NNS: Sam Hornish Jr. rides again at Talladega

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An opportunity is still an opportunity, even if it isn’t exactly the one you may be looking for.

Sam Hornish Jr. narrowly lost out on last year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series championship to Austin Dillon, and a lack of sponsorship forced him to leave Team Penske.

No doubt he’d like to have a full-time ride, especially in the Sprint Cup Series, where he ran full-time from 2008 to 2010.

Instead, he has a part-time Nationwide drive – but it’s definitely primo. He has a seven-race run with Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 54 Toyota that’s normally run by Kyle Busch, and his first go-round in the Monster Energy-backed machine comes this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Since last fall’s season finale at Homestead-Miami, Hornish has kept busy. He and his wife now have a third child, and on the track, he filled in for an injured Denny Hamlin in the March Sprint Cup race at Fontana (he finished 17th in Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota).

But now comes the chance to capitalize on running with some of the best equipment in the NNS.

“I have to say that you really would think that it felt like a very long time since Miami being that it’s closing in on six months, but the fact of having a third child…and also switching teams, it’s seemed to go by very fast,” he said yesterday at ‘Dega.

“I really feel blessed and fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to get my foot in the door at JGR, to be able to be in the Monster Energy car, to have a sponsor that makes a product that I use on a daily basis and I feel like it’s just very exciting.”

Hornish was 12th and 13th on the time sheets in yesterday’s two Nationwide practices on the 2.66-mile oval. Qualifying will take place later this evening at 6:40 p.m. ET.

As for his goals at ‘Dega, Hornish is hoping to get to know his JGR compatriots even further.

“I’ve gone to a few races starting off the season [and] had the opportunity to listen to Kyle and [crew chief] Adam Stevens work together and this is — I feel like a lot of ways the practice, the qualifying and the first half of the race or first three-quarters of the race — is me getting to know the team and all of those things,” he said yesterday.

“[I’m] just super excited about the opportunity that I’m given and had a lot of fan support about how much people say they want to see me back in the car full-time – and believe me, I want to be in it.”

Hornish noted differences between how JGR and Penske go about their operations in the Nationwide Series, with the former housing their NNS program in a separate building while Penske has their entire stock car program in the same building.

However, Hornish believes there’s nothing lacking at JGR, which had its No. 54 car battle with Penske’s No. 22 machine in a thriller for last year’s owner’s championship (Penske won out by a single point).

“At Penske there’s a little bit more of that trickle-down effect from the Cup side,” he explained. “But, I feel like when you look at the strength that JGR has had for so long in the Nationwide Series I don’t feel like there’s nothing lacking there other than maybe needing more space to be able to throw everybody together if they wanted to do that.

“When I look at the cars, I feel like there’s definitely differences in people’s mindsets as far as what’s important to be fast and the big thing for me is this is still going to be my first time in a JGR Nationwide car when I go out there this weekend.”

Toro Rosso extends contract for technical director James Key

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Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director James Key will continue with the team for the foreseeable future, following a contract extension announced on Tuesday.

Key joined the team in 2012 and has seen the Faenza-based squad solidify its role in the upper midfield, with occasional surprise finishes that have pushed the team near the top three or four teams on the grid.

“I am delighted to continue with Toro Rosso and remain part of the Red Bull family,” he said. “This is a team which I have great respect for and have thoroughly enjoyed working with for the past 5 years; now I look forwards to continuing our project into the future.

“STR is unique, facing the challenges of being spread over two countries and fulfilling the roles of both a team in its own right and an important part of the Red Bull driver program: they are challenges that the team takes in its stride and, whilst doing so, continues to grow and improve year on year.

“Most importantly, the people I have had the pleasure to work with at STR are second to none: professional, ambitious and focussed, they have all worked incredibly hard to improve the team’s performance and will continue that hard work with the same dedication and optimism in the coming years too. I would like to thank Franz Tost and Red Bull for their continued support and confidence. We have more work to do, and I look forwards to taking the next steps with Toro Rosso towards our goals.”

Team principal Franz Tost added, Formula 1 is a team sport, but one in which an individual can still make a difference. So far, in his time with us, James has proved that he can indeed make that difference, leading the technical side of the operation.

“Not only has he been adept at producing chassis-aero packages that are well regarded throughout the paddock, he has also shown the management skills necessary to get the most out of all the various departments that work together both here in Faenza and in Bicester. I am therefore delighted that James will be with us for the foreseeable future to continue this fruitful process.”

Teams load up on supersoft tires for Italian GP

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There’s almost no variety in team Pirelli tire selections for the Italian Grand Prix, with nearly all teams going with two sets of softs and 10 sets of supersofts for next week’s race. All teams have selected just one set of mediums.

The only variance comes with Mercedes, Force India and Haas going with three sets of softs and nine supersofts. The rest are all the same choice, two softs and 10 supersofts.

Monza comes a week after Spa this week.

Pirelli’s tire breakdown is below.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee to serve as Gateway grand marshal

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline will feature quite an excellent grand marshal, in the form of three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The full release from the track is below.

An Olympic champion has been selected to give the command to start engines for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline comes to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois on August 26. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, will serve as the grand marshal for the Verizon IndyCar Series event.

“I am humble,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is a native of East St. Louis, Illinois. “I do not take this honor for granted to be the INDYCAR race’s grand marshal at Gateway Motorsports Park. Very few people are asked to give the command and I am grateful to be one of the few. Thank you!”

Track-and-field star Joyner-Kersee has won three Olympic gold medals, as well as one silver and two bronze. She was the first American to win gold for the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon, making her the most decorated female athlete in Olympic track and field history.

As a teen, she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships for consecutive years and received widespread honors in high school in various sports, including track, basketball and volleyball. During her junior year, she set the Illinois high school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump. Joyner-Kersee attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a full scholarship and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. In 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon — an Olympic track-and-field competition comprised of seven separate events, including the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She graduated from UCLA in 1985.

Joyner-Kersee won a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, as well as gold and bronze medals in the long jump in 1988 and 1992, respectively, and is currently the heptathlon world record-holder.
Following her retirement from competition, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to instill youth in the a Greater East St. Louis area with the dream, drive and determination necessary to succeed in academics, athletics and leadership. “Winners In Life.”

Chuck Wallis, Vice President of the Bommarito Automotive Group, will serve as honorary starter and will wave the opening green flag.

Kimi Raikkonen confirmed at Ferrari for 2018 F1 season

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Scuderia Ferrari has confirmed that Kimi Raikkonen will remain with the team for the 2018 Formula 1 season after being given a new one-year contract.

Raikkonen, 37, has raced with Ferrari since 2014, and has been on a one-year rolling contract since the end of 2015.

The Finn has been a regular focus for the F1 driver market’s ‘silly season’ given his age and struggle for form compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel, who currently leads the drivers’ championship.

Raikkonen has scored 86 less points than Vettel through the opening 11 races of the 2017 season, but has nevertheless done enough to secure a new contract, confirmed by Ferrari on Tuesday.

“Ferrari announces that Scuderia Ferrari has renewed its technical and racing agreement with Kimi Raikkonen,” a brief statement from Ferrari reads.

“The Finnish driver will therefore race for the Maranello team in the 2018 Formula One World Championship.”

Raikkonen is the first of the big-name free agents to have his plans for 2018 confirmed, with Vettel, ex-Ferrari racer Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas yet to announce a drive for next year.

Raikkonen first joined Ferrari in 2007, winning the F1 drivers’ championship in his first season, but left at the end of 2009 to take some time out from the sport.

A return in 2012 with Lotus saw Raikkonen display plenty of his old spark, taking two wins for the financially-hamstrung team before leaving at the end of 2013 over a pay row.

Raikkonen moved back to Ferrari for 2014 alongside Fernando Alonso, with Vettel arriving the following year.

Questions over Raikkonen’s motivation and ability have been rife for some time, but without any outstanding candidates for a seat available as things stand, the news is not overly surprising.

Nevertheless, it does defuse some of the silliness of ‘silly season’, with Vettel’s confirmation at Ferrari seemingly set to follow.