Faced with the prospect of not making it to the finish line thanks to, of all things, a hot dog wrapper on his grille, Brad Keselowski decided to gamble on Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Keselowski held a narrow lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. with five laps to go but was also driving a rapidly overheating car. Spotting the lapped car of Danica Patrick, he tried to use the airflow around her car to knock the wrapper off and get his car cooled down.
But Keselowski lost momentum in the process, and that allowed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take the lead. The Hendrick Motorsports driver would not relinquish it, going on to his second win of 2014.
“I told somebody I felt like I was playing a game of blackjack and I was sitting on 15 and the dealer had a face card,” he said during a teleconference this afternoon.
“If you play by the rules, you should take a card and you should hit, and we did, and we busted. The dealer turns over his card and he was sitting on 15, as well, and so you knew he was going to bust out.
“That’s part of it. That’s the cards we play, and some of racing is always going to be chance, and you have to play it by the odds, and I lost. But that’s just the way it goes.”
From his perspective, what occurred to him at Pocono was simply a move that didn’t pan out.
“I didn’t let Dale go and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to try to cool off my engine,'” he said. “I just didn’t execute the move to try and clean it off, and Dale was close enough to get by me, especially with my engine starting to let go.
“You know, in that sense, I don’t feel like anyone would have done anything different.”
But with Pocono done and dusted, Keselowski is now shifting his focus to racing in his home state of Michigan next weekend.
Considering the overall performance that he and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano have had this season – they have earned three wins between them – he has a reason to be excited about his prospects.
Keselowski has won twice at the Michigan International Speedway in the Nationwide Series, which were emotional experiences for him. But it’s clear that a Cup win at MIS would mean even more.
“I remember that after I won a Nationwide race there, just literally locking myself in the bedroom of my motor home after the race and sitting at the edge of the bed and thinking about how awesome that was and what it meant to me and all those things – and that was a Nationwide race,” he said.
“That wasn’t a Cup race. I can only imagine what it would mean to me at the Cup level. I can tell you it wouldn’t be like any other win.”
Valtteri Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes by topping the third day of Formula 1 pre-season testing as times tumbled at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Bottas split running with new teammate Lewis Hamilton once again on Wednesday in Barcelona, taking the reins of the Mercedes W08 EQ Power+ for the morning session.
The Finn was given the chance to chase fast laps, utilizing the quicker compounds in Pirelli’s range and even getting a run on the ultra-softs.
Bottas turned in a best lap 1:19.705 to finish two-tenths of a second clear at the top of the timesheets, with his time being the fastest of pre-season testing so far.
The time is also just 1.3 seconds off the lap record for an F1 car around the current layout of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, set by Felipe Massa during a test in 2008 during the V8 era.
Ferrari continued its strong start to testing as Sebastian Vettel finished second, completing his fastest lap on the soft compound tire and also dipping below the 1:20s mark. Daniel Ricciardo was third for Red Bull, 1.2 seconds further back.
Jolyon Palmer enjoyed an impressive run-out for Renault to finish fourth-fastest, although his running was interrupted in the morning by a spin at Turn 2 after getting on the power too early. Teammate Nico Hulkenberg was fifth, the pair having split the running on Wednesday.
Marcus Ericsson finished the day sixth for Sauber ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who enjoyed his first extended run in the VF-17 car after seeing teammate Kevin Magnussen take the opening two days of running. Lewis Hamilton followed in eighth for Mercedes.
Lance Stroll’s steep learning curve in F1 continued as he suffered two spins on Wednesday, the second of which caused damage to his Williams FW40 and ended the team’s running early (much as it did on Tuesday). The Canadian racked up 98 laps in total.
Fernando Alonso had a more productive day for McLaren after engine woes limited its running on the first two days, the Spaniard racking up 72 laps in total en route to P10. Compatriot Carlos Sainz Jr. was 11th for Toro Rosso, with teammate Daniil Kvyat 13th. The pair were split by Force India junior Alfonso Celis Jr.
Thursday marks the final day of the first pre-season test in Barcelona, and is set to see the track be artificially dampened to allow Pirelli to test its wet-weather tire compounds.
There’s two notable absences on what is otherwise an updated entry list that goes as expected.
The first is in the engine column for Scuderia Toro Rosso. The team will run a Renault power unit for the STR12 chassis, but is yet to come up with a non-Renault badge for it, as they’ve been keen to do and to match the Red Bull Racing team which badges its Renaults as TAG Heuer.
Felix Rosenqvist will add Super Formula to his glittering and diverse range of machinery he’s raced in, having been confirmed in the Japanese open-wheel series overnight. He’ll race the No. 7 Toyota for Snoco Team Le Mans.
The Swede will be an intriguing driver to watch as one of six non-Japanese drivers in the series. His Toyota teammate at Snoco is Kazuya Oshima.
The non-Japanese drivers this year are Rosenqvist, the French Red Bull Junior and GP2 Pierre Gasly, New Zealander Nick Cassidy, German multiple-race Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer, English Nissan protege Jann Mardenborough and Indian ex-F1 driver Narain Karthikeyan.
Rosenqvist races full-time with Mahindra Racing in FIA Formula E and within the last year-plus, has raced in DTM, the Blancpain GT Sprint series, ADAC GT Masters, Indy Lights and the Macau Grand Prix, tested an IndyCar and was meant to race a PC class car at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The two protagonists for the 2016 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires championship, Aaron Telitz and Pato O’Ward, settled who’d win the Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship in September at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
While the graduation was known in September, it’s taken until today before all the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed on the formal confirmation of Telitz’s seat in the No. 9 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda, thus ending months of informal chatter about the seat and even a quick inside joke that Telitz’s team was “Real Big Secret,” a joke that spread to social media.
In another humorous twist, O’Ward, who battled Telitz all season with Team Pelfrey a year ago, has been confirmed for his own step up to Indy Lights in the No. 3 Pelfrey entry on exactly the same day. The 17-year-old Mexican will join Pelfrey’s Indy Lights program for this week’s Spring Training test at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course and the season opener at St. Petersburg.
Clearly, the two drivers still can’t get away from each other after pushing each other all last year in Pro Mazda.
The long and short of that background is that these two will round out the expected field of 15 cars for the season-opening weekend, which is only one car lower than 2016 despite the withdrawal of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and its four cars. Belardi (has grown from two to three cars), Carlin (three to four) and Andretti Autosport (three to four) have all added an extra car to pick up three of the four-ex-Schmidt Peterson cars.
Telitz, the 25-year-old from Rice Lake, Wisconsin, was invited by Brian Belardi’s team to Watkins Glen last fall for the introduction, and completed a comprehensive testing program over the winter – primarily in Florida and also at Gateway Motorsports Park – in preparation for his step up.
“John Brunner, the team’s general manager, and [team owner] Brian Belardi invited me to the IndyCar/Indy Lights race at Watkins Glen last fall before the Pro Mazda season ended,” Telitz said. “I had a head-start in knowing the guys and seeing how the team works and knowing their cars are fast. They won that weekend and then again at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I just really enjoyed how the Belardi guys worked. They were really professional and Brian is from Wisconsin. It’s great to have that home-state connection, as most of my personal supporters are from Wisconsin.”
“All of us at Mazda are thrilled to have Aaron carrying Mazda’s Soul Red color in 2017 with Belardi Auto Racing,” said John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports. “To see a talent like Aaron achieve success in the Mazda Road to Indy is ultimately what the program is all about. When he pulled into victory lane after winning the Pro Mazda Championship last fall, I told Aaron that he needed to savor the moment and remember all of the challenges he faced getting there. We cannot play favorites in the Mazda Road to Indy, but we wish Aaron the very best as he opens this new chapter in his racing career and is one step closer to the Verizon IndyCar series.”
Telitz completes the team’s three-car lineup alongside Santiago Urrutia and Shelby Blackstock, series veterans who shift to Belardi from Schmidt Peterson and Andretti, respectively. Telitz’s additional supporters include Rice Lake Weighing Systems, Rising Star Racing, Morrie’s Chippewa Valley Mazda, Styled Aesthetic, Fred Thomas Resort, Team USA Scholarship, among others.
O’Ward is the third consecutive driver confirmed to a St. Petersburg-only weekend with Team Pelfrey. Scott Hargrove was confirmed for the same role last year with Pelfrey and in 2015 with the team’s former incarnation as 8Star Motorsports. Hargrove continued through the month of May with Pelfrey last year but only raced at St. Petersburg in 2015.
With O’Ward’s eight-race IMSA schedule, there’s only one conflict weekend between PC races and Indy Lights, the weekend of July 8-9. PC races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Indy Lights at Iowa Speedway both on July 9.
Interestingly, O’Ward parlayed a first two weekends-only announced deal into an eventual full-time role with Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda last year, so he’s got experience in succeeding despite no guarantee of further races. As last year, he carries support from Gap Guard and Topo Chico.
“I am back with Team Pelfrey in Indy Lights for the first official Series test and for the first race of the season in St. Petersburg,” said O’Ward, whose teammate is the very experienced Juan Piedrahita. “A big thank you goes to the creator of Gap Guard, better known as Dale Pelfrey, once again for the opportunity and the whole Team Pelfrey crew as well for the continuous support they have given me the last few years.”
“We are very excited to confirm Pato on the Indy Lights front,” added Team Pelfrey IL team manager, Gary Neal. “Not only does this mean we have an exceptionally talented driver, but it’s also great to see the Team Pelfrey ladder system in full swing. We are looking forward to a strong outing at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.”
Three other Mazda Road to Indy signings have come in in the last few days, as well:
Team Pelfrey rounds out its three-car Pro Mazda lineup with Russian driver Nikita Lastochkin and Brazilian driver Carlos Cunha joining the previously announced TJ Fischer, the young Californian. Cunha has Formula 3 Brazil experience while Lastochkin steps up after two years in USF2000.
Exclusive Autosport rounds out its three-car USF2000 lineup with karting veteran Dev Gore joining a pair of third-year drivers in Parker Thompson and Luke Gabin.
Testing continues today and tomorrow at Homestead-Miami Speedway.