Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Long Beach Saturday

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – A few extra news and notes beyond qualifying and the no Ganassi/Penske Firestone Fast Six from Saturday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series (here’s Friday’s):

  • Career-best qualifying for Newgarden: Here’s a weird one: Josef Newgarden has his best career qualifying effort, but not his best career start, with fourth in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda on Saturday. He started second in 2012 after the rash of engine changes for Chevrolet-powered teams; that year, he qualified seventh on merit. As it was, the Tennessee native said there wasn’t a huge difference between Firestone’s primary blacks and alternate red tires. “Oh, man, it was so close. It was just so close between everyone. You know what was weird was that there wasn’t a big jump from Blacks to Reds today. We saw a similar thing in St. Pete. Just wasn’t a big jump. We ran a 78.1 this morning, and feeling really good about it. I think we’ve had an incredibly fast car from the git go here. We just didn’t go quicker in qualifying, and no one really did,” he said.
  • More Hawk awesomeness: Jack Hawksworth qualified fifth for his second start in the No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge Honda for Bryan Herta Autosport. And the Bradford, UK native still said he left more on the table. “(We) had a couple of really clean, clean laps in session 1 and session 2. Then session 3 the car was really good again, which is good. I probably didn’t get quite as much out of it as I did coming off of turn 1 on the final lap, but I mean, the car was really good,” said the continuously impressive rookie.
  • Servia P12, Rahal P23: The quotes from the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing pair tell the story: Servia first: “Not that you should be happy starting 12th but considering where we were before qualifying and the gains I think we can still make on the car, I’m happy. With as competitive as the field is, going from one round to the second round is a very big achievement.” Then Rahal: “It was a struggle today. We tried to make more changes to get the balance in the car better and then tried some bigger ones for qualifying. We are just struggling with overall grip. Oriol had a big grip gain on alternate tires and I didn’t feel it.”
  • An all-star Row 8: The most recent Long Beach winner, Takuma Sato, starts next to the oldest active Long Beach winner (1999) Juan Pablo Montoya on the eighth row of the grid. Watch this space for the standing start on Sunday as two of the most exciting drivers work through the field.
  • Another big crowd: Like Friday, I’ll attest the on-the-ground perspective is that this place feels jam packed. This is an impressive turnout given the event’s future being part of the news in recent weeks. Long Beach is the preeminent IndyCar street course race weekend, and it is fully living up to its stature thus far.

You can see Sunday’s race at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Here’s the full qualifying results.

How IndyCar rookie Sting Ray Robb got that name (and some more of his backstory)

IndyCar Sting Ray Robb
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Every NTT IndyCar Series season brings a new round of getting to know the rookies, and it’s fairly obvious where the story starts with Sting Ray Robb.

Just for clarification, “Robb” is the last name. His given name indeed is “String Ray” on the birth certificate.

Why, yes, he does come from performance-car parentage.

And yes, the IndyCar rookie named “Sting Ray” will be driving the No. 51 Dallara-Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware.

How did that go over with a mom and dad who clearly prefer American automotive brands?

“That’s a tricky question,” Robb said with a laugh Tuesday during the IndyCar Preseason Content Days. “Yeah, my parents are big Corvette fans, and I think that they ruled out criticizing me too badly because they know the dream is IndyCar.”

“I’ll be in a Honda car and I’m assuming it’ll go pretty quick, so I’m OK with all of that.”

“They’re not going to rename you ‘NSX’ or something?” asked Motorsport.com’s David Malsher-Lopez (whose bitingly sardonic wit is regularly heard in IndyCar media centers).

“No. I hope not,” Robb said. “My name is my name. I don’t need a rename, thank you.”

Robb, 21, has been making a name for himself lately, finishing second in last year’s Indy NXT standings with 11 top-five finishes, eight podiums and two pole positions.

But the Payette, Idaho, native also has an intriguing backstory beyond his successful four years in the Road to Indy ladder system (that also included the 2020 Indy Pro title).

He hails from the same small town (northwest of Boise on the Oregon border) that produced Minnesota Twins slugger and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew.

Robb, whose graduating class was less than 100, recently found that Wikipedia listed him and Killebrew as the “notable alumni” from Payette High School.

“It’s nice to be see and appreciate all the things that I’ve learned and been through,” said Robb, who also played some baseball in his day, adding that “I’m more of a consistent singles hitter, slap hitter if you want to call it. No home runs, just doubles or triples here and there.”

Some other facts on the newest memorable name of IndyCar:

–He’s managed by Pieter Rossi (father of Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner), but he also gets a lot of help from his mother, Kimmie.

“We call her my ‘momager’ because she’s my mom and my manager,” Robb said. “She has been a huge role in my career because she does things that I’m unable to do as a driver.

“She’s able to play hardball with the contracts, etc., and have my best interest in mind when it comes to negotiating, along with Pieter. He may be someone that has a lot of experience in the series with Alexander, but he may not know what’s best for me. It’s good to have them both on my side, and I can learn a lot from them.”

–His family have been lifelong supporters since go-karting. “It was my mom, my dad, my grandparents on the road every weekend,” he said. “My dad has missed one race in my entire life, and it was because he was in the hospital. So we let him have a pass, and he was still on the phone every 30 minutes making sure that tire pressure was right, engine temp was right, we had the right gear on the car, etc.”

–Robb graduated high school a year early to focus on racing after being home-schooled as a child. “I went to someone’s house actually, and she taught me from the time I was in pre-K through sixth grade,” Robb said. “So in seventh grade I started going to public school, and I hate to say it, but I feel like I stopped learning after that point. But it was OK. I got some social skills, lucky for you guys.”

–He also has a wild story about how he landed his current ride during a random encounter in a trip to the gym (which you can read about here).