Sam Hornish Jr. leads career-high 167 laps en route to dominating Nationwide Series win at Iowa Speedway

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Like a runaway freight train, Sam Hornish Jr. was hooked up like he was on a rail, leading 167 of 250 scheduled laps to dominate and ultimately win Sunday’s Get to Know Newton 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway.

Making only his second of seven scheduled starts this season in the NNS for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hornish had the strongest car, holding off runner-up Ryan Blaney by .699 seconds.

“I knew this would be a great opportunity for me,” Hornish said. “I know it’s seven races, but it’s also seven chances to win, every time you get into the car.”

Hornish finished fifth at Talladega in his first start of the season for JGR two weeks ago, and Sunday’s performance just verified Hornish’s offseason decision to forego a return to Penske Racing and instead move to JGR.

“It’s just awesome,” Hornish said of his first career win on a short track (Iowa is a .875-mile D-shaped oval). “To get out there and get in this car seven times a year, we take advantage of it. We got a pole at Talladega, finished fifth and then we did what we had to do today.

“When it got down to the end of the race, I just drove my guts out to try and get us a lead. It was just an awesome day.”

The 167 laps Hornish led are a NASCAR (both NNS and Sprint Cup) career-high for him in a single race.

There were just three leaders and nine overall lead changes in the race, which had just five cautions for 31 laps.

Blaney, who essentially replaced Hornish at Team Penske after last season, led 81 laps, but following a final restart with 20 laps remaining, he just couldn’t catch Hornish.

“We weren’t good enough on new tires,” Blaney said. “We took off way too tight. … Just too much to bear there with the 54 on new tires. … It just wasn’t enough.”

Regan Smith finished third.

“We were just struggling all day long for clean air,” Smith said. “We had two of our (JR Motorsports) cars in the top five (teammate Chase Elliott was fourth). You can’t be mad about that.”

One day after graduating from high school, Elliott retained his lead in the standings, slightly increasing his edge from one to two points over Elliott Sadler and Smith, who are tied for second.

“We just kept having to play catch-up all day,” Elliott said. “This Nationwide Series is tough. Our program needs a little work. We’ll go back and work on it and get ready for next week at Charlotte.”

Sadler was happy for Hornish, his JGR teammate, but not so much for his own fifth-place finish, especially since he wasn’t able to finish ahead of Chase Elliott or to overtake him for the NNS points lead.

“A top-five finish was not what we wanted, but it could be worse,” Sadler said.

Sixth though 10th were Brian Scott, Michael McDowell, Ty Dillon, Trevor Bayne and Landon Cassill.

Eleventh through 20th were Dylan Kwasniewski, Brendan Gaughan, Chris Buescher, Chase Pistone, Austin Theriault, Ryan Reed, Ryan Sieg, J.J. Yeley, James Buescher and Ryan Gifford.

Going back to the standings, Elliott, Sadler and Smith are starting to turn things into somewhat of a runaway, as Dillon is fourth (35 points back), followed by Bayne in fifth (36 points back), Brian Scott in sixth (-64 points), Gaughan in seventh (-97), James Buescher in eighth (-110), Chris Buescher in ninth (-119) and Landon Cassill in 10th (-121).

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”

F1 Strategy Group meeting reveals shark fin, ‘Shield’ plans for 2018

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Tuesday’s meeting of the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission in Paris took a couple big steps towards forward in the look of Formula 1 cars for 2018, as the cockpit “Shield” and shark fin/T-wings were among the items discussed.

This meeting included CEO of Formula One Group Chase Casey for the first time, along with FIA President Jean Todt and the key other stakeholders in the meeting.

The “Shield” concept for additional frontal protection moves up in the priority list. Per the FIA’s release, the plan is to go ahead with additional track testing this year before a 2018 implementation:

“A number of more integrated solutions for additional frontal protection have been studied, and the decision has been taken to give priority to the transparent ‘shield’ family of systems. The FIA aims to carry out track tests of this system during this season in preparation for implementation in 2018,” the release said.

The ‘Halo’ and aeroscreen ideas were trialled last year (see below):

SPA, BELGIUM – AUGUST 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP sits in his car fitted with the halo in the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA – APRIL 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Meanwhile the shark fins and T-wings, which have come back to the cars this year over the engine cover, are set to be restricted to a box next year. The structural rigidity of those from some teams have come under scrutiny this year.

“Changes in the regulation boxes around the engine cover have been made so that designs incorporating the ‘t-wing’ and ‘shark fin’ will be strictly limited,” the release said.

Three other sporting and technical changes were released:

  • Measures will be taken to ensure that oil will not be used as fuel. In addition, only one specification of oil may be used for any given power unit during an event
  • Pirelli will be allowed to develop 2018 wet weather tyre compounds using previous specifications of cars and wheel dimensions
  • In the event of a red flag period during a race, the race will be resumed from a standing start

In two other bits, from the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14, the sporting regulations will be strictly enforced to ensure drivers’ car numbers and surnames will be made bigger and more visible. Although permanent numbers have come into play starting in 2014, where a driver picks one number for the entirety of his or her career, none has really been that big on an F1 base chassis.

Lastly, per the release “Representatives from the non-member teams will now be invited to meetings of the F1 Strategy Group to have access to the discussions, demonstrating the effective commitment of both the FIA and the Commercial Rights Holder to improve transparency in the sport.”

Rossi: ‘It’s on us to help give Alonso the insight they gave me’

Alonso's seat fit. Photo: IndyCar
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The defending champion of the Indianapolis 500 was a rookie and the student in 2016. Now, a year later, he’s a teacher.

One of the cool angles among many for Alexander Rossi as he prepares to defend his win in last year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the 101st running is that he’ll have the opportunity to help two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in his transition to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as he’ll enter the Andretti Autosport team in the jointly entered McLaren, Honda and Andretti sixth car.

He obviously wants to beat him on track – same as the other 31 drivers including his four other teammates at Andretti Autosport in Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato and Jack Harvey – but he’s not concerned about being a teacher as part of the team’s heralded open-book atmosphere of information and data sharing.

Rossi came to Indy a year ago for what was only his second oval race but quickly absorbed every fiber of information he received from teammates Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Carlos Munoz and Townsend Bell, with Hunter-Reay and Andretti his two primary driver teachers in the process.

Rossi learned among other things how to run in traffic, save fuel and handle the draft – all of which paid dividends en route to his victory in his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for the Andretti-Herta Autosport team partnership.

SINGAPORE – SEPTEMBER 17: Alexander Rossi of the United States and Manor Marussia walks in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2015 in Singapore. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

And now for Rossi, he’ll have the chance to pay back Alonso for Alonso’s own welcoming of him when he arrived for his first Grand Prix start, at Singapore in 2015 with Manor.

Rossi singled out Alonso and Sebastian Vettel as the two drivers who made a point of helping his transition to a race seat for his first race start.

“It’s limited with other drivers; we don’t spend time together in F1,” Rossi told NBC Sports. “But Alonso and Sebastian came up to me at Singapore for my debut to offer their words of wisdom. He was the one guy I had more contact with than the others.”

Alonso made his first visit to the Andretti Autosport headquarters in Indianapolis on Monday, where he made his seat, met the Borg-Warner Trophy and began interacting with his Indianapolis 500 teammates away from the throng of activity on site at Barber Motorsports Park in a more intimate setting.

Rossi, for the first time, was able to impart the knowledge he’s learned at Indianapolis onto Alonso and said it’s on him and his teammates to provide the same tutelage to Alonso for his upcoming odyssey.

“I was visiting him yesterday at the shop, as we’re walking through our Indy preparations,” Rossi said. “He’s one of the best drivers in the world.

“It’s on us – Ryan and Marco mainly – to help give him the insight they gave me because they’re two of the best at that track. I was always in the best possible position as a rookie, and now he’s in the same position.”

Rossi said it’ll likely be the items away from the driving and engineering meetings that will pique Alonso’s curiosity at Indianapolis – namely, how dedicated the fans are throughout the practice days.

“F1 is very… you’re kept in a box. In some ways that’s good and others it’s not good at all,” Rossi explained.

“The big thing for him to see is how involved the fans are, especially during the month of May. That was the thing that surprised me – it’s awesome to see and it’s why it makes our sport so good to be that involved.

“It can be super frustrating. Say you’re running to take a leak, and it’s a 20-minute process. That will surprise him. He’ll be used to going into race car, pit lane, and the timing around being on track.

“But say it’s 7:30 p.m. and you’re in an engineering meeting and there’s 100 fans there still… that is amazing and incredible… and we’re still plugging away in our meeting.

“But he’s a super laid-back kind of guy.”