Everything you need to know about Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega

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After an exciting race at one of NASCAR’s shortest tracks, the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway, the Sprint Cup Series moves to the longest (2.66 miles) and one of the fastest tracks on the circuit for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Will Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. make it two wins in a row on a restrictor plate track? Junior has five career wins at Talladega, but he hasn’t won there since fall 2004. Will his 10-year drought there come to an end? If he does manage to win Sunday, Junior would all but guarantee being locked into this year’s expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Jeff Gordon is the winningest active driver at Talladega with six wins, but it’s also been a long time since he’s reached victory lane there (fall 2007).

Will an unexpected driver emerge from the pack on the final lap to collect the checkered flag, much like defending winner David Ragan did in this weekend’s race last year?

How will rookies like Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon fare?

There are so many storylines to consider for Sunday’s race, but a few things are for sure: it’s ‘Dega, it’s fast, it’s always exciting and there’s always the possibility of at least one “big one” multi-car wreck.

Here’s  look at some of the top statistical performers coming into Sunday’s race, as well as some of the track’s past history:

 
TALLADEGA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS
Aric Almirola (No. 43 Gwaltney Ford)
·         One top 10
·         Average finish of 19.9
·         Average Running Position of 17.8, 12th-best
·         Driver Rating of 83.7, 10th-best
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
·         Six top fives, 13 top 10s
·         Average finish of 16.7
·         Average Running Position of 14.9, fifth-best
·         Driver Rating of 87.4, fifth-best
·         6,599 Green Flag Passes, third-most
·         2,144 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6%), second-most
·         4,529 Quality Passes, second-most
Austin Dillon (No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet)
·         Average finish of 26.0
·         Series-best Average Running Position of 11.5
·         Driver Rating of 81.5, 12th-best
·         Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 193.265 mph
 
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
·         Five wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.6
·         Average Running Position of 14.6, fourth-best
·         Driver Rating of 91.5, third-best
·         75 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
·         6,044 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.083 mph, third-fastest
·         2,078 Laps in the Top 15 (60.7%), third-most
·         4,009 Quality Passes, fourth-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/Valspar Reserve Chevrolet)
·         Two wins, six top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 17.0
·         Average Running Position of 16.9, eighth-best
·         Driver Rating of 85.1, seventh-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 192.872 mph, 12th-fastest
·         1,757 Laps in the Top 15 (51.3%), fifth-most
·         3,436 Quality Passes, fifth-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota)
·         One win, five top fives, nine top 10s
·         Average finish of 17.7
·         Average Running Position of 13.9, third-best
·         Driver Rating of 91.6, second-best
·         63 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
·         5,791 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
·         Series-high 2,239 Laps in the Top 15 (65.4%)
·         4,275 Quality Passes, third-most
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
·         Two wins, three top fives, six top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.2
·         Driver Rating of 84.4, eighth-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 192.936 mph, ninth-fastest
 
Jamie McMurray (No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet)
·         Two wins, six top fives, seven top 10s
·         Average finish of 19.3
·         Driver Rating of 83.3, 11th-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.035 mph, seventh-fastest
·         1,692 Laps in the Top 15 (49.4%), sixth-most
·         3,307 Quality Passes, eighth-most
David Ragan (No. 34 KFC Ford)
·         One win, four top fives, seven top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.2
·         Driver Rating of 84.2, ninth-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.080 mph, fourth-fastest
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Zest Ford)
·         One top five, one top 10
·         Average finish of 8.0
·         Average Running Position of 12.5, second-best
·         Series-best Driver Rating of 94.7
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.253 mph, second-fastest
Brian Vickers (No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota)
·         One win, four top fives, six top 10s
·         Average finish of 20.1
·         Average Running Position of 17.0, ninth-best
·         Driver Rating of 87.3, sixth-best
 

Talladega Superspeedway Data

Season Race #: 10 of 36 (05-04-14)
Track Size: 2.66-miles
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 33 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 33 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 16.5 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 2 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 4,300 feet
Backstretch Length: 4,000 feet
Race Length: 188 laps / 500 miles
Top 10 Driver Ratings at Talladega
Ricky Stenhouse Jr………………… 94.7
Matt Kenseth………………………… 91.6
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 91.5
Kurt Busch……………………………. 87.4
Brian Vickers………………………… 87.3
Jimmie Johnson…………………….. 85.1
Brad Keselowski……………………. 84.4
David Ragan…………………………. 84.2
Aric Almirola…………………………. 87.3
Jamie McMurray…………………….. 83.3
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Talladega Superspeedway.
Qualifying/Race Data
2013 pole winner:
None – due to inclement weather
 
2013 race winner:
David Ragan, Ford
148.729 mph, (03:26:02), 05-05-13
 
Track qualifying record:
Bill Elliott, Ford
212.809 mph, 44.998 secs. 04-30-87
 
Track race record:
Mark Martin, Ford
188.354 mph, (02:39:18), 05-10-97
TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY:
History
·         Construction began on what was then known as the Alabama International Motor Speedway on May 23, 1968.
·         The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on Sept. 14, 1969 – won by Richard Brickhouse.
·         The name changed to Talladega Superspeedway in 1989.
·         Fourth repaving completed on Sept. 19, 2006.
Notebook
·         There have been 89 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega Superspeedway, one NSCS event in 1969 and two races per year since 1970.
·         Talladega Superspeedway is tied with Michigan International Speedway for holding the ninth most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points paying races (89).  
·         433 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega; 297 in more than one.
·         Dave Marcis leads the series in starts at Talladega with 61. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 42 starts; followed by Joe Nemechek with 38.
·         Bobby Isaac won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Talladega in 1969 with a speed of 199.466 mph. Isaac won the first three poles at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
·         36 drivers have Coors Light poles at Talladega, led by Bill Elliott with eight. Joe Nemechek leads all active drivers with four.
·         10 drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Talladega. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Talladega with six (1985 – 1987).
·         Youngest Talladega pole winner: Jimmie Johnson (04/21/2002 – 26 years, 7 months, 4 days).
·         Oldest Talladega pole winner: Mark Martin (10/23/2012 – 52 years, 9 months, 14 days).
·         43 different drivers have won at Talladega Superspeedway, led by Dale Earnhardt with 10. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six.
·         Richard Childress Racing has the most wins at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12; followed byHendrick Motorsports with 11.
·         Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Talladega; led by Chevrolet with 38 victories; followed byFord with 21.
·         13 of the 89 (14.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the Coors Light pole.Jeff Gordon (2007) is the only active driver to be able to accomplish the feat. 
·         The outside front row (second-place) starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (20) than any other starting position at Talladega. 
·         33 of the 89 (37%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the front row: 13 from the pole and 20 from second-place.
·         62 of the 89 (69.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Talladega have been won from a top-10 starting position.
·         7 of the 89 (7.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
·         The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Talladega was 36th, by Jeff Gordon in the spring of 2000.
·         Youngest Talladega winner: Bobby Hillin Jr. (07/27/1986 – 22 years, 1 month, 22 days).
·         Oldest Talladega winner: Harry Gant (05/06/1991 – 51 years, 3 months, 26 days).
·         Buddy Baker and Tony Stewart are tied for theseries’ most runner-up finishes at Talladega with six each.
·         NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Talladega with 23. Jeff Gordonleads all active drivers with 15. 
·         Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-10 finishes at Talladega with 27. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19.
·         Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Talladega with a 10.125.
·         Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Talladega with a 14.200.
·         There have been seven NSCS races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Talladega Superspeedway: spring of 2005 (188/194), fall of 2005 (188/190), spring of 2007 (188/192), fall of 2008 (188/190) spring of 2010 (188/200), fall of 2012 (188/189) and spring of 2013 (188/192).
·         Only two of the 89 races at Talladega Superspeedway have been shortened due to weather conditions: spring of 1987 and fall of 1996.
·         Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway five times; most recently fall of 2013. 
·         Jamie McMurray (10/06/2002) made his series debut at Talladega Superspeedway.
·         David Gilliland (10/08/2006) and Travis Kvapil (10/05/2008) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Talladega.   
·         2012 series champion Brad Keselowski (04/26/2009) and Brian Vickers (10/08/2006) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Talladega.   
·         Nine drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Talladega Dale Earnhardt Jr.leads the series in consecutive wins at Talladega after posting four straight from the fall of 2001 – 2003.  
·         11 of the 12 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Talladega Superspeedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Brad Keselowski is the only active series driver to winat Talladega in his first appearance.   
·         Matt Kenseth competed at Talladega Superspeedway 25 times before winning the fall of 2012; the longest span of any the 12 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
·         Matt Kenseth (25), Tony Stewart (19), Kevin Harvick (18), and David Ragan (12) all made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Talladega.
·         Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega without visiting Victory Lane at 38.
·         Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway was the (04/17/2011) race won by Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.002 second – the MOV is tied with the 2003 Darlington race as the closest finishes in the NSCS using electronic scoring. 
·         Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Talladega with 843 laps led in 42 starts.
·         Three female drivers have competed at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Patty Moiseand Danica Patrick.
Driver
Starting Position
Finishing Position
Date
Race Name
Janet Guthrie
13
32
5/1/1977
Winston 500
Janet Guthrie
9
34
8/7/1977
Talladega 500
Janet Guthrie
12
29
8/6/1978
Talladega 500
Patty Moise
36
33
7/30/1989
Talladega Diehard 500
Danica Patrick
23
33
5/5/2013
Aaron’s 499
Danica Patrick
23
33
10/20/2013
Camping World RV Sales 500
NASCAR in Alabama
·         There have been 108 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among seven different tracks in Alabama.
Track Name
City
NSCS
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega
89
Birmingham International Raceway
Birmingham
8
Montgomery Motor Speedway
Montgomery
6
Lakeview Speedway
Mobile
2
Chisholm Speedway
Montgomery
1
Dixie Speedway
Birmingham
1
Huntsville Speedway
Huntsville
1
·         68 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Alabama.
·         Nine drivers from Alabama have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series; five have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Driver
NSCS
NNS
NCWTS
Bobby Allison
84
2
0
Davey Allison
19
0
0
Neil Bonnett
18
1
0
Donnie Allison
10
0
0
Red Byron
2
0
0
Rick Crawford
0
0
5
Steve Grissom
0
11
0
Cale Gale
0
0
1
Darrell Wallace Jr
0
0
1

 

Hulkenberg: Singapore DNF ‘tough to take’ after strong start

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Nico Hulkenberg has admitted his retirement from last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix was “tough to take” after being in contention to end his long-running Formula 1 podium drought.

Hulkenberg entered the Singapore weekend ready to break the record for making the most F1 starts without recording a top-three finish, having tied Adrian Sutil’s tally of 128 races at Monza.

Hulkenberg qualified an excellent fifth for Renault and dodged the start-line chaos to rise to third, and even ran second for one lap before switching tires.

Hulkenberg settled into fourth place when the switch to dry tires was complete, only for an oil leak on his car to force him to make an unscheduled pit stop and ultimately retire from the race.

“Sunday was tough to take and left me feeling disappointed. We lost a good result, and it was a case of not having a good enough reliability; that’s the way this sport goes sometimes,” Hulkenberg said.

“We lost our fourth position which is a pity especially after all the hard work from the whole team. It would have been a nice bunch of points but that’s racing and it happens!

“The car is looking fast and we have to build on the positives and take it forward now to Malaysia.”

IndyCar points by circuit type: 2017

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After separate reviews of the street and oval portions of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – led by Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves, respectively – the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale was of course, the final road course race of the year as well.

And a third different driver topped the charts in those six permanent road course races this year, in the form of Scott Dixon.

Dixon had one win (Road America) and three runners-up finishes in the six races, with other finishes of fourth (Sonoma) and ninth (Mid-Ohio) which brought him 261 points in these races. That was two points clear of Newgarden, who won at Barber and Mid-Ohio and finished second at both Road America and Sonoma, while losing points at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen.

The top six drivers in permanent road course points – Dixon, Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Castroneves and Graham Rahal – were also the top six drivers in the overall points, albeit not in that order.

For the year, it was interesting to note how being consistent across all three phases of circuit netted the best results.

The two biggest outliers were Power – who was only 14th in street course points but second in oval and fourth in road course points – who ended fifth in points overall and Kanaan, who overcame 16th (street course) and 18th (road course) points positions with third place in oval points, trailing only Castroneves and Power.

That oval haul brought Kanaan up to 10th in points in a year where several others – notably James Hinchcliffe, Max Chilton and Ed Jones – all occasionally staked their claim to the final spot in the top-10.

Otherwise, consistency across all circuits was key to securing your overall points position for the year.

The breakdown of points per driver by circuit type is below.

P # Driver Street Road Oval Total
1 2 Josef Newgarden 185 259 198 642
2 1 Simon Pagenaud 147 256 226 629
3 9 Scott Dixon 159 261 201 621
4 3 Helio Castroneves 126 220 252 598
5 12 Will Power 86 244 232 562
6 15 Graham Rahal 162 191 169 522
7 98 Alexander Rossi 126 171 197 494
8 26 Takuma Sato 115 112 214 441
9 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 105 178 138 421
10 10 Tony Kanaan 79 97 227 403
11 8 Max Chilton 91 141 164 396
12 27 Marco Andretti 103 119 166 388
13 5 James Hinchcliffe 155 99 122 376
14 19 Ed Jones 88 99 167 354
15 21 JR Hildebrand 78 90 179 347
16 14 Carlos Munoz 85 109 134 328
17 83 Charlie Kimball 72 135 120 327
18 4 Conor Daly 68 120 117 305
19 7 Mikhail Aleshin 77 68 92 237
20 20 Spencer Pigot 75 114 29 218
21 18 Sebastien Bourdais 93 89 32 214
22 20 Ed Carpenter 169 169
23 88 Gabby Chaves 98 98
24 22 Juan Pablo Montoya 20 73 93
25 18 Esteban Gutierrez 43 23 25 91
26 7 Sebastian Saavedra 19 61 80
27 16 Oriol Servia 21 40 61
28 7 Jack Harvey 40 17 57
29 29 Fernando Alonso 47 47
30 63 Pippa Mann 32 32
31 13 Zachary Claman DeMelo 26 26
32 77 Jay Howard 24 24
33 24 Sage Karam 23 23
34 40 Zach Veach 11 12 23
35 18 James Davison 21 21
36 18 Tristan Vautier 15 15
37 44 Buddy Lazier 14 14
38 7 Robert Wickens 0 0

Ed Jones adds name to IndyCar’s elite as top rookie in 2017

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Sure, you can say Ed Jones didn’t have a full-season counterpart for IndyCar’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 and so he was always going to win the award.

But in a year when you don’t have competition and the other first-year drivers did only selected races, you have to compare yourself to the rest of the field at large and make an impression – and Jones clearly did so for Dale Coyne Racing.

Per Trackside Online, Jones joins this list of drivers in the series’ full-time lineup who won top rookie honors in their year of eligibility: Alexander Rossi, Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Heading into last year’s offseason, Jones was not the favorite to take over the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda; fellow Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran RC Enerson was on the heels of three impressive debut races at the tail end of 2016.

However Jones was always going to need a place to land with the $1 million Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for at least three races. Between that and with additional budget gathered, Jones found his way into Dale Coyne’s second seat alongside Sebastien Bourdais and together the pairing clicked.

Coyne had his eye on him throughout 2016, and watched him win the Indy Lights title at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – albeit under somewhat controversial circumstances when Carlin teammate Felix Serralles pulled aside to allow Jones through.

“It was Indy Lights. We went to his last race at Laguna Seca when he won the championship,” Coyne said. “We kept an eye on him. We keep an eye on all Indy Lights guys as well. It’s close, we can see them, watch them race, see how aggressive they are.

“He was always smooth in the car. I didn’t know how good he was going to be, because he was smooth. He doesn’t look like Paul Tracy in a car, but he drives better than Paul Tracy, at least in the beginning, at least Paul’s first year. He was a pleasant — it was the biggest surprise we’ve ever had.”

Jones, the 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit who makes his U.S. residence in Miami, was an instant hit on results if not on outright pace. But with finishes of sixth, 10th and 11th among his first five starts and other results lost due to circumstances outside his control, he immediately made a positive impact in the paddock.

Where Jones grew up fastest in a year where he matured so much from a more quiet and reserved driver in Indy Lights – much of that thanks to the family atmosphere at Coyne and its ace PR rep, Karina Redmond – was in May. Bourdais went from points leader and potential Indianapolis 500 contender to hospital-bound after his devastating accident in qualifying.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Max Chilton of England, driver of the #8 Gallagher Honda, Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, and Ed Jones of the United Arab Emirates, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, lead a pack of cars during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Jones, meanwhile, was suddenly thrust into the unexpected role of team leader, not knowing week-to-week who his teammate might be depending on the issue. Similar to Alexander Rossi last year, Jones carried a quiet swagger during the month of May in Indianapolis, and was aggrieved for getting knocked out of the Fast Nine shootout.

What he did on race day was equally as impressive as Rossi’s 2016 win in the ‘500 if not more so, considering the disparity in equipment and the fact Jones’ car was damaged in the nose from debris contacting it earlier in the race.

That third place finish (and the double points that went with it) was enough to earn many votes for this year’s Indianapolis 500 top rookie honors (including from this writer) although it wasn’t enough to supplant Fernando Alonso for the award, somewhat controversially. Coyne couldn’t resist trolling during Jones’ season-long top rookie acceptance press conference at Sonoma.

“Obviously Indy, third place there. Did you get Rookie of the Year at Indy or no? Didn’t get that, okay,” Coyne deadpanned.

Alas, Jones pressed on anyway with a consistent appetite for learning, thanks to Coyne’s tutelage, Michael Cannon’s sharp mind on the engineering stand and a crew that embraced him.

“It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me,” Jones said. “But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb. Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.

“I seen myself as well as one of the guys, rookies, younger guys that would come in and they try to be right at the front the beginning. In a series that’s so competitive like this, it doesn’t really happen that often. It’s extreme difficult to do it. Sometimes doing that, you can actually take steps backwards because you kind of lose where you’re at. It’s always better to sort of take it step by step, yeah, get there that way.”

After a ninth place at Detroit race one, Jones’ results suffered the rest of the way through a myriad of mishaps – be it tough setups, bad caution timing, an occasional spin or pit stop issues. A seventh at Road America was the lone bright spot, and a potential top-10 championship finish went begging. Losing Bourdais hurt primarily from a setup standpoint.

“I wasn’t always sure if it was just me or if it was a lot with the car. Yeah, that was the main thing. Seb is really good with setting up the car. Having his feedback to work off from was really helpful,” he said.

“If I ever wasn’t sure about something, I could use him to back something up. Not having him there, yeah, made it harder. Sometimes I was guessing a bit more. So, yeah, that was the toughest part.”

Jones said his driving and development got better as the year went on as, paradoxically, the results got worse.

“It’s always difficult not having another full-time rookie to compare to. Then again, I’ve looked at the rookies over the last few years. I’ve seen it’s extremely tough. I feel pretty happy with how it’s gone in comparison to other guys recently,” he said.

“I wanted to finish top-10 in the points. Halfway through the season, we were on track to doing that. We had a good opportunity to do it. The last few races, things have maybe not gone to plan.

“But I feel like as a driver, I got stronger. Early on in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well, but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense. Now I think we’ve gone better, me as a driver, also binding with the team. We got stronger, but things just haven’t gone our way. It’s been frustrating.”

None of the issues were egregious and as Coyne related later, Jones was one of the cleanest drivers he’d ever had in a year where the crash damage bills added up fast.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, and Tristan Vautier, driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

With a rotating driver in the second car, be it James Davison, Esteban Gutierrez or Tristan Vautier before Bourdais’ welcome and surprise return at Gateway, Jones was the unexpected but needed rock in the driver lineup.

“I think it’s been a whole progression the whole year. We’ve run a lot of rookies over the years. We run rookies in tests that have never made it to a race, we ran rookies that made it to races,” Coyne said.

“He’s just a puppy. But he’s done a good job, very, very good. I don’t think he scratched the car. He actually did hit the wall at Pocono. The smallest amount of damage I’ve ever seen anybody do hitting a wall at Pocono. Done a very good job all year long, every track.”

Jones isn’t back yet for 2018, but Coyne said “We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year,” and wants to have a deal struck in the next few weeks.

Looking at what he did as a rookie was quite impressive. The five top-10s matched Conor Daly’s number last year as the lone full-season driver and while Daly was 18th in points in his first full season, Jones ended 14th.

That 14th place in the standings is a Coyne driver’s best finish in the standings since the late Justin Wilson’s incredible run to sixth in 2013, and actually a spot ahead of where Wilson was the following year in 2014, in 15th.

Jones’ qualifying average of 14.3 was 3.5 spots higher than Daly’s last year and Jones out-qualified his teammates nine times this year in 17 races, including Bourdais on three of eight attempts.

What he did for the team this year overall in a tough season will be remembered more than the results itself which again, were impressive given thee circumstances.

“It’s been very tough. But the whole team together, everyone within the team works very well together from the beginning of the year. A big shame to lose Seb after quite a few races. Everyone got on well with it. I remember after the accident, actually Dale got everyone together. We pushed forward,” he said.

“I think there’s been a lot of times that on Dale’s team, there’s things that have happened, gone up and down. As we’ve seen, they’ve always come back stronger.”

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McLaren ‘very close’ to agreeing new F1 deal with Alonso

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McLaren is “very close” to agreeing a new Formula 1 contract with Fernando Alonso beyond the end of the 2017 season, according to team racing director Eric Boullier.

McLaren announced last week in Singapore it would be splitting with struggling engine supplier Honda at the end of the season, linking up with Renault from 2018.

The decision was made in a bid to lift the team to the front of the field, having struggled for much of the past three years while working with Honda.

Alonso has made no secret of his frustration throughout the three-year stint, prompting the Spaniard to consider his future with McLaren upon the expiration of his contract at the end of the year.

With the driver market closing up, Alonso looks poised to remain with McLaren for 2018, but said in Singapore he is considering options in many series.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Boullier expressed his confidence in Alonso staying for 2018, saying a deal was “very close”.

“Fernando wants to stay. You can see it in his body language and the way he speaks,” Boullier added.

“There are marketing details that have to be sorted out, and that Zak [Brown, McLaren executive director] is working on.”

Despite suggestions of an ultimatum regarding its Honda partnership being issued to McLaren by Alonso, Boullier stressed that the team made the decision to switch to Renault by its own accord, with the drivers then fitting in afterwards for its 2018 plans.

“McLaren’s DNA is to be competitive. The team has always been in the top three and we belong there again,” Boullier said.

“Today we know that we have a decent chassis, which would allow us to be in the top three again with an equal level engine.

“So for us as a business it is important to be competitive, no matter what role Fernando plays. We had to make a decision for us.

“But if you want to be competitive you not only need an engine, you also need a driver. That is when Fernando comes into the picture.

“We did what we did for McLaren first, but the package includes also the driver.”