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.

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BREAKING: Wehrlein ruled out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: