NNS: Hornish leads rain-delayed practice at Road America

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Today was supposed to have two practice sessions for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Road America, but heavy rains in the morning delayed proceedings and ultimately caused NASCAR to hold one two-hour practice on the giant, 4.048-mile circuit in Wisconsin.

Goodyear rain tires are on hand for teams, but series officials had indicated that practice was unlikely to occur in wet conditions if tomorrow’s Gardner Denver 200 was to be held in the dry.

The session eventually got underway around 2:15 p.m. ET and ended with Sam Hornish Jr. taking the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the top of the time sheets ahead of Richard Childress Racing’s Brian Scott and Alex Tagliani, who is driving for Team Penske this weekend.

Hornish, who finished second last weekend at Michigan, posted a fast lap of 108.189 miles per hour to claim top honors by a smidge over Scott and his top lap of 108.183 mph. Tagliani, in Penske’s No. 22 Ford, was not far behind with his best of 108.064 mph.

Regan Smith, the series points leader, was fourth-quickest (107.832) followed by Brendan Gaughan in fifth (107.627).

As for Smith’s JR Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, he did not post a time during the session due to an engine change in his No. 9 NAPA Chevy.

Elliott is working with Ernie Cope atop the pit box as crew chief this weekend. His regular CC, Greg Ives, is back home with his wife as they welcome their third child.

Qualifying will take place tomorrow at 11:40 a.m. ET, followed by the race itself at 2:45 p.m. ET. A chance of rain is again possible for tomorrow with temperatures around the low to mid 70s.

Danica Patrick to sign off driving career at 2018 Indy 500

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With her full-time career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now coming to an end, following the end of the 2017 season this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick is embarking on a new path in 2018 with the two biggest 500-mile races in North America.

Patrick confirmed plans to participate in North America’s most marquee 500-mile races, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, during a press conference today in Miami. A team for the Indianapolis 500 has not been determined, and her options for the Daytona 500 are limited to NASCAR teams with three or fewer full-time cars, because a four-car full-time team cannot enter a fifth for the Daytona 500.

Patrick ended her full-time career in IndyCar after 2011 to head to NASCAR. She drove 10 races in 2012 before her first full Cup season in 2013, where she won the pole for that year’s Daytona 500 and ultimately finished eighth.

Her Cup career has seen her finish between 24th and 28th in points with seven career top-10 finishes, all between sixth and 10th place. She ranks 27th heading into this week’s finale too.

It was her IndyCar career though where she first entered the national conversation after a few years of apprenticeship driving for Bobby Rahal’s Barber Dodge and Formula Atlantic teams. A fourth place finish in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 with a number of laps led launched her into the racing stratosphere and helped produce the Indianapolis 500’s biggest rating in years.

Ultimately her best finish in the ‘500 in seven starts was third place in 2009, behind Helio Castroneves and the late Dan Wheldon.

She won at Motegi, 2008, for her first and only win in IndyCar.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 29: Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team GoDaddy Dallara Honda, makes a pit stop during the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

A visibly emotional Patrick announced this was the end of her full-time driving career to kick off the press conference, but switched to her future plans once she got through the opening remarks.

Patrick “never thought” she’d do the Indianapolis 500 again but when tossing around future ideas, the concept of running both Daytona and Indianapolis came up.

“I never thought I would do it. I always thought never, but I never said never. Here I am,” she said.

“Out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ That was really the first sort of idea that got me excited. Let’s do it. I called Haley (Moore, longtime PR rep). What did I just say I would do? She said, ‘Hell yes that’s a good idea.’

“I’m still surprised.”

Patrick will need to participate in the Indianapolis 500 refresher program for drivers that aren’t full-time drivers, so that will provide her a couple hours additional track time before practice opens to the full field in mid-May.

The new 2018 Dallara universal body kit comes into being this year too, and Patrick thinks she has improved as a driver over the last six seasons to be able to come back.

“(Going) 240… it’ll be no problem,” she deadpanned. “It’ll take a bit of adjusting. It’s different for sure. But I think I’m a better driver now. It’ll take a bit of acclimating. Yeah, I would like to get in a car before I get to Indy.”

Patrick said running the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 “could” occur with her same teams she last ran with full-time, Stewart-Haas Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively. But her options remain open for both.