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Ricky Taylor battling flu before his Team Penske debut: could it impact him in Rolex 24?

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ricky Taylor won five races last year, five poles, the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the IMSA championship. So it seemed a little strange when he didn’t qualify Team Penske’s new Acura entry.

Turns out, Taylor is in practical quarantine with the flu.

Helio Castroneves instead qualified the car and wound up second behind Renger van der Zande, the driver who replaced Taylor when he left Wayne Taylor Racing to join the Penske operation.

“It makes sense for Ricky to qualify the car because he’s got so much experience,” Castroneves said Friday. “But he’s sick. We can’t even see him. We can only text him.”

The bug has hit several members of the Penske organization, but Taylor is the only driver so far to fall ill.

Had Taylor not been sick, he’d have qualified the Penske Acura and gone head-to-head with his former team. Taylor drove with his brother, Jordan, last year on their father’s team and the duo had a career year. When it was over, Ricky Taylor had a job offer from Roger Penske that he couldn’t refuse.

Wayne Taylor chose Dutch driver van der Zande to replace his oldest son, and the newest driver knocked Castroneves from the pole.

“When they told me I had to qualify, I knew I had to put it out front because that’s what Ricky does,” Castroneves said. “I was almost there.”

The defending race-winning Wayne Taylor team will start with the pole Saturday with van der Zande behind the wheel, while Castroneves will line up next to him for Penske.

The Penske organization did not reveal Taylor’s status for the rest of the weekend. In 2016, Jordan Taylor was suffering from mononucleosis at the Rolex and the team brought in Rubens Barichello to help ease Jordan Taylor’s driving responsibilities in the twice-round-the-clock endurance race. Jordan Taylor did drive in the event and the team finished second.

The Team Penske entry consists of Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Graham Rahal, so unless they bring in another driver, Ricky Taylor will have to do at least one stint during the race.

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.