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Everything you need to know about Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville

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After three and four-wide speedway antics at Fontana, the Sprint Cup Series returns to its fender-rubbin’ roots this weekend at NASCAR’s oldest track, the half-mile “paperclip” known as Martinsville Speedway.

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 STP 500 – Round 6 of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

MARTINSVILLE-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota)
· Four top fives, 10 top 10s
· Average finish of 12.6
· Average Running Position of 12.5, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 93.8, seventh-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 91.182 mph, seventh-fastest
· 5,803 Laps in the Top 15 (72.2%), eighth-most
· 512 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), sixth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
· Eight top fives, nine top 10s
· Average finish of 16.0
· Average Running Position of 13.2, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 97.0, sixth-best
· 402 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 91.292 mph, fourth-fastest
· 6,323 Laps in the Top 15 (70.0%), fifth-most
· 578 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet)
· 10 top fives, 15 top 10s
· Average finish of 13.2
· Average Running Position of 11.0, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 98.9, fourth-best
· 455 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Series-high 1,042 Green Flag Passes
· Average Green Flag Speed of 91.288 mph, fifth-fastest
· 6,963 Laps in the Top 15 (77.1%), third-most
· 619 Quality Passes, third-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet)
· Eight wins, 27 top fives, 34 top 10s; seven poles
· Average finish of 6.8
· Average Running Position of 6.2, second-best
· Driver Rating of 121.1, second-best
· Series-high 1,029 Fastest Laps Run
· 857 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 91.640 mph, second-fastest
· 8,167 Laps in the Top 15 (90.4%), second-most
· Series-high 660 Quality Passes

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota)
· Four wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 8.1
· Average Running Position of 8.8, third-best
· Driver Rating of 111.4, third-best
· 572 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 91.421 mph, third-fastest
· 6,609 Laps in the Top 15 (82.3%), fourth-most
· 560 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet)
· One win, three top fives, 11 top 10s
· Average finish of 16.2
· Average Running Position of 13.8, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 92.9, eighth-best
· 220 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
· 869 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 91.074 mph, eighth-fastest
· 5,947 Laps in the Top 15 (65.8%), seventh-most
· 510 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
· Eight wins, 17 top fives, 21 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 5.3
· Series-best Average Running Position of 5.8
· Series-best Driver Rating of 124.0
· 954 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 91.652 mph
· Series-high 8,333 Laps in the Top 15 (92.2%)
· 647 Quality Passes, second-most

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
· One top five, five top 10s
· Average finish of 10.4
· Average Running Position of 13.5, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 89.2, ninth-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 91.071 mph, ninth-fastest

Jamie McMurray (No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet)
· One top five, 12 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 16.2
· Average Running Position of 15.9, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 84.2, 12th-best
· 854 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 90.964 mph, 11th-fastest
· 4,817 Laps in the Top 15 (53.3%), 12th-most
· 386 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet)
· One win, seven top fives, 11 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 15.3
· Average Running Position of 15.2, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 87.4, 11th-best
· 142 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
· 938 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· 5,058 Laps in the Top 15 (56.0%), 10th-most
· 478 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
· Three wins, nine top fives, 15 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 13.8
· Average Running Position of 11.1, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 98.5, fifth-best
· 376 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 91.200 mph, sixth-fastest
· 6,113 Laps in the Top 15 (71.6%), sixth-most
· 417 Quality Passes, 11th-most

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Martinsville Speedway Data

Season Race #: 6 of 36 (03-30-14)
Track Size: 0.526-mile
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 12 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 12 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 0 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 0 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 800 feet
Backstretch Length: 800 feet
Race Length: 500 laps / 263 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Martinsville
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 124.0
Jeff Gordon………………………… 121.1
Denny Hamlin………………………. 111.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 98.9
Tony Stewart…………………………. 98.5
Kyle Busch…………………………… 97.0
Clint Bowyer…………………………. 93.8
Kevin Harvick………………………… 92.9
Brad Keselowski……………………. 89.2
Ryan Newman……………………….. 87.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway.

Qualifying/Race Data

2013 Coors Light Pole winner: Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet – 98.400 mph, 19.244 secs., 04-05-13

2013 race winner: Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet – 72.066 mph, (03:38:58), 04-07-13

Track qualifying record: Denny Hamlin, Toyota – 99.595 mph, 19.013 secs., 10-25-13

Track race record: Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 82.223 mph, (3:11:55), 09-22-96

Martinsville Speedway History

· Opened in September 1947 by H. Clay Earles, Martinsville, originally a dirt track, is one of the oldest continuously-operating race tracks in the United States.
· The first NASCAR-sanctioned race at Martinsville was on July 4, 1948.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was Sept. 25, 1949.
· The track was paved in 1955.
· The first 500-lap event at Martinsville was in 1956.
· Concrete corners were added atop asphalt in 1976.

Martinsville Speedway Notebook

· There have been 130 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway, one in the inaugural year and two races per year since 1950.
· 593 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville; 374 in more than one.
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty has the all-time most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Martinsville with 67 starts; Jeff Gordon has the most among active drivers with 42.
· Curtis Turner won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Martinsville Speedway in 1949.
· 57 drivers have Coors Light poles at Martinsville, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip with eight; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven.
· 12 drivers have won two or more consecutive Coors Light poles at Martinsville Speedway. Four of the 12 have won three consecutive poles at Martinsville: Glen Wood (Fall of 1959 and 1960 sweep); Darrell Waltrip (1979 sweep and spring 1980); Mark Martin (fall of 1990 and 1991 sweep); Jeff Gordon (2003 sweep and spring 2004).
· Youngest Martinsville pole winner: Ricky Rudd (4/26/1981 – 24 years, 7 months, 14 days).
· Oldest Martinsville pole winner: Morgan Shepherd (4/26/1987 – 45 years, 6 months, 14 days).
· 47 different drivers have won at Martinsville Speedway, led by Richard Petty with 15; Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon lead the series among active drivers with eight wins each.
· 23 drivers have multiple wins at Martinsville Speedway only four active drivers have multiple wins: Jimmie Johnson (eight), Jeff Gordon (eight), Denny Hamlin (four) and Tony Stewart (three).
· Hendrick Motorsports leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in wins at Martinsville Speedway with 21.
· 21 of 130 races (16.1%) at Martinsville Speedway have been won from the Coors Light pole; seven of those 21 wins came from active drivers: Tony Stewart (2000), Jeff Gordon (2003 twice), Jimmie Johnson (2008, 2012, spring 2013) and Denny Hamlin (2010).
· The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting spot in the field at Martinsville producing more wins (21) than any other starting position.
· 36 of the 130 (27.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from the front row: 21 from the pole and 15 from second-place.
· 95 of the 130 (73%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Five of the 130 (3.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 36th, by Kurt Busch in the fall of 2002.
· Youngest Martinsville winner: Richard Petty (04/10/1960 – 22 years, 9 months, 8 days).
· Oldest Martinsville winner: Harry Gant (09/22/1991 – 51 years, 8 months, 12 days).
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in runner-up finishes at Martinsville Speedway with seven; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with four, followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson with three.
· Richard Petty leads the series in top-five finishes at Martinsville Speedway with 30; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 27, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 17.
· Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Martinsville Speedway with 37; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 34, followed by Jimmie Johnson (21).
· Jeff Gordon leads active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Martinsville Speedway with a 7.238. Ryan Newman is the only other active driver with an average starting position at Martinsville in the top-10 (9.417).
· Three active drivers have a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series average finish in the top-10 at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson (5.333), Jeff Gordon (6.833) and Denny Hamlin (8.125).
· There have been five NSCS green-white-checkered finishes at Martinsville Speedway: fall 2007 (500/506), fall 2008 (500/504), fall 2009 (500/501), spring 2010 (500/508), and spring 2012 (500/515).
· Jeff Gordon has participated in the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway without a DNF (42).
· Tony Stewart (4/18/1999) and Scott Riggs (4/10/2005) won their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Martinsville Speedway.
· Mike Bliss (09/27/1998), Travis Kvapil (10/24/2004), Michael McDowell (3/30/2008) and Scott Speed (10/19/2008) made their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career starts at Martinsville Speedway.
· 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted consecutive wins at Martinsville Speedway. Fred Lorenzen won four NSCS races straight (the most) from the fall of 1963 through the spring of 1965.
· All 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who have won at Martinsville Speedway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Tony Stewart won at Martinsville with the fewest previous appearances (three).
· Ryan Newman competed at Martinsville Speedway 20 times before winning in the spring of 2012; the longest span of any the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
· Four drivers have made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Martinsville Speedway: Mark Martin (12); Bobby Labonte (18), Kevin Harvick (19) and Ryan Newman (20).
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway is the 4/1/2007 race won by Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.065 second.
· Danica Patrick is the only female driver to compete at Martinsville Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
· Seven car numbers have produced five or more Martinsville Speedway NSCS wins:

  • No. 43 – Richard Petty (1960, ’62, ’63, ’67 sweep, ’68, ’69 sweep, ’70, ’71, ’72 sweep, ’73, ’75 and ’79); John Andretti (1999)
  • No. 11 – Cale Yarborough (1974, ’76, ’77 sweep, ‘78); Darrell Waltrip (1981, ’82, ’83, ’84); Geoff Bodine (1990 sweep); Denny Hamlin (2008, ’09, ’10 sweep)
  • No. 28 – Fred Lorenzen (1961, ’63, ’64 sweep, ‘65 and ‘66); Buddy Baker (1979); Ernie Irvan (1993).
  • No. 2 – Dale Earnhardt (1980); Rusty Wallace (1993, ‘94 sweep, ’95, ’96 and ‘04)
  • No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson (2004, ’06, ’07 sweep, ’08, ’09, ’12, ‘13)
  • No. 24 – Jeff Gordon (1996, ’97, ’99, ’03 sweep and ’05 sweep, fall 2013)
  • No. 3 – Ricky Rudd (1983); Dale Earnhardt (1985, ’87, ’88, ’91, ’95)

NASCAR in Virginia

· There have been 282 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among nine tracks in Virginia: Martinsville 130, Richmond International Raceway 115, South Boston 10, Langley Field (Hampton) 9, Old Dominion (Manassas) 7, Southside (Richmond) 4, Starkey (Roanoke) 2, Norfolk 2, Princess Anne (Norfolk) 1.
· 169 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Virginia.
· 19 drivers from Virginia have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series. 11 of the 19 Virginia native NASCAR winners have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

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Karam: “A tricky qualifying run for the Gas Monkey Energy car”

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his third entry, after qualifying and a crazy Monday practice session. You can read his first and second blogs here.  He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Hi there, Sage Karam checking in again from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s Monday, and we put our No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet back into race trim after two days of qualifying for the 100th Indy 500. It was wild out there today! You saw some crazy action out there after qualifying.

But as I mentioned in the lead up to qualifying, the past week’s practice sessions saw a multitude of weather changes from cool to hot, from windy to not. All the time, my Dreyer & Reinbold–Kingdom Racing team did a super job making all of the adjustments for race conditions.

We then put the race car into qualifying trim; you take off the downforce you needed versus when you were running around other cars on track. In qualifying, it’s a four-lap sprint by yourself, and you attempt to get the maximum speed possible.

On Saturday, the first day of qualifications, I think the track really changed from the rest of the week, and I think it threw a lot of guys off, me especially. The car balance did a complete 180 on us. We were loose Friday, as the rear end of the car wants to come around on you.

But, on Saturday, we had a lot of understeer, so it kind of caught us off guard in the morning. We went back to the garage before qualifying and did some changes as we were not really sure what we had, and it was just kind of a gamble.

I mean I was flat (on the throttle), and I told myself I was going to go flat. I put my left foot over my right foot and that was it. I worked with my tools in the car (weight jacker, etc.) and I went flat three laps. On the fourth lap, the car started understeering again and I had to crack the throttle about five to ten percent going into turn one. So, there’s more left in the car. We’re low on downforce then, just because we didn’t know what we were going to have.

I knew the car had a lot more speed left in it, and I knew I have a great team with DRR-Kingdom Racing and Gas Monkey Energy on board. So we went back to the garage and we look at the computer charts and numbers. I thought there was at least another mile an hour left in the car, just in downforce. We were looking to come in to Sunday be in the 229-mile average range. I thought we could be at 228 or 229 for Sunday’s final qualifying runs.

On Sunday, I was not pleased with our qualifying attempt. We just had too much downforce in the car. The track temperature kept climbing throughout the afternoon. So the team wanted to keep a little more downforce in the car to handle the hotter track.

But some clouds came over the Speedway right before our qualifying attempt. The cloud cover definitely cooled off the track surface and we just didn’t need that much downforce. The car was good Saturday that I thought we had a shot at tenth, which is the best you can get if you miss the top nine on the first day.

The track was changing every time you go out there. We thought we needed more downforce with the hotter track temperatures, and the temps went down 10 degrees with the clouds. I wish we could have taken the wedges out of the car and put in some of the speed ramps for straightaway speed. The weather was constantly changing and it just caught us out.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

All this week, the Gas Monkey Energy crew have been outstanding on race setups, and I feel confident going into next Sunday. Fortunately, it’s not all about qualifying. It’s about next Sunday. It would have made my job easier for the race if we could have qualified a bit better than 23rd.

But it’s been nine months for me since my last race. It’s an incredible feeling to be back here at Indy. Anytime you are turning laps here, it’s still a magical feeling. I can’t wait to get back into Turn 1 with 32 other cars, and make 200 laps again.

This Friday will be our final one-hour practice before Sunday’s 100th Indy 500. It’s Carb Day, and it’s a fun event for the fans too. In addition, we will be in the Pit Stop Challenge on Friday afternoon. The last time I was with the DRR-Kingdom team, we finished second overall to Scott Dixon. Our crew is a fast one with the four-tire change and fuel. I feel we have a chance to win the Challenge this Friday.

Thanks for reading and we’ll have another blog before race day. Lots of media interviews and promotions are ahead the next few days, including having the Gas Monkey (on my shirt) meet up with animals at the Cincinnati Zoo on Tuesday.



Pippa Mann on Monday’s practice: “Like Carb Day on steroids”

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INDIANAPOLIS – A strong day at the office for Pippa Mann in her No. 63 Susan G. Komen Honda saw her end fifth on the speed charts, top Honda on the day, with 116 laps completed (second on the field only behind Simon Pagenaud and Max Chilton, who both ran 117 laps) and feeling much more confident about her Dale Coyne Racing car in race trim ahead of Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

While she acknowledged her best lap came courtesy of a tow – most of the quick ones did – it was still a relief to know her repaired chassis was back and good to go after the team found some additional niggling issues before her qualifying attempt on Sunday.

“It was not fun not being able to warm up, and go straight to your qualifying run,” she admitted during today’s post-practice press conference. “But I’m so grateful to the Dale Coyne Racing crew for giving me such a great car.

“I was very happy to be back in race trim today. We still have some work to do. Most of the people here caught a big tow – I’m no exception – but I hope we have a top-20, top-15 race car. People were better than me today, but there were people I was better than too.”

Mann was no exception to the frantic craziness that made up the session, in significant group running during the day that saw a grand total of 2,886 laps turned.

“It was Carb Day Mark 2.0… or potentially Carb Day on steroids,” she said. “We did that for four hours. It got a bit hairy a few times. No one wants to tear up a race car this close to race day for sure.

“But the good thing is that’s representative of what it will be like in the race. In the race when we have that many cars in a groove, you’re not gonna be able to run fast times,” she explained. “You use all the gears, occasionally the brakes – and yes it sounds weird at this place. You’re reacting after everyone.”

On Saturday, Mann and the No. 63 team faced adversity when a rear wing end fence failed, which pitched her into a spin for her initial qualifying attempt off Turn 2.

That being said, Mann did a rather good job to keep the car largely intact on corner exit, save for slight front wing and left front tire and upright damage – it could have been much, much worse.

The Saturday blip interrupted an otherwise productive week of practice not just for her, but the entire Coyne team. Mann – who’s better at setup and feedback than most probably realize – was keen to note the improvements she’s felt coming into her fifth Indianapolis 500, both from a team and from a Honda standpoint.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

“The really big thing is after Indy last year I worked with Rob Ridgely, who was the engineer on (No.) 18 last year,” she said. “When I was talking to Dale about coming back and him going to four cars, he said, ‘We’ll bring “Ridge” back,’ and that made me smile.

“We got on really well, and it creates that continuity. All the races I’ve done after I’ve been missing, it’s often new people to learn and to work with. To have that continuity is fantastic, and I think it’s really shown.

“What’s really interesting for me is that my last reference point is coming off Pocono,” she added about Honda’s development.

“Honda has worked really hard this winter. To drive it again after last year, both of the actual platform – even though they haven’t changed it much – the (operating) window is better and bigger. In engine department, they’ve worked hard. We’re pleased with they’ve shown up with so far.”

Mann said her car appears to work better in cooler conditions than hotter ones – today saw ambient and track temperatures peak at 82 ambient and 122 track, per Firestone, at 3:30 p.m.

If it’s cooler, that may help her on Sunday, as she’ll start 25th.

“I can’t speak for Josef (Newgarden) but our car with a little bit of cloud cover, we’ve been very, very good,” said the driver who’s also doing the #GetInvolved campaign fundraiser.

“Better than today actually. We were OK. When the track temp came down we were looking quite good, and I’d move our target then from top-15 to 20, to maybe top-15 to low top-10 car? It makes quite a big difference.”

Newgarden leads frenetic, crazy Monday practice at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sunday is race day for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, but today may as well have been a warm-up act following one of the craziest days of practice in recent memory.

Josef Newgarden led the day’s running in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet at 227.414, ahead of three other Chevrolets – Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Sage Karam.

“I think today is the most representative day that we’re going to get going into Sunday, which was great,” Newgarden said in the post-practice press conferences. “Everyone was in a pack together, which was great, because that’s what we need to see. Everyone needed to see what’s going to happen in a pack.

“To me, some guys looked good at certain points, and then they looked really bad at other points. I think that’s how it’s going to be on race day. You’re going to be good at one point. You’re going to be bad at the other. It’s about making your race more good than bad. You need to minimize the bad stints and maximize the good stints. I think that’s going to be the game.”

In fifth place, Pippa Mann turned her first practice laps since her qualifying attempt in the No. 63 Susan G. Komen Honda and was the top Honda at 225.833 mph.

Jack Hawksworth had a fire out the back of his No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda, and it was the third mechanical issue of the month for Honda.

In another Foyt car, Alex Tagliani made it out in a “Franken car,” either Hawksworth or Takuma Sato’s backup car, following his accident in qualifying.

Forgetting the times, in the 2,886 laps completed, it was just an insane amount of action with trains, passing, repassing and near-misses.

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Hinchcliffe’s recovery and pole is an incredible kickoff to Indy 500 (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Today marks the final full day of practice for this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. This practice day last year (then May 18), James Hinchcliffe suffered a near-death accident when going through Turn 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

You know the story by now. The suspension piece pierced his upper thigh, he lost a lot of blood, and he was saved by both the Holmatro Safety Team and later, the Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital team.

It was a miracle Hinchcliffe even recovered but the fact he didn’t just recover – quicker than he anticipated – but is almost stronger after the fact is pretty dang cool.

He was back in a car in September for a test at Road America to kick off his testing process through the offseason. In the opening five races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Hinchcliffe has now banked three straight top-10 finishes, including his first podium since his return with third place in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Now, the drama has ratcheted up another level with Hinchcliffe first ending fastest in the first day of qualifying on Saturday, and then scoring the pole position on Sunday as the final driver in the Fast Nine Shootout to run.

“I get it (about the accident). It was a big deal. It was a big deal to me, too,” Hinchcliffe said in the post-qualifying press conference.

“And I understand that. And I really appreciated that people wanted to hear the story, wanted to tell the story for me. There was a lot of really, really nice pieces done, a lot of nice tributes done in that sense. But no, then you’re coming back to this place and you want to focus on the here and now and not remember or focus on hitting the wall at 125 Gs.

“So there was definitely a point where it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, is there anything else you want to talk about? Let’s lead with that and kind of see where we go from there.’ But we’ll see.

“Hopefully this is the topic of conversation for the next week and a week from now we’ve got an even better story to tell.”

One of those aforementioned “really nice pieces” referenced is that earlier this year, NBCSN shot this piece of Hinchcliffe’s accident and his recovery before he got back in his first race of the season at St. Petersburg.

Produced by Taylor Rollins, it premiered during our first show of the year, the pre-show for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

You can see it above, as preparations intensify for the biggest race of the IndyCar season.