IndyCar: Late stop for tires helps Josef Newgarden win at Phoenix

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Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden rode a set of fresh tires late in the race to victory in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.

“I didn’t do anything tonight, it was a team victory,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “It was a team effort. They made the right call (for the tires late in the race).

“I was patient all night. I wasn’t forcing it. I struggled with balance in certain parts of the stints. … I knew when it was time to be aggressive was at the end there.”

Ed Jones hit the wall with 21 laps to go (see video below) in the 250-lap race, ending his night and bringing out the final caution that shook up the field for what would become a seven-lap shootout.

After getting fresh rubber with 18 laps to go while under caution from Jones’ wreck, Newgarden took the lead from rookie Robert Wickens with four laps to go and checked out, finishing 2.9946 seconds ahead of Wickens, who was followed by Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“I don’t know that I deserved to win the race tonight, but I think the team did,” Newgarden added in his post-race media session. “They did a really good job on strategy, pit stops were unbelievable. I think I gained like five or six positions on just the first stop, which was awesome. They did a great job.

“The tires make a huge difference. I had 50-lap newer tires. With that, with how much he (Wickens)  had to check up in T1, he gave me just enough room. I didn’t have to get crazy high. That one I definitely took risks. I think sometimes you have to do that in the right position, and I think it was the right time to do it tonight.”

It was Newgarden’s first win of 2018, his second consecutive win on a short oval (won late last season at Gateway) and his eighth career IndyCar win. It also was Firestone’s 500th win since returning to IndyCar in 1995.

It was Wickens’ first career race ever on an oval, and to finish second was an outstanding achievement.

“I was just ecstatic to come home P2,” Wickens said. “I tried to defend (Newgarden) the best I could but he just had better grip on fresher tires.”

Rossi was on a rocket ship in the final 25 laps, picking off one car after another to earn a podium finish.

“We deserved to win but it wasn’t meant to be,” Rossi said. “We just need to keep it up and continue this on into Long Beach next weekend.”

James Hinchcliffe finished sixth, followed by Ed Carpenter, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud.

Eleventh through 20th were Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot, Gabby Chaves, Zack Veach, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton, Mattheus Leist and Ed Jones.

The final three drivers were Kyle Kaiser, Will Power and Pietro Fittipaldi.

NOTES:

* Bourdais had an issue getting his car started on the pace laps, but finally got going and was able to assume his pole position when the green flag dropped.

* It was an all-France front row to start the race, with Sebastien Bourdais on the pole, alongside countryman Simon Pagenaud.

* Clea Newman, daughter of late actor and former IndyCar team co-owner Paul Newman, served as grand marshal for the race.

* Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of legendary racer Emerson Fittipaldi, brushed the wall on Lap 41, ending his day with a last-place finish in the 23-car field. “We were having a good race, the car was really good, we were running 11th, got past traffic … I went into (turns) 3 and 4, completely lost grip, slid into the marbles and went straight into the wall,” Fittipaldi told NBCSN. “I think we could have had a top 10. I’ll learn from this.”

* Bourdais and Alexander Rossi were both forced to serve pass-through penalties after the caution to Fittipaldi for striking crew members on their team. The crew members were uninjured. Later, on Lap 130, Rossi brushed the wall but continued on.

* Rookie Matheus Leist made a big mistake on Lap 122. He left his pit early before all tires were secured, the left rear tire fell off and the tire rolled down pit lane. He spun the car around so that he could get back to his pit stall, but almost hit an official.

* Canadian drivers, good friends and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and rookie Robert Wickens took over the top two spots on Lap 130. Hinchcliffe got high on Lap 143 and Wickens snuck by to take the lead.

* Will Power went into the wall on Lap 157 and suffered damage to the right rear that had to be repaired, costing Power a chance at a win. He ultimately finished 22nd.

* Lap 176: Rookie Kyle Kaiser brushed the wall and slowly worked his way to the pits; no caution.

* Bourdais had to give up the lead on Lap 207 to pit for fuel. He had hoped for a caution, but was forced to stop under green, potentially costing him the win.

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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.