IndyCar: Briscoe leads Ganassi’s second best day of 2014 in Pocono

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With seven finishes between sixth and 12th in the first 10 races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, Ryan Briscoe had been thoroughly consistent, but hadn’t yet had that dynamic weekend he’s been looking for on his full-time return to the series after a partial 2013.

He had by far his best run of the year Sunday in the Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco, qualifying 10th and finishing a season-best fourth in the No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

With his first top-five of the season, Briscoe is now the 20th different driver to score at least one top-five this season. The only full-season drivers who now haven’t yet cracked the top-five are Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden and Sebastian Saavedra.

“Things are really looking up for NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing and I’m just glad we finally were able to get a finish that mirrored our efforts,” said Briscoe, who advanced from 13th to ninth in the points standings. “We just keep looking better and better as the season progresses, and I think we have a lot to look forward to in the second half of this season. This track is awesome and it’s been really fun to race on all weekend.”

Briscoe didn’t win on-track, but he definitely won the cuteness award of the day as he held new daughter Finley during a post-race interview with NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis, with Finley modeling her first IndyCar hard card… unofficially the first baby hard card that we know of.

As for the rest of the Ganassi contingent, Scott Dixon bagged his fifth top-five of the year in P5 but didn’t have the same speed in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet that teammate Tony Kanaan had in the sister No. 10, nor Briscoe in the No. 8.

“It wasn’t a great day for us maybe overall speed-wise, but we had made our way to the top five there at the end of the race and to get a top-five finish after where we started isn’t that bad,” said Dixon, who sits eighth in points. “The Target team worked hard today and you know anything can happen in these long 500-mile races. We kept the car in one piece and I was happy to bring it home for the guys. Hopefully this builds us some momentum for the next few races.”

With the pair of top-five results, this marked Chip Ganassi Racing’s second best day of 2014. The slightly better one came in Detroit Race 2, when Charlie Kimball (third) and Dixon (fourth) also posted two top-five finishes.

Kanaan’s fuel gamble came up snake eyes as he fell to 11th by the finish, while Kimball in the No. 83 Levemir FlexTouch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet battled a mechanical issue and continued his roller coaster run of results with 17th.

Dixon, eighth on 297 points, is still 149 points behind Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves leaving the second double points weekend of the year. Briscoe’s now just 12 points in arrears of Dixon, while Kanaan (267, 11th) and Kimball (239, 15th) sit outside the top-10 in points.

Unless Dixon is able to pull an encore of his Toronto doubleheader weekend sweep a year ago and the Penske pair strike problems, it appears unlikely the talented New Zealander will be able to defend his series championship.

Still, as he, Briscoe and the rest of the Chip Ganassi Racing team head to the final seven races, they can play spoiler as they continue to seek their first race win of the year.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “