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Free agent Conor Daly looking for more successful IndyCar situation in ’17

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IndyCar driver Conor Daly is looking for a new racing home in the IndyCar ranks for 2017.

But that didn’t stop Daly from attending the opening day of practice for the Formula One United States Grand Prix Friday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

NBCSN’s Will Buxton had a chance to sit down with Daly, who despite being a free agent for 2017, has a very optimistic outlook that he’ll soon find a new home.

“I’m driving for Red Bull in Formula One next year. They’re going to run a third car,” Daly quipped, somewhat stunning Buxton at first before revealing he was joking.

“No, I’m just focusing on IndyCar,” Daly said. “There’s a couple teams with a lot of open seats. We’re talking to everyone in the business.

“I would have loved to come back with Coyne (Dale Coyne Racing), but there seems to be some different stuff happening there.

“Either way, I love IndyCar, want to be in IndyCar, that’s where my heart is. So whether it’s Foyt, ECR (Ed Carpenter Racing), Andretti, you never know what’s going to happen, so we’ll see.”

But Daly wouldn’t let the F1 angle die altogether. When Buxton asked Daly about having previously tested for Force India, Daly said it’s an unlikely possibility, but still an intriguing one.

“I love Bob (deputy team principal Bob Fernley) and everyone at Force India,” Daly said. “They made my European career happen.

“I actually told them earlier: ‘Hey, Bob, I’m available. I’m ready.’ But I think there’s a few other fish in the sea.”

Daly came in second to Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi as the IndyCar circuit rookie of the year, but he took pride in being named the top overtaking driver of the year in IndyCar in 2016.

“Yeah, I passed 87 cars this year, which was fun because I like racing, so that was quite enjoyable,” Daly said. “We came home with one award this year, so there you go.”

Perhaps the most important question – and Daly reply – was when he was asked if he feels ready to step up in class in IndyCar to a more consistently successful team.

“I think so,” Daly said. “I was really happy with this year. We had a lot of ups and downs and I made some mistakes, but we also had more positives than negatives.

“I’m excited about the future and continue making IndyCar great again and I’m excited about how we can go about doing that.”

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NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”