(AP Photo/Jeff Siner)

Perseverance, 30 years of patience pays off for Richard Petty

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NASCAR has been accused at times over the years – unfairly, I might add – of scripting the outcome of races.

In other words, the finish of certain races was predetermined – that is, if you believe the fertile imaginations of critics, naysayers and conspiracy theorists.

But even if that illogical belief were indeed true though, NASCAR couldn’t come close to writing the kind of script that led to Aric Almirola’s win in Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Without question, it was the greatest weekend in Richard Petty Motorsports (and before that, Petty Enterprises) history in three decades.

Consider:

1) Team owner Richard Petty turned 77 this past Wednesday.

2) Petty earned the 200th and final Cup race of his career during this same weekend at Daytona 30 years ago in 1984. And the congratulations line couldn’t have been much better: leading best wishes for Petty’s achievement that day in-person was then-President Ronald Reagan.

3) The No. 43 had not been in victory lane since John Andretti did so in April 1999 at Martinsville, and had not been in a Daytona victory lane since The King’s 200th win.

4) Almirola has all but qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, marking only the second time a Petty driver has attained that lofty goal (Kasey Kahne did so in 2010, finishing 10th in the final standings).

5) And then there’s little gem of a fact: While Petty obviously drove the majority of races, Almirola is actually the 43rd driver to drive arguably NASCAR’s most famous car number, the 43.

When he learned that in Sunday’s post-race press conference, Almirola responded simply, “No way.”

Yes, way, Aric.

The significance of what he did Sunday, even though it was in a rain-shortened event, was not lost upon Almirola.

“I’ve (now gone) to victory lane, and all the history behind the car and the race car and stuff, you know, I’m very appreciative of that and very cool – I think it’s very cool that we won on this weekend,” Almirola said. “It’s 30 years to the weekend that The King won his 200th race with the President here.  That’s really special.

“But I’m a little bit selfish and I’m more worried about the fact that I’ve won my first Cup race. It’s just so cool, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Richard and our owners have given us at Richard Petty Motorsports to go out and to try and be successful.

“To now be able to get them to victory lane, to be in the Chase and to be able to go race for a championship, it is really special, and our race team deserves that.”

Almirola’s win was so unexpected that Petty left the racetrack early to begin his drive back to the Charlotte area. As it turned out, Petty missed all the celebration and the ability to be there in victory lane with his driver and winning team.

Still, Petty put things in perspective in a way that only he can, calling into the media center at Daytona International Speedway to offer his thoughts on Almirola’s feat.

“Well, 30 years ago is history, okay, and today is future, today is today,” Petty said. “So to be able to win the race down there, win it for the Air Force, 4th of July, you know, the whole thing is just great.

“I just feel so good for the crew. They’ve been working; they’re like everybody else, they work hard. They’ve done this deal. We’ve had so many disappointments, and finally it rained on us, but it rained on us at the right time, okay. Overall it was just a great day for us.

“And then Marcos (Ambrose) got in a wreck or two and still wound up 10th. Richard Petty Motorsports had a pretty good day.”

Boy, that’s an understatement if there ever was one.

“But he didn’t give it up,” Almirola said of Petty. “From 1992 until today, he still comes to the racetrack pretty much every weekend. He was here this weekend and decided to go home, so I hate it that you’re not here, Boss.

“But it’s really cool to know all that history and to realize that the 43 car is without a doubt the most famous car in our sport’s history. And to have that opportunity to drive that race car has been really special from the day that I stepped foot in it.

“All I wanted to do from the very first time I drove it was get it to victory lane.  It took two and a half years, I guess, but I finally did it.”

For the most part, Richard Petty Motorsports – and before that, Petty Enterprises – had struggled for the most of the last 30 years. But in perhaps one of the most extreme examples of the saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” Petty showed Job-like patience to keep coming back race after race, season after season and decade after decade, hoping for a day like he, his family and organization all experienced Sunday.

“You’ve been around me long enough to know that I don’t never give up on anything, and like I said, might have been 30 years,” Petty said. “(The 43’s last win) was what, ’99?

“If you look back at the history and Petty Enterprises, all the turmoil we’ve been through in the last seven, eight years and all that stuff, I never give up on the thing. So it was one of those deals that I said, okay, if I keep working at it long enough, we’re going to be able to overcome all this.”

But, Petty is also a pragmatist to go along with being a realist. He knows that another 30 years of drought could start next Sunday at New Hampshire (although he’s hoping it won’t, and that Ambrose’s success continues).

“Just winning one race doesn’t overcome it,” Petty said. “Don’t get me wrong. But it puts you in a higher speed track, and you know you can do it. It proves that we can do it, the drivers know we can do it, and I think it’s just going to make it that much easier to go from here.

“Everybody has got to have a start, and I think this will get us started pretty good.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Buemi streets ahead in second Buenos Aires FE practice

2015 Formula E  Buenos Aires e-Prix, Argentina
Friday 5 February 2016.
Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 & Nicolas Prost (FRA), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E/LAT
ref: Digital Image _SBL9537
© Formula E
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BUENOS AIRES – Sebastien Buemi lived up to his billing as championship favorite by storming to the top of the timesheets in second practice for the Buenos Aires ePrix.

Buemi was unable to complete a full power 200kW lap in FP1 on Saturday, limiting him to just fifth place in the final standings.

However, the Swiss driver rallied in FP2 and utilized all of the power in his Renault e.dams to produce as fastest lap time of 1:08.771, leaving him over half a second clear at the top of the timesheets.

“Yeah I think it was a good session for me because I was able to exerpience wht the 200kw lap can do,” Buemi said after the session.

“It’s not too bad but the track is very ricky. There’s a lot of sand still on the track. Otherwise it’s quite fun to drive the track.”

Buemi was followed home by title rival Lucas di Grassi, but the ABT Schaeffler driver was unable to match the pace laid down at the very top.

Nicolas Prost will be looking to get into the fight for the race win with teammate Buemi this weekend, having finished third in FP2, just 0.001 seconds shy of di Grassi.

Sam Bird continued DS Virgin Racing’s strong start to the weekend by finishing fourth, but the involvement of teammate Jean-Eric Vergne remains unclear. The Frenchman was ruled out by the team, only to turn up at the track and claim he is fit to race. However, he took no part in practice.

Jean-Eric Vergne to race in Buenos Aires ePrix as planned

FIA Formula E Championship 2015/16.
Beijing ePrix, Beijing, China.
Race.
Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01  
Beijing, China, Asia.
Saturday 24 October 2015
Photo: Adam Warner / LAT / FE
ref: Digital Image _A8C5246
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BUENOS AIRES – Jean-Eric Vergne will now take part in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix despite coming down with food poisoning overnight.

Vergne had been due to enter his first race of 2016 at the Puerto Madero street circuit on Saturday with DS Virgin Racing, and completed shakedown on Friday as usual.

However, the Frenchman came down with food poisoning overnight, prompting the team to rule him out of racing in the weekend.

DS virgin Racing told MotorSportsTalk that Vergne had not travelled to the track and was on a drip as a result of the food poisoning, but remained keen to race.

Team principal Alex Tai took the decision to stop Vergne from racing, believing that the extreme heat in Buenos Aires would only worsen his condition.

However, after Vergne rested during FP1 and FP2, and was declared fit by the FIA after a medical assessment, Tai was happy for him to race.

“He’s promised me he’ll take it easy,” Tai said. “Whether that’ll happen or not, I don’t know.”

Bird quickest in first Buenos Aires Formula E practice

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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird enjoyed an early edge in practice for the Buenos Aires ePrix after topping the timesheets in the first session at the Puerto Madero street circuit.

Bird posted a latest time of 1:09.913 to finish three-tenths of a second clear of Daniel Abt as just four drivers managed to put in a full power lap at 200kW.

Bird and Abt were joined by the NEXTEV TCR duo of Nelson Piquet Jr. and Oliver Turvey in completing a qualifying simulation lap, who finished in third and fourth place respectively.

Andretti driver Simona de Silvestro suffered an early setback when she hit the wall at pit exit with the back-end of her car, taking off the left-rear corner and losing the rear wing. De Silvestro admitted to her engineer upon returning to the pits that it was her own mistake, but the team was now left to begin the quite significant repair job.

DS Virgin Racing driver Jean-Eric Vergne missed opening practice after coming down with food poisoning, and will take not part in the race weekend as a result.

Lucas di Grassi also had a brief scare in his ABT Schaeffler car, but was able to reset and get back going again after grinding to a halt towards the end of the session. Robin Frijns was not so fortunate in the second Andretti car as his session came to an early end when he stopped on track.

Sebastien Buemi had set the pace early on for Renault e.dams, and managed to finish within one second of Bird at the top despite only completing a lap at 170kW. His lap was good enough to finish P5 ahead of perennial rival di Grassi in sixth.

McCormack confirms Davey Hamilton Jr. for Indy Lights

Photo: McCormack Racing
Photo: McCormack Racing
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New team, new driver in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series. It’s not full-time – yet – but this is good.

The full release from McCormack Racing is below:

18 year-old King of the Wing Sprint Car Series champion Davey Hamilton, Jr. has come to terms to compete for Jack McCormack & McCormack Racing in the 2016 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires.  The third generation driver originally from Boise, ID will be making his debut campaign in a single seater.

Hamilton hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps as the latest American racer to translate asphalt Open Wheel & Sprint Car success into an INDYCAR career.  Hamilton, Jr.’s 2015 concluded with his fifth Sprint Car win of the year at Madera in November en route to the King of the Wing Western Sprint Car Series championship and third in the national championship.

His father Davey, Sr. has competed in 11 Indianapolis 500s with a best finish of fourth.  He also finished second in series points in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998.  He remarkably finished ninth in the 2007 edition of the 500 after a six year comeback from a devastating crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

“This opportunity with Jack McCormack is something I have been looking forward to for a long time,” Hamilton, Jr. said.  “We are working hard to be on the grid in March to challenge for wins and ultimately an Indy Lights championship.  We still have some work to do financially but we’re pushing hard.”

McCormack’s racing history goes back to 1966 in drag racing before a successful career in engineering and car ownership across IMSA, IndyCar, Indy Lights, and USAC.  McCormack has worked with a diverse range of top drivers such as Sam Posey, Skip Barber, Pancho Carer, Roger McCluskey, Jerry Sneva, Roger Mears, Tom Sneva, Geoff Brabham, and Dick Simon.

McCormack Racing and Hamilton have spent much of the off season testing primarily at Buttonwillow Raceway in California.  After several weeks practicing a third-generation Indy Lights car, Hamilton took controls of the current fourth-generation IL-15 for numerous testing days.  Hamilton and McCormack will make a private oval test later this month before joining the series officially on February 24th for the test on the one-mile oval Phoenix International Raceway.

The team has tentative agreements in place to compete in the entire Indy Lights starting with the Streets of St. Pete March 11-13.  Two separate Indy Lights races will be contested across opening weekend for the series.  Indy Lights’ 2016 agenda also includes oval races at Phoenix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Freedom 100 on Carb Day, and Iowa Speedway.

Both Hamilton and McCormack are still searching for additional funding to solidify an effort to be the seventh American on the grid this spring.