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No more Mr. Nice Guy: Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets aggressive and ends up with career-best finish at Sonoma

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You almost have to wonder if Dale Earnhardt Jr. listened to Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” prior to Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway — and took the lyrics to heart.

Earnhardt came into the race never having finished in the top-10 at Sonoma in 14 prior starts.

But Sunday was a completely different story.

Instead of the passive Junior we’ve seen in past races at Sonoma, he got up on the wheel, became aggressive – overly aggressive in some instances (just ask Matt Kenseth) – and wound up with a career-best third-place finish at the twisting and turning road course in California’s wine country.

“Aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us,” Earnhardt said in the post-race press conference. “We came in here and knew we had a good car throughout practice, and I’ve been in the top 10 in a lot of these races with two or three laps to go, but we’ve just never been able to finish.

“So to be clear of the mess and just have an advantage with the tires at the end, there was a lot of confidence, and knowing we were going to be able to wrap it up or feel like we were in good position to wrap it up and really good.  The car was fun to drive all weekend.”

Earnhardt’s aggressiveness and confidence extended to crew chief Steve Letarte.

“Just putting the tires on and getting the strategy right with Steve” was the key to the win, Earnhardt told TNT after the race. “I told him (Letarte) the secret to being a great crew chief is to call every year like it’s your last, because he’s had the best strategy every week.

“Our car was fast all weekend really. I tried to screw it up a couple of times there in the race, but calmed down and was able to get a good finish out of it.”

No more Mr. Nice Guy, indeed.

To that end, Earnhardt got into at least two significant incidents that, while they didn’t hurt him and his car too bad, they pretty much ended the day for two other drivers, including one of his closest friends, Matt Kenseth.

Earnhardt and Kenseth were fighting hard on Lap 75, driving side-by-side, when Kenseth pulled slightly ahead going into Turn 7.

Earnhardt hit a curb and his car bounced back to the left, right into the right rear quarter-panel of Kenseth’s car, spinning him out hard and almost head-on into a tire wall.

Kenseth’s car was all but obliterated by the crash, and while he fortunately was uninjured, he also wound up with one of his worst finishes of the season: 42nd out of the 43-car starting field.

Earnhardt took complete blame for the incident.

“I got into Matt,” Earnhardt said. “I jumped that curb and just ran into him. Totally my fault.

“It was just racing a little too hard with him there and I probably should have let him have that spot. Other than that, we had a pretty good day.”

Earnhardt also got into a scrum with AJ Allmendinger 11 laps later, but this time it wasn’t Junior’s fault.

Allmendinger was coming out of Turn 11 and got pinched towards the inside retaining wall. Allmendinger bounced off the rear of Junior’s car in the process, spun and then continued bouncing like a pinball off the trailing cars of Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers.

As a result, Allmendinger, who dominated the first half of the 110-lap race by leading 35 laps, finished with a very disappointing 37th-place finish, two laps behind the leaders.

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Jean Argetsinger, pillar of U.S. road racing, dies at 97

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 08:  (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image was processed using digital filters.)  A general view of the track prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Watkins Glen International. Photo: Getty Images
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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) Jean Argetsinger, the matriarch of early American road racing and a leader in the creation of the International Motor Racing Research Center, has died at 97.

Argetsinger died Monday of natural causes at her home in Burdett, New York, according to Glenda Gephart, director of administration and communications for the research center in Watkins Glen. Argetsinger was predeceased by her husband, Cameron, in 2008.

The Argetsingers are credited with the rebirth of road racing in the United States after World War II. In establishing Watkins Glen as one of the most important racing venues in the world, Jean Argetsinger was at the forefront in hospitality, publicity and community involvement. She was a founder of the IMRRC, an archival and research library that’s dedicated to the preservation and sharing of the history of motorsports, all venues and all series worldwide. She served on the IMRRC governing council since the center opened in 1999.

“It was Jean’s vision, quiet determination and relentless pursuit that made it all a reality,” John Saunders, president of International Speedway Corp., said Wednesday. “While her spirit lives on, I truly will miss the first lady of American road racing.”

In the first years of racing in Watkins Glen, Argetsinger was at the side of her husband, welcoming drivers from around the world to parties at her house and putting together race event programs. In 1958, she established the Paddock Club, now known as the Glen Club, as “a civilized retreat for drivers’ wives and visiting celebrities.”

“I never thought racing would be my life. I don’t know much about cars, but I do know about the people who drive them,” Argetsinger said in 1999 when introducing a film documentary about the history of Watkins Glen racing. “When Cameron presented the idea of a road race to SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) at a cocktail party in Indianapolis, a distinguished member of the group put a fatherly arm around my shoulder and said, `Don’t do it. You’ll work hard, and nobody will come.’ ”

The Argetsingers were honored in 2009 with a Watkins Glen International Legend of the Glen Award.

“Jean will be missed by the entire racing industry, as the matriarch of racing at Watkins Glen and for her support of the racing community as a whole,” Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup said. “What Jean and Cameron accomplished in our small town will always be relished.”

Argetsinger, who raised nine children, was a founder of the League of Women Voters of Schuyler County and the Burdett Players theatrical group. She also was an 11-year member of the Watkins Glen Central School District board and led the Watkins Glen Public Library board for 24 years.

The New York State Legislature named Argetsinger a Woman of Distinction in 1999, the first class of honorees. She also was a columnist for The Watkins Review, a local weekly newspaper, and wrote a history of St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church as well as several books on county history.

A funeral Mass will be held Saturday at St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church in Watkins Glen.

Josef Newgarden already fitting in quite nicely with Team Penske

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet, prepares to drive during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Josef Newgarden is like a boy with a new toy.

The newest addition to the Team Penske IndyCar lineup – he replaces Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 Chevrolet – is acting like a kid in a candy store: he has arguably the best and winningest team in the sport, three of the best teammates, the best equipment and the best support personnel.

“Dude, it’s all cool, every day is cool with this group,” Newgarden said Wednesday during IndyCar Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Every day there’s something cool that goes on. When I first went down there and got to meet the whole team and I got introduced to the shop, it was very overwhelming because most of the shop was there for the introduction, and they have 425-plus employees. So it’s just very overwhelming and kind of emotional just because of the magnitude of it.”

The biggest change from the 26-year-old Newgarden’s previous tenure with Ed Carpenter Racing to Team Penske is indeed the personnel and available resources. With those kinds of numbers comes great strength.

“Every day, they’re like, ‘Oh, no, we do it like this’ or ‘We’ll sort that out for you, we’ll get this done,’” Newgarden said. “It’s literally every day they’re doing something that I might need or was thinking of, and it just happens, and you’re like, wow, that is so cool the way this works out here.”

Like pretty much every other full-time driver on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit, Newgarden, who earned his three IndyCar career wins over the last two seasons, has two goals for 2017: winning the series championship and the Indianapolis 500.

Given that the Hendersonville, Tenn., native, who just moved to Penske headquarters in Charlotte from Indianapolis, is racing for the team that has won the 500 the most – 16 times – Newgarden can’t wait for the month of May.

“Yeah, the 500 is going to be very special, but I’m already like feeling that every month and every day,” he said. “Like that just has never been a moment where it’s not been cool with what we do and how we do it.

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s going to be super special for the 500, but I don’t think I’m going to feel that until we get inside the gates in May.”

While Newgarden — who has defending series champion Simon Pagenaud and veterans Will Power and Helio Castroneves as both teammates and mentors — is the envy of many of his young peers in the IndyCar series, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from, namely, Ed Carpenter Racing, where he and his innate driving talent were able to flourish.

‘We had a really great 2016 season, and it’s going to be an interesting transition for me going to Team Penske now,” said Newgarden, who finished fourth in last season’s standings. “I think in some aspects, it’s a difficult move because I really enjoyed my time and I’m going to miss my time at ECR.

“I built a really strong foundation there with the people and with Ed, and even in the past with (former team owners) Sarah (Fisher) and Andy (O’Gara) and Wink (Hartman) and Libba (Hartman). It’s a tough transition, but at the same time, I’m excited about it because from what I’ve seen over the last four or five months at Team Penske, I think it’s going to be a really, really fun experience to try something new to work in a different environment, to learn a different environment, and then try and make the most of that.

“I’m very excited about 2017. I’m not sure how it’s going to pan out yet. I think it’s hard to predict, but I think we’re going to have a pretty good going.”

Given that he’s entering his sixth season in IndyCar and his first with the best team in the series, Newgarden knows what the expectations for him are.

“I’ve got no excuses,” he said of 2017. “I’ve been around quite a while. I’m not a rookie by any stretch. You know, I’ll be in the best equipment from what everyone considers, and I’ve got a good team.

“… But on the whole, I should be pretty much ready to rock and go. If I’m not getting the job done, then I’ll have to figure it out pretty quick. So I think there’s pressure there, yeah, which is okay. That’s how it works.”

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NHRA: Sponsorship woes sideline former Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon

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As the NHRA prepares to begin its new season in three weeks, a bit of distressing news has emerged.

According to Bobby Bennett of CompetitionPlus.com, former champion Shawn Langdon and his Top Fuel dragster have been parked by team owner Don Schumacher due to lack of sponsorship to start the season.

Langdon’s car was one of four Top Fuel dragsters that Don Schumacher Racing fielded last season. The other three – Tony Schumacher, two-time defending champ Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett – will start the season as planned.

But because enough sponsorship for the entire 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has not materialized, Langdon will be parked until more funding is found.

“I am working on some things that will hopefully work out and give me the funding to run the car as soon as possible,” Don Schumacher told Bennett.

This is the second time in a year and a half that Langdon has been sidelined due to a lack of funding. He raced through the 18-race 2015 regular season, but team owner Alan Johnson parked Langdon when the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs began because money ran out.

Langdon almost immediately hooked up with DSR to finish out the 2015 season, and then raced the full season in 2016, winning three races and finishing fifth in the final standings.

“At this point, there’s really no other option than just to get back at it and just start talking with companies that we feel would be a good fit over here at Don Schumacher Racing,” Langdon told Bennett.

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Handful of changes identified on Rolex 24 entry list

No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The entry lists for both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and BMW Performance 200, the respective curtain-raisers for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (Jan. 28-29), have been released on Wednesday and there’s not too many changes compared to the ones released for the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test earlier this month.

Within Prototype, Brendon Hartley has now been listed as fourth driver for both of the Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis. The New Zealander has driven in a couple Rolex 24s before, last year with Chip Ganassi Racing, and will saddle up with ESM this year despite missing the Roar test.

GT Daytona includes a number of additions, with Turner Motorsport confirming its full race lineup of BMW factory shoes Jens Klingmann, Maxime Martin, Jesse Krohn and sports car/NASCAR veteran Justin Marks in the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 as the biggest change.

Maro Engel (No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3), Tim Pappas (No. 991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R), Sven Mueller (No. 59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R), and Dion von Moltke (No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3) are among the key drivers added, though some teams have not yet confirmed those signings outright. Pappas’ confirmation brings together the principal of Black Swan Racing with Kevin Buckler’s TRG program in an interesting partnership.

Most of the Prototype Challenge field has been confirmed. Nick Boulle switches to Performance Tech Motorsports after being initially listed at BAR1 Motorsports. Starworks Motorsport’s lineup is set to include Sebastian Saavedra, Remo Ruscitti, Robert Wickens and the at-the-moment unlisted Sean Rayhall as its pro drivers.

Spencer Pumpelly, Guy Cosmo, Marc Miller, Damien Faulkner, Kenton Koch and Cameron Lawrence are among the notables still without a ride at the moment, and judging by the entry list, there’s still a number of TBDs and vacancies still within the GTD class.

The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge entry list, meanwhile, features an even balance of 20 GS and 20 ST cars for the four-hour season opener.

Entry lists are linked below:

WeatherTech Championship
Continental Tire Challenge