Castroneves hits 227-plus to lead Thursday Indy 500 practice

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Helio Castroneves turned in a tow-assisted 227.166 mph in the waning moments of Thursday’s six-hour practice for the Indianapolis 500, easily the fastest lap of the month in the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Premium Chevrolet for Team Penske.

“It was awesome,” Castroneves said. “The car is handling really well. Certainly the draft counts a lot here. I feel very comfortable in the Pennzoil No. 3 machine. I don’t know fastest lap but I think it was a (2)26 last year. Conditions are really good. Cool, good for the tires, good for the Chevy engine. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Right now we’re looking ahead of the game.”

He had been second prior to that, and his lap beat that set by Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for his own Ed Carpenter Racing team. The defending Indianapolis 500 polesitter’s best lap was a tow-assisted 226.257 mph.

Castroneves’ teammate Will Power was third with KV Racing Technology’s Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport completing the top five.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan jumped up to sixth with Carpenter’s ECR Indianapolis teammate JR Hildebrand seventh, and the third Penske entry of Juan Pablo Montoya eighth.

Kurt Busch, back after missing a day to focus on his NASCAR obligations in Charlotte, was ninth at 224.739 and Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud completed the top 10.

Elsewhere Carlos Huertas did well to get above 224 mph, and Sebastian Saavedra (223.955) and Martin Plowman (223.495) found speed they’d otherwise been lacking in traffic most of the week.

EJ Viso ran 40 laps in the No. 27 United Fiber & Data car before his engine cut out, and that ended his day. It may have ended his month as well with James Hinchcliffe cleared to drive following a concussion suffered Saturday in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hinchcliffe’s car was towed out to pit lane near the end of the session but was unable to complete any laps for him to get back on course.

Buddy Lazier completed his refresher program and ran his first 18 laps of the month, with a best in the 218 mph range, while rookie James Davison completed the first two phases of his Rookie Orientation Program in single car runs. He ran his third in traffic, and ran more than 60 laps in total.

Today’s laps were the last with cars in race mode for the next three days. Extra boost will come into play for Fast Friday and speeds should top 230 mph for both single car and tow-assisted runs.

Here’s Thursday’s speeds.

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NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.