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IndyCar 2014 Primer: The Drivers

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All drivers in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series have been written about in detail already this month. But if you need a one or two-sentence breakdown of each, we’ve got that too.

Here’s a quick look through the projected field of full-season drivers (Note: the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing has not been confirmed yet, and Oriol Servia in the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda is only for Rounds 2-5).

My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada hit the Chevrolet drivers, and I hit the Honda drivers in this piece.



#2 – Juan Pablo Montoya: It’s not a matter of if the former Indy 500/CART champ can find his open-wheel stride again after seven years in NASCAR, but a matter of when.

#3 – Helio Castroneves: Last year was his best chance yet to win a series title. But was it his last? The Brazilian will do all he can to earn another shot at the crown.

#12 – Will Power: Three wins in the last five races of 2013 have made him a chic pick to be the 2014 champ. We’re not going to change their minds about that: He’s a legit threat.


#8 – Ryan Briscoe: Steady veteran should be good for at least one trip to Victory Lane this year, but you have to think that he wants so much more in his second go-round with Ganassi.

#9 – Scott Dixon: The defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion has done almost everything in his career – except pull off a successful title defense. The third time could be the charm for him.

#10 – Tony Kanaan: After finally capturing the Indy 500, TK seeks to re-establish himself as a threat on road/street courses in the car that used to belong to friend Dario Franchitti.

#83 – Charlie Kimball: For three years, he’s flown under the radar and shown step-by-step improvement. Mid-Ohio last year was a breakthrough, but can he become a week-in, week-out presence among the leaders in Year 4?


#11 – Sebastien Bourdais: The four-time Champ Car titleholder showed to be as tough as he’s ever been on street circuits last year. The KV camp, hoping to prove its mettle outside the ovals, surely hopes he’ll be the same in 2014.

#17 – Sebastian Saavedra: The Colombian driver should improve upon his body of work with decent equipment at his disposal. First priority: Start further up the grid (2013 average start: 17.7).


#20 – Mike Conway (road/street): One of the most potent road racing talents in the series, he can certainly put the No. 20 car toward the front on the twisty tracks.

#20 – Ed Carpenter (ovals): Falling back to the ovals for the greater good of his team, Carpenter should still contend for solid results in his speedway appearances as he normally does.



#25 – Marco Andretti – Good, not great 2013 will improve to a great 2014 with a win or two and an improved qualifying effort.

#27 – James Hinchcliffe – More changes with new engineer, sponsor and engine manufacturer, but he should handle it well.

#28 – Ryan Hunter-Reay – It feels like a comeback year for RHR after snakebit 2013.

#34 – Carlos Munoz – Early rookie-of-the-year pick looks to build on impressive 2013 cameos.


#15 – Graham Rahal – Ingredients there for his best season since 2009; like Marco Andretti, must qualify better because the racing chops are there.

#16 – Oriol Servia – A welcome addition for at least four races, and he’ll probably overachieve.


#18 – Carlos Huertas – Limited testing plus the small resources of DCR’s second car equal a likely uphill struggle for the Colombian rookie, assuming he will be in this seat.

#19 – Justin Wilson – A likely race winner at some point assuming he overachieves at the same level he consistently has throughout his career.


#7 – Mikhail Aleshin – Has surprise potential but may take a few races to gel with the series and team.

#77 – Simon Pagenaud – Undoubtedly the biggest threat to the established “power teams” after finishing third in 2013.


#14 – Takuma Sato – Good at times in 2013, and will be better with more race finishes.


#67 – Josef Newgarden – Year three could see the young American sink or swim depending on how well he adjusts to team changes.


#98 – Jack Hawksworth – Late add to the field, but the rookie could surprise on road and street courses. Needs more polish on ovals.

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski