Everything you need to know for Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

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With the Easter break now over, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to short-track action this weekend with the first of two annual visits to the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway.

RIR may be a short track but its style of racing is something you’d find at a typical superspeedway, making it a favorite among NASCAR faithful. Side-by-side action is common under the lights, and you can expect to see a fair amount of rubbin’ as well.

A old slogan called the track “Racing Perfection” and for many stock car fans, RIR is just that.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s all the important numbers and notes you need to know going into Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 – Round 9 of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

RICHMOND-SPECIFIC STATS

Clint Bowyer (No. 15 AAA Insurance Toyota)
· Two wins, three top fives, nine top 10s
· Average finish of 10.1
· Average Running Position of 9.5, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 100.7, fourth-best
· 183 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 851 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 116.414 mph, fifth-fastest
· 5,140 Laps in the Top 15 (80.1%), fifth-most
· 485 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), fourth-most

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· One win, five top fives, nine top 10s
· Average finish of 17.3
· Average Running Position of 14.4, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 92.2, seventh-best
· 364 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 116.386 mph, sixth-fastest
· 4,338 Laps in the Top 15 (60.1%), ninth-most
· 428 Quality Passes, 10th-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
· Four wins, 12 top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 7.2
· Average Running Position of 7.8, second-best
· Driver Rating of 111.9, second-best
· 529 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 116.749 mph, second-fastest
· 6,271 Laps in the Top 15 (86.9%), second-most
· 533 Quality Passes, third-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 FordAlwaysRacing Ford)
· One win, four top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 13.7
· Average Running Position of 14.9, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 90.1, ninth-best
· 291 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· 957 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 116.290 mph, ninth-fastest
· 4,276 Laps in the Top 15 (59.3%), 10th-most
· 429 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet)
· Two wins, 16 top fives, 26 top 10s; six poles
· Average finish of 14.1
· Average Running Position of 13.8, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 96.0, sixth-best
· 343 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 116.375 mph, seventh-fastest
· 4,518 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6%), eighth-most
· 436 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota)
· Two wins, seven top fives, nine top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 8.9
· Series-best Average Running Position of 6.6
· Series-best Driver Rating of 114.8
· Series-high 584 Fastest Laps Run
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 116.782 mph
· 5,361 Laps in the Top 15 (89.2%), fourth-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet)
· Three wins, seven top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.3
· Average Running Position of 7.9, third-best
· Driver Rating of 110.0, third-best
· 458 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· 854 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 116.658 mph, third-fastest
· Series-high 6,617 Laps in the Top 15 (91.7%)
· Series-high 613 Quality Passes

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet)
· Three wins, five top fives, eight top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 17.3
· Average Running Position of 16.2, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 88.5, 10th-best
· 274 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 116.232 mph, 11th-fastest

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet)
· One win, four top fives, seven top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 18.0
· Driver Rating of 86.8, 11th-best
· 341 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 923 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· 4,088 Laps in the Top 15 (56.7%), 12th-most
· 433 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet)
· One win, six top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.4
· Average Running Position of 11.7, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.6, eighth-best
· 921 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most
· 5,419 Laps in the Top 15 (75.1%), third-most
· 550 Quality Passes, second-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
· Three wins, 11 top fives, 19 top 10s
· Average finish of 10.6
· Average Running Position of 12.1, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 96.5, fifth-best
· 276 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· 875 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 116.498 mph, fourth-fastest
· 4,755 Laps in the Top 15 (69.8%), sixth-most
· 462 Quality Passes, fifth-most

source:

Richmond International Raceway Track Data
Season Race #: 9 of 36 (04-26-14)
Track Size: 0.75-miles
Banking/Turns 1 & 2: 14 degrees
Banking/Turns 3 & 4: 14 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 8 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 2 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 1,290 feet
Backstretch Length: 860 feet
Race Length: 400 laps / 300 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Richmond
Denny Hamlin………………………. 114.8
Kyle Busch…………………………. 111.9
Kevin Harvick………………………. 110.0
Clint Bowyer………………………… 100.7
Tony Stewart…………………………. 96.5
Jeff Gordon………………………….. 96.0
Kurt Busch……………………………. 92.2
Ryan Newman……………………….. 91.6
Carl Edwards………………………… 90.1
Jimmie Johnson…………………….. 88.5
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Richmond International Raceway

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light pole winner: Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 130.334 mph, 20.716 secs., 04-25-13
2013 race winner: Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 92.141 mph, (03:18:17), 04-27-13
Track qualifying record: Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 130.599 mph, 20.674 secs., 09-04-13
Track race record: Dale Jarrett, Ford, 109.047 mph, (02:45:04), 09-06-97

Richmond International Raceway History
· Originally known as the Atlantic Rural Exposition Fairgrounds, Richmond International Raceway held its first race in 1946 as a half-mile dirt track.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was April 19, 1953 won by Lee Petty.
· The spring 1964 race was run on a Tuesday night under temporary lighting.
· The track name changed to Virginia State Fairgrounds in 1967.
· The track surface was changed from dirt to asphalt between races in 1968.
· The track name changed to Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway in 1969.
· The track was re-measured to .542-mile for 1970.
· The track was rebuilt as a three-quarters-mile D-shaped oval following the Feb. 21, 1988 race.
· The first race under permanent lights was Sept. 7, 1991.
· The first season with both races as night races was 1999.
Notebook
· There have been 115 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Richmond International Raceway, one NSCS event from 1953 – 1958 and two races per year since 1959.
· 472 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond; 306 in more than one.
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Richmond with 63. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 42 starts.
· Buck Baker won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Richmond in 1953 with a speed of 48.465 mph.
· 52 drivers have Coors Light poles at Richmond, led by Richard Petty and Bobby Allison with eight each. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six.
· Seven drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Richmond. Bobby Allison holds the record for most consecutive Coors Light poles at Richmond with five (1972 – 1974).
· Youngest Richmond pole winner: Brian Vickers (05/15/2004 – 20 years, 6 months, 21 days).
· Oldest Richmond pole winner: Mark Martin (04/28/2012 – 53 years, 3 months, 19 days).
· 48 different drivers have won at Richmond International Raceway, led by Richard Petty with 13. Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with four.
· Petty Enterprises has the most wins at Richmond in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 15; followed by Hendrick Motorsports with 10, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing each have nine.
· Chevrolet leads the series in wins at Richmond with 36 victories; followed by Ford with 29 and Toyota with seven.
· 22 of the 115 (19.1%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Richmond International Raceway have been won from the Coors Light pole. Only three active drivers have been able to accomplish the feat: Kasey Kahne (2005), Jimmie Johnson (2007) and Kyle Busch (2010).
· The pole starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners than any other starting position at Richmond (22).
· 35 of the 115 (30.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Richmond have been won from the front row: 22 from the pole and 13 from second-place.
· 90 of the 115 (78.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Richmond International Raceway have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· 13 of the 115 (11.3%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Richmond International Raceway have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Richmond International Raceway was 31st, by Clint Bowyer in the spring of 2008.
· Youngest Richmond winner: Richard Petty (04/23/1961 – 23 years, 9 months, 21 days).
· Oldest Richmond winner: Harry Gant (09/07/1991 – 51 years, 7 months, 28 days).
· Bobby Allison and Richard Petty are tied for the lead in runner-up finishes at Richmond with nine each. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six.
· Richard Petty leads the series in top-five finishes at Richmond with 34; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 16.
· Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Richmond with 41. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 26.
· Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Richmond International Raceway with a 7.643.
· Kyle Busch leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Richmond International Raceway with a 7.222.
· Two active drivers have a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series average finish in the top 10 at Richmond: Kyle Busch (7.2) and Denny Hamlin (8.9).
· There have been two NSCS race resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Richmond International Raceway: spring of 2008 (400/410) and spring of 2013 (400/406).
· Only four of the 115 races at Richmond International Raceway have been shortened due to weather conditions: spring of 1962, spring of 1977, spring of 1982 and spring of 2003.
· Bobby Labonte (09/11/1993) and Brian Vickers (05/15/2004) posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Richmond.
· Tony Stewart (09/11/1999) and Kasey Kahne (05/14/2005) posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Richmond.
· Eight drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Richmond International Raceway. Richard Petty leads the series in consecutive wins at Richmond after posting seven consecutive wins from the fall of 1970 – 1973. Jimmie Johnson (2007 sweep) is the only active driver with consecutive wins at Richmond.
· All of the 13 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Richmond International Raceway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart won at Richmond in their second appearance.
· Joe Nemechek competed at Richmond International Raceway 18 times before winning in 1994; the longest span of any the 13 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
· Dave Blaney leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Richmond without visiting Victory Lane at 26.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993, the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Richmond International Raceway was the (09/12/1998) race won by Jeff Burton with a MOV of 0.051 second.
· Two female drivers have competed at Richmond in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series:
Janet Guthrie: 2/27/1977 – Started 13th, Finished 12th; 9/11/1977 – Started 14th, Finished 12th
Danica Patrick: 4/27/2013 – Started 30th, Finished 29th; 9/7/2013 – Started 36th, Finished 30th

NASCAR in Virginia
· There have been 283 NASCAR Sprint Cup races among nine tracks in Virginia: Martinsville 131, Richmond 115, South Boston 10, Langley Field (Hampton) 9, Old Dominion (Manassas) 7, Southside (Richmond) 4, Starkey (Roanoke) 4, Norfolk 2, Princess Anne (Norfolk) 1.
· 171 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Virginia.
· 19 drivers from Virginia have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series; 11 have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Joe Weatherly – 25 Cup
Denny Hamlin – 23 Cup, 11 NNS, 2 Truck
Ricky Rudd – 23 Cup, 1 NNS
Jeff Burton – 21 Cup, 27 NNS
Curtis Turner – 17 Cup
Ward Burton – 5 Cup, 4 NNS
Glen Wood – 4 Cup
Elliott Sadler – 3 Cup, 9 NNS, 1 Truck
Emanuel Zervakis – 2 Cup
Lennie Pond – 1 Cup
Wendell Scott – 1 Cup
Tommy Ellis – 22 NNS
Jimmy Hensley – 9 NNS, 2 Truck
Rick Mast – 9 NNS
Hermie Sadler – 2 NNS
Elton Sawyer – 2 NNS
Stacy Compton – 2 Truck
Jon Wood – 2 Truck
Jeb Burton – 1 Truck

IndyCar’s blue and white livery epidemic hits Pocono with two new ones

Photo: IndyCar
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Imagine, for a moment, a radio call of this Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) which omitted the names of the drivers and teams and instead asked those on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network to instead only call the race – and perhaps the finish – by car colors.

“There’s the blue and white car, side-by-side with another blue and white car, but a third blue and white car has entered the frame… let’s send it to Jake Query…”

“The blue and white car battle royale rolls through the Tunnel Turn, then into Turn 3, where a blue and white car makes a dive bomb on another blue and white car… Mark Jaynes, bring it home!”

“Get your cameras ready for a blue and white spectacular, photo finish as count ’em, one, two, three, maybe four blue and white cars run side-by-side to the line at Pocono!”

Such a scenario sounds fanciful… and then you look at the spotter guide for this weekend’s race and realize it’s not far fetched. At all.

There are very few gripes I have with the current Verizon IndyCar Series, but one thing that has consistently irked me all year – among others in the paddock – is the preponderance and overkill of blue and white (and red, white and blue) liveries gracing the Chevrolets and Hondas that make up the 21 or 22-car field.

Granted, this is what happens when the partners involved with most teams have blue and white in their corporate colors. And this isn’t a bad thing because teams need all the partners they can get.

However, there’s something to be said for variety in color schemes up and down the grid and when you have a third to half the field, on average, looking identical or close – it makes it very hard to distinguish and stand out, as well as a nightmare for the spotters or the people tasked with calling the race. Mistakes are far from inevitable and it’s not because the person would get it wrong intentionally; it just happens.

Just for Pocono alone, there are five more new or revived blue and white liveries to add to the litany of blue and white liveries this year.

The pair of NTT Data Hondas from Chip Ganassi Racing take on a new predominately white and blue hue for both Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan to look close to identical, after Dixon’s had a blue and white color scheme while Kanaan’s has been predominately blue only this year.

Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, and Gabby Chaves, meanwhile, see their cars look nearly identical. Expedite Home Loans, an online division of Ruoff Home Mortgage, will be on Sato’s No. 26 Honda which makes it a light blue and white scheme, super close to Andretti’s No. 27 light blue and white United Fiber & Data Honda, which is close to Chaves’ light blue (can we call it teal?) and white No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet, back for the first time since Texas.

Since words are meaningless by this point, we thought it a good idea to instead post a picture of every blue and white car that’s raced in 2017. As you can see, this epidemic has spread throughout the grid and is not limited to just one team.

So, without further adieu, here’s a roundup of all the predominately blue, blue and white, or red, white and blue cars that have seen a green flag this year, before the new ones get added this weekend (All photos: IndyCar).

TEAM PENSKE

Simon Pagenaud, No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, St. Petersburg
Josef Newgarden, No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, Mid-Ohio
Helio Castroneves, No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, Long Beach, Barber, Texas

CHIP GANASSI RACING TEAMS

Max Chilton, No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, full season
Scott Dixon, No. 9 GE LED Honda, St. Petersburg
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (all blue, gold trim), Long Beach through Indianapolis 500 qualifying
Scott Dixon, No. 9 Camping World Honda, Indianapolis 500 and Detroit
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (gold trim), Texas
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (red trim), Road America through Mid-Ohio
Tony Kanaan, No. 10 NTT Data Honda, most of season
Tony Kanaan, No. 10 NTT Data Honda (blue and chrome), Mid-Ohio
Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Novo Nordisk/Diabetes Canada Honda, Toronto

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT

Takuma Sato, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, most of season
Takuma Sato, No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda, Indianapolis 500, Detroit and Mid-Ohio
Marco Andretti, No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda, most of season
Marco Andretti, No. 27 Magneti Marelli Honda, Detroit

*We should also note Andretti-Herta Autosport driver Alexander Rossi has had a blue car all season, but with either yellow (NAPA Auto Parts/Curb) or red (ShopAndretti.com) secondary colors alongside the primary blue, the No. 98 Honda doesn’t fall into the all blue or blue and white trap.

A.J. FOYT ENTERPRISES

Conor Daly, No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet, all season
Carlos Munoz, No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet, all season

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING

Graham Rahal, No. 15 SoldierStrong/TurnsforTroops.com Honda, INDYCAR GP and Detroit
Oriol Servia, No. 16 Fifth Third Bank Honda, Detroit

DALE COYNE RACING

Esteban Gutierrez, No. 18 UNIFIN Honda, Detroit through Mid-Ohio (except Texas)
Ed Jones, No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, most of season (except Indianapolis 500, raced with yellow accents)

ED CARPENTER RACING

JR Hildebrand, No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet, multiple races
JR Hildebrand, No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet, Road America

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS

Jay Howard, No. 77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda, Indianapolis 500

HARDING RACING

Gabby Chaves, No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet, Indianapolis 500, Texas, Pocono

NASCAR America: Shayna Texter on American Flat Track’s growth

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Richie Morris Racing rider Shayna Texter has been in the spotlight this year as a regular winner on the American Flat Track circuit (coverage of which airs Thursday nights on NBCSN, in ‘Overdrive’ block).

The 26-year-old became the first female to win a main event in the series’ history, capturing the AFT Singles win in Knoxville Raceway in 2011. She’s led the points throughout the season in the AFT Singles division.

She provided an update on both her own growth and development and the rise of the series itself on Thursday night’s episode of NBCSN’s NASCAR America.

How much higher — and faster — can NHRA Funny Car driver Robert Hight go?

Photo courtesy John Force Racing
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At the rate he’s been going, Robert Hight is going to keep going higher and higher.

During the week, Hight is the President of John Force Racing (and son-in-law of the legendary drag racer). On weekends, Hight transforms into one of JFR’s three Funny Car drivers.

But he’s been standing out above the rest of the NHRA Funny Car crowd of late – boy, has he ever.

As the NHRA heads to Minnesota for this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, Hight has been hotter than the flames that shoot out of the exhaust pipes on his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro.

He captured two of the last three NHRA national events – also known as the Western Swing – at Denver and Seattle (and reached the quarterfinals at Sonoma).

Robert Hight

And during last week’s off-weekend from the NHRA 24-race schedule, Hight kept his hot hand … err, foot … going, winning the Night Under Fire match race at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.

“When you’re on roll like we’ve been on and the car’s running so well, this is what you want,” Hight said in a media release. “Even though last week was a match race, we still got the win, and we ran great.

“You don’t want this to ever end. It’s going to at some point, but we want to roll into Brainerd and get right back in there.”

If Hight’s good fortune continues at Brainerd, the next race on the schedule is the biggest race of the year each season, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Indiana on Labor Day weekend.

In addition to his two wins, Hight has made a dramatic jump upward in the Funny Car point standings, climbing from eighth to third place.

He’s 166 points behind Funny Car points leader and defending series champ Ron Capps, but is just eight points behind second-ranked Matt Hagan.

But wait, there’s more:

* In addition, Hight has qualified No. 1 in three of the last four national events, and has qualified third or better in the last nine consecutive national events.

* He also made major news three weeks ago when one of those No. 1 qualifiers was the fastest speed ever seen in Funny Car annals: 339.87 mph at Sonoma.

Now he’s looking for even more speed this weekend – and maybe even more records to fall.

“If conditions are good, Brainerd can be a fast race track,” said Hight, the 2015 Brainerd winner. “I’m looking forward to going there, having a successful weekend.

“We have a good shot at getting up to second points, and going into Indy No. 2 would be pretty cool. We’re looking for another win.”

Hight also is on the verge of becoming part of another NHRA milestone. If he gets past the first round in Sunday’s final eliminations, it will be his 400th career round victory.

Only five other Funny Car drivers have ever earned 400 or more round wins, led by Hight’s boss and father-in-law, John Force, with 1,278 career round wins.

“That’s big,” Hight said. “You’ve got to get round wins before you get race wins, and that’s how you get race wins. John has 1,278 round wins, so 400 doesn’t seem like very much.

“I don’t know how 400 stacks up to other guys who have raced the similar amount of time, but I’m happy that the round wins are coming more frequently than there were for us. That’s encouraging, and that’s exciting.”

The first two rounds of qualifying at Brainerd on Friday are at 4:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET.

The final two rounds are Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET.

Final eliminations begin at Noon ET, with live coverage on Fox Sports 1 from 2-5 p.m. ET.

Want to learn more about Hight? Check it out:

  • Hight won the 2009 NHRA Funny Car championship. He’s going for his second title this year, being one of six Funny Car drivers that have already qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
  • Hight has competed in 12 races at Brainerd, and has qualified for 11 races and every race since 2010.
  • Hight has advanced to the finals once at Brainerd, in 2015. He won that race, defeating Tommy Johnson Jr.
  • Hight is 9-10 all-time in 19 elimination rounds at Brainerd.
  • Hight’s best qualifying effort at Brainerd has been No. 3, which he has achieved three times – 2007, 2008 and 2010. Brainerd is one of two current tracks in which Hight is still looking for a No. 1 qualifier (Bristol being the other).
  • Hight has won five of his 11 first-round elimination matchups at Brainerd.
  • Hight’s 39 victories are the fourth most in Funny Car history, behind John Force (148); Ron Capps (55); and Tony Pedregon (43). He is tied with Del Worsham for 21st on the all-time professional victories list; Worsham has 31 wins in Funny Car and eight in Top Fuel.
  • Hight is one elimination round victory away from 400. His 399 round wins are 24th all-time in NHRA history. Angelle Sampey currently has 400 round wins.
  • Hight has been the No. 1 qualifier four times this season, and three times in the last four races. His 53 No. 1s are third most in Funny Car history, and he is tied for 11th with Larry Dixon across all professional categories. Only Force (155) and Cruz Pedregon (61) have more in the category.
  • In 2017, Hight has two victories, a 26-14 record in elimination rounds, and four No. 1 qualifiers. He holds a season-best 38 elimination-round wins in a season, in 2014. He has surpassed 30 elimination-round wins in a season seven times in 12 previous seasons.
  • Hight has set the fastest event speed a career-best nine times this season, which exceeds his previous season-best of seven set in his rookie season, 2005. He now has 50 fastest event speeds in his career, the 50th coming last month at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, where he set the NHRA record at 339.87 mph.
  • Hight has four final rounds this season and 61 in his career.
  • Hight has competed in 158 consecutive races, tied for 17th all-time with Doug Kalitta, dating back to the second race at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., in 2010.
  • Hight’s most recent NHRA victory – 2017 Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash.
  • Hight’s most recent No. 1 qualifying effort – 2017 Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash.
  • Hight’s best time/speed at Brainerd – 3.885 seconds (2016 E1); 330.31 mph (2016 Q1)
  • Hight’s best time/speed of career – 3.807 seconds (2017 Sonoma Q2; third quickest elapsed time in history); 339.87 mph (2017 Sonoma Q2; fastest speed in history)

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Newgarden thankful to be leading, not chasing, in IndyCar title push

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As the Verizon IndyCar Series prepares for its final four-race stretch of the 2017 season over the next five weeks, new points leader Josef Newgarden is thankful he’s made up a big deficit in the last two races rather than chasing as he pursues his first series championship.

Newgarden moved into the points lead for the first time in his career after winning the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course three weeks ago, his third win this season and second in a row. Heading into Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), he has his first chance to win three races in a row in his career, and also to get his first Pocono win after banking three top-five finishes there in four past starts.

Just three races ago at Iowa, before he won at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, Newgarden was 56 points behind then-leader Scott Dixon, in fifth in points. He’s now leading, seven clear of Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, eight clear of Dixon and 17 clear of defending series champion Simon Pagenaud.

Naturally, Newgarden’s happy to be leading, but wary of any slip-ups at Pocono while in the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet that could see him lose this slim gap.

“I think with the way I view it, I always prefer to be in the lead,” he said. “I don’t know why you ever wouldn’t want to be the leader. If you can be in a position where you’re leading the championship, I always think it’s better than having a deficit because to me, I don’t really approach a race weekend different if I’m leading or if I’m trying to catch up.

“I think for us it’ll be hard to hold on to it because everyone is so close, so you have one little mistake or one little mess-up in the next race and it’s very easy to slip back. So we’ve just got to try and stay out front if we can, and like I was saying before, the more that we can build a points gap, that only helps to Sonoma, so if we can’t do that, I think we need to just stay at least in touch with the lead as much as possible and make sure that we have a shot at winning the championship on our own terms when we go to Sonoma.”

Moving into the lead at Mid-Ohio puts Newgarden in an interesting position in recent IndyCar history.

Last year, Pagenaud’s decisive win against Will Power was a net 20-point swing in the championship and moved him into a 58-point lead over him with four races to go. That same 58-point spread now covers the top six entering this weekend’s race.

In 2015, Juan Pablo Montoya led Mid-Ohio winner Graham Rahal by nine points after that race, with two races to go. Eventual champion Dixon was third in points, 34 back.

Power led Castroneves by four after Mid-Ohio in 2014 with three races to go, and a dominant win the next race for him at Milwaukee helped seal his maiden championship win by Fontana a few weeks later.

There were still five races after Mid-Ohio in 2013. Castroneves led Dixon by 31 points, and Dixon came back to win that year’s title.

In 2012, Newgarden’s rookie season, Power led Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points out of Mid-Ohio with three races to go. Despite Power building the gap, he lost that year’s title in the last race to Hunter-Reay.

The 2015 title combatants… swap Pagenaud for Montoya and that’s all 2017’s title combatants. Photo: IndyCar

So how does Newgarden, who’s contending for a title in his first season at Team Penske, focus on the task at hand now that he’s thrust into a his first real title-contending scenario? Although he’s been on the fringes of it each of the last two years with Ed Carpenter Racing, he’s never quite been in this position.

Pagenaud seized his chance last year to win the 2016 title. It took Power three straight crushing end-of-year, last-race losses from 2010 to 2012 before he won his first and only title in 2014. Castroneves, despite an eternal number of runner-up finishes, has still never won a title. And Ryan Briscoe’s one shot at a title with Penske came unglued courtesy of an unforced error in 2009.

This is Newgarden’s first real chance at a title and as he explained, something he was hoping for once he joined the team.

“I definitely think I hoped I would be in a championship position. How could you not?” he said. “When joining Team Penske, I think you hope you’re going to just dominate.

“I didn’t know how the championship was going to unfold. I knew that we were going to have work in front of us.

“I feel like we’re still gelling, we’re still learning. So I’m a little bit surprised at how quickly we’ve hit the ground running, but I guess there’s also been moments where we could have been better and I could have been better and maybe as a team we could have been better, and I think with experience that will come.”

Newgarden (left) and Power (right) flank Rahal. Photo: IndyCar

Newgarden said he hasn’t drawn on his teammates for any advice in how they’ve handled other title-contending situations, and that makes sense because he’s also racing each of them for the title at the same time. The strength in numbers at Team Penske means the odds of one of the four drivers winning is strong, with only Dixon or Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal poised to steal it otherwise.

“It’s an interesting question,” Newgarden admitted. “I haven’t really spoken much to the other teammates specifically about their mindset or where it was at or where the team was at with regard to the championship.

“It’s actually kind of oddly quiet. You know, it’s almost like we’re just expected to be able to do our job. It’s not that we don’t get spoken to by various people within the teams to make sure we have what we need or make sure we understand what the game plan is, it’s just most of the big broad brush strokes.

“I think they’re just — for them they view it as it should be understood by us. We’re all pretty experienced within the series, and I think everyone that’s come into Team Penske has always had some level of experience.

“I think they expect for you to do the right thing. Penske wants us to work well together. They allow us to race. They allow us to do whatever we want to try and beat each other, but it’s just most important that we work together and take care of each other at the end of the day.

“We try and help the whole group be better, and if it’s not me winning a race or winning the championship, then we focus on trying to get at least one of the Penske cars to do that. You always hope it’s you. You want to be the best within the team. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to have one of the Team Penske cars succeeding, and that’s what we all work for.”