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NASCAR: Milka Duno to race selected Nationwide Series events

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Milka Duno – she of the four-year IndyCar career that included this memorable disagreement with then-fellow IndyCar driver Danica Patrick at Mid-Ohio, and not a single top-10 finish – has since made the switch to ARCA stock cars, and raced without much in the way of success for several years.

Despite the limited success, Duno has always enjoyed a healthy level of support from her native Venezuela. She’s just been less than stellar on track for the majority of her career.

And it’s with that as a preamble that we reveal this news: she’s racing selected NASCAR Nationwide Series events for RAB Racing.

Ordinarily with press releases like this you just pick out a quote or two, offer a stat or two to complement it and leave it at that for a quick post.

But in this case, I’m gonna say it’s important to show the whole thing, because it’s an… erm… shall we say there were some “performance enhancements” within the release.

Duno signs limited NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule with RAB Racing

Los Angeles, Calif. (August 4, 2014) – RAB Racing has signed multiple race-winning driver Milka Duno to compete in select races in the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series and with the entry Duno will become the first Hispanic female driver in history to compete in a NASCAR national series in the United States.

A successful driver who has competed in multiple racing series Duno has eight major race wins in the highest classes (Prototype) in the American Le Mans Series and the Grand American Rolex Series and the highest finish ever by a female driver (2nd place) in the 24 Hours at Daytona – in the now 52-year history of the race.

When she won the Rolex Series Grand Prix of Miami she became the first woman in history to win a major international race in the USA.

In 2007, Duno was also the first Hispanic female driver, in the now 103-year history of the race, to qualify for and compete in the world famous Indianapolis 500. Duno competed in the Indianapolis 500 for three consecutive seasons and in the IndyCar Series for four consecutive seasons – running partial schedules in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and a full schedule in 2010.

In making her transition to stock car racing and her ultimate entry into NASCAR Duno has been competing in the ARCA Racing Series (ARCA) for the past three seasons. In 2011 and 2012 she competed in partial schedules and in her first full ARCA season in 2013, competing with Venturini Motorsports, she finished the season 7th in the driver point standings and became the 2nd highest finishing female driver in ARCA’s now 62-year history. Duno is also the first Hispanic female driver to compete in ARCA.

During her 2013 ARCA season Duno started 2nd in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway and took the lead on the first lap and led the race for several laps – becoming the first Hispanic female driver to lead an ARCA race.

At Talladega Superspeedway she earned the pole, led the race and became the first Hispanic female driver to earn an ARCA pole. She also became only the fourth female driver in ARCA history, and only the second female driver in 25 years, to earn an ARCA pole at Talladega. Duno finished her 2013 ARCA season 3rd in most laps completed and 3rd in hard charger points.

“I’m really very excited and honored to enter into NASCAR and the Nationwide Series,” said Duno. “It has always been a goal and dream of mine to compete in NASCAR and I worked very hard in ARCA to turn this goal into a reality. I always strive to challenge myself as a driver and I’ve been fortunate to compete in many types of racing – and while the competition is always my number one focus – I am very proud of the history that I have made as a female driver, and the Hispanic sports history as well, that has been made along the way.” Added Duno, “NASCAR is the most competitive and popular racing series in the USA and I’m very proud to enter the series with RAB Racing and I look forward to competing with them in their No. 29 Toyota Camry.”

Veteran crew chief Chris Rice will helm Duno’s NNS effort. In 2013, Rice lead RAB Racing’s No. 99 Toyota Camry to two poles, two top-5 finishes, and six top-10 finishes.

“We’ve watched Milka develop in the ARCA Racing Series and feel she is prepared for the next step in her stock car racing career,” said RAB Racing owner Robby Benton. “I think that working together with Chris Rice, Milka can find a home in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. She has a very strong fan base and we hope we can attract them to follow her in her NASCAR endeavors. Milka is very intelligent and educated and we look forward to working with her.”

If you’ve followed Duno’s career for any length of time, you’re aware how enhanced those quotes and stats can be.

That aforementioned Rolex Grand Prix of Miami, Duno ran less than half an hour in the two and a half hour plus race, and co-driver Andy Wallace needed to perform a minor miracle to recover the lost time, claw back the deficit and win the race.

She was frequently black flagged in IndyCar for failing to sustain the minimum pace on road and street courses.

Leading an ARCA race at Daytona is hardly the racing world’s most memorable accomplishment.

All that aside, I do wish Duno the best, and I also hope for her sake and the team’s sake that her past performances in other forms of motorsport do not negatively impact her NASCAR career.

If it means to her as much as she says it does within this release, ideally she’s improved her craft enough in ARCA to where she will not be a potential liability on track.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.