NASCAR Sprint Cup Duck Commander 500 weather update: Backup plan set as drying continues

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UPDATE (7:11 p.m. ET): While track drying continues at Texas Motor Speedway, a backup plan has been set should the Duck Commander 500 not go off tonight in Fort Worth.

If the race is postponed tonight, the race will start on Monday at Noon ET.

UPDATE (5:55 p.m. ET): While all pre-race ceremonies have been completed, the Duck Commander 500 continues to be held up as crews work to dry out the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway.

Unfortunately, the process is taking longer than usual as NASCAR executive vice president of racing operations Steve O’Donnell has confirmed that “weepers” – streams of water rising from cracks in the track surface – are proving problematic:

We’ll continue to keep you posted on any further developments, but the general consensus is that NASCAR will once again race in prime time – if it races at all this Sunday.

UPDATE (4:15 p.m. ET): Driver intros have been completed, but while Fox Sports reported that the race’s start time was 4:31 p.m. ET, NASCAR has said that the start of the race is still on hold for now:

Media reports from Texas Motor Speedway say that pre-race ceremonies will continue on but track drying will continue after their completion.

UPDATE (3:35 p.m. ET): Fox Sports is now reporting that the Duck Commander 500 has been given a start time of 4:31 p.m. ET – less than one hour from now. Driver introductions are also expected to take place shortly.

UPDATE (3:13 p.m. ET): With the Air Titans and other track dryers making their way around the damp Texas Motor Speedway, NASCAR has given word that driver introductions for today’s Duck Commander 500 have now been set for 3:45 p.m. ET, about a half-hour after the originally scheduled start of the race.

A typical Sprint Cup schedule usually has the green flag drop within the hour of those intros.

Although they probably didn’t think it when they were searching for a name, Sunday’s scheduled Duck Commander 500 is rather aptly named: the weather right now at Texas Motor Speedway continues to be for the birds.

Heavy rain has pounded the Fort Worth, Texas facility since the wee hours and continues as of 1:45 pm ET, with the temperature at 51 degrees.

The race is scheduled for a 3:16 pm ET green flag, but that’s likely not going to happen.

In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service radar and forecast, rain is expected to continue for the rest of the afternoon and into Sunday evening.

At 1:30 pm ET, the NOAA revised its forecast, dropping the chance of thunderstorms this afternoon for the Fort Worth area from 100 to 80 percent.

And where the NOAA originally had tonight’s forecast at 80 percent, it has since revised things to just a “chance of showers” and a 30 percent chance at that.

Then, less than a half-hour later, the NOAA went back to its original forecast of an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms until at least early evening.

Monday’s forecast indicates a chance of thunderstorms both during the day and evening, but only at 30 percent.

NASCAR and TMS officials are weighing their options, but there’s not many.

The track does not have a curfew, so if the rain stops later tonight and the racing surface is able to be dried by several Air Titan2 vehicles on site, there could be a chance of a very late start.

The race is scheduled to be broadcast on Fox Sports, but that could change if the event is pushed back deep into the evening.

NASCAR and TMS officials likely will do everything they can to get the race in tonight, regardless of how late it starts, because the last thing both entities want to do is go head-to-head with the NCAA men’s basketball championship game between Connecticut and Kentucky Monday night in nearby Arlington, Texas.

What’s more, according to a tweet by USA Today’s Nate Ryan, the track is rented out by at least one group Monday morning as a prelude before the championship game.

And waiting until Tuesday – when temperatures are expected to be in the low 70s and in sunny conditions (with little chance of rain) – is likely out of the question, particularly since the next NASCAR race is Saturday at Darlington. That would give teams less than two days to get back to Charlotte from Texas, turn around and reload and head out to Darlington, which is about two hours from Charlotte.

We’ll update you with any changing weather conditions, as well as any updates on a potential green flag, as they become available.

But right now, it looks like it’s going to be a long afternoon’s journey into night before we hopefully see any action on the track down in Texas.

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John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”