Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus meet The Great Gonzo (PHOTO)

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As we wrote earlier this week, the Muppets’ resident daredevil – The Great Gonzo – is at Auto Club Speedway to take on Grand Marshal duties for today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

We figure that’s the best explanation behind the track claiming its first NASCAR sellout since the 2003 season. Okay, there is the matter of the track reducing its grandstand capacity to 68,000 but that’s not nearly as fun of an explanation.

In any case, America’s favorite “Whatever” is already making the rounds at Fontana before today’s fifth race of the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.

In fact, he’s already spent time with the defending Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, and his Hendrick Motorsports crew chief, Chad Knaus – who couldn’t resist giving Gonzo the ol’ “rabbit ears” in a photo.

Knaus is known as one of the most intense personalities in the Cup garage, so it’s good to see him cutting up a bit. With Gonzo around, it’s hard for anyone not to be at least a little goofy.

As Jerry Bonkowski wrote yesterday, Gonzo is set to make his entrance today at Fontana by getting shot out of a cannon and will then give the command to start engines.

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”