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IndyCar stars take in NASCAR finale in Miami

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The Verizon IndyCar Series is off until March 2018 but as has been the case in recent years, Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway witnessed a good contingent of IndyCar regulars on site at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale.

As NBC Sports NASCAR and IndyCar pit reporter Marty Snider noted on Twitter, it marked a great opportunity to do some advance prep work for the 2018 season!

Here’s a look at who was on site.

THE CHAMP IS HERE

This year’s IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden continued his hectic postseason tour of events, and added the NASCAR finale to his appearance at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas last month. Newgarden, who won the title in his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, was seeing if Brad Keselowski could take his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford to his second title (2012).

Newgarden also stopped to record an episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan. That will be released in the coming days.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here or visiting the www.ApplePodcasts.com/nascaronnbc landing page. It also is available for subscription on Stitcher or by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

HELIO JOINS THE PENSKE PARTY

He won’t be a full-time IndyCar driver anymore, but Helio Castroneves seems set for lifetime membership in the Team Penske alumni roster after 18 seasons (and 20 overall). Castroneves, who shifts to Acura Team Penske in 2018 in IMSA, was on-site throughout the weekend as well.

Castroneves had the opportunity to reunite with his old IndyCar teammate Sam Hornish Jr., whose second place finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race in the No. 22 REV Group Ford netted Penske the Xfinity owner’s championship.

He then had a chance to join now fellow one-off participant in the 2018 Indianapolis 500, Danica Patrick, pre-grid on Sunday. Patrick’s pass of Castroneves late in the race at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan, in April 2008 netted Patrick her only IndyCar victory.

ANDRETTI, ROSSI MAKE THE PILGRIMAGE

Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi were also on site. Both have taken in NASCAR races before, Andretti having been to Miami in past years and Rossi at the Brickyard 400 and Watkins Glen International.

Andretti then posted a photo with himself, Rossi, Conor Daly and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson late Sunday night.

DALY DOES IT FOR DALE, MUNOZ MAKES MAIDEN NASCAR MEMORIES

Conor Daly has never been accused of not being patriotic and not representing ‘Merica well. So it only stood to reason that Daly would make a last-minute decision to leave Nashville to go to Miami and make it there for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race.

This follows a somewhat similar – albeit more planned out – voyage Daly’s friend Daniel Ricciardo did to Texas Motor Speedway a couple weeks ago to watch Earnhardt’s last race there.

Once on site, Daly got the appropriate Dale Jr. attire and soaked up the atmosphere, which you can see below. He also reunited with fellow Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion and alumnus Michael McDowell to watch McDowell’s final start in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet.

Daly’s fellow 2017 A.J. Foyt Enterprises teammate, Carlos Munoz, was also on site for his first NASCAR experience. Munoz lives in Miami and just wrapped his fourth full-time IndyCar campaign, and fifth overall dating back to 2013.

Neither of these two drivers has a ride for 2018 in IndyCar, both somewhat unceremoniously jettisoned from Foyt after a single season. But high on experience and potential, they’re both working to land rides for future IndyCar races in 2018 (a projected grid outlook is here at the moment).

MR. JONES CONTINUES HIS GANASSI INTEGRATION

Newly signed Chip Ganassi Racing driver Ed Jones got a chance to experience the atmosphere with Ganassi’s NASCAR operation for the weekend, and also dropped the hint he’d love to try a NASCAR race himself if given the opportunity. The Dubai-based Brit has made his U.S. residence in Miami since arriving in 2015.

OTHERS CHIME IN

Beyond those on site, a handful of other IndyCar regulars chimed in on the race and Martin Truex Jr.’s popular first championship victory for the small Furniture Row Racing team based in Denver.

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.