Veach at Sonoma last year. Photo: IndyCar

Zach Veach set to make IndyCar race debut filling in for Hildebrand

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JR Hildebrand hasn’t yet been cleared to drive for this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, and it will provide an opportunity for a new Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires graduate to make his Verizon IndyCar Series race debut at Barber Motorsports Park in Zach Veach.

Hildebrand suffered a broken bone in his left hand on the final lap of the Long Beach race after contact with Mikhail Aleshin.

“This obviously is not how I had hoped this would play out, but I’ve done everything there was to do since surgery last Tuesday with good results. It seems the risk is still too high given the initial extent of the injury,” Hildebrand said in a release. “The doctors I’ve worked with have been awesome to get my fractures sorted out and I trust their view of the situation.”

“I’m disappointed for the team to be out this weekend, but am looking forward to doing everything I can at Barber to help continue the progress we’ve made so far this year. I am continuing to rehab with maximum focus to be back in the saddle for Phoenix,” Hildebrand continued.

Veach will step into Hildebrand’s No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet this weekend, giving the 22-year-old his first crack at a race before his month of May debut with AJ Foyt Racing in that team’s third Chevrolet for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“First and foremost, my thoughts are with JR and his recovery, that’s the most important part of this!” Veach said. “My heart goes out to him as I suffered a broken hand a couple years ago and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. This isn’t how any driver wants to get his first race but with that said, I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to sub for JR.”

“Ed (Carpenter) gave me my first chance to test an Indy car a few months ago. It’s going to be very special for me to be back in that same car representing Fuzzy’s Vodka at Barber,” continued Veach. “It’s going to be a lot to take in in a short amount of time, but I’m really excited to do the best I can for the team, as well as JR!”

Veach has done decently well there in Indy Lights. He has one win (Barber 1, 2014) and three podiums in five starts there. He also has one past test with the Ed Carpenter Racing team, at Sonoma in September, which marked his IndyCar test debut.

Both drivers have also weighed in on social media:

Veach’s debut also brings to light a couple fun nuggets about Barber and surprise entries and/or series debutantes:

  • The last injury fill-in to race at Barber was Simon Pagenaud in 2011, who made his IndyCar return for the first time in four years since his single season of Champ Car. Pagenaud started 23rd and finished eighth in Ana Beatriz’s usual No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry, and that marked that car’s best finish that season.
  • That 2011 race also featured the IndyCar debut of one James Hinchcliffe, who qualified eighth but finished 24th in the No. 06 Newman/Haas Racing entry.
  • Hildebrand made his IndyCar debut as an injury fill-in himself, deputizing for Mike Conway in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold car in 2010. He qualified 18th and finished 16th at Mid-Ohio.
  • The last driver to make his IndyCar debut there was Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez with Dale Coyne Racing in 2015. He started 21st and finished 20th in the team’s No. 18 Honda.
  • AJ Allmendinger made his first start of his IndyCar return in 2013, qualifying 10th and finishing 19th in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.