Tonight, Brian Scott will look to get the one that got away from him last fall.
Scott won the pole for tonight’s NASCAR Nationwide Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway after posting a lap of 22.120 seconds (122.061 mph) in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
In last fall’s Nationwide race at Richmond – the 1000th race in series history – Scott led 239 of the 250 laps only to lose out to Brad Keselowski, who passed him with 10 laps to go and then pulled away from him off the final restart with six to go before claiming victory.
Starting alongside Scott tonight will be 18-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski, who was leading the final round before Scott threw down his eventual pole-winning lap. The Las Vegas native topped out at 22.153 seconds (121.880 mph) in the No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet.
Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott, who has won the last two Nationwide races at Texas and Darlington, will start from Row 3. Trevor Bayne and Chris Buescher make up Row 4, Regan Smith and Kyle Busch are in Row 5, and Kevin Harvick and Nationwide rookie Carlos Suarez roll off from Row 6.
In the first round, many teams waited until clouds settled over the 3/4-mile oval before going out for their fast laps to get in the Top 12. In the end, Bayne was the quickest in Round 1 with a lap of 22.076 seconds, while Suarez was able to stay on the 12th-place bubble and advance.
Elliott Sadler and Kyle Larson both narrowly missed advancing and will start together in Row 7. Larson admitted that he was taken aback at his qualifying performance but tried to shrug it off.
“My fast lap didn’t feel that fast,” Larson said to ESPN. “I was surprised that we were as bad as we were. I don’t know, it’s shocking to be 14th [on the grid], but we’ll race fine. I felt like we had one of the best cars in practice yesterday. [And] look at last year, I was never really typically a good qualifier.
“So I’m not too worried about it. I think everybody over here…will be just fine. Just a little disappointed about how qualifying went, but like I said, we’ll be fine.”
Tonight’s race is scheduled to start around 7 p.m. ET, but there is a possibility that rain may push back the start to some degree. We’ll keep you posted.
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”