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Kurt Busch validates “Double” decision with an outstanding month of May

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It’s been a decade since any one driver attempted to pull “The Double,” a feat of racing 1,100 miles on Memorial Day weekend.

Kurt Busch’s on Sunday was thwarted short of that milestone, due to an engine failure in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday night.

But in no way should that diminish his accomplishments, and what he set out to achieve this month at the cathedral of speed that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Although Kurt goes by “The Outlaw,” and this month, “The Double Outlaw,” we were reminded very simply that Busch is still a badass driver who remains one of the best on the North American motorsports scene.

For Busch to come in and do what he did this month at Indianapolis exceeded most everyone’s expectations.

Heading into the month, other than a pair of one-off tests, he’d never driven an IndyCar and needed to be like a sponge in absorbing all the information he’d be taking in. He’d also need to prepare physically for the challenge.

Busch went in with the right approach, the right mentality and exuded a confidence and attitude that never went over the line in terms of cockiness.

He knew his place at Indy was as a rookie; he made sure to mention that in the myriad number of interviews he had to do throughout the month.

He always gave credit to his four Andretti Autosport teammates, a number which became five when backup driver EJ Viso temporarily filled in for James Hinchcliffe earlier in the month. And he praised the Andretti crew, with veteran Craig Hampson leading the No. 26 Suretone car’s effort and the rest of the engineering staff working in harmony to provide five Hondas with generally outstanding setups.

He gave everything he could in qualifying with his first 230-mph lap, then a 230-mph qualifying run over four laps.

When he made a mistake in practice, crashing in Turn 2 on the Monday before the race, he owned it. It was really the only time all month where he looked like a rookie; his lines both in single-car runs and in traffic were otherwise true to form of what you’d expect from the series regulars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

And over 500 miles on Sunday, Busch managed the race in a way befitting of a guy who’s raced the event a dozen times or more, rather than one who was in his first ever open-wheel race.

Busch fell to the lower ranges of the top-20 early on but bided his time and waited for things to come to him. Twice, he took excellent evasive action when debris came flying at him. Scott Dixon’s front wing and the debris field after Townsend Bell’s accident both entered Busch’s path.

When he was done, Busch ended sixth overall, top first-timer. And yet he was fourth among the five Andretti Autosport cars, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz first, third and fourth, which spoke to the quality of the entire operation.

He’d done what he’d set out to do, for most of it anyway. What’s been a miserable NASCAR season, save for his Martinsville win, continued after he landed Sunday night in Charlotte with the engine failure.

What does this mean for Kurt, and “the double,” going forward? Several things.

Busch ran well enough to come back in 2015 on merit, if he so desires, and the Andretti team has the infrastructure to make it happen (they likely will, given they’ve added an extra car for the ‘500 each of 2012, 2013 and 2014).

And perhaps, Busch’s success could open the doors to other NASCAR drivers – Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson come to mind off the top of my head – who could be as naturally adept in an IndyCar as was the 2004 NASCAR champ.

Kurt Busch has always been a wheel man. Now, he’s added top rookie finisher in the Indianapolis 500 to his list of accolades.

Outlaw? More like outstanding.

Mid-Ohio could be pivotal for Power, Pagenaud in championship battle

Simon Pagenaud, left, and Will Power
(Getty Images)
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Will Power is closing in and may be ready to overtake Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud not only on the racetrack, but also in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings.

Power, who has three wins and one runner-up finish in his last four starts, comes into Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio just 47 points behind Pagenaud, who has led the standings since after the second race of the season (Phoenix).

That he is so close to Pagenaud is almost incredulous, given that Power missed the season-opening race at St. Petersburg due to an inner-ear infection that was initially thought to be a potential concussion.

Missing an entire race worth of points (maximum of 54 points) is hard for any driver to bounce back from, but Power and his team have used that missed race to further heighten their motivation to win a second championship in the last three seasons.

“After a bit of a slow start this season, the No. 12 Verizon Chevy team has built a lot of momentum in the middle part of the season and we’ll look to keep it going at Mid-Ohio,” Power said in a media release.

And while Pagenaud won’t give up his own quest for his first IndyCar title without a fight, how he and Power emerge from Sunday’s race at Mid-Ohio — only four races remain after that — could potentially lay the groundwork to determine which driver ultimately winds up winning the championship.

“We’ve gotten ourselves into the championship fight, but it’s still a little early to be counting points,” Power said. “We just need to keep doing what we have been and let the points manage themselves.”

On paper, Pagenaud has a slight edge at the 2.258-mile natural terrain road course in Lexington, Ohio: five starts, three podium finishes (including a runner-up in the 2013 race at Mid-Ohio).

“I always look forward to competing at Mid-Ohio,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a classic event for the Verizon IndyCar series.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some success there over the years in both IndyCar and sports cars.”

Power, meanwhile, has an equally respectable record at Mid-Ohio: seven starts, two podiums (both runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2012) and two poles.

“I really enjoy racing at Mid-Ohio,” Power said. “The natural terrain creates a fast, yet technical, circuit.

“It is not a track that I’ve won at before, so this would be a great time to do that and we’ll need to work hard to accomplish that.”

Added Pagenaud, “The No. 22 team tested there last week (July 21) and we were pleased at the end of the day. We went through our list of tests to experiment, which will lead us in a good direction for the race weekend. We’re all ready to go.”

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Formula 1 chief’s mother-in-law missing in Brazil

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 10:  F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone looks on in the paddock during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazilian police say they are investigating the apparent disappearance of the mother-in-law of Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone.

A police official speaking on the condition of anonymity tells The Associated Press that authorities are trying to find 67-year-old Aparecida Schunck. The official has knowledge of the investigation but is not allowed to speak publicly.

Several Brazilian news outlets have reported that Schunck was kidnapped in Sao Paulo on Friday. However, the police official said Wednesday that investigators are looking into other possibilities as well as kidnapping, though he would not specify.

Friends of Ecclestone’s wife Fabiana Flosi, reached by the AP, declined comment. Formula 1 did not return messages seeking comment.

Schunck is Flosi’s mother. Ecclestone met Flosi at a Brazilian Grand Prix and married her in 2012.

Acura NSX GT3 confirms U.S. public test debut, Kox at Mid-Ohio

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Photo: Acura
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Acura has confirmed the first portion of its program for its new-for-2017 Acura NSX GT3, with a test program announced to run before this weekend’s races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

“It will make its public testing debut Thursday and Friday,” HPD president Art St. Cyr said during a teleconference. “First with the promoter test session in the morning, as well as Friday’s World Challenge GT practice session (4:15 p.m. ET and local time).

“We also want to announce Peter Kox will be the NSX GT3 development driver. He’s already given us great feedback. Has driven lots of GT3 cars. Peter will drive in both practice and test sessions this weekend.

“He’s contracted through RealTime Racing – more than 20-year partner – they’re the team currently campaigning the TLX-GT.

“Way back in March when we debuted NSX GT3, it was our intention to seek FIA homologation, and campaign it in 2017… we are on track to make those targets.

“The car that will be shown is a development car. This is not the final version.

“So far our testing program in U.S. has been testing in Europe and Japan as well. First time here at Mid-Ohio.

“We want to see how our car stacks up against the competition. We’ll send it to Ledoux test for homologation in September.

“The NSX will reside in the RealTime paddock.

“I would be remiss in not thanking the World Challenge series for hosting the NSX, because without their approval, we couldn’t run it on track this weekend.”

Andretti’s Indy Lights trio will test IndyCars at Watkins Glen

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Blackstock (51), Kellett (28) and Stoneman to test IndyCar. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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One of the MS Amlin Andretti FIA Formula E Championship drivers, Robin Frijns, had his first day in an IndyCar last week at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Next month, all three of the team’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers will have their first days in an IndyCar on August 11 at Watkins Glen International.

Dean Stoneman, Dalton Kellett and Shelby Blackstock will step into the No. 28 DHL Honda, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and No. 27 Snapple Honda cars, respectively, for the test. The trio will share with the team’s full-season drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti, while Alexander Rossi will have a full day in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda after also completing a Firestone test there in June.

_9SG4610-LStoneman, who seems determined to graduate into the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017, looks forward to now having an IndyCar outing to join his Formula 1 test for Williams.

“Can’t wait to get into Ryan’s car for the IndyCar test at Watkins Glen. To be there testing at an iconic US circuit will be great.” Stoneman said. “I have been watching the big guys all season so I’m going to enjoy finally testing one.

“I came to Indy Lights with a view of moving up to IndyCar, which has always been the goal that I’m working on for 2017, so the test will give everybody some indication of my ability. In 2010 I was invited to test Williams F1 car in Abu Dhabi and seemed to really impress everyone, so I’m hoping we can do the same sort of job with Andretti as I look to next year.”

Mazda Road to Indy veterans Blackstock and Kellett, meanwhile, will reach the pinnacle of the ladder with their first IndyCar test days. Blackstock has track experience of Watkins Glen in sports cars, albeit not on the repaved surface.

04CJ0415-L“I have a lot of history at Watkins Glen and it brings back a lot of great memories just saying the name,” said Blackstock. “Seven years ago I went to The Glen as part of the Jim Click’s Mustang Challenge team as a crew member. It was the first road course race I had ever been to and it was an eye opener. I did every job possible on the team in one weekend, but that’s where my journey at The Glen (and in racing) started.

“Over the years, I’ve been a crew member, raced Skip Barber and CTSCC (Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge) there and now several years later after entering the track for the first time, I finally get to do my first Indy car test there. Words can’t describe how excited I am for this opportunity to finally get to drive my dream car. This is my fifth year at Andretti Autosport after completing the entire MRTI (Mazda Road To Indy) program with them and now finally getting to test one of their Indy cars! I can’t thank Michael and Andretti Autosport enough for giving me this opportunity and I can’t wait to get on track!”

2B3A0687-LKellett added, “I am extremely excited for my first Indy car test and I am very grateful to do so with Andretti Autosport. There are going to be differences between the Indy Lights car and the Indy car for me to adapt to. I expect the biggest adjustments will be getting used to the braking and cornering performance.

“The Indy car is going to be much more physically demanding, but I have been training hard and I feel like I am prepared. I’m also looking forward to learning the pit procedures and feeling the increase in power. I haven’t raced or tested at The Glen so this will be a complete learning experience for me, with a new car and new track. I am happy to be able to learn from and work with Andretti Autosport for this amazing opportunity.”