Rusty Wallace will test Keselowski’s Miller Lite Ford on Thursday

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Here’s one from the “Back to the future” department: Rusty Wallace is back in the legendary Miller Lite “Blue Deuce.”

Yes, it’s only for a one-day test and yes, the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion for Penske Racing will be white instead of blue, but still, it’s kind of a big deal.

Wallace will take over Brad Keselowski’s car on the first day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway for a couple reasons. The first is to allow him an opportunity, his first, to drive NASCAR’s new Generation-6 car that premiered last year. The second is for commercial reasons; this year marks the 25th anniversary of his 1989 Winston Cup Championship and the 40th anniversary for Miller Lite.

Miller Lite, which is also marketing and selling cans with its original livery at the moment, has teamed up to create a commemorative white paint scheme that will be carried throughout Daytona Speedweeks and into the Daytona 500.

“I am pretty pumped up about this,” Wallace said in a team release. “This is a big deal, and I can’t wait to get the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford up to speed – especially at Daytona. This will be my first time driving the new Gen-6 car, and I think it will give me a better perspective on how I cover the races.”

Added Keselowski, “This is a terrific way to pay homage to the heritage and prestige of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford. To have Rusty Wallace, a NASCAR champion and a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, assist Miller Lite in recognizing the long association they have had with Team Penske and NASCAR is something special. I feel privileged to be a part of it.”

With Mark Martin planning to test Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and Bill Elliott shaking down Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports Chevrolet on the Nationwide side, suddenly it feels like 1989 all over again.  Kind of.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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