Will Roush Fenway showing at Bristol help extend Ford’s outstanding 2014 start?

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In light of its 1-2 finish at Bristol this past Sunday, is Roush Fenway Racing really on the rebound?

Carl Edwards’ win and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s runner-up finish was just part of a Ford juggernaut that saw five of the blue ovals in the top 12 finishers.

And in the bigger picture, is that finish as well as what Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski did in the first three races, a sign that Ford as a whole is back on top of its game?

“Ford has deserved this kind of result for their effort,” RFR team co-owner Jack Roush said after Bristol. “They’ve committed a lot of engineering resources to us. They give us a lot of support with cars and trucks  for support vehicles and things, and we had not been able to do as much for them as we needed to in the last six-month. I was glad that we could get Carl into the Chase and look forward to getting Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) qualified for these last 10 races and Greg (Biffle) as well.”

Biffle finished 12th, but there was also one of the best overall performances in several years by both Richard Petty Motorsports drivers, Aric Almirola (career-best third) and teammate Marcos Ambrose (fifth).

By comparison, Keselowski (finished 14th and took over the Sprint Cup points lead after Bristol) and Logano (20th) may not been quite as strong as their other Ford-powered associates, but they’ve both had outstanding starts to the season nonetheless.

Still, with Ford accounting for more than a third of the top-20 finishes at Bristol, it certainly leaves optimism for this week’s race at Fontana.

Since the progressively banked Auto Club Speedway (formerly California Speedway) hosted its first Sprint Cup race in 1997, Ford quickly won 10 of the first 18 Cup races there.

But it’s admittedly been a struggle since Carl Edwards was the last Ford driver to win there back in February 2008.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the Fontana track was built as a near-replica of Michigan International Speedway, where Ford has been most successful in the Cup series with 35 wins. Edwards’ win at Bristol gives Ford 34 all-time wins there.

Put all that together, and why wouldn’t Ford be considered a serious threat to win Sunday’s race? And is what we saw at Bristol and the three races before it just another sign that Ford has overcome many of its 2013 struggles and is poised to grab for even greater achievements going forward in 2014?

“It has been a very long winter for us,” team owner Jack Roush said after Sunday’s race. “We made some changes and built some new cars over the winter and revised our strategies a little bit as far as the way we do our engineering and the way that manifests itself in what the race cars are and we’re still working with our process.

“This thing is becoming so sophisticated and expanding so much with so many people doing new things that hadn’t been done before it’s a little hard to get all the job descriptions worked out.”

Veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig added that Edwards’ win was both the culmination of much of the hard work Roush referred to, but also puts Edwards in contention to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

In other words, the future is starting to look very positive for RFR.

“It was a good win,” Fennig said. “We really need that as hard as everybody has been working this winter. It paid off.

“It’s about winning. That’s the way that we build around Roush Racing. We go out to win, so that’s what we’re striving for. … When we go out to California we’re gonna go shooting after that win. Nothing is gonna change our philosophy.”

With Keselowski winning at Las Vegas and Edwards at Bristol, Ford is going for its third consecutive Sprint Cup win at Fontana. The last time the blue oval folks won three consecutive races was in June 2005, when they swept Dover (Biffle won), Pocono (Edwards won) and Michigan (Biffle won again).

Admittedly, though, as good as they’ve been performing thus far in 2014, Ford drivers could have problems at Fontana, too. Biffle (2005) and Edwards (2008) are the only current Ford drivers to have won Cup races there.

But Edwards hopes to change that nearly six-year drought on Sunday.

“(Prior to Bristol) I’ve been a little bit jealous of those guys that have wins this early in the season,” Edwards said. “I was thinking I can’t imagine what that must feel like to be able to come to a race track like this and have all that pressure off of you (after a win that potentially qualifies a driver for this year’s Chase), so now we’ll be able to go have some fun.  I’m really excited about the next 22 races. That will be a blast.

“The first step is you have to win. I think we’re proving that right now. You’re going to have to have a win, I believe, to be in the Chase, so now that we’ve checked that box, we need to go get another win and then I think we’ll be guaranteed to be in it.  Just to have a win this early is a huge relief.  It’s gonna make California and Martinsville, it’s gonna be really fun to go there.”

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John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”