STP 500 - Practice

Jimmie Johnson returns to scene of triumph, tragedy

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Jimmie Johnson has won eight Sprint Cup races at Martinsville Speedway, so indeed, he has plenty of happy memories from NASCAR’s oldest track.

But he also has a very sad memory as well. During the 2004 fall race at Martinsville – a race Johnson won – NASCAR received word of a small plane crash on the side of a mountain nearby, involving multiple members of Hendrick Motorsports.

All 10 aboard the plane perished. Among the lost were four members of Rick Hendrick’s family – son Ricky, brother John, and nieces Kimberly and Jennifer.

As a result, Martinsville has become a very important place for the entire Hendrick Motorsports camp. And for Johnson, it’s led to mixed feelings about the place, feelings that often depend on, in his words, “what activates [his] mind.”

“Like today, I flew up. It’s overcast. It’s cloudy. The whole week leading into Martinsville, I’ve been excited about coming here to race and feel like we have a great chance to win. I wake up this morning and it’s overcast, and I can’t help but think of the airplane incident,” he said today to reporters.

“It just kind of depends on what triggers the thought process.”

But while his feelings may shift whenever he’s at Martinsville, he recognizes that there’s a “deep pride” in winning there for HMS.

“To see Rick and his face and the expression that he has and you can sense in his voice and in his eyes – you can see how much it means to him to win here,” he said.

“It is a cool, amazing experience to go through. Rick is a very competitive guy and he likes to win races. But with all the emotion that you have here, I think we are in a good place here.”

As for the task at hand, Johnson conceded that it was a “real bummer” to lose out on what would’ve been his first win of the season last week at Fontana. Leading with seven laps to go, the left-front tire went down on his car and he was forced to settle for a mid-pack finish.

However, he did note that in years past, he hasn’t started winning races until around the midway point of a season.

“Statistically, I think the end of the year is where we heat up the most,” Johnson added. “So you know what? We have a good track here and Dover is coming up soon and there are a lot of big opportunities coming along, and with the new rules package that we have – I think that has allowed for the five different winners at five different tracks.

“It’s just a challenge right now to figure out what you need and what you want and it’s nice to see so much parity with different teams and drivers winning. I guess it would be nice if the Hendrick guys were walking away with it and we had won all the races, but there is a lot of parity out there.”

MRTI: Freedom 100, new USF-17 launch highlight Indy oval weekend

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Mazda Road to Indy has a double dip of content this weekend with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda at the Lucas Oil Raceway short oval in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis.

Both events are on Friday; the Freedom 100 airs at noon ET and local time as part of NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage. Kevin Lee, Anders Krohn and Katie Hargitt will have the call for the Freedom.

The Freedom 100 is arguably the marquee race of the year for Indy Lights, and a good springboard to the Verizon IndyCar Series – no less than 24 of the 33 starters in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field have some degree of Mazda Road to Indy experience.

That being said, the randomness of the Freedom 100 has produced a variety of winners who haven’t exactly gone on to huge things in IndyCar.

Here’s the past winners list:

  • 2015: Jack Harvey
  • 2014: Gabby Chaves
  • 2013: Peter Dempsey
  • 2012: Esteban Guerrieri
  • 2011: Josef Newgarden
  • 2010: Wade Cunningham
  • 2009: Wade Cunningham
  • 2008: Dillon Battistini
  • 2007: Alex Lloyd
  • 2006: Wade Cunningham
  • 2005: Jaime Camara
  • 2004: Thiago Medeiros
  • 2003: Ed Carpenter

That’s three past winners in Carpenter, Newgarden and Chaves who are racing on Sunday. Harvey, Dempsey and Guerrieri have a combined zero starts; meanwhile all of Cunningham, Battistini, Camara and Medeiros had less than a season of in IndyCar.

Polesitters have been random too, with some surprises including Ethan Ringel (last year) and Ken Losch (2007) of note.

Traditionally Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has fielded strong entries at the Speedway, and that puts any of its four cars – talented sophomore RC Enerson, Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia and fellow rookies Andre Negrao and Heamin Choi into contention almost from the off. Enerson, in particular, is due his first win of the year after niggling turbo issues have hampered most of his season.

Belardi Auto Racing, given its engineering strength in depth, is also a strong contender and a winner here twice previously in dramatic fashion with Chaves and Dempsey. This year they have Zach Veach, who topped the 200-mph mark during testing on Monday, and Felix Rosenqvist, who will look for a significantly better second oval start than his first at Phoenix.

Either of Enerson and Veach would make it seven winners in eight races this year. The other six thus far are, in order, Felix Serralles, Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Urrutia and Dean Stoneman.

Kaiser expects to be better than both he and the Juncos Racing team were here last year. Another potential surprise is Neil Alberico, who was strong in testing despite a slight incident in the first session.

Choi, replacing Scott Anderson, is the only driver change among the 16 entered for the Freedom 100. It’s the biggest field for this race since 2012, when 18 cars started – only 11 have started each of the last three years.

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Rendering: Andersen Promotions

Arguably the more intriguing part of the weekend from the Pro Mazda or USF2000 perspective is the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 car, which gets unveiled Friday morning, 9 a.m., at IMS.

It’s the second new car to be unveiled at IMS in recent years, with the Dallara IL-15 Mazda having been unveiled in May 2014 ahead of its race debut for 20115.

The Pro Mazda and USF2000 races occur later in the day on Friday at IMS.

In Pro Mazda, the question is whether anyone can stop the Pato O’Ward roll of awesomeness for Team Pelfrey. The young Mexican has won five of six races to date, although teammate Aaron Telitz is a past winner at Lucas Oil Raceway in USF2000. The remaining six drivers in the field will look to end O’Ward’s run of form.

USF2000 sees its field temporarily cut in half for its lone oval race of the season, down from 27 cars entered at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend to a mere 14 cars on the 0.686-mile oval.

While Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Pabst Racing have three cars entered apiece – Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have propelled Cape to four straight wins this year -known oval setup ace John Walko will likely have Victor Franzoni’s car ready to go to contend.

Driver helmets looking very stylish for Sunday‘s Indianapolis 500

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Photo IndyCar
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If it’s spring and time for the Indianapolis 500, the best-dressed man and woman are sporting the newest fashions – on their heads, that is.

There’s a number of fascinating liveries on helmets for this year’s race. Some are tribute liveries, some homages to the race itself and some just switched up for the sake of it.

Here’s some of the more interesting helmets drivers will be wearing in the 100th running of the Indy 500 this Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

 

It’s a dog’s life: While ‘dad’ Simon is away, Norman Pagenaud will play

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Current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud — who comes into Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 riding a three-race winning streak — has a new addition to the family: Norman Pagenaud.

The newest Pagenaud already has his own Twitter account and while ‘dad’ was in Detroit Tuesday during the annual NASCAR cross-country media tour day, Norman REALLY got to know his new home away from home: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Check out some of Norman’s best tweets of the day, as well as a few from Simon.

Oh, and did we mention that Norman is a puppy? He’s sooooooo cute!

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Cross-country IndyCar media tour pumps up excitement for Indy 500

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(Photo courtesy Mike Kitchel, IndyCar)
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To further pump up the excitement of Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 – which is officially sold-out – all 33 drivers in the race field spent Tuesday flying to various cities for a number of media opportunities.

Some went to baseball games, others to the zoo, and all had countless media interviews as a prelude for Sunday’s milestone event.

The media tour, which began in 2011, scattered the drivers to a variety of markets, from New York City and Chicago to Miami, Phoenix, Toronto, Buffalo, St. Louis and even Bethlehem, Pa.

Pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe kicked off things by taking a bite out of the Big Apple (New York City), along with 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 Verizon IndyCarSeries champion Will Power and two-time series race winner Marco Andretti.

Here’s where the contingent of drivers visited, followed by a number of social media posts related to their visits:

Bethlehem, Pa.: Jack Hawksworth, Bristol, Conn. (ESPN): Tony Kanaan, Buffalo: Josef Newgarden, Charlotte, N.C.: Juan Pablo Montoya, Chicago: Helio Castroneves, Cincinnati: Sage Karam, Mikhail Aleshin, Cleveland: Pippa Mann, Columbus, Ohio: Charlie Kimball, Dallas: Graham Rahal, Dayton, Ohio: Stefan Wilson, Detroit: Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Bryan Clauson, Buddy Lazier, Louisville: Matt Brabham, Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot, Miami: Oriol Servia, Carlos Munoz, Gabby Chaves, Milwaukee: Conor Daly, New York: Will Power, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Townsend Bell, Phoenix: Scott Dixon, St. Louis: JR Hildebrand, Toronto: Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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