March Madness: Racing is finally back in full, busy swing

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March is undoubtedly my favorite month of the year from a sporting perspective. With NFL free agency, MLB spring training and the official March Madness kickoff, with Selection Sunday following the conference championships, there is no shortage of awesome this month.

In racing, that’s really apparent, as it is finally the fully fledged kickoff to the entire new season.

Yes, the Rolex 24 at Daytona brings North American racing out of its collective slumber to get the season kicked off in January. And yes, NASCAR has had now a full month of action, with now two rain-affected races at legendary Daytona and Bristol.

But this weekend marked the full complement of series in action that sees more than just NASCAR making racing headlines.

Formula One began its new era with a memorable, surprise-laden 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg won and the emergence of the next wave of new talent – Kevin Magnussen, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat – began to showcase themselves.

Road racing was in the news with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, now run by the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The race had its highlights but was dragged down by a caution-laden first half of the race and admitted officiating mistakes in the second half.

NHRA shifted from out west to Gainesville for the Gatornationals.

Although it wasn’t on track, IndyCar made the news cycle on Friday with the confirmation of Verizon as its new title sponsor in what will be a multi-year deal. The two-day test at Barber Motorsports Park this week marks the official on-track reveal of the new Verizon IndyCar Series.

This weekend, there were four major, international racing events all to follow and while at times trying to keep straight what was all happening in Melbourne, Bristol, Sebring and Gainesville was all a bit much for my head, it was a welcome reminder that we’re about to really kick this 2014 racing season into high gear.

And that is music to my, and race fans beyond NASCAR’s, ears.

On the rest of the docket this month:

  • NASCAR Sprint Cup: Fontana (March 23), Martinsville (March 30)
  • F1: Malaysian Grand Prix (March 30)
  • IndyCar: St. Petersburg (March 30)
  • Pirelli World Challenge: St. Petersburg (March 30)
  • FIA WEC: Paul Ricard test (March 28-29)
  • NHRA: Las Vegas (March 30)

Carlos Munoz back at Andretti Autosport for 2018 Indy 500

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After posting two runner-up finishes and three top-five results in four starts with Andretti Autosport at the Indianapolis 500, Colombian Carlos Munoz will come home to the team as its sixth driver in the 2018 race. He’ll instantly vault into win contention, given his pedigree at the Speedway and joining Andretti’s team that has won three of the last four ‘500s there.

Munoz raced full-time with Andretti Autosport from 2014 through 2016. While he scored his first career win at Detroit race one in 2015, and was series rookie of the year in 2014, it’s his runner-up results as a race rookie in 2013 and again in the 2016 race to teammate Alexander Rossi that loom largest.

Now, Munoz, who spent a single season at A.J. Foyt Enterprises before both he and Conor Daly were not retained for a second year, will join Andretti’s full-season quartet of Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach along with previously announced fifth driver Stefan Wilson.

This will add another confirmed Honda entry to next year’s race. Honda has 12 full-season entries expected among Andretti’s four cars, then two apiece from the Ganassi, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Schmidt Peterson and Coyne teams.

That number grows with Andretti’s two extra cars, and the combination of the SPM/Michael Shank car for Jack Harvey to confirm at least 15 Hondas for the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Honda has traditionally capped its number of entries at 18 cars.

The full release is below.

A familiar face will make its way back to the Andretti Autosport stable for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race as Carlos Muñoz returns to the team, vying for his chance to kiss the bricks.

Muñoz made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport at the 2013 Indianapolis 500, where he finished second, earning himself Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors. The Colombian-native went on to compete full time with the team the following year. In 2016, Muñoz once again finished runner-up when his rookie teammate, Alexander Rossi, crossed the Yard of Bricks on a fuel-saving strategy to win the 100th Indy 500.

“I am very excited to be a part of Andretti Autosport again,” said Muñoz. “The team has been like family to me since day one, when I joined them five years ago to race Indy Lights. We have been so close to winning the Indy 500 – twice with the team – so I am especially excited to be back for that race and hopefully we will have a good result this year. I need to thank Michael [Andretti] and J-F [Thormann] for believing in me and wanting me to back in their car for the Indy 500. I am also excited to be back with my teammates, and I think we will continue to work really well together. We have six cars, so hopefully we will have a strong team working with the new [aero kit]. I am really looking forward to it – hopefully we can finally get that win we’ve been so close to.”

Muñoz will look to pick up where he left off with Andretti Autosport and add to the team’s historical success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The team mirror’s Muñoz’s enthusiasm and is excited to have secured its complete lineup before the new year.

“We’re thrilled to have Carlos back in an Andretti car for the Indy 500,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “There is no denying that Carlos has talent at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway], he’s finished runner-up twice and that has fueled his determination to get to victory lane. He has already built relationships with his teammates and many of those on our crew, so it should be a seamless process for our six cars when they head out for the first time together.”

The veteran driver has built a resume that consists of 70 Verizon IndyCar Series starts, one win (Detroit Race 1, 2015), one pole position (Texas, 2016) and seven podiums. Muñoz competed under the Andretti shield from 2013 to 2016 and finished 17th in the 2017 IndyCar season.

Andretti Autosport has collected five Indianapolis 500 victories (Wheldon/’05, Franchitti/’06, Hunter-Reay/’14, Rossi/’16, Sato/’17) and seeks to become only the second team to earn three consecutive Indy 500 wins. Muñoz will join teammates Rossi, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Stefan Wilson on opening day in May for the team’s six-car effort.