(AP Photo/NHRA, Jerry Foss)

Crampton 100th different NHRA Top Fuel winner; Pedregon (FC), Coughlin (PS), Hines (PSM) also win at Englishtown

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Richie Crampton claimed his first career Top Fuel victory, becoming the 100th different winner in the category, at the 45th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals on Sunday.

Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were respective winners at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

Crampton powered his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster to a 3.819-second pass at 320.51 mph to defeat Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta in the final round. The victory came during the Australian’s ninth career start after replacing Morgan Lucas in the offseason and only a week after Crampton and his girlfriend welcomed the birth of their first child.

“This is all surreal right now,” Crampton said. “I’m really just living the dream. I know that sounds cliché, but I’m just lucky to be in the position I’m at in my personal life and my career.”

Crampton was the No. 2 qualifier for the event, his career-best starting spot. The win was extra sweet given Crampton’s milestone achievement.

“I had no idea coming into this race that somebody could possibly be the 100th new winner in Top Fuel, but it’s pretty special to get that particular point on the list,” Crampton said. “You think about how many great drivers there are on that particular list, and it’s icing on the cake for me there.”

Kalitta was appearing in his fifth final of the season in his Mac Tools dragster. Despite the defeat, Kalitta increased his points lead over second place Antron Brown to 103 points.

Pedregon was the class of the Funny Car field all weekend, going from No. 1 qualifier to the race victory with a performance of 4.126 at 301.33 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry over Del Worsham in his DHL Camry in the final. The win was a relief for Pedregon, whose team has struggled early this season.

“It was a tremendous points day,” said Pedregon. “To say I’m excited and happy would be an understatement, but I also feel relieved a little bit. We’ve dug ourselves a pretty good hole this year.”

The win was Pedregon’s 35th of his career and first of the season. With the victory, Pedregon tied NHRA legend Don Prudhomme for fourth on the all-time Funny Car wins list.

“Prudhomme is my hero, and it means a lot [to tie him],” Pedregon said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve had plenty of opportunities, but I think my biggest accomplishment is the fact that I have been doing it so long in different scenarios. To be able to do this at this level and maintain it 20 years later means everything to me.”

Coughlin secured his second Pro Stock win of the season and 58th of his career by defeating Greg Anderson in the final round with a 6.510 at 213.94 in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart.

“We had the kind of conditions that Pro Stock cars love today with a great barometer and not a cloud in the sky but you had to work for it,” Coughlin said. “They gave us enough time to figure it out and we had a great day.”

Coughlin, the defending and five-time world champ, has reached the final in the last three events, also winning Atlanta and finishing runner-up in Topeka. He beat Anderson’s Summit Racing Chevy Camaro in both finals this season.

Erica Enders-Stevens had a great weekend performance-wise in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro as she reset both ends of the Pro Stock national record with her 6.464 second ET and 215.55 mph speed.

Hines defeated Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec to take the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory. It was the second win for Hines at Raceway Park.

“We are back,” Hines said. “I think we put an exclamation point on that this weekend. We’ve been digging the last year and a half to get back to where we were. I’ve always said that racing gets in the way of our R&D and this winter we had a chance to get a lot of work done and we’re starting to reap the benefits.”

A three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion, Hines recorded his second win of the season and 34th of his career. He leaves Englishtown having increased his points lead.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues in Bristol, Tenn., with the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, June 13-15.

 

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Here are Sunday’s final results from the 45th Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the ninth of 24 races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel — Richie Crampton, 3.819 seconds, 320.51 mph  def. Doug Kalitta, 3.848 seconds, 317.34 mph.

Funny Car — Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.126, 301.33  def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.189, 296.70.

Pro Stock — Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.510, 213.94  def. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 10.314, 88.65.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.828, 196.56  def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.837, 196.30.

Pro Modified — Von Smith, Chevy Camaro, 5.966, 241.58  def. Jason Hamstra, Ford Mustang, 9.861, 91.12.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Here’s the final finishing order (1-16) at the 45th Toyota NHRA Summernationals:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Richie Crampton; 2.  Doug Kalitta; 3.  Morgan Lucas; 4.  Shawn Langdon; 5.  Tony Schumacher; 6.  Bob Vandergriff; 7.  Brittany Force; 8.  J.R. Todd; 9.  Leah Pritchett; 10.  Dom Lagana; 11.  Antron Brown; 12.  Spencer Massey; 13.  Steve Torrence; 14.  Khalid alBalooshi; 15.  Clay Millican; 16.  Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Cruz Pedregon; 2.  Del Worsham; 3.  Robert Hight; 4.  Jack Beckman; 5.  Alexis DeJoria; 6.  Matt Hagan; 7.  Tim Wilkerson; 8.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 9.  Courtney Force; 10.  Ron Capps; 11.  Chad Head; 12.  John Force; 13.  Tony Pedregon; 14.  Jeff Arend; 15.  Terry Haddock; 16.  Bob Tasca III.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jeg Coughlin; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Dave Connolly; 4.  Rodger Brogdon; 5.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 6.  Jason Line; 7.  Shane Gray; 8.  Chris McGaha; 9.  Vincent Nobile; 10.  John Gaydosh Jr; 11.  Allen Johnson; 12.  Val Smeland; 13.  Larry Morgan; 14.  V. Gaines; 15.  Kenny Delco; 16.  Jonathan Gray.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Eddie Krawiec; 3.  Hector Arana Jr; 4.  Matt Smith; 5.  Michael Ray; 6.  John Hall; 7.  Jerry Savoie; 8.  Chaz Kennedy; 9.  Steve Johnson; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck; 11.  Angie Smith; 12.  LE Tonglet; 13.  Hector Arana; 14.  Shawn Gann; 15.  Jim Underdahl; 16.  Adam Arana.

 

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Here are the updated point standings (top 10) in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel: 1.  Doug Kalitta, 809; 2.  Antron Brown, 706; 3.  Shawn Langdon, 638; 4.  Spencer Massey, 598; 5.  Steve Torrence, 580; 6.  Khalid alBalooshi, 503; 7.  Tony Schumacher, 495; 8.  Brittany Force, 462; 9.  Richie Crampton, 433; 10.  J.R. Todd, 392.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 847; 2.  John Force, 601; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 564; 4.  Del Worsham, 535; 5.  Ron Capps, 534; 6.  Courtney Force, 527; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 508; 8.  Cruz Pedregon, 506; 9.  Jack Beckman, 480; 10.  Matt Hagan, 454.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 791; 2.  (tie) Jeg Coughlin, 668; Allen Johnson, 668; 4.  Jason Line, 623; 5.  Shane Gray, 582; 6.  Vincent Nobile, 563; 7.  Dave Connolly, 535; 8.  V. Gaines, 456; 9.  Chris McGaha, 427; 10.  Rodger Brogdon, 355.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Andrew Hines, 406; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 382; 3.  John Hall, 285; 4.  Hector Arana Jr, 263; 5.  Scotty Pollacheck, 252; 6.  Michael Ray, 235; 7.  Matt Smith, 206; 8.  Steve Johnson, 187; 9.  (tie) Hector Arana, 168; Chaz Kennedy, 168.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Here are final round-by-round results from the 45th Toyota NHRA Summernationals:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Bob Vandergriff, 4.476, 219.01 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 6.402, 130.57; Richie Crampton, 3.774, 316.82 def. Dom Lagana, 3.906, 312.71; Morgan Lucas, 3.834, 276.52 def. Steve Torrence, 5.438, 124.48; Shawn Langdon, 3.801, 320.58 def. Terry McMillen, 8.868, 85.83; Doug Kalitta, 3.785, 323.89 def. Clay Millican, 6.509, 97.26; Brittany Force, 3.789, 326.24 def. Spencer Massey, 4.130, 232.27; J.R. Todd, 3.820, 319.14 def. Leah Pritchett, 3.823, 320.51; Tony Schumacher, 3.782, 325.92 def. Antron Brown, 3.985, 270.37;

QUARTERFINALS — Langdon, 3.806, 322.27 def. Vandergriff, 3.880, 313.66; Lucas, 3.846, 311.99 def. Force, 4.107, 253.18; Kalitta, 3.822, 317.05 def. Schumacher, 3.827, 319.14; Crampton, 4.090, 261.07 def. Todd, 4.762, 209.04;

SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 4.375, 249.12 def. Lucas, 6.032, 139.07; Crampton, 4.120, 293.92 def. Langdon, 6.356, 122.97;

FINAL — Crampton, 3.819, 320.51 def. Kalitta, 3.848, 317.34.

 

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.129, 307.79 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 8.909, 76.61; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.512, 227.08 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.602, 213.60; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.524, 230.45 def. Terry Haddock, Chevy Impala, 5.466, 144.88; Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.120, 297.22 def. John Force, Mustang, 4.354, 281.60; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.067, 306.33 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.177, 283.61; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.064, 311.56 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 5.109, 164.47; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.073, 301.33 def. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.116, 312.78; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.069, 313.58 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.153, 300.86;

QUARTERFINALS — C. Pedregon, 5.183, 216.41 def. Johnson Jr., 7.265, 113.14; Worsham, 4.168, 301.94 def. Wilkerson, 4.696, 188.36; Beckman, 4.133, 308.50 def. Hagan, 4.121, 300.60; Hight, 4.086, 306.33 def. DeJoria, 4.107, 308.07;

SEMIFINALS — C. Pedregon, 4.593, 234.33 def. Beckman, 6.381, 153.16; Worsham, 4.178, 298.73 def. Hight, 5.753, 129.65;

FINAL — C. Pedregon, 4.126, 301.33 def. Worsham, 4.189, 296.70.

 

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.554, 213.43 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 27.572, 25.50; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 7.097, 210.24 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 7.273, 205.88; Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 10.769, 144.91 def. Kenny Delco, Chevy Cobalt, 16.303, 58.06; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 7.788, 170.82 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 9.916, 101.76; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.500, 214.45 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 7.311, 202.42; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.543, 214.01 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 12.730, 68.44; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.519, 213.84 def. Allen Johnson, Dart, 7.808, 133.50; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.464, 214.89 def. Val Smeland, Cobalt, 8.972, 107.66;

QUARTERFINALS — Coughlin, 6.586, 213.91 def. S. Gray, 6.749, 212.66; Anderson, 7.906, 170.92 def. McGaha, 8.272, 189.26; Brogdon, 6.558, 214.04 def. Line, 6.599, 213.60; Connolly, 6.539, 213.91 def. Enders-Stevens, 6.509, 214.66;

SEMIFINALS — Anderson, 6.535, 214.25 def. Brogdon, 15.406, 54.34; Coughlin, 6.524, 213.60 def. Connolly, 6.535, 214.01;

FINAL — Coughlin, 6.510, 213.94 def. Anderson, 10.314, 88.65.

 

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.826, 196.33 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.845, 195.39; Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.851, 194.16 def. Hector Arana, Buell, foul; Michael Ray, Buell, 6.831, 196.19 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.851, 191.48; John Hall, Buell, 6.800, 196.13 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.882, 194.49; Matt Smith, Buell, 6.834, 196.02 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 16.139, 44.40; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.774, 197.74 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, broke; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.798, 197.91 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.867, 194.63; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.770, 198.23 def. Adam Arana, Buell, broke;

QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.848, 195.99 def. Hall, 6.837, 194.77; Krawiec, 6.750, 198.90 def. Savoie, 6.860, 197.31; Arana Jr, 6.790, 198.47 def. Kennedy, 7.089, 190.35; Hines, 6.762, 197.65 def. Ray, 6.836, 195.11;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.807, 195.62 def. Arana Jr, 6.827, 198.09; Krawiec, 6.801, 198.23 def. M. Smith, 7.225, 152.09;

FINAL — Hines, 6.828, 196.56 def. Krawiec, 6.837, 196.30.

IndyCar: Delayed Texas race leaves Gabby Chaves in a good position

Gabby Chaves is ready to go in the resumption of the IndyCar race at Texas this Saturday.
(Photo: IndyCar/Joe Skibinski)
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Some people look at the glass half-empty, others look at it half-full.

And then there’s Verizon IndyCar Series driver Gabby Chaves – he’s looking at the glass totally full, as he’s back in action for the first time since Iowa on July 10.

As IndyCar returns to Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday to complete the race that was suspended June 12 due to weather, Chaves put the 2 ½ month delay in one of the best perspectives we’ve seen or heard this week.

While some drivers aren’t necessarily happy that the series had to go back to TMS for a re-do of sorts – picking up on Lap 72 when the scheduled 248-lap race restarts – it feels a lot longer to Chaves.

“I went into this race at 22 years old and I’ll finish it at 23, so hopefully that will be some good luck,” Chaves said.

So, the driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda of Dale Coyne Racing will make his seventh start of the season. His two best showings thus far have been close to top-10s: 12th and 13th in both Belle Isle races.

In his most recent race, at Iowa, he finished 17th.

But Chaves has high hopes for the return to Texas – even if he’s a year older since the last time he was there (birthday was July 7). If you see him licking his lips, it’s because he’s thirsty for a win and if things go the way he hopes, that’s a definite possibility.

When the race was red-flagged after 71 laps on June 12 (after the original scheduled race on June 11 was, alas, rained out), Chaves was running sixth in the 22-car field.

So, that’s where he’ll start when the race resumes this Saturday. And even though he’s endured a lengthy hiatus, just like every one of the other 21 drivers in the race, Chaves is ready to potentially save his best for last – the last oval race of the season, that is.

“We’re definitely in a position where we can actually go for the win,” Chaves said. “So, I’m very excited and very much looking forward to finishing out the oval calendar on a very high note for the team and myself.

“It’s always tricky to get back in the car, especially that we will only have 10 minutes to get sorted and get running before going straight into the race.

“You have to be committed and trust in the abilities that you have and trust in what the team gives you and that’s what I’ll be doing.”

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Mark Miles checks in after IndyCar’s 2017 schedule release

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Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, checked in with reporters during a teleconference to discuss the release of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. He also checked in on NASCAR AMERICA this evening on NBCSN with Krista Voda (video above).

Here’s some of the highlights:

On getting the schedule out so soon

“Well, we thought it was important. You know, if you’re committed to making the foundation of a current year the bulk of the schedule the next year, then we didn’t see any reason we couldn’t do it, and I think it’s important from the point of view of the next step, which is careful tailoring, crafting of the television schedule. But also for the tracks; here happily we are in August, and we’re announcing a schedule, and they have a year to prepare.

“We kind of put the stake in the ground that we’d get this out in August, and I think we’re still in August, so we’re delighted to have met the goal.”

On further schedule growth

“Some of you are aware of and have written about it, and there were options to be sure, lots at the start, narrowed to some finalists, and we think there will be even more for next year.

“Our philosophy about growth is careful, managed growth where we add to fill in gaps on the schedule, and those to me looking at next year, we still believe there may be an international opportunity at the very beginning of the year to be abroad, and that will do lots of things for us if we can find a great opportunity for ’18 in February. And then there may be one more opportunity to add during what we currently have kind of staked out as the heart of the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in North America.

“We think about all the factors from the balance we want to try to keep in terms of the type of racing, which we’ve already talked about, in terms of urban versus more park-like as we have now in so many of our races, Midwest versus other regions of the country. We’re pretty Midwest based, and I think there’s an appetite west, northwest, east or southeast in this country, urban versus more rural.

“So all those things go into it, and I think we just look at the options on a case-by-case basis and try to make the best calls.

“Fundamentally, the most important thing, irrespective of what kind of track and where it is in the country or the world, we want races like we have for the most part where the race is an event that captures the imagination of the community.”

On whether 2017 and 2018 schedules could have been released together

“I loved the idea of putting out the ’17 and ’18 calendars at the same time, and we were really close to doing it, and that’s exemplified by the fact that I’ve already told you that I expect everybody that’s on the calendar for ’17 to be on the calendar for ’18.  We do think there’s still some prospects that need a little more time to be fully developed for both international and other domestic opportunities for ’18. So we decided not to go.

“But saying all that, I don’t think we have to wait until August of ’17 to release the ’18 calendar. I can’t give you the date on which we’ll do it, but I do expect that it’ll be even earlier before ’18 than it was before ’17.”

On why Phoenix shifted from the start of April to the end of April

“When Phoenix came on for this year, we knew that in ’17 Phoenix would host the NCAA Final Four, and we agreed with them that it’s better to avoid that in that community. That’s a lot of fan choice and a lot of focus from the local media.

“That’s the reason that it changed from ’16 to ’17. I think that makes sense. And I think the schedule still works fine for our competitors.

“We are looking at what that might look like in ’18, and whether it stays more or less where it is or whether it goes back to — I guess we can’t call it the traditional date since it’s been one year, but the ’16 date, and that’s a decision we’ll make obviously in the context of putting out the ’18 calendar.”

On Auto Club Speedway, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Portland

“I think we talked a lot about Fontana about a year or so ago where their needs in terms of climate and time of day and even the sunset, which affects our drivers’ ability to be safe and run a great race, which affects the time of the race, which affects broadcasts in eastern time. It’s all related, so that one we just couldn’t sort out.

“[Mazda Raceway] Laguna Seca, interesting track, race history. We are kind of in that part of the world if you consider Sonoma northern Cal along with Laguna. Sonoma seems to be kind of solidifying a place for us as the season finale, which we love, and I think our fans and our stakeholders appreciate.

“Portland has a great history and is a part of — further north. That’s not northern Cal, and is an interesting region for us. So I don’t know. I don’t know that you’ve heard the end of the possibilities for Portland.”

On the broadcast partners and start times components

“I think [releasing the calendar now] it’s important from the point of view of the next step, which is careful tailoring, crafting of the television schedule.

“The other thing is the further out we get, the harder it is to really fine-tune the television broadcast schedule [for 2018], and that matters to us. As you know, we’ve made real progress with our broadcast partners in finding optimal broadcast times, which help us attract more viewers. We want to continue that focus. The further out you get, the harder it is to pick the exact date when you know a little less about their other programming, so we’ll take a little more time.

“Obviously as I think I may have mentioned before, we have to work with our broadcast partners to find the right balance between the show, the event on-site for the fans who buy tickets and come out, and the fans who will tune in on television. One of the things that we’ve found is that it’s better for race fans I think generally if we can minimize overlaps with NASCAR coverage. I’m not in any way defensive about saying that. We think there are a meaningful number of fans of both series, and we’d like for all of them to be able to watch both kinds of racing.

“It’s really helpful in the second half of the season that the same broadcasters [on NBC] are programming both NASCAR and IndyCar, so it’s in everybody’s interest to maximize the windows for both, and I think that’s happened, and you’ve probably seen kind of the add-up of that, the significant reduction in the number of races where there are overlapping telecasts and the number of hours. It’s much, much less than it was even three years ago. I think that helps all race fans.

“And ABC has worked with us, as well. You’re always trying to minimize key conflicts in the sports horizon. NBC’s objective or one of them is to be the motorsports platform, much as they’ve done in golf, and they have grown as a cable provider, and they’ve grown their audience for motorsports, and certainly they’ve been helpful in the growth of our television audience.”

On Stephen Starks’, VP of Promoter Relations, role in the process

“Stephen has brought great, fresh thinking about all this. You know, together we can focus on the few things we want to do better, and timeliness was part of it, the things we’ve been talking about, so he does deserve huge props for driving this process inside IndyCar, being I think a great resource to those who wanted to be considered to join the series and extending the agreements for those who have been on and now will be on with certainty longer. He spent a little bit of time with us and our legal department, so he understands that side of the business, and now he’s really gone to town, and I think the future is bright not just in terms of the schedule-making process, but our ambition is to add more value to the promoters that we have.

“When I look at other leagues, the NBA has a great team-services group, for example, and they’re able to share best practices in a serious way that adds to the value the league provides to their franchises.

“When one of them figures out something that helps them promote ticket sales and get ticket sales in earlier, they all know about it, and I think we can, under Stephen’s leadership, add that kind of value to our promoters, as well.

“I can see his head swelling. We may have a hard time getting him on the plane on the way back.”

Pagenaud ready to get back on the horse and leave Pocono crash in dust

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(Photo: IndyCar/Bret Kelley)
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IndyCar racing has a lot of similarities with horse racing. They are both built on speed and elapsed time.

And let’s not forget the most obvious: horsepower.

So, it’s not too much of a stretch to look at the plight of current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud.

Like a jockey or a cowboy, Pagenaud was thrown from his mount this past Monday when he was involved in a solo wreck during the weather-delayed ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

The wreck was Pagenaud’s first DNF of the season, a season that has had him in the points lead since the second race (Phoenix) and also compiled four wins and seven podium finishes in the first 13 races.

At the same time, Penske Racing teammate Will Power significantly closed what had been a 58-point lead by Pagenaud coming into Pocono to just a 20-point edge over Power, who not only won the race, but has won four of the last six (and finished runner-up in the other two).

MORE: Pocono provides latest pendulum swing between Power and Pagenaud

But, once again like a jockey or cowboy who has been thrown from his horse, Pagenaud has picked himself up, dusted himself off and is prepared to do battle with his teammate and roughly a handful of others who are still mathematically eligible to win the 2016 IndyCar championship.

Pagenaud has built his career on looking forward and forgetting what’s in the past. And that’s exactly his philosophy about leaving Pocono and preparing for Saturday night’s resumed Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Pocono didn’t go very well, but that happens,” Pagenaud says. “I wish it hadn’t, but we have to move on and put it behind us.

“The Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevy will (re)start 15th, but that’s not indicative of the car we had or will have.”

As for the tightened margin between himself and Power, Pagenaud has been in this kind of horserace plenty of times in his career.

He knows what to expect in the next three races. He saw how Juan Pablo Montoya topped the standings last season for 15 straight races, only to lose it in the season finale to Scott Dixon.

Pagenaud hasn’t come this far to let the lead slip through his reins. Whether it’s himself, Power or perhaps one of the others still in striking distance, Pagenaud is well aware that it’s anyone’s championship still to win.

Obviously, he hopes it will ultimately be his.

“There’s a lot of racing left,” Pagenaud said. “It’s going to be an exciting race. We don’t lose sight of the big picture, but that’s not the strategy.

“We got to where we are by attacking and being on the offensive. That’s not going to change. We’ll focus on winning races.”

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DiZinno: IndyCar’s 2017 schedule provides clear long-term road map

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Photo: IndyCar
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I thought the same things as you when I saw the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule for 2017 (and to a near extent, 2018) released on Thursday, August 25.

Thought number one: The IndyCar schedule? In August?!?

Thought number two: Where’s the next big street race or international race?

Thought number three: There can’t be… date equity… can there?

For once, going with the more traditional route of keeping the same 16 races as in 2016 and adding another oval (yes, selfishly, I wish it was Milwaukee, but Gateway’s been pushing hard for this for years) is a brilliant masterstroke for IndyCar, because it isn’t about the negativity… or the question marks.

Every year, it’s seemed IndyCar’s schedule would be one of the last ones out, and there’d always be that one or two races you’d look at with a skeptical eye.

Then you’d see the ‘ol infamous asterisk top right of the last letter with the guide at the bottom confirming that asterisk meant, “To be confirmed.”

None of that goes on now with the 2017 schedule, and with Hulman &. Co. CEO Mark Miles confirming Thursday all events are also locked into 2018, IndyCar has a clearly defined road map and product platform for its events for the first time in years.

“We thought it was important to get it out now,” Miles said during a teleconference. “If you’re committed to making the bulk of schedule the next year, it’s important for the next step, which is careful tailoring and crafting of the television schedule.

“But we’re in August; we’re announcing a schedule and they have a year to prepare. Every promoter would relish the chance to sell next year’s tickets at this year’s race.

“For promoters, for fans, for our broadcasters, for our teams as they prepare, and this plus the test schedule that will come out… the sooner the better.

“We said we’d get this out in August… we’re still in August.”

This is a far cry from years past and the litany of races that have been on again, off again, or dropped over the last few years.

NOLA, Fontana, Milwaukee, Houston, Sao Paulo, Baltimore, Edmonton, Loudon, Motegi, Kentucky and Las Vegas have all dropped off just since 2011, and then add in that Boston, another Brazil and China races were canceled before they ever occurred.

Suddenly it seems as though IndyCar has rediscovered itself from a scheduling standpoint; returns to tracks where the series left but then came back make a greater impact than first-time or other venues where the history isn’t quite there.

Phoenix came back after more than a decade, Road America in nearly a decade and Watkins Glen will come back for the first time in six years in a little over a week. Road America was incredibly well-received, Phoenix was positive and Watkins Glen has generated early rave reviews.

At-track attendance has been an interesting talking point this year and Graham Rahal has mentioned to me on numerous occasions it’s been up, and he and other drivers have taken notice. INDYCAR confirmed it has at six events in its 2017 schedule release.

Knowing when events are from a scheduling standpoint and knowing there’s not the year-on-year risk of them falling off helps fans better plan their schedules.

It also helps from an overall business perspective; companies are in the process of finalizing their marketing budgets in August and this allows teams to go out and hustle if they still can at a much earlier date.

Miles also strongly suggested the 2018 schedule – given all tracks for this year are on board – will be out even earlier next year.

“I loved the idea of releasing ’17 and ’18 at the same time, and we were very close to doing that,” Miles said. “Some prospects need to develop for international and other domestic opportunities for ’18. But I don’t think we have to wait of August ’17 to release the ’18 calendar. I’d expect it even earlier before ’18, than it was before ’17.”

Credit INDYCAR and Stephen Starks, VP of Promoter Relations; additionally, credit all the track promoters.

“He has brought great fresh thinking to [the process],” Miles said of Starks. “We can focus on the few things we want to do better. He does deserve huge props for driving this process inside INDYCAR.”

And then there’s the Jay Frye factor. Frye’s presence in INDYCAR is generally, if not exclusively, regarded as a net positive thus far.

Even though he’s been moved from the commercial onto the operational side of the business now as President of Competition and Operations, his high approval rating in the paddock cannot be understated in terms of how INDYCAR’s schedule has evolved to a more solid state rather than the fluid one it’s been in the years previous.

And he says so with a smile, too. He and I exchanged a good laugh at Pocono last weekend when I asked about the schedule and he replied, “And hey, not only are we gonna have a schedule, but we’ll actually run all the races we’re scheduled to!”

We both laughed, but the fact such a line is a laughing matter speaks to how chaotic the IndyCar schedule has been over the last several years.

For once, it appears that the future IndyCar schedules are no laughing matter indeed.