MRTI: Grist, Telitz take first Pro Mazda, USF2000 wins at Night Before the 500

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The kids in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system, who one day seek to race in the Indianapolis 500, had their annual Night Before the 500 run at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind. Saturday night.

The USF2000 75-lapper kicked it off and ArmsUp Motorsports’ Aaron Telitz, of Eau Claire, Wis., took his No. 5 from sixth place to the lead within the first 25 laps, and promptly stormed away from there for his first career series victory. It was quite a drive considering it’s beyond difficult to pass on LOR’s low line – most drivers run near the wall on the 0.686-mile oval – and Telitz had his car working low and high both.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric’s son Austin posted a career-best second place, assisted by Pabst Racing’s spotter in 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice. Afterburner Autosport’s Victor Franzoni completed the podium; Telitz’s teammate Peter Portante was also thrilling to watch as he sliced and diced his way up to seventh from 13th using the high line, low line, and lapped traffic as a pick. Portante finished on the podium here last year but this was as good a result as he could have achieved given the mid-pack starting position.

Meanwhile the 90-lap Pro Mazda night cap saw Garett Grist, a one-time winner in USF2000 last year and in the Pro Mazda Winterfest this year, take his inaugural Pro Mazda regular season win for Andretti Autosport, from pole.

The two prior season winners – Scott Hargrove (both Indianapolis road races) and Spencer Pigot (the first four races) rounded out the podium.

The race also saw a last-minute return for Anders Krohn, our NBCSN Indy Lights analyst, who was drafted into Team Pelfrey’s entry for the second straight year after another driver became unavailable. Trackside Online’s Joe Berkemeier had the line of the night when referring to Krohn as “Pro Mazda’s version of Brett Favre.” Krohn started fourth, lost traction on the inside line and fell to seventh, but recovered to fifth at the flag.

Both Grist and Telitz will be honored, along with Indy Lights Freedom 100 winner Gabby Chaves, during Sunday pre-race festivities at IMS.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.