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DiZinno: Mid-Ohio thoughts, musings, observations

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Here’s some final thoughts after this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course:

  • Newgarden’s first dominant Penske win. Yes, he led the majority of laps in Toronto (58 of 85) but vaulted to the lead there based on the yellow timing and when he pitted. At Barber, he got into the lead after Will Power’s late-race puncture. Finally, Mid-Ohio saw Josef Newgarden exorcise demons of the last three years at this track when potential wins went begging. Between qualifying second, his first front row start of the season, that fake-out, then blow past Power move for the lead (second straight year Power’s been snookered by a teammate at Mid-Ohio) and subsequent check-out the rest of the day, this was one you have to say the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet earned from the off. Newgarden was just happy to not see it fall away, like it did at Road America. “It’s always stressful, even when the car’s fast. It seemed like the car was working on reds, blacks, didn’t really matter. It just got better throughout the race and as the track gripped up. Only real drama was the restart, felt like we were on the wrong tire again, kind of like Road America. Fortunately, we had a bit of a buffer, even with the car in between. Even there, I thought Gutierrez was going to run into us on Turn 4 for a second, but we seemed to skate through.”
  • An age thought on the new points leader. Newgarden is 26, and that’s an interesting point to note. As one of the leading 20-somethings in the series, Newgarden has an opportunity to become IndyCar’s first under-30 champion since Scott Dixon, then 28, in 2008. Since then, it’s been Dario Franchitti (three straight 2009-2011), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2012), Dixon (2013 and 2015), Will Power (2014) and Simon Pagenaud (2016) who have won titles since. All of those drivers have been in the series at least six full seasons and been 31 years of age or older. Newgarden is in his sixth season. The last 20-year-old American champion was Sam Hornish Jr., driving for Team Penske in 2006, at age 27. He’d won titles at 22 and 23 with Panther Racing in 2001 and 2002, and Dixon’s first title in 2003 came at the tender age of 23.
  • Speaking of Dixon, a tough ninth owing to valiant effort. Results like 10th at Toronto and ninth at Mid-Ohio may not do much for Scott Dixon in the moment, but could do much more for him as the year rolls on. Dixon fought a horribly ill-handling car in the second stint and needed several turns of front wing taken out to make it viable later in the race. You knew something was wrong when he was barely hanging on ahead of a pack of others behind him, led by Helio Castroneves, and almost holding them up. Dixon’s valiant effort was the capper to a tough weekend for the Chip Ganassi Racing quartet; none of Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball looked anything more than a midfielder all weekend, although all three had fun with NBCSN contributor Robin Miller during his “Grid Run” segment pre-race, Chilton in particular making the most of Miller’s gift basket presented ahead of his upcoming wedding later this month.
  • Rahal’s roll continues. Another special performance from Graham Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team got turned in this weekend. They continue to fly the flag as regular contenders for great qualifying and race results. In some respects it’s a pity their start of the season was so bad as he’d be even closer in the championship picture.
  • Not much shakeup in the field from qualifying. Without a yellow coming at the wrong time – all but JR Hildebrand got away with it on Sunday although Hildebrand was caught out despite doing a good fuel-save run – each of the top 11 starters finished in the top-11 positions, and only Conor Daly advanced into a top-10 finishing position from outside the top-10 on the grid, passing his old landlord James Hinchcliffe. In some respects that was nice to see a race not get inverted by a yellow lottery. In others, as Newgarden noted earlier in the weekend, the lottery doesn’t give drivers a chance to make something of a weekend where their qualifying doesn’t go to plan.
  • Funny Chevrolet, Honda and PPG sponsor win notes. Honda swept both Chevrolet-sponsored races this year in Detroit, GM’s backyard. Chevrolet has now gone three-for-three in Honda-sponsored races in Barber, Toronto and Mid-Ohio, with Newgarden winning all three. Of Newgarden’s six career wins, five have come in Honda-sponsored races and all with Chevrolet power. Newgarden also noted he won in the PPG colors, with Simon Pagenaud won with three times last year and Juan Pablo Montoya won with at Pocono in 2014. Honda always does a good job of making the Mid-Ohio weekend a fun one with its camping theme – this year’s galactic one was a hit – but one wonders if they’re sick of the run of Chevrolet wins in races they sponsor!
  • Other quick thoughts. Conor Daly turned in his best weekend of the season at an important time. With a good qualifying run, it made a top-10 achievable, and was properly earned in a race where all 21 cars finished and there was only one caution. … After his strong start to the year, Ed Jones has hit a rough patch of results with one seventh the only bright spot in a six-race period with five finishes of 17th or worse, and three DNFs. …  It was a tense weekend in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, culminating with impound of the top three Pro Mazda cars after Sunday’s race. … The four Pirelli World Challenge races were interesting enough, particularly in GTS and the GTA subclass within GT.

Although there aren’t any further races until Pocono Raceway on August 20, IndyCar still has several tests between now and then, including the road course test of the new Dallara 2018 universal aero kit at Mid-Ohio today, and at Iowa Speedway on August 10, and a Gateway Motorsports Park test on August 3 following the repave.

Hunter-Reay released from hospital; not yet cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been released from a nearby hospital at Pocono Raceway after his accident in qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) but has not yet been cleared to drive. He’ll be re-evaluated by INDYCAR Sunday morning.

The full release from INDYCAR and Andretti Autosport is below:

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was evaluated at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday for injuries to his left hip and knee sustained in a crash in qualifying for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Hunter-Reay was treated and released but has not been cleared to drive, pending a re-evaluation Sunday morning.

“During qualifying today, out of nowhere, the car stepped out on me,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was a bit of a wiggle, which I caught. The second time it happened, it came with no warning – which is a bit confusing. I hit my hip pretty bad as well as my knee, so the doctors thought it would be best to go in for further evaluation. After a CT scan and MRI, I am able to go and get a good night’s sleep. I’m sure I’ll wake up sore, but will hopefully be able to get back in the DHL machine tomorrow.

“I know the entire Andretti Autosport team worked hard to get the car put back together and with 500 miles, there is still a chance to win from the back of the field. I can’t thank the Holmatro Safety Team enough for their quick response along with the medical staff at INDYCAR, Pocono and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest. Also, thank you to the fans for reaching out with their support.”

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Pocono (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the series trip to the “Tricky Triangle” for the ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass also continues for another episode from the three-turn oval, Pocono Raceway, in Long Pond, Pa.

NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter and Indy Lights analyst Anders Krohn checks in for the latest edition of the show, which you can see above.

On tap in this week’s episode are interviews with Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Will Power, and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay led first practice; however was involved in a heavy accident in qualifying later Saturday afternoon and transported to a nearby hospital.

His status is unclear for Sunday.

Newgarden leads the championship but had a tough qualifying run – he was only 14th Saturday afternoon – while Power was second among Chevrolets and starts fifth. He is the defending Pocono race winner.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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