IndyCar: Aleshin stars, Pagenaud keeps pace in Pocono

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Just two years ago, a then oval rookie named Simon Pagenaud wowed the Verizon IndyCar Series veterans in his first few races on the left-hand only circuits for Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports.

Two years later, and Pagenaud’s rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin is doing the same through his first three oval starts.

Aleshin, the Russian who’s been exciting to watch most of the season in the No. 7 SMP Racing Honda, continued his flare for the excitement on the ovals by mastering Pocono and finishing seventh in his first start on the “Tricky Triangle.”

It followed his good run that was spoiled at the Indianapolis 500, and then his first oval top-10 last month at Texas Motor Speedway, when he finished seventh.

Sunday in Pocono, Aleshin started 12th but already cracked the top 10 by Lap 7. He ran as high as fifth during pit stop sequences, and consistently ran between fifth and seventh the rest of the day.

“The car was fast, and we didn’t struggle anywhere mechanically,” Aleshin said. “We did have some radio issues we had to deal with, however. The car was strong, which allowed me to push out there and challenge other drivers.”

Aleshin moved up to 13th in the points on 263 points, second best in the four-driver rookie class of 2014. Down 77 points, it’s doubtful he’ll catch Carlos Munoz for top rookie honors (sixth), but he is now 36 and 39 points clear of Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Huertas in 16th and 17th, respectively. Additionally, Aleshin now sits only eight points out of the top 10 in points, with 10th-placed Sebastien Bourdais on 271.

Meanwhile Pagenaud fell back to earth a bit after leading the team’s 1-2 in Houston Race 2 last week. Pagenaud started 11th and finished sixth in what was a fairly nondescript race in the No. 77 Oculus Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda. The team started with a high downforce setting and spent the rest of the day trying to get the balance right; Pagenaud said it was difficult to pass.

But with Will Power finishing 10th after his latest penalty earned, the two-time winner gained 15 points on his rival in the championship and now sits third heading to Iowa next week behind the Team Penske teammates Power and Helio Castroneves.

“I’m very happy with how the team handled the challenges we were faced with today,” he said. “The beginning of my race may have looked a little boring to the fans, but I was just trying to understand what I would need at the end. Finishing sixth today is great considering we didn’t start up front with the strongest race package.”

Recapping the 2018 Dakar Rally with “best of” video highlights

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NBCSN will air additional Dakar Rally highlights on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

As it has done so for four decades, the 40th annual Dakar Rally – the most grueling test of man and machine anywhere – produced a number of surprise finishes and also several disappointments for drivers or riders who were expected to do well in the nearly 5,600-mile trek that began in Peru and continued through Bolivia and ending in Argentina.

NBCSN has aired highlights from all 14 stages (actually 13, because one stage was completely rained out) during the Rally’s two-week run, which concluded Saturday.

Here’s some of the “best of” highlights from the overall Rally highlights, followed by a quick guide that gives you wrapups to all 14 stages.

So, without further adieu, here’s NBCSN’s “best of” the 2018 Dakar Rally:

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of cars

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of bikes

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of trucks

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of quads

Lastly, here’s a day-by-day wrapup of how the Rally played out.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 14 overall Rally wrapup

MORE: Stage 13 wrapup

MORE: Stage 12 wrapup

MORE: Stage 11 wrapup

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup