2014 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I break down the 33 drivers in this year’s 98th Indianapolis 500, hopefully as quickly as possible. For a comparison to last year’s, have a look at what we thought ahead of 2013.

Much of Sunday’s race, the fifth of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, will be determined by temperature, fuel mileage and tire wear as well as how good each car “sucks up” in the tow effect.

Row 1

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

Tony DiZinno: Indiana’s native son and the back-to-back polesitter is smart enough to know what didn’t work last year, and what he and his team can change this year to keep it P1 on race day. I don’t think he takes it, but a top-3 or top-5 is a good projection.

Chris Estrada: One of the top oval racers in the entire series, Carpenter is capable of an upset if he can keep his nose clean going into the final quarter of the race.

27-James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the series’ most popular drivers would make a popular winner, especially after suffering his concussion in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hasn’t yet had a truly great Indy 500, though.

CE: Hinch’s luck at the ‘500’ has been mixed, but considering the equipment at his disposal, a Top-5 finish is not out of the question.

12-Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: His Fontana win exorcised demons but I’m not convinced – yet, anyway – Power has enough to make it back-to-back 500-mile wins. Racing at Indy and racing at Fontana are two completely different animals.

CE: Power was victorious the last time IndyCars raced on an oval, and he can definitely have a say in the outcome starting from the front row.

Row 2

3-Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: I think this is your guy, or pretty dang close. Everything about the Pennzoil throwback livery, Rick Mears helmet and overcoming the struggles of the last several years points to him saying, “Hey, I’m freaking due for No. 4.”

CE: After leading just four laps in the last four Indy 500s, three-time winner Castroneves needs to summon his past magic.

77-Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Put him in the top tier of win contenders. In year three of his oval development, with a rocket of a car and a Senna tribute helmet, could well make it a month of May double at IMS.

CE: If GP of Indy winner Pagenaud takes the ‘500,’ you’d hope that IMS quietly wires him a bit of bonus money for sweeping the New Month of May.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: A popular pick; he always runs well at Indy and just needs that final bit of luck to match his consistent race craft.

CE: Marco’s been a threat in recent years, and a win from sixth on the grid would trigger some of the loudest cheers ever heard at 16th and Georgetown.

Row 3

34-Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: Perhaps it was because he was such a revelation last year, but I don’t think the sequel’s gonna be as good as the original for Munoz.

CE: After his explosive charge to second last year, Munoz cannot be counted out. But it just feels like a replication of that feat is a tick too much to ask.

67-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: The rising American star needs a good ‘500 after two trying ones, and has the pace to contend. A solid top-10 would be a good result for him.

CE: What an arrival on the national stage it would be for the gregarious American if he can come through for the small Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team.

21-JR Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The 2011 “he walled it on the last turn” narrative is tired. He needs a new chapter of his career, and is the best one-off challenger with Ed Carpenter Racing.

CE: One driver with a big chip on his shoulder + one team that’s proven itself on speedways = legitimate dark horse.

Row 4

2-Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske Motorsports/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The Penske “wild card.” He’s either going to be mixing it with the leaders or falling back due to the lack of balance, but I think he’ll stay within the top five most of the day.

CE: Montoya will be a force to be reckoned with once he fully comes to grips with the DW12, but right now, a Top-10 would be a solid day’s work.

9-Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Dixon’s race pace is better than we all thought (myself included). He knows how to handle this race, save fuel and will contend for his second win.

CE: The Target cars should be a threat in race trim, and after several near-misses, it feels like Dixon’s due to get his mug on the Borg-Warner for a second time.

26-Kurt Busch (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the race’s biggest stories, but it would be a better story for IndyCar if he only ends top-five at best, and not in victory lane.

CE: You have to admire the former NASCAR champion for being a quick study with the IndyCar, but it seems that a Top-10/Top-15 showing is the ceiling for him.

Row 5

98-Jack Hawksworth (BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian/Honda)

TDZ: Admitted to me he has no idea where he’ll end up, but his street course pace from earlier this year has translated nicely to IMS. Must be considered a rookie-of-the-year contender.

CE: The Hawk has shown that he’s a gasser, but it will be interesting to see if he can play things steady in his first ‘500.’

19-Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Indy’s best “under the radar” driver in recent years is a potential win contender if the balance is right, but the pit stops must be spot-on throughout the day. One last year cost him dearly.

CE: Be prepared to say ‘Where’d Wilson come from?’ again; he’s pretty good at making people do that.

7-Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Fast and fearless is a dangerous combo at Indy. The Russian rookie could run the gamut from a top-five or crashing for the first time this month in a blaze of glory.

CE: The pedal-to-the-metal Aleshin will either stun the heck out of everyone like Munoz did last year or be one of the first in the fence; a “tweener,” he isn’t.

Row 6

10-Tony Kanaan (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The car’s good. The team’s good. He’s the defending champ and has nothing to lose. Watch his restarts and expect him in the top-five late battling for his second straight win.

CE: A Top-5 is doable for the defending ‘500’ champion, but I’m not sure he can be the first repeat Indy winner in over a decade.

11-Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Erratic form this month in vacillating between quick and nowhere. Hasn’t found the balance or ultimate pace; I don’t think he’ll be a major contender.

CE: Running with the team that brought Kanaan his ‘500’ win could give Bourdais an opportunity, but IMS hasn’t been one of his better tracks (2 DNFs in 3 starts, average finish of 20.3).

16-Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Not especially quick this month but I’d be surprised if he and the RLL crew aren’t in the top half dozen or so the last 20 laps.

CE: Like Wilson, Servia has the tendency to quietly put together good drives. How far his car will let him sneak up the pylon is the question.

Row 7

28-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the best cars in race trim, RHR is a definite win contender, probably Andretti’s most complete driver.

CE: A tough qualifying session has Hunter-Reay right in the middle of the pack. One wonders if that will mean an aggressive approach from him at the start…

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has all the elements to succeed, but other than a third place in 2011 hasn’t really put it all together at Indy.

CE: Rahal seems to be perpetually under the radar at the Brickyard, but a strong performance on Sunday would mean a lot for his team and the National Guard this Memorial Day weekend.

18-Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Relatively quiet rookie who doesn’t make mistakes and seeks a trouble-free 500 miles.

CE: Huertas has one job: Get the car home in one piece. Consider the usual attrition factor at Indy, and a Top-15 would be a nice effort.

Row 8

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Good cause, good car, good crew and improved confidence. If the balance is right, a top-15 is more than possible.

CE: Here’s hoping that Mann can run the full distance and raise more money for the Susan G. Komen foundation. That said, she’s probably heading for a mid-pack run.

14-Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: He nearly won 2012 and entered 2013 as points leader, but has been under the radar this year. Still seeks first ‘500 top-10.

CE: Sato was a non-descript 13th in last year’s race, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be anything else but non-descript in the 98th Running.

68-Alex Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has been all but anonymous this month, but I’d expect that to end on race day… either with a big result or a big moment.

CE: With solid pit work, Tagliani’s veteran savvy could have that second Sarah Fisher Hartman car sniffing a Top-10.

Row 9

6-Townsend Bell (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Our NBCSN analyst ended Carb Day practice P3 and is with defending champion KV Racing Technology; his third career ‘500 top-10 is more than possible.

CE: Third-fastest in Friday’s final practice, Bell may turn some heads on Sunday – and not just because of that vivid color splash on his Robert Graham car.

83-Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: One of three or four “sneaky good” guys here at the Speedway, and he seeks his third straight top-10 finish in the ‘500.

CE: Kimball has turned mid-pack starts into Top-10 finishes the last two years, but he’s got a long road ahead of him coming from 26th on the grid.

5-Jacques Villeneuve (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: The legend is back, having a great time, but he likely won’t factor into the lead pack.

CE: Villeneuve’s return after a 19-year absence is perhaps a little odd, but it’s always good to have another ‘500’ champ on the grid.

Row 10

33-James Davison (KVRT/Always Evolving Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Has quietly impressed on a short engine program for KV Racing Technology, and his vibrant teal and white car has top-15 potential.

CE: A full 200 laps will feel like a win for Davo no matter where he ends up on the pylon.

41-Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: Foyt’s second car has never been the best in the Indy 500 and the likeable English rookie just needs to bring it home in one piece, with somewhere between 16th and 20th a reasonable effort.

CE: Like Davison, Plowman needs to log as many laps as he can and keep it off the wall.

8-Ryan Briscoe (NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seems decently happy with the car in race trim and is in a better spot now having had months with his crew, as opposed to being a one-off last year. Should end top-10 if he stays out of trouble.

CE: Briscoe converted an Indy pole into a Top-5 finish in 2012. Starting 30th this year, he’ll have to do a lot more work to get a similar result.

Row 11

22-Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: A rookie with swagger, enough self-confidence and a good team to where he could steal top rookie honors from the last row. Must be patient, though.

CE: SK Money needs another year or two before he becomes “bankable” at the ‘500.’ See what I did there?

17-Sebastian Saavedra (KV/AFS Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seeks an uneventful race after a seriously eventful month, but has kept his emotions in check through it all.

CE: After his GP of Indy pole turned into disaster, it’ll be interesting to see how Saavedra responds on the oval.

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: With decent engineering and a solid Carb Day practice, could factor in for a top-15 if the temperature is right.

CE: The 1996 Indy champ probably isn’t a contender, but it’s not for a lack of trying from him or his family-run operation.

Hamilton fastest, Mercedes gaps field in opening USGP practice

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton made an impressive start to the United States Grand Prix weekend in Austin, Texas by topping the first Formula 1 practice session on Friday morning at the Circuit of The Americas.

Hamilton arrived in Austin trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 33 points at the top of the drivers’ championship, having not won a race since the end of July.

The Briton is a three-time victor at COTA, as well as claiming the last F1 win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in 2007, making the United States a happy hunting ground for the defending champion.

Hamilton and Rosberg came out of the blocks early in FP1, immediately pulling clear of the field with laps on the super-soft tire.

Hamilton enjoyed an early edge over his teammate, only for Rosberg to go fastest upon switching to the soft compound Pirellis and going for a lighter fuel run.

Rosberg’s spell at the top of the timesheets did not last long, though, as Hamilton bounced back with a lap of 1:37.428 that was good enough to give him P1 come the end of the session.

Rosberg finished three-tenths of a second further back, but it was the gap to third that was most indicative of Mercedes’ strength at COTA: 1.5 seconds separated Rosberg in P2 and Max Verstappen in P3.

Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth for Ferrari, trailing Red Bull’s Verstappen by just 0.028 seconds, while Nico Hulkenberg led Force India’s charge in fifth.

Valtteri Bottas was sixth-fastest for Williams ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, with Sebastian Vettel following in P8 for Ferrari. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top 10 for Toro Rosso.

It proved to be an eventful session for Vettel, who narrowly missed hitting Jolyon Palmer early in the session before almost losing a wing mirror, only to grab it with his left hand so he could return it to the pits.

Renault’s Palmer was one of two drivers to have an off-track moment, spinning out at Turn 18. Toro Rosso’s Kvyat made a similar error later in the session, finding the limits of adhesion through the long right-hander.

Haas’ first outing on American soil ended under a cloud as both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez stopped at the end of the pit lane with a couple of minutes remaining. They were ultimately classified P14 and P15.

Second practice in Austin is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET on Friday.

Kvyat stresses ‘respect’, ‘loyalty’ to Red Bull as 2017 talks continue

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 08: Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso sits in his car in the garage during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 8, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Daniil Kvyat has stressed his “respect” and “loyalty” towards Red Bull’s Formula 1 programs as talks regarding his plans for the 2017 season continue.

Kvyat was demoted from Red Bull’s senior team to its junior outfit, Toro Rosso, following the Russian Grand Prix in May.

The Russian driver struggled to get to grips with life further down the grid, scoring just two points in the run to the summer break, but bucked the trend by qualifying seventh in Singapore before finishing ninth.

Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost has long expressed a desire to keep Kvyat with the team for 2017, but Red Bull chiefs Helmut Marko and Dietrich Mateschitz will make the final call and may elect to promote GP2 driver Pierre Gasly into a seat.

Kvyat has been linked with moves elsewhere on the F1 grid, but said on Thursday in Austin ahead of the United States Grand Prix that his focus lay with remaining in the Red Bull setup.

“My aim is to be in F1 next year, but it’s too early to comment. We will have discussions behind closed doors,” Kvyat said.

“I have a lot of respect for and loyalty to Red Bull. Sooner or later I would like to have more details.

“Red Bull has managed me through my junior career and it is still number one on my list. I am looking for a drive where I can show what I can do.

“Toro Rosso is a fantastic team, we are one family and I feel very comfortable here.”

WATCH LIVE: USGP FP1 at 11 a.m., FP2 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks into the paddock with his dog, Coco, during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Free practice kicks off today for the United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas in Austin, and you can see both sessions LIVE on NBCSN and streamed via and the NBC Sports App (for participating providers).

First practice runs from 11 a.m. ET to 12:30 p.m. ET, leading into the premiere of Off the Grid: Austria at 12:30 p.m.

Then second practice runs from 3 to 4:30 p.m. ET.

Austin is on CT, so local times are 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 3:30 p.m., respectively.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are in the commentary booth with Will Buxton patrolling the pits and paddock for today’s coverage.

Again, that’s 11 a.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN for LIVE coverage of free practice from Austin.

Full times and details for the weekend are linked here.

Hulkenberg: Renault move ‘the right step in my career’

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Hulkenberg believes that his move to Renault for the 2017 Formula 1 season is the “right step” for his career after deciding to leave Force India.

Hulkenberg had been set to remain with Force India next season, but Renault announced last week that it had signed the German driver for 2017 after agreeing a deal to release him from his contract.

Speaking in Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of the United States Grand Prix, 2015 Le Mans winner Hulkenberg said he is looking forward to taking on a new challenge.

“I believe that it’s the right step in my career at this point,” Hulkenberg said.

“I feel I have come a long way with Force India – it’s my fifth year with them. We’ve had some good success together. But I felt that it’s time for a new challenge.

“Since I’m in F1 I’ve always wanted to race for a manufacturer team and this is a really good opportunity. The timing was pretty good too. So I think it was a good decision I think from my side.”

Renault has struggled during its first season back in F1 as a constructor after six years away, scoring just eight points to sit third-from-bottom of the teams’ standings.

However, Hulkenberg is confident that, given time, Renault’s might as a manufacturer can help him score his first podium finish in F1 and his first victory.

“I think them being a manufacturer, they are under some expectations to eventually be successful and be at the front and compete for wins and that’s obviously what I’m looking for,” Hulkenberg said.

“We know at the moment there is still a long journey ahead of them, to climb back to the top because it’s been a difficult year and where they’ve come from.

“When they bought Lotus last year was not the easiest it will take time to rebuild the team and to get back to the top but obviously what I see there is a good future, definitely a big challenge, a massive challenge.

“But I’m very much up for that – and why not build a new success story with them?”