Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola earn solid results for mourning Petty team

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Shortly before the start of today’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway – the first race after the loss of Lynda Petty, wife of seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty – the Richard Petty Motorsports team tweeted a vow:

Ultimately, a win was not to be for either of RPM’s drivers, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola. But the two still netted solid results today in Martinsville with Ambrose finishing fifth (his second Top-5 in the last three races) and Almirola finishing eighth (his second Top-10 in the last three races).

“We’ve had a really tough week,” Ambrose said after the race, which did not have Richard in attendance (USA Today and NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan reports he is expected to return next month at Richmond).

“We lost Miss Lynda. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Petty family right now. We really wanted to win for them bad out there, but we’ll take a Top-5. We’re really proud of our efforts.”

Ambrose was especially stout this afternoon. Starting 17th, Ambrose made his way into the Top 5 shortly after the Lap 100 mark, and then on pit stops under a yellow at Lap 170, his pit crew was able to help him win the race off pit road and claim the lead on Lap 173.

The Australian would hold the point for the next 22 laps before Matt Kenseth passed him at Lap 194. Ambrose would hover around the Top 10-15 in the middle stages before making a late charge back into the Top 5 on the strength of solid pit work and a good car on long stints.

“We had great pit stops all day,” Ambrose said. “Our guys probably had their best day on pit road in a long time and [crew chief] Drew Blickensderfer and [team engineer] Derek [Stamets] on the pit box made great calls late in the race and if we would have had another round of pit stops, we might have had something for them.”

Like Ambrose, Almirola was able to keep around the Top 10 for the majority of the race even though he admitted that his car could never quite find a sweet spot.

“Our car was very touchy to the clouds,” Almirola explained. “When it would cloud up, my car would get real loose and then when the sun would come out my car would get better and it would tighten out, but we bounced around on adjustments all day and couldn’t ever get the car balanced right.

“We would either be too tight or too loose and we really struggled for forward drive, which really hurt us on longer runs.”

Nonetheless, Almirola was buoyed by another solid performance all-around for RPM.

“Marcos had a really good run as well, so we’re doing things right,” he said. “If we keep running like this, we’ll get to Victory Lane.”

Now more than ever, that’s the goal for RPM: A #WinForMissLynda.

Indy Lights: Chad Boat to make Indy Lights debut with Belardi

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Belardi Auto Racing, which currently fields entries for Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, announced on Tuesday that USAC standout Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy Boat, will make his Indy Lights debut with the Brian Belardi led-outfit. Boat will contest the July 9 race at Iowa Speedway, a track he has previously raced on in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and will return for the August 26 event at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We’re extremely pleased to announce the addition of Chad Boat to our stable of drivers for the Iowa and Gateway Indy Lights oval races this summer,” team owner Brian Belardi detailed. “It’s exciting to have a second-generation driver running with us, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting Chad on track in Iowa.”

The younger Boat has become a star in his own right in USAC, winning Rookie of the Year honors in both the USAC National Midget and Sprint car divisions. The 25-year-old will pilot the No. 84 entry, with sponsorship from Pristine Auction.

“I grew up watching my dad race Indy cars, so having the opportunity to run Indy Lights this year is absolutely surreal,” said Boat. “I have to thank Belardi Auto Racing for giving me a shot behind the wheel of the No. 84 Dallara, as well as Pristine Auction for their continued support in my racing career. I can’t wait to get to Iowa Speedway.”

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Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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