Austin Dillon learns fast: Daytona brings out best in him

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If Austin Dillon were granted three wishes by a genie, they’d likely be:

1) Win a bunch of Sprint Cup championships.

2) Win a bunch of Sprint Cup races.

3) Convince NASCAR to run all 36 races of its season at Daytona International Speedway.

Now, Dillon has the potential to make his first two wishes come true, but the third one is unlikely – even though the 2.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway has quickly proven to be his favorite and best-performing track on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Consider:

* He brought back the infamous No. 3 car for the first time since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona.

* He won the pole for this year’s season-opening 500 at Daytona.

* He earned a (so far) Sprint Cup career-best fifth-place finish Sunday in the Coke Zero 400 – again, at Daytona.

* He was the highest-finishing rookie in Sunday’s race at Daytona.

Maybe he should start calling himself Austin Daytona?

But seriously, Dillon has taken to racing at NASCAR’s most famous racetrack like a duck takes to swimming in DIS’s infamous infield-based Lake Lloyd.

“It’s huge for us getting a top 10, a top 5 – it definitely can change the rookie race,” Dillon said after the race. “We’ve got some momentum now.

“We’ve got the last four races, I think, in the rookie race, and just stay consistent and hopefully we can come out with this thing.  Our cars have been really fast all year, and we’re getting better each week.  I feel like we’re gaining a little bit, and I’m excited about that.”

Kyle Larson had held the early lead in the Rookie of the Year performance, but Dillon has come back with a vengeance in the last few races.

He’s now 13th in the rankings while Larson has dropped to 17th. If the Chase for the Sprint Cup were to start tomorrow, Dillon would make it and Larson wouldn’t.

“We jumped from 18th to 13th in points,” Dillon said. “There’s less positions now, but just got to stay consistent. We had a test at New Hampshire this past week. I felt like it was a good test for us, and we go on and try and keep these runs going for us as a rookie, and I think it’ll close up the rookie points now, too. We’ve gained a lot the last couple weeks, and this will definitely help.”

Although Larson has had his struggles of late, Dillon knows how talented his chief rival for Rookie of the Year is. The way the first half of the season went, Dillon expects just as close of a battle now that the second half of the 36-race season begins this coming Sunday at New Hampshire.

“Kyle has had a great season and I’m kind of putting our season against his because we’re racing for the rookie of the year,” Dillon said. “That was our main goal going into this year. Any other year the last couple years it would be a great season, but the way they’ve run we’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

“We’re hanging in there. We just want to find some more speed at these mile-and-a-halfs, get more consistent. … Experience will come with that, I hope. I feel like our cars are getting better and we’ve been really harping on that as a group at RCR to make our cars better, and I think we’re starting to show.”

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Lewis Hamilton: F1 needs Fernando Alonso competing in a quick car

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton says the sport needs Fernando Alonso to be racing in a competitive car so that the Spaniard can show his quality and fight for race wins again.

Alonso won world titles in 2005 and 2006, but is yet to add a third to his collection despite being in contention for the drivers’ crown at the final race in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Since joining McLaren in 2015, Alonso has been mired in F1’s midfield amid ongoing issues with the team’s Honda power unit, preventing him from even finishing on the podium in that period.

2017 looks poised to offer one of the closest title fights in recent years between Mercedes driver Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the latter winning the opening race of the year in Australia.

Speaking about the prospect of a close title fight with Vettel, Hamilton said he relished the idea, but wants to see Alonso battling at the front once again as well.

“I think the fans want to see that but even between all of us. We need [Fernando] to have a good car so he can get up there and fight with us as well, before his time’s up,” Hamilton said.

“We got a hint that it’s another couple of years at least, so that’s good. I feel we’re yet to see the best of Fernando. The sport needs that and he deserves to be able to show that.

“You want to be racing against the best. I think that’s what the fans want to see. That close racing and sheer competitiveness and see the ups and downs of the best doing their best.

“I’m definitely looking forward to racing with all these guys and I hope there’s lots of close racing.”

Alonso and Hamilton were last in contention for a championship together in 2012, when they raced for Ferrari and McLaren respectively, only for Vettel to clinch a third crown with Red Bull.

Honda teams to test at Sonoma Raceway on April 4

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Honda’s Verizon IndyCar Series teams are set visit Sonoma Raceway on April 4 for an all-day test session for the manufacturer.

Andretti Autosport (Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato), Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, and Max Chilton), Dale Coyne Racing (Sebastian Bourdais and Ed Jones Jr.), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin), and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal) are all scheduled to run. Of that group, Kanaan, Andretti, and Dixon are former winners at Sonoma Raceway.

The Sonoma test follows Honda’s March 24 test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, Team Penske also scheduled a team test at the 2.5-mile oval on the same day, forcing Honda to share the track with their rival manufacturer.

However, no such conflict appears to be in play for Sonoma. The test will be open to the public as well with free admission into the facility. Testing will run from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. local time.

Justin Timberlake to play this year’s U.S. Grand Prix at COTA

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Taylor Swift playing last year’s U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin was always going to be a hard act to match, or perhaps top.

Yet COTA has pulled it off with confirmation Wednesday that Justin Timberlake will be playing on the Saturday before this year’s race, on October 21.

Timberlake will play at the conclusion of track activity on Saturday for a full show. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. CT, with more info via COTA’s website. Here’s the pertinent details:

  • The concert will take place at COTA’s Super Stage Festival Lawn, not Austin360 Amphitheater
  • Seating is general admission, first come first served
  • All holders of a Saturday ticket for USGP weekend, including the 3-day GA wristband, will have access to the show

Circuit of The Americas announced a crowd of more than 80,000 last year for T-Swift, for her first and only planned concert of the year.

Timberlake is on par from a stratospheric level as Swift is. And half the draw of the COTA weekend, it seems, is ensuring you can get concertgoers to the track as well.

This should make for a fun end-of-day on Saturday.

IMS Museum to reveal A.J. Foyt exhibit in April

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It’s been 40 years since A.J. Foyt won his fourth and final Indianapolis 500 as a driver in 1977. Perfect timing, then, for a special Foyt exhibit to grace the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will premiere next month.

The release from the museum is below:

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of his record-setting fourth Indianapolis 500 win, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is proud to present a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit honoring auto racing icon A.J. Foyt, opening April 14.

A.J. Foyt: A Legendary Exhibition, presented by ABC Supply is a limited-run celebration that traces the superstar’s rise from the dirt tracks of Texas to the pinnacle of auto racing history.

Nearly three dozen cars that Foyt drove in competition will be on display, including all four of his Indianapolis 500 winning machines, the 1961 Bowes Seal Fast Special, 1964 & 1967 Sheraton-Thompson Specials, and the 1977 Gilmore Coyote.

Photo: IMS Archives

“Everyone knows that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is my favorite track and that people wouldn’t know me if it weren’t for the Indy 500, but to have the Museum put on this exhibit there, well I feel truly honored,” said the legendary Foyt. “This exhibit will give people a chance to see my winning Indy cars but also some of the other race cars I drove and won in over the years.”

In addition to several of Foyt’s IndyCars, many incredible machines representing Foyt’s career in NASCAR, USAC and road racing will be on display, many for the first time, and visitors will also have the chance to see rare memorabilia from Foyt’s personal collection.

“Based on the stuff we shipped to Indy, I think the Museum has a lot of personal memorabilia and photos that their visitors will like seeing” Foyt said. “I haven’t seen some of the cars in many, many years so to be truthful, I’m looking forward to the exhibit too!”

“A.J. Foyt is perhaps the most iconic driver in the 108-year history of the Brickyard” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Director & Curator Ellen Bireley. “We are proud to honor this incredible champion with an exhibit of memories and memorabilia that pays tribute to one of the most diverse and successful careers in auto racing history.”

A.J. Foyt: A Legendary Exhibition is presented by ABC Supply, with additional support from Chevrolet and Al-Fe Heat Treating. The exhibit runs until October 31.