Wilson, Newgarden make big leaps from qualifying to race in St. Petersburg

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Top movers on Sunday in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg were Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing and Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. The pair ended in eighth and ninth in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series opener.

For both of them though, they probably wished they had qualified a little better.

Wilson started only 16th in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda but made strides in setup in the Sunday morning warmup, ending in eighth after adjustments working with new engineer Michael Cannon.

A methodical move forward saw Wilson eventually end in the same position for the race, but with some greater heights on the running order during pit stop cycles thanks to an off-sequence strategy.

“We made some big improvements in the warm up this morning and I really felt we had a strong car to get after it,” said the English gentle giant also known as “Bad ass.” “The Dale Coyne Racing guys did a great job giving me the clear track early on because the car was fast.

“I was just hoping to get a bit more of a clear track! It seemed really difficult to get by people today,” he added. “With the alternate strategy, we were running hard in clean air and I was just trying to make the most of it. At one stage I was managing fuel, managing tires and managing the brakes, as well as trying to run as fast as I could! So it was a tough balancing act trying not to use up too much of the car early on.”

Wilson tweeted Monday that it was a tough race, but he did quite well.

Newgarden started 22nd and stone last on the field but went into stealth mode during the race. Like Wilson, Newgarden was in his first race with a new engineer in Jeremy Milless.

The Tennessee native told me earlier in the week that he’s a major superhero junkie, and on this occasion the No. 67 Florida Lottery Honda appeared like the Flash – he was a stealth fighter with an invisibility cloak.

He made moves through the field although many weren’t caught on TV. Near the end of the race, he had an opportunity to catch Wilson but was unable to get past due in part to Wilson’s excellent corner exit from the final turn, Turn 14.

“We started really buried in the field. Starting 22nd is not ideal and we had a really tough go on Saturday,” said the third-year driver. “That just put us on the back foot for the race. What we need to do is qualify better and have a better weekend as a whole. We kept fighting; there are a lot of fighters on this team who never give up. We scored a top-10 finish, which is wonderful.”

Wilson’s Coyne teammate, rookie Carlos Huertas, accomplished his main goal of finishing the race. To be honest, the Colombian was one of the drivers that impressed me the most this weekend – he was not out of his depth on track, he kept the car in one piece and was reasonably close to the field considering a substantial lack of testing time.

Recapping the 2018 Dakar Rally with “best of” video highlights

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NBCSN will air additional Dakar Rally highlights on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

As it has done so for four decades, the 40th annual Dakar Rally – the most grueling test of man and machine anywhere – produced a number of surprise finishes and also several disappointments for drivers or riders who were expected to do well in the nearly 5,600-mile trek that began in Peru and continued through Bolivia and ending in Argentina.

NBCSN has aired highlights from all 14 stages (actually 13, because one stage was completely rained out) during the Rally’s two-week run, which concluded Saturday.

Here’s some of the “best of” highlights from the overall Rally highlights, followed by a quick guide that gives you wrapups to all 14 stages.

So, without further adieu, here’s NBCSN’s “best of” the 2018 Dakar Rally:

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of cars

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of bikes

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of trucks

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of quads

Lastly, here’s a day-by-day wrapup of how the Rally played out.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 14 overall Rally wrapup

MORE: Stage 13 wrapup

MORE: Stage 12 wrapup

MORE: Stage 11 wrapup

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup