If you say Morgan Shepherd is too old to race, there’s plenty of others even older than him that would disagree

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It’s easy to understand Joey Logano’s frustration at being clipped by 72-year-old Morgan Shepherd in Sunday’s race at New Hampshire.

But the criticism of Shepherd that has resulted, including numerous media outlets saying he’s too old to drive a race car competitively, has been most unfair.

Just because Shepherd and Logano get into a wreck, it becomes big news because one is 72 years old, while the other is 24. And the 24-year-old said some not so nice things about the 72-year-old after their on-track incident.

Didn’t Logano’s parents ever tell him to respect his elders and not badmouth them?

I find it rather humorous at all those who criticized Shepherd for running into Logano. I don’t know what race they were watching, but it surely could not have been the same one I was.

It was v-e-r-y clear that Logano cut down on Shepherd going into the turn. Now, in 99.9 percent of similar instances, Shepherd could also have moved down or gotten out of the throttle.

But instead, he stayed in the gas, Logano dropped in front of him and contact was made.

If it had been, say, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Logano, someone would have been apologizing afterward.

To his credit, Shepherd did not apologize, and he’s to be commended for standing his ground.

Just because someone is 72 years old or 15 laps down at the time of a wreck doesn’t mean he’s automatically at fault for any incident that occurs – or can’t drive competitively any more. Granted, his car may not have had all the bells and whistles that Logano’s Team Penske Ford had. And critics seem to forget that it’s, again, v-e-r-y easy for a slow-moving car to get down several laps fairly quickly on New Hampshire’s flat one-mile track.

But unless Shepherd can be medically proven to be incapable of being able to drive competitively, there’s absolutely no reason for him not to be behind the wheel. Heck, it takes guts to be 72 and go up against the sport’s best. No one else has had those kind of guts like Shepherd has, being the oldest active driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup history — a mark he resets every time he takes the next green flag.

One other thing people seem to forget is that Shepherd was essentially out of his normal domain at New Hampshire. He typically races in the Nationwide Series. Sunday’s race was only his third Sprint Cup race since 2006.

As an aside, Shepherd hasn’t won a Cup race since 1993, and a NNS race since 1988. But he goes out year after year, race after race (well, on a part-time schedule, that is) because he loves the sport, makes a decent living and is able to utilize racing as part of an overall religious ministry that he preaches from.

And when was the last time anyone complained about Shepherd in a Nationwide race? I can’t recall any in years. He simply goes out and runs his race, quietly and tries to draw as little attention to himself as possible.

I especially found it interesting that Tony Stewart reportedly said over his team radio, “(Shepherd) needs to just call it a day with that thing.”

What happens if, by some twist of fate, Stewart is still racing when he’s 72? That’d be 29 years from now. Would Stewart like it if some young driver would publicly say he needs to quit racing?

I’m giving Stewart the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t mean Shepherd should stop racing permanently, but that the septuagenarian’s car was just not up to competitive racing that particular day.

Would Stewart tell one of his best fishing buddies, the legendary Red Farmer – who will be 82 years young this fall, and was one of the charter members of racing’s fabled “Alabama Gang” – to stop racing in short track events across the South?

Surprisingly, Farmer isn’t the only octogenarian still racing these days.

Over in the straight-line world, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits is still drag racing at the age of 80, even though his vehicle of choice these days appears to be experimental electric dragsters, which he already has gotten close to nearly 200 mph in.

And then there’s the legendary “Golden Greek” from Chicago, Chris Karamesines, who is still racing Top Fuel dragsters.

At 82 years old. And at 300-plus mph.

(Which by comparison to the speed Shepherd was doing at NHMS – about one-third of what Karamesines typically does – made Morgan look like he was in a go-kart race.)

And yet no one has told Karamesines – who turns 83 in November and looks like he’s in his early 60s, at best – that he’s too old to still be competing.

In fact, the National Hot Rod Association revels in Karamesines’ popularity and the attention he attracts to the sport.

And he’s still as competitive as he’s ever been, always a risk to pull an upset of some of the better-funded drivers on the Top Fuel circuit.

Like Shepherd, Karamesines and Garlits still have their wits, their faculties, their encyclopedic knowledge of racing, their reactions, decent health and the fever to still race even if they’ve been doing it for nearly 70 years.

Going back to Farmer for a second, I came across a story that was written about him less than two years ago by Doug Demmons of the Birmingham (Ala.) News.

According to Demmons, Farmer still races despite an artificial left knee, a replaced left shoulder, screws and rods in his back and enough arthritic joints that would otherwise stop an army.

Yet Farmer continues racing for the pure love and joy of it, much like Shepherd, who is 10 years younger.

Check out some of the quotes from Farmer at the time. If you didn’t know they were from him, they could easily have been spoken by Shepherd:

* “I’m gonna wear out, not rust out.”

* “My reflexes are as good as they were 30 years ago.”

* “I’ve never stopped. If I stopped, I’d lose it. If I became a couch potato, I’d be gone in six months.”

* “I do it because I enjoy it (at the time the story was written, Farmer had recorded 17 top 10 finishes in his previous 25 races – at the age of 79!). I don’t have to win races to be happy.”

* “I feel pretty good for 80 years old.”

So for all those who criticized Shepherd for an accident that was not of his fault, particularly Logano and other young drivers, remember one thing: God willing, you’re going to be Shepherd’s age one day. Let’s see how you’ll feel when somebody says you’re too old and shouldn’t be out there.

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Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Pagenaud ‘quite satisfied,’ if still agitated, with P2 on Pocono grid

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The close-but-no-cigar, always slightly overshadowed nature of defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s 2017 season came to the fore again in Saturday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Pagenaud was on the verge of securing his second pole this season, and first on an oval since Iowa Speedway in July 2016, after knocking Charlie Kimball off the top spot.

But the driver of the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet got eclipsed by Takuma Sato, the final qualifier, right at the end to lose the pole and perhaps more critically, an additional point that went with it.

“(There’s) the word going through my mind and I’m not going to say it,” Pagenaud laughed in the post-qualifying press conference.

“Disappointing, of course. You can taste the win, and that’s what we’re all about. We’re racers. We want to win. I’m here to win, to be first, not to be second.

“In the meantime it’s a really good starting position. At the time it’s like gambling. You’re in the game and you feel like you could win, so it’s very exciting. That’s the roller coaster of racing in your life as a racer. It’s up and down, up and down your whole career. These moments are why I race. It’s happiness, satisfaction of doing the job.”

Pagenaud’s job satisfaction this year has come with his unrivaled consistency, if not outright pace, in defense of his 2016 title.

He leads the field with 10 top-five finishes in 13 races – no one else has more than seven – and he is the only driver to have completed all 1,738 laps of competition so far this year.

That underscores his consistency but it also reflects how much better his 2016 title-winning season was. He won five races last year to one so far this year (Phoenix), had eight poles (seven outright, one where he moved up a spot) last year to one this year, and has led only 133 laps this year – 116 of them at Phoenix.

That leads nicely into the point that Pocono is a key race for Pagenaud if he is to defend his title. He enters tomorrow’s race fourth in points but only 17 behind championship leader Josef Newgarden, his new teammate at Team Penske who’ll look to go one better in terms of winning a title for Roger Penske in his first season rather than in his second, as Pagenaud did last year.

Pagenaud’s title aspirations nearly came unglued at this race last year following his only DNF of the year. He crashed in Turn 1 and finished 18th while Will Power won and cut the gap from 58 points leaving Mid-Ohio to 20 leaving Pocono.

Now Pagenaud is even fewer points back but with more drivers to climb over, as IndyCar heads towards a grandstand finish to this year’s title between himself, Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon – and potentially Sato, Power and Graham Rahal if they can deliver a big points haul in Pocono.

“The championship is a lot more exciting for you guys this year,” he said. “I think it’s the beauty of IndyCar. We go on superspeedway, short oval next week, then completely different in two weeks, then Sonoma, which is a beautiful venue to finish the season.

“You know, that’s the beauty of this racing series, which I really love, because you have to show skills in every condition, every different aspect of track. So I’m very excited about it.

“If you can show strength in the last four, you deserve the championship, for sure.”

Pagenaud expects speeds to be slower in tonight’s final practice, a better preparation for Sunday’s race, as he estimated the rash of accidents today was owing to more drivers and teams chasing the temperatures for pole.

“This evening’s session is good so you can check your car in traffic, see how it behaves in the wake. But I think, you know, you’re still going to have to think about the race and the conditions being different, what to do on the race car to compensate for it,” he said.

“Tomorrow, we’re not going to be as fast as this because this is trim-out conditions, trying to go as fast as possible over two laps. Those are not the setups. The tires don’t last in those conditions.

“For the race, completely different story. You know, it’s a 500-mile race. There’s a lot of riding around, trying to balance your car for the end of the race. Trying to find the right level of downforce during the race is key as well. So you make a lot of adjustments, pit stops, get ready for the shootout, the last 60 laps really.

“For us, that’s going to be the plan. First goals were to be in the top five in qualifying. We were there. That’s checked. Now we need to run around in the front all day and be there to strike at the end.

“There’s also the fact that we’re playing for a championship here, so we have to be smart at the end.”

Pagenaud’s canny ability has kept him in the title fight as he looks to keep the No. 1 on his car for another season, which makes the frustration of losing a point today only slightly bittersweet as he looks at the bigger picture.

“Ben (Bretzman), my engineer, just nailed the gearing, the balance on the car. That was the best we could do,” he said.

“I’m quite satisfied. Front row start is really good, our best start here in Pocono. A 500-mile race, so a lot can happen.

“Today was pretty much ego day trying to get that pole position. For us it would have been nice to get another point. But overall I think we did our best and we’ll go to bed pretty satisfied with today.”

Hunter-Reay taken to local hospital after Pocono qualifying crash

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LONG POND, Pa. – Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay has been taken to a local hospital following a heavy crash in qualifying.

Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda broke loose exiting Turn 3, and though he tried to correct it, the back end swapped around and the car made hard contact with the wall on the left side. It then traveled back across the track and impacted the inside wall, again with the left side of car.

Although Hunter-Reay was seen moving in the cockpit, he immediately began complaining of pain in his hip and needed help from the Holmatro Safety Team to get out of the car. They helped him get into the ambulance, as Hunter-Reay was walking with a significant limp.

More to follow.

 

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