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On Friday, Alex Keyes joined J.R. Todd at qualifying for the Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Gary Nastase)

NHRA’s J.R. Todd, Red Bull GRC’s Alex Keyes crossover their rides

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WIX Filters-supported drivers J.R. Todd (NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Funny Car) and Alex Keyes (Red Bull Global Rallycross, GRC Lites) participated in a ride swap over the last few days, with Keyes paying a visit to Todd’s most recent NHRA race in Las Vegas for his first nitro experience and Todd swinging back to Indianapolis to check out Keyes’ world of rallycross.

The release with full details is below:

Just days after Global Rallycross driver Alex Keyes experienced nitro for the first time, J.R. Todd completed the crossover as he stepped behind the wheel of Keyes’ WIX Filters machine this morning.

Todd strapping aboard the WIX Filters GRC Lite machine. (Photo: Kalitta Motorsports)

At a closed test session in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Raceway, Keyes drove Todd around the prepped track before turning over the wheel completely to Todd. The NHRA veteran made two three-lap segments and was completely blown away.

“It is pretty cool to be driving around here where we typically park our 18-wheelers when we are here racing,” said Todd, driver of the DHL/WIX Filters Toyota Camry Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports. “It gives you a new respect for what these guys do. You are shifting gears going all the way around the course, it is a lot of fun. It is easy to go as fast as you can on the straightaways, but then you got get on the brakes to get on the corners that are always coming up. Huge thanks to Alex and the WIX Filters team for having me out.”

Keyes said he jumped the first time he experienced nitro. (Photo: Gary Nastase)

Blown away could also discribe Keyes’ experience as he stood behind a 10,000-horsepower nitro-burning machine just days ago as Todd qualified for the Las Vegas Nationals on Friday.

“It was so sweet. I have seen NHRA on TV and I know they are fast, but it just does not do them justice,” said Keyes, driver of the WIX Filters GRC Lite for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. “First off, I did not know that they ran on nitro, so I was crying a little bit. Then got to the starting line and wasn’t anticipating it and I jumped. After that, I got to watch about 10 runs. When you know its coming it is sweet. You feel it through your chest and it is definitely a cool experience.”

Both are making plans to attend the other’s actual events this season. Currently, Todd sits 10th in the NHRA point standings after four of 24 events, while Keyes will make his 2017 debut at the GRC season opener in Memphis at the end of the month.

Menards, DHL extensions help IndyCar’s corporate growth

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It’s not that often anymore you go to a Verizon IndyCar Series race meeting and get one partner announcement press conference, let alone two.

Yet this weekend, in addition to the obvious story line of the weekend and the championship battle that went with it, IndyCar’s corporate health and upward trajectory with team sponsor extensions was a positive story line that emerged.

On Saturday, Menards announced it was growing its initial five-race deal with Team Penske – which began as a three-race deal for 2016 – into 10 full races for Simon Pagenaud in 2017. The fact that now Menards will be adorning the champion’s car, whether Pagenaud switches to No. 1 or keeps the No. 22, is another thing for the home improvement warehouse magnate to hang his fluorescent colored hat on.

And then on Sunday, DHL took its relationship with Andretti Autosport to another level, extending three more years through to 2020 with the team and with its lead driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Both companies expressed their take on why being in IndyCar is good for their business.

“I think IndyCar is on an upward trend now, for sure,” John Menard said Saturday. “I think that they are to be commended, the people that are running it right now, because I think they’re doing a great job.

“It’s not easy right now competing for attention in the sports world with all the things that are going on, all the different new sports coming in. To see IndyCar having some growth, having really successful races in the Indy 500 this year, Elkhart Lake was just a tremendous race. Only thing that could have made it better is if you would have won it. There’s been some wonderful races and wonderful things.”

“The decision was easy for us,” added Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express Americas. “We continue our relationship that’ll be 10 years with Ryan in 2020. He’s an iconic driver … he’s great with our employees, our customers and great in the series. To add to it, be part of Andretti Autosport, the team history. No better time than to do it now.

“For us, it’s the opportunity to go international, go to China, Australia, the Middle East; that would be big. We want Montreal back, and we’re already in Toronto.”

Hunter-Reay, for his part, has been afforded the stability with DHL and Andretti Autosport that countered the instability he had earlier in his career.

Ironically, Hunter-Reay was teammates with German driver Timo Glock in 2005, when DHL first appeared in Champ Car. But the road from 2003 to 2009 was rocky for him before 2010 when he joined Andretti, and 2011 when DHL joined the renumbered No. 28 car.

“This is fantastic. To not stress about that, I can’t tell you how beneficial that is for the racing side,” Hunter-Reay expressed.

“I sure hope so, that this is becoming an iconic partnership, and it’s on its way there right now. You couldn’t see me in anything but a yellow suit. Pick me out of a crowd and I love that.

“To know the next four years are locked in and stable is priceless.”

Pagenaud, meanwhile, has not only grown as a driver but he’s grown as a professional within the Penske empire.

Like Hunter-Reay before him, Pagenaud went through a hodgepodge of cars, teams, sponsors and series before joining Team Penske.

And he’s quickly learned and grown to understand the importance of the Penske business – he noted it was key he won a race for all three of his primary partners this year, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, PPG Automotive Refinish and Menards. He also had a runner-up finish for DeVilbiss back at Phoenix in April.

“This is the kind of dream relationship,” Pagenaud said at Saturday’s Menards announcement. “Like Roger said, then comes the partnership relationship. Team Penske has this incredible way of doing things with partners. It’s not just sponsorship, it’s really a partnership where it’s a business-to-business relationship. I think that’s where it becomes interesting for any sponsors or partners to be with us at Team Penske.”

Penske praised Pagenaud’s understanding of the business side.

“I can tell you that he’s done a terrific job, not only with Menards but with all the sponsors,” Penske said. “I think the first year he was kind of getting his feet on the ground with us. I think he saw the information that’s available across the other three drivers which is certainly important. He’s executed. De Ferran really is the one who gave me the heads up when he drove for him. We had a lot of confidence in what Gil would say.”

It’s perhaps good timing that these two team extensions – along with Andretti Autosport’s recent signing of hhgregg, as well, in a primary role for Marco Andretti’s car – comes on the same weekend where Target signed off its 27-year run with Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar program.

Knowing Ganassi, you have to think there’s a good chance of getting a big company or companies in to replace them as the primary sponsor on Scott Dixon’s car, and there’s a good chance it could be one of the vendors that’s been at Target or one of the existing alternate liveried cars coming on for a greater opportunity.

Looking at it from INDYCAR’s perspective, President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye, whose past has been on the team side and then on the commercial side with INDYCAR, Frye is pleased to see the companies committing what they are, now.

“It’s funny because I was thinking of that this weekend,” Frye said. “Seeing those, with DHL, Menards and hhgregg, is big.

“It’s encouraging, it’s something you work on all the time, but it’s a good sign.”

Hunter-Reay, DHL announce extension with Andretti Autosport

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SONOMA, Calif. – The Ryan Hunter-Reay and DHL relationship at Andretti Autosport has been extended in a multi-year deal through 2020, the team announced Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

“Our relationship with DHL grew out of a partnership that dates back to 2005,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “To see this partnership develop and continue over a 15-year period, through 2020, is the result of hard work by both companies in support of DHL marketing, sales and B2B objectives. It also reflects the strength of the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 properties.”

“The speed, reliability and dedication that Andretti Autosport, Ryan Hunter-Reay and the DHL IndyCar team exemplify are a mirror image of the qualities that enable DHL to be true to our motto of ‘Excellence, simply delivered’,” added Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express Americas. “It’s an impactful way to engage our customers as well as employees with a world-class racing experience.”

“RHR” joined the team in 2010 with IZOD sponsorship before DHL came on board in 2011, and the two together have had a fruitful relationship since.

Hunter-Reay won the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series championship and 2014 Indianapolis 500, and is one of only four drivers (Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan) who has both a title and a ‘500 win on his resume in the full-time lineup.

Hunter-Reay and DHL were signed through 2017 and would have become free agents next year.

“I couldn’t be happier about this announcement and the opportunity to continue with Andretti Autosport as an ambassador for DHL,” said Hunter-Reay. “These next four years will take us to nearly a decade-long relationship with DHL and a full 11 years with the team. We’ve won 13 races together, the Indy 500 and the IndyCar Championship and we’re going to do a lot more together. Over the years we have become more of a family than just a team and sponsor. I’m proud to represent this group and this brand and am looking forward to the milestones yet to come.”

Hunter-Reay makes welcome return to podium in Detroit

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Much of the focus was on the younger Americans this weekend in Detroit – Alexander Rossi was coming off the high of winning the Indianapolis 500, Conor Daly starred in both races and Josef Newgarden put in a good run to fourth on Sunday – but the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most successful American at the moment was the highest finishing of all of them in Sunday’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans race two.

Ryan Hunter-Reay made a welcome return to the podium in third place in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, his first podium since ending third in the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It served as a key result for Hunter-Reay after a series of hard-luck misses since St. Petersburg. Arguably the price of admission on his own at Phoenix and having had one of the best cars in the field at the Indianapolis 500, finishes of 10th and 24th didn’t do either drive justice.

Sunday in Detroit, Hunter-Reay started second after ending fastest in his qualifying group and then stayed consistently in the lead group during the race. He closed on Simon Pagenaud in the final stages of the race but was unable to get around the Frenchman and series points leader.

After a seventh on Saturday, which had been his best result since St. Petersburg, the third on Sunday brought Hunter-Reay to 13th in points (224), albeit only 53 points behind second-placed Scott Dixon (277).

“It was pretty drama-free. Just drove as hard as I could the entire time and wound up third unfortunately,” Hunter-Reay said in the post-race press conference.

“Congrats to Team Penske. It was nice to finish third after the heartbreak of Indy, to have a solid run today. Obviously we’re not happy with third.”

Hunter-Reay also described the physicality of the weekend.

“It was brutal. We ran it a little too low. We missed it there. The bumps were worse this year. You hear us IndyCar drivers talk about that. Everybody is like, ‘Oh, be quiet about the bumps.’

“But we run the cars on the ground basically already, right? When they do bottom and they hit on a big bump like that, our seats are this thin on the bottom, it goes right through your back. It hurts and it makes for an extremely physical race that way because you have all the kickback in the wheel.

“Detroit is one of the more physical tracks. Doing two races coming off a mentally and physically fatiguing Indy 500 month is as tough as it gets for sure. I wish there was something that looked more dramatic for you and the fans to see in the car. We’re wrestling those things. We’re pushing it to 110%.”

Hunter-Reay heads to Texas along with the rest of the field this week (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN). He finished second this race in 2013 but otherwise hasn’t banked another top five there in 10 past Texas starts.

IndyCar 2015 team preview: Andretti Autosport

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Andretti Autosport drivers won the Indianapolis 500 and rookie-of-the-year honors in 2014, but the team fought through various inconsistencies during the campaign. They’re next up on our list of teams to look at in our Verizon IndyCar Series 2015 team-by-team preview.

Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine/aero kits: Honda
Sponsors: TBC (No. 25), Cinsay/AndrettiTV (No. 26), Dr Pepper Snapple (No. 27), DHL (No. 28)

2014 STATS

Races: 18
Wins: 3 (Hunter-Reay)
Podiums: 12 (Hunter-Reay 6, Munoz 3, Andretti 2, Hinchcliffe 1)
Pole Positions: 1 (Hunter-Reay)
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 2053 (Hunter-Reay 563, Munoz 483, Andretti 463, Hinchcliffe 456, Busch 80, Montagny 8)
Laps Led: 293 (Hunter-Reay 195, Hinchcliffe 75, Andretti 23)
Championship Position: 6th (Hunter-Reay), 8th (Munoz), 9th (Andretti), 12th (Hinchcliffe), 25th (Busch), 36th (Montagny)

2015 LINEUP (Engineer in parentheses)

25 Simona de Silvestro (TBC)
26 Carlos Munoz (Garrett Mothershead)
27 Marco Andretti (Nathan O’Rourke)
28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Ray Gosselin)

2014 RECAP (Hunter-Reay, Munoz, Andretti, Hinchcliffe driver recaps)

Ryan Hunter-Reay won the Indianapolis 500, in a popular and overdue triumph. Additionally, Carlos Munoz earned Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors over three deserving others. Those two items went right but all told the rest of the 2014 season was largely one to forget for Andretti Autosport, which fought inconsistency throughout the year and regressed in qualifying.

2015 OUTLOOK

RHR is always a title contender and Andretti and Munoz should each be better this year than last. Rob Edwards has been hired as new overall team manager, and should provide additional leadership. The trump card Andretti could hold is Honda’s aero kit, if that proves a better package than does Chevrolet’s. Simona de Silvestro has been confirmed for the team’s fourth car for St. Petersburg; it’s a car which, along with a potential fifth, has been the subject of much discussion this winter. She’s a nice add to a solid lineup, and makes Andretti also a fearsome foursome on par with Penske and Ganassi’s quartets.