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IndyCar: Gaps grow, but few major changes in points over last month

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The last month of the Verizon IndyCar Series season was nothing short of a grind for its teams, crews, and drivers. Six races, Rounds 9-14, took place over four weekends, at Houston (two races), Pocono (500 miles), Iowa (300 laps) and Toronto (two same-day races).

It was a challenge unlike many have faced before given the way some of the weekend schedules shook out.

As it was, none of the six races really shook up the points that much. Some gaps grew between the leaders and the rest of the top 10, but no single driver gained more than two positions in the championship from the end of Texas June 7 to the end of Toronto on Sunday.

Here’s how the points were scored over the last six races. A bold number indicates the driver finished on the podium. Round 11, Pocono, was a double-points race for the 500-miler.

POINTS
# Driver E 9 10 11 12 13 14
2 Montoya C 40 26 102 14 12 11 205
3 Castroneves C 22 13 80 25 41 21 202
10 Kanaan C 17 20 41 38 35 40 191
77 Pagenaud H 16 51 56 19 33 8 183
11 Bourdais C 32 30 29 11 54 22 178
9 Dixon C 11 12 60 34 30 26 173
8 Briscoe C 18 24 64 22 18 19 165
34 Munoz H 35 8 70 18 13 13 157
28 Hunter-Reay H 26 28 24 51 9 16 154
12 Power C 16 19 41 16 22 36 150
27 Hinchcliffe H 33 16 36 28 24 12 149
83 Kimball C 12 32 26 20 26 32 148
25 Andretti H 24 22 44 12 14 24 140
67 Newgarden H 10 10 49 40 10 18 137
7 Aleshin H 7 41 52 9 19 7 135
98 Hawksworth H 28 35 8 15 17 28 131
19 J.Wilson H 21 18 32 17 20 21 129
15 Rahal H 19 14 22 26 28 10 119
18 Huertas H 51 7 20 10 16 15 119
20 Conway C 13 17 15 51 96
17 Saavedra C 15 13 30 13 11 9 91
14 Sato H 9 11 18 8 7 30 83
20 Carpenter C 34 30 64
16 Filippi H 9 15 8 14 46

From that, you can see Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves accumulated the most points; we chronicled Montoya’s rise after his Pocono win. But Montoya’s subsequent Iowa crash, post-race interview and awful Sunday in Toronto have put pause to his projected championship challenge – he’s now more than 100 points back with just four races to go.

Note too that the third member of the Team Penske trio, Will Power, has lost 52 points to Castroneves over the last six races. But he’s only 13 behind overall, thanks to his 39-point gap he had entering this stretch of six races in four weekends.

On that note, here’s how the points have shifted since Texas Motor Speedway, June 7:

POINTS
# Driver  E TMS L6 Total TMS Chg
3 Castroneves C 331 202 533 2 +1
12 Power C 370 150 520 1 -1
28 Hunter-Reay H 310 154 464 3
77 Pagenaud H 279 183 462 4
2 Montoya C 223 205 428 7 +2
9 Dixon C 214 173 387 8 +2
34 Munoz H 227 157 384 6 -1
10 Kanaan C 189 191 380 9 +1
25 Andretti H 235 140 375 5 -4
11 Bourdais C 180 178 358 12 +2
8 Briscoe C 179 165 344 13 +2
27 Hinchcliffe H 181 149 330 11 -1
83 Kimball C 169 148 317 14 +1
19 J.Wilson H 182 129 311 10 -4
7 Aleshin H 163 135 298 15
67 Newgarden H 151 137 288 17 +1
98 Hawksworth H 156 131 287 16 -1
15 Rahal H 147 119 266 19 +1
18 Huertas H 146 119 265 20 +1
14 Sato H 151 83 234 18 -2
17 Saavedra C 138 91 229 21
20 Conway C 122 96 218 22
20 Carpenter C 104 64 168 23
16 Filippi H 46 46

Points position under the “TMS” tab is where the driver sat after TMS, and the change is to the right since. Montoya, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Briscoe have all gained two positions, while Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson have each lost four.

The six doubleheader races are now in the books as well for 2014, with Rounds 6 and 7 at Detroit coming before Houston (Rounds 9 and 10) and Toronto (Rounds 13 and 14).

Unlike a year ago, when Dixon’s run of dominance on those three race weekends helped propel him toward the championship, no one driver stood out. Still, the top five drivers on the doubleheader weekends drove Chevrolets, and you can see for Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the doubleheaders have hurt their title chances:

POINTS
# Driver E 6 7 9 10 13 14
12 Power C 51 41 16 19 22 36 185
3 Castroneves C 34 53 22 13 41 21 184
10 Kanaan C 35 22 17 20 35 40 169
11 Bourdais C 17 10 32 30 54 22 165
83 Kimball C 22 35 12 32 26 32 159
27 Hinchcliffe H 28 32 33 16 24 12 145
77 Pagenaud H 8 28 16 51 33 8 144
98 Hawksworth H 11 17 28 35 17 28 136
9 Dixon C 20 32 11 12 30 26 131
19 J.Wilson H 32 18 21 18 20 21 130
18 Huertas H 24 15 51 7 16 15 128
20 Conway C 9 20 13 17 15 51 125
2 Montoya C 18 17 40 26 12 11 124
15 Rahal H 41 9 19 14 28 10 121
25 Andretti H 21 14 24 22 14 24 119
34 Munoz H 26 24 35 8 13 13 119
7 Aleshin H 14 27 7 41 19 7 115
8 Briscoe C 16 20 18 24 18 19 115
28 Hunter-Reay H 14 11 26 28 9 16 104
14 Sato H 12 14 9 11 7 30 83
17 Saavedra C 16 8 15 13 11 9 72
67 Newgarden H 10 13 10 10 10 18 71
16 Filippi H 9 15 8 14 46

After an off weekend this weekend, three “standard” race weekends – a single full-length race following a single qualifying session with standard points – are on tap at Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee and Sonoma, before the double points season finale at Fontana, which could drastically shake things up.

NHRA: Leah Pritchett sets new quickest national elapsed time record

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Photo: Don Schumacher Racing
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Pomona Winternationals winner Leah Pritchett added to her incredible start to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, one she came in with high hopes with anyway, with a slightly bigger accomplishment:

She set a new national elapsed time record for a 1,000-foot distance in NHRA history.

Pritchett, who drives the Don Schumacher Racing-entered, Todd Okuhara-tuned Papa John’s Top Fuel dragster, ran a 3.658-second pass at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on Friday outside Phoenix during the first day of qualifying for this weekend’s Arizona Nationals. The speed was 329.34 mph.

Incidentally, both Pritchett and Courtney Force set unofficial best times in Top Fuel and Funny Car testing, also at Wild Horse Pass, earlier this month.

You could barely put a piece of cheese between Pritchett’s two times; her time at the test was 3.654 seconds, but because that’s a test it is not an official mark.

The previous official record in competition was a 3.671-second pass, which Steve Torrence set July 31, 2016 at Sonoma.

“To be behind the wheel of this machine that is constantly putting out time and time again fast numbers and quick numbers is, to be honest, a little bit difficult to comprehend,” Pritchett said, via NHRA.com. “It’s everything that dreams are made of. It’s almost too good to be true, but it’s not.”

For good measure, Pritchett’s teammate Tony Schumacher also eclipsed Torrence’s old mark with a side-by-side run to second at 3.667 seconds, and 323 mph and change in the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster.

Force led the Funny Car charts on the first day of qualifying, while Jason Line led Pro Stock. Both drivers drive Chevrolets.

Lest Force’s day be overshadowed, she set a record of her own. Force broke the track’s elapsed time and speed records during the opening session of qualifying for Sunday’s NHRA Arizona Nationals with a pass of 3.838 seconds at 332.67 mph.

Force lost to Matt Hagan in the Pomona finals while Line beat his KB Racing teammate, Greg Anderson, for the Pomona win.

Butterball, Andretti Autosport extension is all gravy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the #28 Andretti Autosport Honda Dallara, practices during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Andretti Autosport and Butterball, a U.S.-based provider of turkey and poultry products, announced a new expansion of their partnership. The newly revamped agreement will see Butterball branding on all four Andretti Autosport entries in 2017.

“Butterball has been a great partner since 2014 and I’m really excited to have them on board again this year,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay. “They were with me when I won the Indianapolis 500 which was a really special moment for everyone involved. Hopefully we can bring them back into victory lane this year, not only at Indy, but throughout the season as well.”

The machines of Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato will feature branding just below the front suspension components. Per the announcement, the placement has created a new nickname for the assembly: “the Butterball Wishbone.”

“Butterball is extremely excited about our sponsorship with Andretti Autosport in 2017,” said Butterball CEO and President Kerry Doughty. “With the addition of the new Butterball Wishbone Sponsorship on all Andretti Autosport Indy cars for the 2017 season, we are expanding the tremendously successful relationship that began with Michael and Ryan in 2014 when we won the Indianapolis 500 in our first season.”

Butterball’s tenure with Andretti Autosport dates back to May 2014, shortly before Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed victory at the Indianapolis 500. Branding has been featured on Hunter-Reay No. 28 entry ever since.

Newgarden completes busy day in Detroit

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Photo: IndyCar
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Josef Newgarden’s media prowess and charisma was again in full display on Thursday during a series promotional efforts for June’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.

Specifically, Newgarden was in town for Detroit Grand Prix night at that night’s Pistons-Hornets NBA game.

The day began with Newgarden visiting a handful of Detroit news media outlets, where his most notable venture involved duking it out with Pistons mascot Hooper.

The day continued with Newgarden exploring more of the city, and getting in touch with its rock ‘n roll history.

That, Newgarden ventured to The Palace of Auburn Hills to the big promotional event of day, Detroit Grand Prix night. There, Newgarden was greeted with his own Detroit Pistons jersey and even tried a couple of half-court shots at halftime. However, he did not make any, making it less likely he’ll pursue a basketball career when he decides to hang up his helmet.

For an additional recap Detroit Grand Prix night, visit The Chevrolet’s Detroit Grand Prix twitter @detroitgp.

Entry lists revealed for MRTI Spring Training in Miami

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Kyle Kaiser in Miami, 2015. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The first real good, if not final, looks at the season to come in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires come with next week’s Spring Training, which sees four total days of action at the Homestead-Miami Speedway for all three rungs of the ladder.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will run February 27 on Homestead-Miami’s 1.5-mile oval and March 2 on the 2.21-mile road course. Meanwhile the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series will run solely on the road course over two back-to-back days, February 28 and March 1.

Indy Lights’ field seems closest to being finalized from this group, while Pro Mazda and USF2000 still have some gaps to fill.

In one other bit, Mazda will announce the teams of competition for its Soul Red-liveried drivers this year, all of whom won Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarships for their next step up this year. That’s why Aaron Telitz (Indy Lights), Anthony Martin (Pro Mazda) and Oliver Askew (USF2000) teams are listed as TBAs.

Anyway, quick notes:

Indy Lights (14 cars

All drivers on the Indy Lights entry list have been officially announced, and as noted, Telitz’s team is the only significant TBA of note. Car numbers are revealed for Zachary Claman De Melo and Matheus Leist at Carlin of 13 and 26 respectively, with the known in advance.

In terms of team breakdown, it’s four each at Carlin and Andretti Autosport (with Colton Herta’s No. 98 car an Andretti Steinbrenner Racing entry), Juncos Racing and Belardi Auto Racing each with two official cars and Team Pelfrey the lone one-car entry.

Of the 14 drivers, the field is split exactly in half between seven veterans and seven rookies.

Questions from here are whether one or two more cars not at this test will join the grid at St. Petersburg and push the number back up. Since the debut of the Dallara IL-15 Mazda in 2015, the St. Pete weekend has had 13 cars in 2015 and 16 cars last year, with this one falling in the middle.

Pro Mazda (6 cars)

In what’s very much a survive-and-advance season for Pro Mazda in the final year with its existing car, a small batch of cars come from Team Pelfrey, World Speed Motorsports and the team TBA for Anthony Martin for this test.

Within a 20-to-30-plus, multiple-class series of racing, six cars for one class wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But six on their own for an independent series is certainly an issue. The number simply has to grow by St. Petersburg to at least eight at a bare minimum, the low-water mark last year, with 10 a significant step forward at this rate (the series had 12 cars at St. Petersburg last year).

USF2000 (22 cars)

Quite by contrast, the new Tatuus USF-17 premieres in USF2000 with 22 cars at this test and the potential of more cars by St. Petersburg (the series had 26 starters last year with two additional withdrawals).

Six returning drivers join 12 rookies and four TBAs on this list, all split among 10 teams. Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay, initially announced as driving for Benik in 2017, is listed in a third Newman Wachs Racing entry for this test.