This week, normality will resume for James Hinchcliffe in his day job as driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“Dancing with the Stars” is over, as is a Race of Champions appearance. His annual drive in the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Mazda Motorsports provided a good refresher to a completely different kind of race car to kick off a new year.
It’ll be a busy few days, as Hinchcliffe and teammate Mikhail Aleshin will have their first test together of the new year starting tomorrow at Sonoma Raceway. That’s before IndyCar’s official preseason test – Prix View at Phoenix Raceway – takes place this Friday and Saturday at the 1-mile oval.
For Hinchcliffe, this will be the first time back in his IndyCar since a single-day test in October at Gateway Motorsports Park. Inevitably there’s less fanfare for the now-30-year-old Canadian’s return to the cockpit this year since it’s not coming on the heels of his injury recovery last year, but that’s not a bad thing.
“We did a day in October at Gateway but that was the last time I was in the car. We’re going to be out in Sonoma the second week of February, just before the Phoenix test,” Hinchcliffe said.
“Obviously, there’s a lot we can pull off of last year’s performances with the team and engine and rules staying static. There’s not a whole lot to learn, it’s just a polishing up areas we can do better and try to find that little bit extra on performance and consistency.”
Hinchcliffe admitted his end to the 2016 season was brutal and probably cost him the potential of roughly a top-five to certainly a top-seven finish in the championship, with lost points at Texas, Watkins Glen and Sonoma otherwise damning a very good season.
SPM will have the same two drivers in its lineup in consecutive years, for the first time since expanding to a two-car lineup, with Aleshin’s admittedly late deal now sealed up. Hinchcliffe is also bullish on the continuity within his crew this year, not expecting many changes.
“Continuity is something that always leads to success in motorsports. The 5 car is completely unchanged, last time I checked unless there’s been some mechanics left since last Tuesday. That’s a huge thing, being able to build that relationship and keep working together. Hopefully, that bodes well for us,” he said.
With the aero kits locked in this year, although there are still some parts opened up for development, Hinchcliffe and the No. 5 crew will look to build on their progress and consistency of last year for even better results and a return to victory lane.
“The outlook for us is quite positive. We didn’t end up points-wise where we wanted to be in the championship for a couple different reasons, but the pace was there,” he said. “We had some really good, consistent races where we didn’t have that good of a car and yet the team showed that we could bring home a good result on days where things were kind of working against us. That’s what you really need to put together a championship effort. So we’re going to work on those areas we need to work on, and hopefully the pace we had last year, we’ll have this year.
“(2015) was a big struggle, the aero kit was holding us back big-time and really Rahal was the only team that got a good handle on it in qualifying trim. Occasionally, Takuma (Sato) would throw in a good performance for Foyt and maybe (Ryan) Hunter-Reay got in there once kind of thing, but qualifying was a big struggle for all of us.
“Going into ’16, that was certainly the focus with the new kit. It really brought us back into the mix and into the fight, and on street courses, I think we had one of the best Honda qualifying averages and on superspeedways we were good. Now if we can just polish up some of the road course qualifying and set up our race cars quite good, we’ll pretty much have it covered.”
Hinchcliffe’s Rolex 24 drive was halted by gearbox issues overnight in the debut of the Mazda RT24-P, but he was happy to be back in a more relaxed racing environment. He’s also smart enough to understand how important the Rolex 24 is for sports car manufacturers.
“It’s funny, whether it’s IndyCar guys or guys from other series, we look at this as this fun, cool opportunity to come race, but we also have to be very understanding and respectful that this is their Indy 500. There are guys that are running this championship the full season,” he explained.
“You can’t be blasé about it. You have to take it just as seriously as one of your own races. It’s crazy how much effort goes into this. I really see that sort of month of May fever around all the IMSA teams when you pull up to Daytona for the month of January, so to speak, because you start at the Roar in the beginning, then thrash on the cars for two weeks and then you come back and do a 24-hour race. Keeping the focus and all that is actually quite easy once you get going.”
A marathon Brickyard 400 is finally in the books on Sunday, but the allure of the Indianapolis 500 was a talking point among several drivers throughout the weekend within the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage.
As evidenced by two recent guest stars who’ve made their maiden Indianapolis 500 bows – Kurt Busch in 2014 and Fernando Alonso in 2017, both with Andretti Autosport (Alonso in a McLaren Honda Andretti) – when a star from another discipline of motorsport shows up for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, people take notice, and a heck of a lot of words get typed.
So who could be next from the NASCAR world making a crack at Indy, or simply paying a visit on race day? It’s always fun to prognosticate and look ahead, even if the chances seem remote and all the stars – and contracts – have to align to make it happen.
No one doubts the younger Busch brother’s ability, and the 2015 NASCAR Cup champion knows a thing or two about winning at Indianapolis. He won back-to-back Brickyards in 2015 and 2016 and was well on his way to a three-peat in 2017 before he and Martin Truex Jr. collided, continuing his unlucky, unhappy and thus far winless season.
On Friday Busch revealed he had a ride in place for this year’s Indianapolis 500, but said it fell through because his boss wouldn’t allow it. He didn’t specify whether said “boss” was wife Samantha Busch or his Cup series team boss, Joe Gibbs.
The issue with Busch running Indianapolis seems more a manufacturer-related one. Workarounds are possible but as Busch drives a Toyota in Cup, the likelihood of them being happy seeing him in a Honda – a fellow Japanese manufacturer – or a Chevrolet – a fellow NASCAR competitor – isn’t the best-case scenario. That’s not to say it can’t be done as Kurt Busch raced a Honda in 2014 while competing in a Chevrolet in NASCAR, but all parties would need to clear the way for this to happen.
This actually transitions nicely into a Kyle who could have an easier workaround from a manufacturer standpoint…
It’s the question of when, it seems, not if Larson races the Indianapolis 500. He’s said multiple times he wants to do and his team boss, Chip Ganassi has said he’s open to the idea himself. But it has to make sense from a timing standpoint. Yes, I’ll admit I wrote an admittedly last-ditch-for-2017 column about the idea earlier this year once Larson won at Auto Club Speedway, thus securing his playoff spot. But Ganassi doused water on the idea for this year in a gathering of reporters at St. Petersburg – noting how everyone blows up his social media in March and April for May of the current year, and it goes quiet in June, when the next year planning actually needs to take place.
Larson said this year’s two heavy accidents featuring his Ganassi teammates – IndyCar’s Scott Dixon and IMSA’s Sebastien Bourdais – have temporarily halted his desire.
Put aside the accidents for a minute and let’s get back to looking at Larson’s realistic prospects depending on how the manufacturer and car count scenario could shake out. There’s a good possibility Ganassi’s IndyCar program will downsize for the full season next year if one or more of its three non-Dixon drivers doesn’t return. But what that could do would be open the opportunities for a Honda engine lease and an extra chassis to run. Larson, a Ganassi driver, has driven other manufacturers for the team before; he’s won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in a Ford-powered prototype and he races a Chevrolet in NASCAR, so a Honda in IndyCar could work out for him.
Who says you can’t go home again? It’s easy to forget Kahne was a star on short tracks growing up, and had a handful of Formula Atlantic starts in 2001 before his NASCAR career began, and his Cup career started in 2004.
Kahne’s NASCAR Cup future seems uncertain at the moment but Sunday’s win at the Brickyard 400 was a massive boost for him. It ensures his playoff eligibility this year and helps further his case to see out the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports contract in 2018.
J. Douglas Boles, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track president, is renowned as a marketer and works incredibly hard from a promotional standpoint across the board. And the opportunity to have the active Brickyard 400 champion racing in the Indianapolis 500 the next year would be something to marvel at.
The reality of a situation would hinge on Kahne’s own desire to get back into open-wheel – he hasn’t been in an open-wheel car in more than a decade and he’s also a father now. But if he’s available, you wonder if it’s worth planting the seed.
Yes, I can’t believe I just typed that… and yet I also wonder if it’s possible once again. Like the others mentioned here she has been out of open-wheel for several years. She was IndyCar’s biggest star for a good six or seven years even if her results didn’t back it up.
This much we knew though. She was always good at Indianapolis, a regular top-five finisher and occasional win contender who generally took care of her equipment. She also hasn’t had the spotlight on her ability in the NASCAR side of affairs much, if at all, in recent years. Her results have been floundering at best; the occasional top-10 or top-15 finish is a surprise sprinkled in amidst a flurry of top-20s.
Like Kahne, her NASCAR future will be dictated by sponsorship and with the Nature’s Bakery lawsuit that occurred earlier this year leaving her Stewart-Haas Racing team looking to fill the gaps, you wonder how much more she’s willing to take beyond the rest of this year and into 2018.
Again, if she’s available, and more importantly if she’s interested, a comeback – especially in a year with a new universal aero kit that everyone would be learning – would undoubtedly dominate headlines.
While in this subhead, I’d also note Patrick’s boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (pictured above with Larson) would be a popular Indy 500 first-timer – particularly in a car with “BC Forever” logos and Jonathan Byrd’s support, the Byrd family having invested heavily and supported the late Bryan Clauson. It’s no secret Stenhouse and Clauson were close, and if there was a way for Stenhouse to clear the Ford manufacturer hurdle, he’d probably impress if he had the shot at the ‘500.
“Kes” actually has an IndyCar test under his belt, his surprise one-off run for Team Penske at Road America in 2016. And after his runner-up finish at the Brickyard on Sunday, he got super close to putting the fabled “blue deuce” into first place and delivering Roger Penske his first ‘400 win.
Last year, Team Penske president Tim Cindric gave it a “20 percent chance” Keselowski could one day race in both the ‘500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Better than nothing, right? It’s hard to see it for next year with Team Penske figuring to have both Helio Castroneves and/or Juan Pablo Montoya in Indianapolis 500 entries, the question being if one or both would be extra cars beyond their full season.
DALE EARNHARDT JR. AND JEFF GORDON
We can pretty much say straight up neither of these two will be racing in the ‘500. But Junior riffed this weekend, “I’ve never been to the Indy 500 obviously, so that would be a great experience. It’s an impressive place.”
Gordon’s driven the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 before, so it’d make sense and would be a natural to bestow the same honor to Earnhardt Jr. given his relationship with Chevrolet. It’s also worth noting new IndyCar team owner Mike Harding ran his Chevrolet for Gabby Chaves with Junior’s stylized No. 88 at this year’s race – and Earnhardt gave it his approval on social media.
It would not be a stretch to see Earnhardt a guest of either his longtime manufacturer or this team at next year’s race.
Just don’t expect to see him in a race car, because that might break the Internet.
One of the interesting nuggets about this 2017 Formula 1 season, as the year has ebbed and flowed between Mercedes and Ferrari on top with the occasional Red Bull surprise, is that a single driver has not recorded back-to-back victories through the first 10 races.
Sebastian Vettel kicked proceedings off at Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton then winning his first race of the year in Shanghai in the rain at the Chinese Grand Prix.
From there, it’s gone Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Bottas and Hamilton heading into this week’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
When looking back in the archives, you only need to look four years ago to 2013 to find the last time a season started with 10 races and no drivers having won back-to-backs Grands Prix – a streak which ran 11 races.
Kimi Raikkonen won at Melbourne to start the year, with Vettel then winning his first race of 2013 in controversial fashion in the infamous “Multi 21” Red Bull team orders fiasco with Mark Webber in Sepang at Melaysia.
Fernando Alonso then won for Ferrari, followed by Vettel, Alonso (that being his most recent Grand Prix win, Spain of 2013), Nico Rosberg, Vettel, Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton and Vettel. Hamilton’s win at Hungary in 2013 was his first win for the Mercedes AMG Petronas team after switching from McLaren.
But from here, Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 11 of that season, for what was his fifth victory of the season… and promptly ran the table from there. After there were no back-to-back winners in 10 races, Vettel won the last nine consecutively. His radio call after winning at Circuit of The Americas – “cherish these times” because you don’t know how long they’ll last – was particularly prescient as he never won again for Red Bull after 2013, then departed for Ferrari in 2015.
A year earlier, the 2012 season set an incredible mark with the first 14 races occurring before a driver recorded back-to-back victories, and again, it was Vettel who was first to win two in a row when he did at Singapore and Japan that season. Prior to that, the campaign opened with seven winners in as many races (Jenson Button, Alonso, Rosberg, Vettel, Pastor Maldonado, Webber, Hamilton) with a handful of those then winning further races from there.
As it sits now, Vettel hasn’t won since Monaco and the Hungaroring in Budapest – a similar low horsepower, high downforce type of track – represents his best chance to win his fourth Grand Prix of the season.
Hamilton, meanwhile, is already a four-time winner this year and a five-time winner in Hungary in his career.
A Vettel win would keep the streak of no back-to-back winners alive, with 11 races without a driver going back-to-back. A Hamilton win would end it at 10 and make him the first driver to put together a streak this year.
Either way, it’s been a refreshing change of pace because here have been the runs drivers have gone on since that 11-for-11 start without back-to-backs in the last five years (three race in a row or more win streaks; there have been several more two in a row streaks):
2013: Vettel wins last nine races in a row (Rounds 11-19)
2014: Hamilton wins four straight (Rounds 2-5), then wins five straight (Rounds 13-17)
2015: Hamilton wins three straight (Rounds 14-16), Rosberg wins three straight (Rounds 17-19)
2016: Rosberg wins four straight (Rounds 1-4), Hamilton wins four straight (Round 9-12), Rosberg wins three straight (Rounds 13-15), Hamilton wins four straight (Rounds 18-21)
The third Grand Prix for the month of July and fourth in the last six weeks for Formula 1 after races in Baku, Spielberg and Silverstone takes place this week with the Hungarian Grand Prix from Budapest.
After a couple races on CNBC, the channel is simple this weekend: it’s NBCSN for all sessions on TV with free practice two (Friday) and qualifying (Saturday) both live at 8 a.m. ET, with a full one-hour countdown for the race from 7 a.m. ET on Sunday before lights out at 8.
As per usual the NBC Sports App will live stream free practices one and three, with all sessions streamed during the weekend.
The British Grand Prix two weeks ago brings this year’s F1 season to an interesting point. With Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton’s win, it brings him to within just one point of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the championship lead. Vettel is at 177 with Hamilton now at 176.
And Hungary’s been a place where both drivers have succeeded. Hamilton won here last year while Vettel won in 2015. Overall Hamilton has a record five Hungarian Grand Prix victories (2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016) and will look to match his Canada total with a sixth this weekend. Vettel’s 2015 win is his only triumph at the circuit.
Other Hungarian Grand Prix winners in the field are Daniel Ricciardo (2014), Kimi Raikkonen (2005) and Fernando Alonso (2003).
Beyond the top two, Valtteri Bottas will look to upend proceedings and continue his own title battle for Mercedes. He sits third in points with 154, in a spot of his own well clear of fourth on back and just under a full race distance behind the leaders.
Here’s the schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:
Practice 1: Friday, July 28, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
Practice 2: Friday, July 28, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Practice 2 (Replay): Saturday, July 29, 6:30 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Practice 3: Saturday, July 29, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
Qualifying: Saturday, July 29, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Pre-Race: Sunday, July 30, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Race: Sunday, July 30, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Post-Race: Sunday, July 30, 10 a.m.-10:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Race (Replay): Sunday, July 30, 9:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Formula 2: Sunday, July 30, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
The next race is the Belgian Grand Prix, on August 27, after F1’s traditional summer break.
MORRISON, Colo. (AP) Robert Hight beat Tommy Johnson Jr. on Sunday in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway to extend his Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons.
Hight topped Johnson with a 3.995-second pass at 317.57 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro SS for his 38th career victory.
“We definitely struggled through the first few rounds and we were lucky to get those round wins, but I have a great team who figured things out and helped get me to the winner’s circle,” Hight said. “It’s definitely a long-time coming and we hadn’t had much luck, but today we had some luck and we hope this continues throughout the Western Swing.”
Antron Brown won in Top Fuel, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Brown edged teammate and No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett with a 3.792 at 319.82. He has three victories this season to push his career total to 64.
Skillman raced to his second straight victory and the fifth of his career, beating points leader Bo Butner with a 6.916 run at 198.15 in a Camaro.
Krawiec topped Matt Smith with a 7.145 at 188.28. The Harley-Davidson rider has two victories this season and 38 overall.