19 car/driver combos expected at IndyCar test in Texas

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A two-day IndyCar test session that begins tomorrow at Texas Motor Speedway will help set the aerodynamic options available to teams when the series returns to the 1.5-mile oval for the Firestone 600 in June.

19 different car and driver combinations are expected to take part in the test.

The track has reported tomorrow’s session will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time (10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET) and will be open to the public, albeit without access to the infield and garage areas.

Before last year’s IndyCar race at Texas, the low-downforce aero package was tweaked slightly to take away drag from the cars.

That increased the pressure on drivers to hang on and conserve their tires, and made for a race that was clean but somewhat lacking in excitement compared to past Texas races.

After that race, Ryan Hunter-Reay noted the series’ difficult job of getting the package correct with the downforce levels and the tires’ rate of falling off. We’ll see if this upcoming test will help in that regard.

The test could also be an eye-opening experience for some of the series’ rookies, like Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz (who finished third last weekend at Long Beach), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Mikhail Aleshin, and Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth.

Hawksworth has a solid run going at the Beach until he was collected in the Lap 54 crash triggered by Hunter-Reay’s contact with Josef Newgarden in Turn 4.

But now he’ll have to shift focus toward navigating Texas’ high banks. While the British racer has handled other high-speed ovals such as Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana, he did so in the markedly slower Indy Lights cars.

“I am looking forward to the test at Texas to see what one of these [IndyCars] is like on an oval,” he said recently. “I’ve never been to Texas before, so it will be interesting to see the layout. It looks unique for an oval, especially the ones I’ve been on.”

While he’s learned the proper line through video, Hawksworth still plans to lean on the advice of his team owner, Bryan Herta, and his other crewmates.

“There’s a really good bunch of guys on the team,” he said. “Bryan has a bunch of experience as a driver, and he’s available to give me advice about all kinds of circuits.

“The engineers and everybody are really helpful in getting me up to speed and help me as much as they can. The other part is just me getting on with it myself.”

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”