Schatz with Tony Stewart in 2009. Photo: Getty Images

INDYCAR sponsors 10 drivers in Chili Bowl, including Donny Schatz

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Sure, NASCAR is well-represented at this week’s 31st Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with drivers like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson and two-time defending Chili Bowl champ Rico Abreu.

But the IndyCar world is also a major part of the Chili Bowl contingent, sponsoring 10 drivers with roots of some type in the open-wheel racing league.

The Chili Bowl opened Tuesday and continues through Saturday night’s A Main championship event.

“Our heritage closely connects INDYCAR with iconic events like the Chili Bowl Nationals and the list of greats who have competed in short-track open-wheel cars for decades,” said C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We’re proud to announce the Team INDYCAR contingency award program and our list of entrants competing in Tulsa this week.

“This effort recognizes some greats of the sport along with some promising young talent that we hope to someday see in an Indy car. We join midget racing followers across the country in following their progress at the Chili Bowl.”

According to an IndyCar media release, “The Team INDYCAR program includes sponsorship for each car plus contingency prizes that include a $5,000 bonus should a Team INDYCAR driver win Saturday’s championship feature race. Other bonuses include $1,000 to any team driver who finishes second or third in the championship feature, $500 to any team driver qualifying for the championship feature and an additional $500 for the best finisher among Team INDYCAR.”

Here’s the Team INDYCAR lineup:

Chad Boat: Son of 1998 Indy 500 pole sitter and winner of IndyCar race at Texas, Billy Boat, who also won 1997 IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway and 1997 Chili Bowl winner. Chad has qualified for the Chili Bowl four times.

Jerry Coons Jr.: One of five drivers to win a USAC championship in midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crowns (the others are Tony Stewart, Pancho Carter, J.J. Yeley and Darland). Also finished fourth in the 2016 Chili Bowl and holds the record for most consecutive championship feature appearances at 13 and counting.

Tyler Courtney: Drives #Driven2SaveLives car for Clauson-Marshall Racing in honor of the late Bryan Clauson. Courtney won Tuesday’s first preliminary A feature race, earning a spot in Saturday’s A Main championship feature. Driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing, which is co-owned by Tim Clauson, Bryan’s father.

Dave Darland: legendary short-track racer, has won more than 100 USAC events; named Tuesday as inductee to National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. This year is Darland’s 20th Chili Bowl; best finish of second.

“It’s great to be part of this program and great that INDYCAR and the sprint car/midget connection is still there,” Darland said in a media release. “The Indianapolis 500 is what almost all of us grew up dreaming about. The Chili Bowl is our Indianapolis 500 and Mardi Gras put together. It would be a lot of fun to win it with all the great drivers here, certainly would be meaningful.”

David Gravel: Driving Tony Elliott Foundation entry; competing in third Chili Bowl.

Davey Hamilton Jr.: Son of longtime INDYCAR driver and current INDYCAR Radio Network analyst Davey Hamilton.

Kyle O’Gara: Indy Lights and USAC midget competitor. Won USAC National Pavement Midget championship and STARS national midget owner’s championship in 2014. Is brother-in-law of longtime INDYCAR driver/team owner Sarah Fisher and drives for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

Davey Ray: 2002 Chili Bowl Rookie of the Race. Third-generation racer helped celebrate Tony Stewart’s last Brickyard 400 on the temporary dirt track built inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway last summer.

Donny Schatz (pictured above): Won 2016 Craftsman World of Outlaws championship for Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing, with 25 feature wins last year, his eighth championship overall and third straight winged sprint car series title. Has more than 200 career victories, including nine of the last 11 Knoxville Nationals, but is making his Chili Bowl debut with Clauson-Marshall Racing.

Tyler Seavey: Racing for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing as a teammate to O’Gara; second trip to Chili Bowl.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

Follow@KyleMLavigne