Brian Vickers to attempt grueling dual road-course weekend

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Brian Vickers loves to race, any time, anywhere. He also loves to travel.

He’ll get more than his share of both this weekend, as he’s the only driver who will attempt to race in Saturday’s Nationwide Series Johnsonville Sausage 200 (no, we’re not making that name up) at Road America and then double up by competing in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

That’s 202 miles around the 4.05-mile Road America layout in the heart of Wisconsin’s Dairyland, the longest road course in NASCAR, and another 219 miles (350 kilometers, hence the name) at Sonoma’s 1.99-mile track in California’s wine country, the shortest road course in NASCAR competition.

Grand total: 421 miles of racing — barring any green-white-checker finishes that may take one or both races into overtime.

That’s the easy part.

There’s another 2,180 miles that Vickers must traverse to get from Road America to Sonoma. Let’s also not forget the 950 miles from Charlotte to Road America, and then the roughly 2,750 miles from Sonoma back to North Carolina.

Add it all up, between racing and flying and Vickers will cover approximately 6,300 miles in a race car and airplane.

Just reading that distance is enough to tire someone out, let alone go through it like Vickers will.

“I’m looking forward to both of them,” Vickers said on NASCAR’s weekly media conference call Tuesday. “It’s going to take a little different mentality and technique going from Road America which is a little bit faster place to Sonoma which is a slower, more technical road race, but I’m up for the challenge and excited.”

It will be the first time racing at Road America for Vickers, while he’s raced seven times previously at Sonoma. Not only did he win the pole there in 2009, he had his best career finish there last year, with a strong fourth-place showing.

Vickers has to be at Road America: the driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing is competing on a full-time basis and for the championship in the Nationwide Series. Sonoma is an added bonus, a track he just loves to run on. Even though Jason Bowles will qualify the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota for Vickers in California, because of the driver change Vickers will have to start Sunday’s race from the back of the pack.

“Obviously missing qualifying at Sonoma and starting last is not going to help, but there are benefits,” Vickers said. “I think there’s opportunities at Sonoma to get to do a little bit different pit strategy. Knowing that you don’t really have track position to protect kind of can create opportunities. We’ve been there in the past where we’ve had either bad qualifying or something happened during the race and we had to come in and pit or penalties on pit road, like last year we had the penalty on pit road and had to go to the back and we worked our way back up to fourth, but as much as it hurt us, it also created opportunities.”

Even though its his first time on Road America’s 14-turn serpentine track (Sonoma has only 12 turns), Vickers hopes a strong finish will help him make a significant climb back upward in the Nationwide standings. After being ranked as high as third, wrecks in his last two races have plummeted Vickers to 10th in the series.

“Obviously setting up for a track that long, you have a lot of give and take, right?” Vickers said. “You get a little bit here but you give up a little bit here when you make a change in the setup. The longer the track, the worse that is.

“I would say the hardest thing for myself and I think a lot of guys going into this weekend is that we’ve never seen it. Most of the guys have not raced there, there’s a few that have. I believe maybe Sam Hornish has run there in other cars, Max Papis and a few guys, but most guys have not, including myself, and the hardest part is going to be just learning a new four‑mile race track.”

He’ll get to practice there Friday and qualify Saturday morning before Saturday afternoon’s race. With a 5:20 pm ET start, the field will have to hustle to the finish line: Road America does not have lights.

According to NASCAR, Vickers and 13 other drivers will be first-timers at Road America. The others are A.J. Allmendinger, Alex Bowman, James Buescher, Landon Cassill, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Mike Harmon (if NASCAR allows him to race after surrendering for arrest late Monday on burglary and theft charges), Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Johnny O’Connell, Travis Pastrana, Regan Smith, Dexter Stacey and Derek White.

Not to be a Debby Downer, but for Vickers’ sake let’s hope there’s no rain delays or postponements at either place. It was just two weeks ago that Joey Logano tried to do a Saturday-Sunday twinbill, competing in a Saturday night Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway and then a Sunday afternoon matinee race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

While Logano had the best intentions, Mother Nature had other plans. The Iowa race was eventually postponed to Sunday morning due to rain, so Logano had to fly back to Pocono in the middle of the night. Ryan Blaney filled in for him at Iowa that Sunday morning, finishing ninth — very respectable given it was Blaney’s first Nationwide race of the season, and that he was thrown into it literally at the last minute.

As for Logano, the redeye flight didn’t seem to impact his Pocono performance too much: he finished 10th. Vickers can only hope for so much.

Reports: Fernando Alonso to test on September 5 at Barber Motorsports Park

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According to a number of media stories Thursday afternoon and evening, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will reportedly test an Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday, September 5.

The 2.38-mile permanent road course just outside Birmingham, Alabama, per those stories, will play host to Alonso as he reportedly tests with IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport team and Honda.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) President Art St. Cyr issued a statement late Thursday afternoon about Alonso’s reported upcoming test:

“Fernando Alonso is one of the premier racing drivers of this generation, and we very much enjoyed working with him at the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

“He has shown that he can be very competitive right off the bat, and it would be great for IndyCar if he were to decide to drive here full-time after his F1 career. Having Alonso as a driver would be an obvious benefit for any team or manufacturer.”

However, St. Cyr’s statement also included a reference to Honda potentially not being able to field a new engine for Alonso in the IndyCar series in 2019.

“Our engine lease agreements are made between HPD and specific teams,” St. Cyr’s statement said. “Several of our current IndyCar Series teams already have agreements in place with HPD for the 2019 season, and we have been operating near maximum capacity all year long to properly provide powerful, reliable engines for all of our teams.

“We have had discussions with several current and potential teams for 2019, and those discussions are ongoing.”

Rumors of Alonso potentially racing for a hybrid operation that would include Andretti Autosport, McLaren and Harding Racing have been picking up speed. But there’s one potential major hurdle: Harding’s Dallara’s are powered by Chevrolet engines.

Alonso announced earlier this week that he’d be retiring from Formula One at season’s end, saying he’s looking forward to new adventures.

Because of his loyalty to McLaren, it’s increasingly looking as if Alonso comes to IndyCar, McLaren will have some involvement – although perhaps not as much as it potentially could do if it went all-in with a full-time effort immediately in 2019.

There is no word whether Chevrolet or Harding Racing could potentially be on hand at the Sept. 5 test at BMP, even in just an observation role.

Since being part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Alonso’s desire to become only the second driver to win motorsport’s triple crown – the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – has increased exponentially.

He’s already won the first two; just a Indy 500 triumph remains on his bucket list.

The late Graham Hill is the only driver to have accomplished the triple crown feat to date.

Alonso, who turned 37 on July 29, has made just one prior IndyCar start, in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps of the 200-lap event and appeared to have a car strong enough to win before it suffered engine failure with 21 laps remaining.

Instead of what likely could have been a top-five finish, if not a win, Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar racing ended disappointingly with a 24th-place finish.

In addition to being courted by IndyCar, NASCAR has also jumped into the Alonso sweepstakes, saying he’d be welcome to race in the 2019 Daytona 500.

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