With Chase closing in, Hendrick foursome tests at New Hampshire

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With an eye on the looming Chase for the Sprint Cup, Hendrick Motorsports tested yesterday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which will host the second of the 10 Chase races in late September.

Chmapionship leader Jimmie Johnson, who rallied from dead last on the grid to finish sixth earlier this summer at NHMS, admitted that saving one of their allotted tests for this time of year makes for “a big workload” but maintained that it was the right strategy.

“Everybody has to work a lot harder and maybe enter the Chase a little overworked and not as fresh as some other years,” Johnson said according to a transcript provided by Hendrick Motorsports.

“But, strategically, when we look at laying out our test sessions it makes total sense if all four cars are in a good place with points, to save our tests for Chase tracks. That’s what we’ve elected to do.”

One of the other Hendrick drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., echoed Johnson’s sentiments.

“If we are fortunate enough to make the Chase, [New Hampshire] is one of the important races in the Chase, so we’re trying to get off to a good start and the race is real key,” he said.

With four regular season races left on the Cup calendar, Johnson has already clinched a Chase spot and Earnhardt remains in decent shape at sixth in the championship. But teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon took some damage to their Chase hopes after both of their runs last Sunday at Watkins Glen ended with wrecks.

Kahne may have two wins in his back pocket, but after getting crashed out at the Glen, he fell from the Top 10 into one of the two Wild Card spots. Considering how tight the battle has been for those particular positions, that’s probably not a situation he’d like to be in.

Gordon, on the other hand, has it even worse. He’s winless so far in 2013, and dropped to 13th in the championship after his early incident last Sunday. At New Hampshire, he acknowledged his rocky season but is refusing to give up.

“That’s why we’re here and that’s why we’ll be [testing] in Richmond next week,” he said. “But we’re going to work hard and get everything we can. So the approach is still the same; we go week to week, trying to get the best finish we can, whether we’re in the Chase or not in the Chase.

“We know if we accomplish what we set out to do every week, we’ll make it in the Chase. That’s all we can do right now.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).