9, 11th-best
· 399 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· 861 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· 4,785 Laps in the Top 15 (53.1%), 11th-most
· 443 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)
· Three wins, 11 top fives, 18 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 12.5
· Average Running Position of 10.6, second-best
· Driver Rating of 101.8, second-best
· 470 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 115.129 mph
· 7,226 Laps in the Top 15 (80.2%), second-most
· Series-high 563 Quality Passes

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
· Two wins, three top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 14.4
· Average Running Position of 13.2, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 94.9, fourth-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.916 mph, eighth-fastest

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2014 Top 10 at Bristol Motor Speedway

Rank Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating
1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 28 0 1 7 14 1 11.5 89.3
2 Brad Keselowski 8 0 2 3 3 0 14.4 94.9
3 Jimmie Johnson 24 1 1 7 13 1 15.3 91.4
4 Joey Logano 10 1 0 1 2 1 19.9 77.4
5 Jeff Gordon 42 5 5 16 23 6 12.3 101.2
6 Carl Edwards 19 2 2 4 7 2 15.9 87.7
7 Matt Kenseth 28 1 3 11 18 4 12.5 101.8
8 Denny Hamlin 16 1 1 4 7 1 16.1 90.3
9 Ryan Newman 24 3 0 1 13 3 17.1 88.6
10 Kyle Busch 18 1 5 8 12 0 9.9 101.8

* – Based on last 18 races at Bristol Motor Speedway (2005 – 2013).

Bristol Motor Speedway Data
Season Race #: 4 of 36 (03-16-14)
Track Size: 0.533-miles
Banking/Turns 1 & 2: 24-28 degrees
Banking/Turns 3 & 4: 24-28 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 4-8 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 4-8 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 650 feet
Backstretch Length: 650 feet
Race Length: 500 laps / 266.5 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Bristol
Kyle Busch…………………………. 101.8
Matt Kenseth……………………….. 101.8
Jeff Gordon………………………… 101.2
Brad Keselowski……………………. 94.9
Greg Biffle……………………………. 94.8
Kurt Busch……………………………. 92.0
Jimmie Johnson…………………….. 91.4
Denny Hamlin……………………….. 90.3
Kevin Harvick………………………… 89.8
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 89.3
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Bristol

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 pole winner: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 129.535 mph, 14.813 secs. 03-15-13
2013 race winner: Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 92.206 mph, (2:53:25), 03-17-13
Track qualifying record: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 129.535 mph, 14.813 secs. 03-15-13
Track race record: Charlie Glotzbach, Chevrolet, 101.074 mph, (2:38:12), 07-11-71

Bristol Motor Speedway History
· Groundbreaking for Bristol International Speedway, as Bristol Motor Speedway was originally known, took place in 1960. The track was an exact half-mile in length.

· First NASCAR Sprint Cup race was July 30, 1961; Jack Smith won the event (with relief from Johnny Allen).

· In the fall of 1969, the track was reshaped and re-measured to .533-miles.

· The name changed to Bristol International Raceway in 1978.

· The first night race was held in the fall of 1978.

· The surface was changed from asphalt to concrete in 1992.

· The name changed to Bristol Motor Speedway in May 1996.

· The track was resurfaced between races in 2007, and the turns were ground down in 2012 to eliminate part of the progressive banking.

Bristol Motor Speedway Notebook
· There have been 106 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway since the first race in 1961, two races each season.

· All races have been scheduled for 500 laps, except for both races in 1976 and the second in ‘77, which were 400 laps.

· 423 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol; 295 in more than one.

· NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Bristol with 60. Terry Labonte leads all active drivers with 58 starts.

· Fred Lorenzen won the inaugural Coors Light Pole with a speed of 79.225 mph.

· 47 different drivers have poles at Bristol, led by Mark Martin and Cale Yarborough with nine each. Martin swept both poles at Bristol in 2009.

· The race winner has started from the pole 22 times, the most productive starting position. The last driver to win from the pole was Carl Edwards, in the night race of 2008.

· Four drivers have won from the pole position multiple times: Bobby Allison (1972 twice), Cale Yarborough (1973, 1977 twice, 1980), Darrell Waltrip (1981 twice, 1982) and Rusty Wallace (1991, 1993, 1999, 2000).

· 10 different drivers have posted consecutive poles at Bristol Motor Speedway; Mark Martin is the only of the 10 to win four consecutive poles at Bristol: Fireball Roberts (swept 1962), Fred Lorenzen (swept 1963), Richard Petty (1967-’68), Bobby Allison (swept 1972), Cale Yarborough (swept 1973; swept 1977; swept 1980), Darrell Waltrip (swept 1981), Geoff Bodine (swept 1986), Mark Martin (swept 1995-1996– all four races; and swept 2009); Rusty Wallace (swept 1998) and Jeff Gordon (swept 2002).

· Jeff Gordon leads (active drivers) the series in average starting position at Bristol with a 7.476.

· Youngest Bristol pole winner: Joey Logano (3/21/2010 – 19 years, 9 months, 25 days) – his first series career pole.

· Oldest Bristol pole winner: Harry Gant (8/27/1994 – 54 years, 7 months, 17 days).

· 41 different drivers have won at Bristol, led by Darrell Waltrip (12). Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch each have five wins, the most among active drivers.

· Junior Johnson leads the series in car owner wins at Bristol with 16; Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske and Jack Roush are tied among active car owners for the most wins at Bristol with 10 each.

· 12 drivers have won consecutive races at Bristol led by Darrell Waltrip with seven consecutive victories from 1981-1984. The other 11 are Fred Lorenzen (1963-1964 sweep), David Pearson (1968 sweep), Bobby Allison (1972 sweep), Cale Yarborough did it twice (1974 sweep and four straight from 1976-1977), Richard Petty (1975 sweep), Dale Earnhardt also did it twice (1985 sweep and 1987 sweep), Alan Kulwicki (1992 sweep), Rusty Wallace (2000 sweep), Kurt Busch (2003 sweep and 2004 spring race), Kyle Busch (2009 sweep), and Brad Keselowski (2011 fall-2012 spring).

· Youngest Bristol winner: Kyle Busch (03/25/2007 – 21 years, 10 months, 23 days).

· Oldest Bristol winner: Dale Earnhardt (08/28/1999 – 48 years, 3 months, 30 days).

· Eight different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Bristol; led by Chevrolet with 43 victories; followed by Ford with 33. Toyota is ranked fifth among Manufacturers with six wins at Bristol.

· 85 of the 106 (80.1%) races have been won from a top-10 starting position; including 53 from the first four spots.

· 35 of the 106 (33.0%) races at Bristol have been won from the front row: Pole position (22 wins); second-place (13 wins).

· Five of the 106 (4.7%) races have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.

· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 38th, by Elliott Sadler; in 2001.

· Richard Petty leads the series in runner-up finishes at Bristol with 10; Kevin Harvick and Terry Labonte lead all active drivers with four each.

· Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty lead the series in top-five finishes at Bristol with 26 each. Terry Labonte leads the series among active drivers with 19 followed by Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin (16).

· Richard Petty has 37 top-10 finishes, more than any other driver. Terry Labonte leads the series among active drivers in top-10 finishes with 33; followed by Jeff Gordon with 23.

· Kyle Busch leads the series (active drivers) in average finish at Bristol with a 9.889.

· Seven of the last nine races have ended with a Margin of Victory of less than a second at BMS.

· There has been three green-white-checkered finishes at Bristol – all three were the spring race: 2007 (500/504); 2008 (500/506); 2009 (500/503).

· Two of the 106 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was the event on 3/31/1996.

· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway three times; most recently August 25, 2012.

· Kurt Busch posted his first series career win at Bristol (2002), and Joey Logano won his first pole at Bristol (2010).

· All 15 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who have won at Bristol Motor Speedway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane – among the active winners Kurt Busch won in the fewest starts (third) at Bristol.

· Jeff Burton competed at Bristol Motor Speedway 28 times before winning (2008 spring race); the longest span of any the 15 active winners. Burton is the only active driver to have made 20 or more attempts before his first win at BMS. Kasey Kahne, who won in the spring of 2012 made 18 previous starts before his win at BMS.

· Bobby Labonte leads the series (active drivers) with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Bristol without visiting Victory Lane with 42.

· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Bristol was the 3/25/2007 race won by Kyle Busch with a MOV of 0.064 second.

· Two female drivers have made NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Bristol: Janet Guthrie and Danica Patrick.

· Four car numbers have produced eight or more Bristol NSCS wins: No. 11, 19 wins (most recent – Denny Hamlin, 2012); No. 2, 12 wins (Brad Keselowski, 2012); No. 17, 8 wins (Matt Kenseth, 2006); and No. 3, 8 wins (Dale Earnhardt Sr., 1999)

NASCAR in Tennessee
· There have been 167 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Tennessee: 106 at Bristol Motor Speedway, 42 at Nashville Speedway, 12 at Smokey Mountain Raceway in Maryville, 2 at Chattanooga International Raceway, and 2 at Tennessee-Carolina Speedway in Newport.

· 104 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Tennessee.

· 14 drivers from Tennessee have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series.

  • Darrell Waltrip (84 Cup, 13 Nationwide)
  • Sterling Marlin (10 Cup, 2 Nationwide)
  • Bobby Hamilton (4 Cup, 1 Nationwide, 10 Truck)
  • Joe Lee Johnson (2 Cup)
  • Trevor Bayne (1 Cup, 2 Nationwide)
  • Paul Lewis (1 Cup)
  • Bobby Hamilton Jr. (5 Nationwide)
  • Jeff Purvis (4 Nationwide)
  • L.D. Ottinger (3 Nationwide)
  • Mike Alexander (2 Nationwide)
  • Casey Atwood (2 Nationwide)
  • Brad Teague (1 Nationwide)
  • Chad Chaffin (2 Truck)
  • John King (1 Truck)

Alonso, Rossi visit NASCAR AMERICA as part of New York media day (VIDEO)

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The defending Indianapolis 500 champion and the driver who’s generated most of the headlines around this year’s 101st running included NBCSN’s NASCAR AMERICA as part of their New York media tour.

Alexander Rossi and Fernando Alonso joined the show this evening. Rossi, driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda will start third and Alonso, driver of the No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, will roll off from fifth.

The race airs Sunday at 11 a.m. ET on ABC. NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day is live on Friday from 11 a.m. ET.

 

Indy 500 media day roundup

Photo: IndyCar
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Tuesday marked a busy day for the drivers that make up the field for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. While there was no on-track activity, and won’t be again until Miller Lite Carb Day (5/26 at 11:00 a.m. on NBCSN), the field of 33 were scattered around the country doing a bevy of appearances in the lead up to Sunday’s race. Below is a list drivers and the places they visited.

Bristol, Connecticut/ESPN: James Hinchcliffe
Buffalo: Graham Rahal
Charlotte: Will Power
Chicago: Juan Pablo Montoya
Columbus: Mikhail Aleshin
Dallas-Fort Worth: Tony Kanaan
Dayton: Jack Harvey, Zach Veach
Denver: Buddy Lazier
Detroit: Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud, Spencer Pigot
Fort Wayne: Jay Howard, James Davison
Houston: Helio Castroneves
Louisville: Pippa Mann, Ed Jones
Miami-Fort Lauderdale: Oriol Servia, Gabby Chaves, Sebastian Saavedra
Milwaukee: Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball
New York: Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly, Fernando Alonso
Philadelphia: Marco Andretti, Sage Karam
St. Louis: Ed Carpenter, Takuma Sato
San Francisco: JR Hildebrand
Tampa-St. Petersburg: Ryan Hunter-Reay
Toronto: Scott Dixon
Washington: Josef Newgarden

It was a day that began early for all drivers, particularly those in transit. However, drivers like Fernando Alonso, Alexander Rossi, and Conor Daly got a jump on their travels last night.

Meanwhile, Oriol Servia, Sebastian Saavedra, and Gabby Chaves flew out early this morning. Servia used the travel to get in some much needed rest ahead of the busy day.

Unsurprisingly, the driver most in demand was Fernando Alonso, who spoke with such outlets as CNN and Sports Illustrated, among others.

Conor Daly, meanwhile, had a unique run-in with professional wrestling star Ric Flair.

Last year’s pole sitter, James Hinchcliffe, kept himself busy with a visit to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. He also spent time at their Los Angeles location ahead of this year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, a race in which he won.

And not all of the appearances were within the United States. Polesitter Scott Dixon ventured north of the border to Toronto for his media blitz.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, on the other hand, ventured closer to home, as the Florida native spent his day in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

 

Some drivers even got a little racing in. For example, Pippa Mann enjoyed an arm chair race (which she won) during her stop in Louisville.

Rossi and Alonso, however, kept their racing in the virtual world.

Perhaps the most interesting activity, however, was reserved for Ed Jones. Before joining teammate Pippa Mann in Louisville, Jones joined Zach Veach and Jack Harvey at American Dairy Association Indiana, where Jones was afforded the chance to milk a cow.

A full rundown of events can be seen via the Verizon IndyCar Series twitter.

 

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Alberico living up to ‘Rising Star’ name in solid start to second year

Alberico and Hale. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – There’s something about Neil Alberico in his second year in a Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series that brings out the best for the 24-year-old out of Los Gatos, Calif. who now lives in San Clemente.

Alberico, the Rising Star Racing-supported driver, always seems to improve in year two and has done so throughout his now six years in the MRTI.

In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Alberico switched from JDC Motorsports as a rookie to Cape Motorsports as a sophomore from 2012 to 2013. He improved from seventh in points to second, and won six races that second year.

The same story applied on the next rung in Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, although he stayed with Cape for both seasons. Third without a win in 2014 ceded to four wins and second place in 2015.

Arguably the best driver who has not yet won a championship in those series, Alberico has positioned himself nicely for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title this year as Carlin’s emerging lead driver following a solid first few weekends of the year, as he now seeks his first win in Indy Lights to keep the career trend going.

Entering Friday’s Freedom 100, the marquee race of the Indy Lights season (live, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Alberico has opened his 2017 account in the No. 22 Dallara IL-15 Mazda with two thirds, two fourths and a sixth place thus far in six races. He sits fourth in points with 103, 36 back of points leader and fellow Californian Kyle Kaiser. For reference, persistent and continual mechanical issues and engine changes stunted a miserable debut season in 2016, and Alberico only had two top-six finishes all season, and left him 11th in points.

Now though Alberico has ascended to the team leader role at the Trevor Carlin-owned, Colin Hale-managed squad. He drives alongside Zachary Claman De Melo, who switched from Juncos Racing, and rookies Matheus Leist and Garth Rickards. All but Rickards have at least one podium this season as the new-look lineup finds its footing.

“Playing the leadership role in a team, I’m used to it,” Alberico told NBC Sports. “I’m comfortable doing what I can do. And that’s your job as a teammate. You have to be fast yourself, but there’s driver and team championships that exist – and we want to win them both.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Alberico credits a healthy offseason program where he undertook a lot of private testing and a year’s worth experience both in these cars and with a team that has led to his growth. He also feels more comfortable with the Indy Lights-specification of Cooper Tires, as he struggled to maximize their pace on an optimal lap in qualifying last year.

“Every year you adapt to new challenges as a driver. Last year as a rookie the tire was a big part of that challenge that I needed to learn,” he said. “But it’s now gone more to my favor – or more what I’m used to.

“Going into the offseason, it’s been nice to have a lot of private test time. When you have a private test, there’s driving stuff you can work on, being good on cold tires, or having new tires to work on. It’s the small little details. When you have private time to work on yourself, that’s the most productive.”

While Alberico is serious about the task at hand, he’s not afraid to have fun and laugh it off at the track. That humor involves his engineer, Geoff Fickling, team manager, Hale, and his supporters in Rising Star Racing.

Alberico and Fickling, a renowned and championship-winning engineer in multiple rungs of the MRTI (Ed Jones with Carlin last year and Gabby Chaves with Belardi in 2014 in Indy Lights, plus Jack Hawksworth with Pelfrey in 2012 in Pro Mazda), live not far apart in San Clemente, and at times, almost spend too much time together.

Alberico and Fickling. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“Geoff and I get along great on a personal level. But sometimes he hates when I’m at his house looking for data – he’s gotta be like, ‘I want to get away, and I can’t get away from my driver!’” Alberico laughed. “But he’s very thorough. He’ll go the extra mile to teach me more what I need to learn.”

Alberico has also started making his Instagram videos must-see-content for the rather hilarious interaction between the laid-back Californian and the focused, often intently serious Hale, who has made Carlin a championship-winner in Indy Lights in just its second season. There’s a confidence Alberico has in providing humor here that may not have existed last year given the struggles that were out of his, or the team’s control.

And then there’s the fact Alberico was the one responsible for bringing in the most out-of-left-field IndyCar sponsor this year, which was awesome, in Loki the Wolfdog. We’ll let Neil take it from here…

“Rising Star Racing is, for those that don’t know, such an awesome initiative through MRTI into IndyCar,” Alberico said. “Spencer Pigot and I have been part of that program, which does a lot for young drivers.

“The Loki deal is just basically a friend of mine with a really famous Instagram dog. Social media has become a huge part of the sport the last several years, and I think sponsor and teams need to adapt at those times.”

Loki was on site at Long Beach and met Pigot there for the first time, thanks to the connection between the Rising Star Racing teammates. It’s not been the only partner Alberico has brought in; Laguna Beach-based modern drug addiction and alcoholism treatment center Oceanfront Recovery is on both Alberico’s Indy Lights car and Pigot’s No. 11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet in the Indianapolis 500.

Pigot and Alberico have been Art Wilmes’ two “primary” drivers for RSR over the years, but not the only ones RSR has supported.

Pigot, Loki the Wolfdog, and “Squad” over their shoulder. Go figure. Photo: IndyCar

There’s others such as last year’s Pro Mazda champion, Indy Lights rookie Aaron Telitz (who actually won on his debut at St. Petersburg and has been overlooked from a media perspective) and another MRTI veteran Jake Eidson in the RSR roster. RSR is set to formally add Oliver Askew, who’s off to a stellar start in USF2000, rather soon.

Telitz (center), Herta (left) and Alberico (right) made it an all-American podium at St. Pete. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

As Alberico heads to the Freedom 100 this weekend, he’s got the continuity from a team and engineering standpoint, and determined to secure his breakthrough win in a year when Telitz, Colton Herta and Nico Jamin have all become Indy Lights race winners.

“I like staying with the same team. When you gel with team mechanics, engineers, you don’t want to go through the new process again,” Alberico said. “That’s why you do better in your second year, and in the third year even more so.

“At the IndyCar level it’s about those 10-plus year relationships – and that’s hard to create as a rookie! So you have to learn and adapt with those with 10-year relationships.

“Here, the wind is a bigger factor. But we have the race lap record! We’re not slow. We like this place. Let’s put ourselves in position to win the race.”

Alberico, who mentioned the wind there, also had the chance to play weatherman for the local CBS affiliate (WTTV-4) here in Indianapolis last week. And that provided him and Telitz a chance to provide some competitive banter beyond what they’ve done on track.

Trio of new entrants add intrigue to INDYCAR’s ownership pool

Juncos (17, leading) and Harding (88) are mixing it up among IndyCar's regulars, like Penske (22). Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – One came to America with almost nothing from Argentina. One has operated a local construction firm and taken his passion from fandom to his own team. And one has been a staple of the sports car scene for more than a dozen years, yet now finally gets to live out his original passion back in the open-wheel world.

Add in an iconic name in McLaren coming back to the Brickyard after a several-decade hiatus and you’ve got three new team owners and one returning major manufacturer name as the team newcomers in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Combined, they field five cars. Ricardo Juncos making his INDYCAR debut with a full two-car effort for Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra. Mike Harding has assembled a new one-car entry on his own for Gabby Chaves. Mike Shank has partnered with Andretti Autosport to run a car for rookie Jack Harvey, while McLaren, Honda and Andretti have combined as branding partners for the Fernando Alonso entry that folks hope will eventually preview a fuller McLaren entry down the road.

The McLaren name is back at Indy, via Andretti Autosport and Honda. Photo: IndyCar

As for the three that are here from a team standpoint, Juncos has the most successful open-wheel pedigree among the three entrants. Any keen-eyed observer of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires will have seen Juncos’ team’s success and preparation showcased in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, championships which they won by the end of their second full season in each. Spencer Pigot won him championships in both back-to-back in the two in 2014 and 2015 and Conor Daly won the Pro Mazda title in 2010; both are Juncos alumni now in IndyCar.

Pigot and Juncos back again. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

But stepping up into IndyCar was always going to be a question of timing, opportunity and financial resources with which to do so. Luckily as KV Racing Technology’s era of operation drew down, so its equipment became available, and Juncos was able to acquire what was needed to step up.

All this was occurring while Juncos was prepping a two-car Indy Lights team as scheduled for 2017, and then completed an eleventh hour deal to keep its Pro Mazda team going after selling off that equipment. But this also comes after Juncos moved into his new 44,000-square foot shop in downtown Speedway, Ind. in December.

“A lot’s been going on – like a storm!” Juncos told NBC Sports. “But we put a full IndyCar team together in two months, from zero, in terms of everything. We assembled and put the cars together, and all these people together, without missing anything on the Pro Mazda or Indy Lights teams.

“Last weekend, when we won both races in Pro Mazda, and were able to win the one in Indy Lights, it’s all about the team effort – we are doing IndyCar without making any issues on these teams. That’s the goal. It was a lot of work, but everything is very good. I’m still learning everyday. I’m excited for what the future can give us, for this race.”

Pigot lights it up after a pit stop. Photo: IndyCar

The crew features a number of KVRT alumni, including Greg Senerius (team manager). The engineering staff includes technical director Tom Brown, an open-wheel and sports car veteran, along with past Indy 500-winning entrant Steve Newey and fellow IndyCar veteran David Cripps, who came up frustratingly short of winning when he was with Panther Racing.

Shank, who brings the majority (but not all) of his Acura NSX GT3 sports car crew to the Andretti team, which keeps the band of lifers together from his shop based outside Columbus in Patalaska, Ohio. They got the chance to go with him to Le Mans last year and now get to add Indy, with Shank, to their resumes. Noting how much people love Shank, his longtime friend and Rolex 24 driver AJ Allmendinger and Allmendinger’s friend and current Shank Acura driver Katherine Legge have been here for support this week.

“It’s not about me. It’s always been about my guys,” Shank told NBC Sports. “My guys have been with me from 10 to 23 years, always standing behind me. A lot of guys have been with other teams, but if we want to do Indy, we want to do it as a present group. Whatever happens, we deal with. We fix it. We do it together.

“I try not to micromanage. For me, it’s step back and let (Tim) Keene (team manager) run the show. With the technical background Andretti has, the whole thing is so very good. Let’s see where we land. This could be interesting.”

Harvey and Shank are rolling through the ups and downs of Indy. Photo: IndyCar

Interesting it was – albeit for the wrong reasons on the opening day of practice for Harvey. With the car encountering a steering issue, Harvey was shot into the Turn 2 wall exiting the warmup lane and suffered right front damage. That required a rebuild of the car after it was stripped down and then put back together, but the English driver has made methodical progress forward since that point, culminating with 124 laps run on Monday.

Bad as that day was, it’s still a damn sight better than the potential debut Shank could have had in IndyCar in 2012. Shank’s engine plight was made public as Honda and Chevrolet added extra teams saddled with Lotus engines that wanted to switch prior to Indy, which wasn’t in either manufacturer’s game plan. Yet it also left a bitter taste for Shank, who had gone out, purchased a Dallara DW12 chassis, but couldn’t get an engine to run it outside of the Lotus. Had he debuted with that engine, it’s quite possible Shank in IndyCar could have been one-and-done.

In the five years since, INDYCAR’s leadership structure has evolved and it’s likely that without Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations, among others than neither Juncos nor Shank would be racing next weekend in the ‘500. Both owners took the time to thank Frye and INDYCAR as a result.

“To be honest one of the things that surprised me the most is how professional they are,” Juncos said. “Mark Miles, Jay Frye, everyone in INDYCAR, marketing, to the PR guys. Bill van de Sandt invited us to T&S and Race Control so I could have an idea! They pushed me to do this.

“I knew it was probably the right opportunity at the right time. But it was still a big, big task. Jay Frye gave me a bit of confidence and support that this is the right thing to do. I’m so pleased to have those guys. The support is massive, and for drivers to believe in our program.”

“It’s a deep exhale! What we went through, no one should have to go,” Shank explained. “There’s two people I have to thank: Jay Frye and Mark Sibla have championed us. They came and saw me after the 2017 Rolex and said, ‘If you want to come here, let’s work it out with a team since I don’t have a car.’ But they were very instrumental. They always answer their phones.”

Chaves has a chance with Harding. Photo: IndyCar

If Juncos and Shank have been known from their pedigree in other series, Harding’s arrival is more of a surprise because it comes largely out of left field. But that’s not a bad thing.

With a construction background by trade with the Harding Group, Harding had always been a fan of the Indianapolis 500. Yet after last year’s 100th running, he took a big leap of faith in tandem with team manager Larry Curry to turn that fandom into an actual program, and purchase two new Dallaras as a result, complete with Harding’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. fandom producing a stylized No. 88 Chevrolet. And for good measure, Al Unser Jr. is working with the team as a driver coach.

“I had gone away from racing, other than Indy-only things,” Curry told NBC Sports. “I worked for Mike. Mike asked me if I was gonna do last year’s 500. I told him, ‘But I work for you!’ ‘You need to go do it,’ he said. ‘You’ve been there so many years. You have to do it. I’ll give you off whatever time you need.’

“So I did, and the race is over, we’re up in the suite talking. He said, ‘What do you think about doing this? What do you think about us doing our own deal?’ I just said right away, ‘Mike, it’s very extensive.’ He replied, ‘I never asked that. I asked, would you do it for me.’ But you know how it is, there’s a lot of excitement in May… this’ll go away. Guess what, it didn’t!”

Harding backed that up nicely. “Larry worked for me for the last couple years, and he mentored Tony Stewart,” he said. “So I told him, ‘What do you think about starting a team this year?’ And he was all gung ho for it. We didn’t know if it’d really happen for it, but it came through.”

One of the things that’s additionally nice about all three of these entrants is their push to provide opportunities for recent Mazda Road to Indy graduates. Pigot, 23, completes a 15-year journey with Juncos that began in karting together. Saavedra, a seemingly eternal 26, has been in-and-out of IndyCar for parts of seven seasons; this is his seventh team he’s attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with.

Harding runs Chaves, who edged Harvey, Shank’s driver, for the 2014 Indy Lights title on a tiebreaker.

All of the team owners are so thrilled with the upside and potential of their young stars.

Pigot and Juncos are reunited for Juncos’ Indy debut. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s crazy obviously!” Juncos laughed. “These things have only happened a few times in history. For me, 15 years ago, coming from Argentina, in karts and he’s 9 years old. Now we’re living this. Sometimes things happen in humanity, which luckily happened for us. Without losing the focus, enjoy this, because it’s a great story of the team, of Spencer, of both of us together. For whatever reason, it’s happening.”

Harvey and Shank are rolling through the ups and downs of Indy. Photo: IndyCar

“Having Jack, it’s part of the package. We’re all one kit together,” Shank said. “Jack, you’re on my side now. My guys are the same way. They’ll support him good and bad.”

“Mike Hull from Ganassi recommended Gabby Chaves to us, he’s the best one out there,” Harding said. “I set up an interview with Gabby and couldn’t believe how mature this 23-year-old man was. I think we made the right decision.”

Al Unser Jr. and Gabby Chaves. Photo: IndyCar

Naturally, debuting is one thing but future development and staying power is the ultimate goal here.

Juncos has long harbored ambitions of a full-time IndyCar program, Shank has now opened the doors to one in addition to his continued, dedicated sports car presence, and Harding already seems set to race at least twice more this year.

For this race, Chaves has qualified the best in 25th for Harding, with Harvey in 27th for Shank and Andretti, then the Juncos pair of Pigot (29th) and Saavedra (31st) a little further behind. Both of the Juncos cars had slow fourth laps in qualifying; Juncos has pushed through with a rebuild of Pigot’s primary car from Friday to Saturday, working through the night to get the car ready to go for Pigot to qualify.

With only eight full-time owners now, and with three of them in Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti fielding 12 full-time cars of 21 and 15 of 33 at Indy, spreading the car count among other teams is one of INDYCAR’s key goals for 2018 and beyond.

“I think it’s really key,” said Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company Hulman & Co. “I don’t think that’s an economic driver for us, but it’s very healthy to have more diversity in our owner group.

“We love Roger, we love Michael, we love Chip … and we love all the rest of our current paddock. But more owners being invested in the series is a healthier thing. It’s very good.

“Besides these three when you have Zak Brown talking about a couple cars, not just at the Indy 500 but INDYCAR, it’s a very exciting thing.”