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NASCAR schedule reveals some potential 2015 IndyCar schedule hints; Texas IndyCar returns

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If you remember the scene in Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance,” that line could well be referring to the assembled media getting the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. this weekend.

It almost certainly isn’t going to be revealed this weekend, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Considering there have been some past open-wheel schedules that have come out in the past with the ubiquitous “TBA” peppered throughout, it makes little to no sense for IndyCar to release a schedule that’s short of complete, or subject to change.

The way it stands now, IndyCar’s 2015 schedule still has many moving parts.

Still, with today’s NASCAR schedule releases, there are some hints about dates that could well be relevant from an IndyCar standpoint. And it’s also key to note which races fall on weekends where you’ll likely be seeing two NASCAR races on NBC or NBCSN, and how that may affect time slots for when IndyCar can slot in on NBCSN.

First off, the NBC Sports Group portion of the NASCAR schedule begins from the first weekend of July, with both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series (under its new title sponsor name) from Daytona. Nationwide is July 4 on NBCSN, and Sprint Cup July 5 on NBC.

If you sync up the current 2014 IndyCar weekends with the NASCAR on NBC weekends from July through the first weekend of September, when Labor Day occurs and the series again plans to end, you’d have seven as-2014 weekends to note: Pocono, Iowa, and Toronto the first weekends of July, Mid-Ohio the first weekend of August, and Milwaukee, Sonoma and Fontana to round out the month of August.

Here’s where the hints occur. Pocono’s Cup dates of June 7 and August 2 leave enough of a gap for IndyCar to return around the same time as this year. The catch is track president Brandon Igdalsky said earlier this year advance ticket sales were down and it would be a challenge for the race to continue on 4th of July weekend. So could this race, in the third year of its three-year contract, fall on the last weekend of June or the second weekend of July? Either’s possible, given some other possible schedule alterations.

Iowa’s NASCAR dates are May 17 and August 1 for Nationwide. May 17 won’t work as that’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying, and August 1 will likely be Mid-Ohio’s date. However, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series date is Friday, June 19… which would imply that if it and IndyCar share the same weekend, as they did this year, IndyCar would race Saturday night, June 20. IndyCar has raced in that date previously and that weekend in June was an off weekend this year, so likely, it seems that this date will shift from its July 12 date this year.

We get to Toronto next, and that’s the Canadian mystery at the moment. Shortly after Toronto, the Globe and Mail reported the possibility of IndyCar moving its race to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, which could make sense. Additionally, it was noted by NBCSN IndyCar insider Robin Miller, in a piece for RACER.com, to have had increased traction in the last couple weeks. The reason Toronto would shift is due to the 2015 Pan-Am Games falling during the race’s traditional July date.

June options are becoming limited with Texas Motor Speedway confirming IndyCar’s return Saturday night June 6, the night after NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, and that possible Iowa date shift back to June. Detroit will again have the weekend after the Indianapolis 500. So Toronto, whose street race was angling for that second weekend-in-June date – especially one which could have made logistical sense the week after Detroit – appears a less likely proposition at that time.

Mid-Ohio’s NASCAR date is August 15, which would all but ensure IndyCar’s race there will again be two weeks ahead of it on August 2, as it was this year.

A likely three-week break would open up with Labor Day moved back to September 7, 2015. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Dave Kallmann has pegged the August 22-23 weekend as the date for Milwaukee IndyFest, which would fall in the middle of an August sports logjam in the state of Wisconsin. The state will be as filled with sporting events as most Wisconsin State Fair goers are with deep fried foods.

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race from Road America is set for Sunday August 9, and the Nationwide weekend at Road America has shifted to a Cup off weekend and the last Saturday of the month, August 29, after occurring on June 21 this year. Add in the aforementioned State Fair and the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. August 10-16 for the craziness.

Sonoma, if it falls the weekend after the projected Milwaukee date, would be August 30. Track president Steve Page told the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin that date is likely this past weekend.

IndyCar at Road America? We wrote about the possibility after the Road America TUDOR Championship weekend this year, and while track president George Bruggenthies has extended the olive branch to IndyCar, it doesn’t appear TUDOR – which would make the most sense with an Indy/TUDOR doubleheader weekend the second half of August – would be keen on the pairing.

It also doesn’t appear IndyCar would race solo at Road America in June, even if it has an off weekend to do so. Why so, you ask? After a run of consecutive days on track and race weekends from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis mid-May through Texas June 6, the crews and teams would need an off weekend that second weekend in June.

Lastly we come to Fontana, to come full circle from where this post began nearly 900 words ago. Frankly, and despite a strong and committed level of promotion from Auto Club Speedway, ISC, and track president Gillian Zucker, INDYCAR has done ACS zero favors in terms of a consistent date for date equity since its return to the calendar after a seven-year absence.

Yeah, it’s been the last date of the season for three years. But that last date has been September 15, 2012, October 19, 2013 and now August 30, 2014 in three consecutive seasons. How can most locals know when the race is if it changes on them three straight years?

This year, Zucker has justifiably spoken out, confirming to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that a Labor Day date – one Miles has held firm the IndyCar Series needs to end by – won’t work for the track. It’s going to be a challenge because the NBCSN race telecast doesn’t start until 9 p.m. ET Saturday night, with the race scheduled to start at 7:20 p.m. local time (10:20 p.m. ET).

So suddenly one of the big things we have to watch this weekend is how Fontana deals with the date, and what could happen about its date changing again for the following season.

Essentially, here’s where we’re at for the IndyCar 2015 schedule.

Confirmed dates, as announced either by the track or series include:

  • March 16-17, Barber open test, March 29, St. Petersburg, April 19, Long Beach, May 9, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 16-17, Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, May 24, Indianapolis 500, May 30-31, Detroit Belle Isle, June 6, Texas Motor Speedway

Likely dates, based on projections and similar weekends as in 2014:

  • June 20, Iowa, August 2, Mid-Ohio, August 23, Milwaukee, August 30, Sonoma

Question marks, where the date or venue could change:

  • Barber (should be either side of Long Beach in April), Houston (currently last weekend in June, not yet confirmed for same date in 2015), Pocono (possible from either last weekend in June through second weekend in July), Toronto (as mentioned above, neither venue nor date is confirmed), Fontana (date TBD; we’ll see how this week shakes out)

Wild cards, either new venues and/or the proposed international races:

  • Canada’s date du jour. Assume the Canadian Grand Prix occurs June 7, and with IndyCar at Texas June 6, that potential Toronto-Montreal date conflict is averted. Either late June or one of the July weekends could work for a CTMP, Mont-Tremblant or other random Canadian venue date. Toronto’s streets could work June 13, potentially, but that seems a likely off weekend.
  • New Orleans is possible for 2015 – Michael Andretti’s group seemed keen on it happening next year during his Milwaukee pre-race media availability.
  • The two locations mooted for the spring international races, likely in February or early March, are Dubai and Brazil. Details on those would need to be forthcoming, but they wouldn’t feature the new-for-2015 aero kits as they’re not delivered to teams until March 1. Of course, we’ve been down the “international race” path before without it actually going anywhere.
  • Road America. As mentioned above, unlikely for 2015, but we can dream, right?

Hinchcliffe gets call to dance on Dancing with the Stars

FORT WORTH, TX - AUGUST 27: James Hinchcliffe driver of the #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda speaks during a media conference before the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on August 27, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Helio Castroneves has won three Indianapolis 500s, but it was his turn on “Dancing with the Stars” that had as much to do with vaulting him into the national consciousness of mainstream Americana – if not more so – as those three victories.

James Hinchcliffe, meanwhile, has the engaging, dynamic personality that has captured the hearts of the North American open-wheel paddock and fan base for nearly a decade. And he’ll get his own mainstream Americana chance on the next season of “DWTS.”

Hinchcliffe was announced Tuesday morning on “Good Morning America” as part of the new season cast for the new season of the ABC show, which premieres September 12. The report was initially identified by the Indianapolis Star.

“Well, I can honestly say this will rank just above the Indy 500 as one of the most nerve-wracking things that I’ve ever agreed to do,” Hinchcliffe said in a team release.

“Normally I’m used to working under pressure in front of a live audience, but I can’t see them, so this should be a totally new experience for me and especially as someone with no ability to dance whatsoever.”

The 29-year-old Canadian follows Castroneves as Verizon IndyCar Series drivers on the show; former NASCAR team owner and two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip was also on the show a few years ago.

Hinchcliffe sits eighth in points for the 2016 season driving the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. He has three podiums, including a hard-luck runner-up finish Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway by just 0.008 of a second to Graham Rahal, after leading from the restart and after the joke of him leading for 76 straight days in the race’s rain delay.

He also scored a famous pole position for this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500, a year after near fatal injuries sustained in an accident in practice in 2015.

Pagenaud, Rahal extoll “unbelievably fast” Watkins Glen

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Rahal (15) and Pagenaud (22). Photo: IndyCar
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The Verizon IndyCar Series points leader and most recent winner are high enough on life anyway following Saturday night’s resumption of the rain-delayed Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

But Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal might be even happier headed into this weekend’s Watkins Glen Grand Prix (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), a late add to the 2016 calendar to replace what would have been a first-time street race in Boston.

We caught up with both drivers a few weeks ago before Pocono, while IndyCar was in the midst of a couple off weekends (albeit still with a heavy testing slate).

And both drivers have extolled the 3.4-mile permanent road course in Upstate New York, recently repaved, while noting how “unbelievably fast” it is after testing there.

“It’s really quick man. It was good fun. I was definitely impressed with what we’re experiencing there,” Rahal, who won Saturday night at Texas, told NBC Sports.

“G-load wise, it might be insane. Mid-Ohio was 4.5 Gs in qualifying in Turn 1. There might be some spots at the Glen where it’s that and then some. It’ll be intense.

“For whoever will go and see it, they should enjoy myself. Watching that on-board, which isn’t even at eye-level, because the camera is a little higher up, you can visibly see a lot more… and people are like holy crap!!

“Everyone is blown away by the speeds. If the fans want to go to any race, go to that place, because it looks like unbelievably fast.”

Pagenaud added similar thoughts from an earlier test this year in June, a Firestone tire test.

“Watkins Glen… oh man, it’s absolutely nuts!!” he told NBC Sports. “The tarmac design they have is really grippy. The tires are very consistent. Not much degradation. There’s very high pace and the commitment level is what impresses me the most. So much downforce but also so much grip, it’s doubly what we get! There’s a video game kinda feel!

“You’ll have to brake as little as possible. It’s hard to feel the car. Push those commitment limits, float with the limits. The reaction is really fast.”

Pagenaud, who tested in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet colors but will have a different primary sponsor this go-around, explained how he thinks the race could play out.

“Passing will be difficult… but you can make it happen before the Bus Stop. Push to Pass is awesome for acceleration. It might be more of an advantage uphill. Should be good device. Honestly… there could be a big game of downforce levels. Some might trim out, or put more on.”

Rahal spent his morning session at the August test watching Ed Jones – the Indy Lights driver, not his actual engineer of his No. 15 Mi-Jack/RLL Honda Eddie Jones – in the car. And he was blown away with what he witnessed.

“It looks crazy from outside. I was telling [Jake] Query – and I went out and watched – Ed Jones was in my car, and I was like, holy crap!! How am I gonna get up to speed that fast?!?

“It looked insane. I watched from Bus Stop, then the Carousel on down. That left-hander before the pit entry and then the last right-hander onto the front straight is ridiculously, crazy fast. You’re flat through the left, and it’s nuts man. From the outside, there’s the grandstand, and your jaw just drops.

“It’s one of the first times you sit and watch… you legitimately will be blown away.”

Mazda MX-5 VIR photo finish caps busy sports/touring car weekend

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Photo: Mazda Motorsports
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We already touched on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge races from VIRginia International Raceway but this weekend featured quite a bit more sports car and touring car racing action from around the globe.

Here’s some very quick recaps and race winners in events of note:

Also at VIR, the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup ran a pair of races. The second one, Sunday morning, was the highlight of the weekend.

In a crazy five-car deep finish featuring the new Global MX-5 Cup car, series veteran Nathanael Sparks finally secured his first career victory to extend his championship points lead.  The margin of victory from Sparks to Chris Stone was 0.017 seconds, while the margin from first to fifth was just 0.15 seconds. You can watch the finish below, with commentary via the Radio Show Limited team of Shea Adam and past MX-5 Cup series champion Kenton Koch.

Sparks finished runner-up in the first race of the weekend on Saturday to Dean Copeland, with Nikko Reger in third. Sparks, Stone and John Dean II were the podium on Sunday. Sparks leads Ara Malkhassian, 501-432, in the championship with Copeland third on 423.

The $200,000 Mazda Road to 24 scholarship is on the line entering the finale at Road Atlanta next month, although a trip out to Mazda’s spiritual home track, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, beckons next Sept. 9-11 for the non-points Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational.

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

The Porsche GT3 Cup USA Challenge by Yokohama ran a pair of races at VIR as well. Well, “races” in the academic sense – Montreal’s Jesse Lazare continued his domination at the front of the field in the No. 21 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche. Lazare swept to his eighth and ninth wins of the year in 12 races.

On Saturday, Lazare beat Andrew Longe by 1.296 seconds while on Sunday, he beat Lucas Catania to the finish by 13.761 seconds, a season-high. Lazare padded his points lead over Longe to 213-178. Catania is third with 173.

Saturday’s race included a red flag period of 21 minutes due to a single-car accident involving Platinum Masters competitor Bill Peluchiwski in the No. 74 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche. Peluchiwski is awake and alert and has been admitted to an area hospital for evaluation. Further updates will follow at a later date.

This series heads next to Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 14-17) and finishes at Road Atlanta (Sept. 28-Oct. 1).

Michimi. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini
Michimi. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

The Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America series joined others in the doubleheader at VIR. And like in Porsche, there was only one overall winner. Shinya Michimi of Prestige Performance (representing Lamborghini Paramus) won his fifth and sixth races in eight overall this year.

Of note, Indianapolis 500 rookie Stefan Wilson scored his first series podium in race two, coming third in the Pro-Am category with co-driver David Seabrooke for Prestige.  Additionally, full-time Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda competitor Yufeng Luo made his series debut and in race one, finishing third overall and first in Pro-Am with teammate Richard Antinucci for Shane Senaviratne’s US RaceTronics team.

Lamborghini’s last U.S. round of the year takes place at Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 14-17) before the World Final in Valencia, Spain in December.

Whincup (left) and Lowndes (right). (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Australia’s Virgin Australia Supercars Championship ran two races at Sydney Motorsport Park this weekend, with Shane van Gisbergen (No. 97 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore VF) and Jamie Whincup (No. 88 Red Bull Holden) winning the two races. But it milestones for Whincup and Craig Lowndes took over in the spotlight.

Whincup’s win was particularly important; it was his 100th of his career. A fuller breakdown is linked here via the Supercars official website, as is a tribute from series chief James Warburton.

Longtime teammate Lowndes, a legend in his own right and the only other driver to have 100 races, celebrated a milestone of his own by hitting the 600-start mark. Fuller stories on that is linked here and here as well, while it appears a new deal for him to stay with Triple Eight boss Roland Dane is looming on the horizon. This year, Lowndes drives the TeamVortex Holden Commodore VF.

Supercars is next up at Sandown Sept. 16-18 and then runs its premier race of the year, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, Oct. 7-9.

Toyota Gazoo Racing FIA WEC driver and past IndyCar race winner Mike Conway made a cameo in the Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca 05 Nissan and helped that team’s No. 46 entry with co-drivers Pierre Thiriet and Mathias Beche to its third win in a row at the European Le Mans Series‘ race in Paul Ricard (LMP2 class). Conway filled in for Ryo Hirakawa, who was on Super GT duty.

Others of note… ex-IndyCar and GP2 veteran Stefano Coletti was second in the SMP car he shares with Julian Leal and Andreas Wirth, Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed entry was third, Graff won LMP3 with its No. 9 car but the No. 10 car that features Americans Sean Rayhall and John Falb failed to finish, and Mike Hedlund’s Proton Competition Porsche he shared with Wolf Henzler and Marco Seefried was sixth in GTE, a class won by JMW Motorsport.

ELMS is next up at Spa on Sept. 25, with the season finale at Estoril on Oct. 23.

The Japanese Autobacs Super GT Series was in Suzuka this weekend for a 1000 km race. Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura won overall in the GT500 class in the No. 38 Zent Cerumo Lexus RC F. Hirakawa and James Rossiter failed to finish. Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi won in GT300 in the No. 61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport Subaru BRZ GT300.

Next up for them is Thailand Oct. 8-9.

 

Alex Keyes breaks through for GRC Lites win at Atlantic City

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Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Alex Keyes, who’s running a limited season in the GRC Lites division of Red Bull Global Rallycross this season, secured his first 2016 win on Sunday in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Teammate Cabot Bigham finished fifth and retains the GRC Lites points lead, with two more weekends of the year to go in Seattle and Los Angeles. Bigham won the series’ most recent final round in Washington, D.C.

The series’ race recap is below:

IN BRIEF: Alex Keyes did something he’d never done before: he won every single session of GRC Lites action in Atlantic City. From turning the fastest laps in practice and qualifying, to winning both of his heats and the main event, he posted the first perfect weekend of his career; first-time podium finisher Travis PeCoy and Colin Braun placed second and third.

HEAT RECAPS: Keyes blasted out to the lead in both of his heats to back up his pole position and earn lane choice in the main event. Conner Martell, who qualified second overall, won the other first-round heat, but fell back to third in the second round; instead, it was AF Racing Team’s Christian Brooks who would take his first career heat victory in that session. Braun would earn the win in the last chance qualifier over defending series champion Oliver Eriksson.

MAIN EVENT RECAP: For a majority of the race, the podium wasn’t in question; Keyes jumped out to an early lead, PeCoy settled into second place by the second lap, and Braun staked a claim to third place before the race reached halfway. But behind them, the field shuffled throughout the race, with championship contenders having to deal with the implications.

Miki Weckstrom briefly held a top-three spot, but slid back in the pack as the race went on. Martell also had to claw his way forward in the main event to get back into the top six. It was championship leader Cabot Bigham who did the most work to get up front, though; after falling back to ninth on the start, he still made his way back up to fifth. Likewise, Eriksson still managed to salvage fourth place after his LCQ appearance.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: The results from Sunday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Atlantic City, the ninth round of the 2016 GRC Lites season:

  1. Alex Keyes, #24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
  2. Travis PeCoy, #3 AF Racing Team
  3. Colin Braun, #56 CORE autosport
  4. Oliver Eriksson, #16 Olsbergs MSE X Forces
  5. Cabot Bigham, #2 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
  6. Conner Martell, #21 DirtFish Motorsports
  7. Miki Weckstrom, #45 Olsbergs MSE X Forces
  8. Sandra Hultgren, #51 Olsbergs MSE X Forces
  9. Christian Brooks, #44 AF Racing Team
  10. Alejandro Fernandez, #126 AF Racing Team
  11. Cole Keatts, #53 Olsbergs MSE X Forces
  12. Jon Bennett, #54 CORE autosport

QUOTES: A selection of quotes from Sunday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Atlantic City, the ninth round of the 2016 GRC Lites season:

Alex Keyes, #24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: “This is a great way to end my half of the year! It’s actually been a pretty rough year so far, I haven’t had the results that I’ve wanted, and I’ve made some mistakes along the way. It feels great to finish good, because there are a lot of great people behind it. We have some new partners, but I’m still at DRR—I love the team and everyone on there. We have a mechanic with a birthday today, so this is a nice gift for him. Everyone on the team has been great, and it’s been a great year.”

Travis PeCoy, #3 AF Racing Team: “It’s been building this whole season. The last race, I was fourth and chasing the podium, so I had to get it done this weekend. Keyes was unstoppable this weekend, so kudos to him—he was on rails all day. The Joker really came in handy, and then Weckstrom made a mistake, so I was able to capitalize on that. It was really good racing, thanks to everyone who ran a proper and clean race, and thanks to my whole team. They work so hard, especially coming off of a terrible qualifying run, so it was a surprise to find myself in second. I’m stoked for my mechanics and all my sponsors.”

Colin Braun, #56 CORE autosport: “It’s a blast! This is so fun, very different from what I came from in the style of racing. We proved today that if you find yourself in the LCQ, and you have a fast car, you’re not out of it—but it makes it a lot harder. Hats off to these guys. The CORE autosport guys did a great job of getting the car fixed back up in between rounds, my spotter made a good call on the Joker, and we had good pace. It’s a whole new world, and it’s a blast.”

FAST FACTS: A collection of facts from Sunday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Atlantic City, the ninth round of the 2016 GRC Lites season:

  • Alex Keyes earned the fourth victory of his GRC Lites career, and his first of the 2016 season, on Sunday at Bader Field. It was Keyes’ second podium of the season after a third place in Phoenix, in his final scheduled appearance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing this year.
  • Travis PeCoy earned his first career Lites podium by placing second in Atlantic City. He also gave the AF Racing Team its first podium result of 2016, while besting a season-high result of fourth earned at Washington DC last month.
  • Colin Braun gave CORE autosport its second podium finish of the season with a third place result on Sunday. Braun’s first podium of the year came in his Lites debut in Daytona in June.
  • None of the top five drivers in the championship standings earned podium finishes on Sunday. Oliver Eriksson (second in points) led the group with a fourth place run, while championship leader Cabot Bigham followed him in fifth.
  • Christian Brooks won the first heat of his GRC Lites career in the second round of heats on Sunday. Brooks finished ninth in the main event.

UNOFFICIAL DRIVER POINTS:

  1. Cabot Bigham, 344
  2. Oliver Eriksson, 324
  3. Miki Weckstrom, 306
  4. Conner Martell, 267
  5. Christian Brooks, 210
  6. Alex Keyes, 178
  7. Travis PeCoy, 175
  8. Tanner Whitten, 165
  9. Alejandro Fernandez, 153
  10. Colin Braun, 106
  11. Collete Davis, 94
  12. Parker Chase, 85
  13. Harry Gottsacker, 85
  14. Trenton Estep, 57
  15. Blake “Bilko” Williams, 55
  16. Sandra Hultgren, 36
  17. Preston Murray, 33
  18. Jon Bennett, 29
  19. Cole Keatts, 15
  20. Nur Ali, 3