Healed from heart surgery, 4-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson back in the saddle this weekend in Houston

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The vacation of sorts is over for drivers in the Pro Stock class of the NHRA. Things are going to get a lot rougher from here on out.

The reason? Former Pro Stock world champ Greg Anderson will make his return from off-season surgery at this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston’s Royal Purple Raceway.

Anderson has missed the first seven races of the 2014 season after offseason surgery to repair a bicuspid aortic valve in his heart. He was cleared by a panel of doctors Monday and will resume racing on Friday.

“It was very difficult to sit out those first five races,” Anderson said in an NHRA media release. “We racers tend to think that everything in life is all about drag racing. Nothing is more important. We live it, breath it, eat it, sleep it. And sometimes we think we’re invincible – but I found out firsthand that we’re not.”

Along those same lines, Anderson has developed a new appreciation for not only his own health, but also in just how serious his condition and recovery wound up being.

“In the beginning, I thought the surgery and recovery would be a simple deal, a piece of cake, that I would bounce right back,” Anderson admitted. “Turns out it was a huge deal and a new chapter for me. They fixed me up, but there was still a challenge ahead and a lot of pain to go through.

“You realize you aren’t invincible when you go through something like that. You have to learn to be patient, take your time, go slow and follow the doctor’s orders, and that’s a whole new game for a guy like me.

“Somehow, I learned how to be patient, healed up in the proper amount of time, and now it’s time to go racing again. I couldn’t be more excited to get back behind the wheel of my Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro.”

Getting back to drag racing, particularly at Houston, could ultimately wind up being the best medicine for Anderson, who is a two-time winner at Royal Purple Raceway.

“To be honest with you, I can’t remember ever going to a race this happy, this positive and feeling this good,” Anderson said. “I guess it’s kind of a new lease on life for me; I rolled back my odometer, so to speak. Now it’s time to get back to racing. That’s what we love, that’s where we feel at home.”

Anderson has 74 national event wins and is a four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion. Teammate Jason Line is the defending PS champ in this weekend’s event, as well.

Anderson was replaced behind the wheel for the first seven races by European Pro Stock champ Jimmy Alund, who ultimately made his swan song appearance in Anderson’s car at the last race, winning the Pro Stock class at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m excited to get back in the same car that Jimmy won with in Charlotte,” Anderson said. “The guys have done such a fantastic job with this car, and I don’t just mean Jason Line, Rob Downing and the entire crew that works on it.

“Jimmy has done a fantastic job of driving the car and also of helping the guys find a happy spot for that racecar to run in. My hat’s off to the entire team and Jimmy Alund. That car is working very, very nicely, and I found that out firsthand yesterday when we made a few test runs. It’s like it’s on autopilot. It’s smooth as glass.”

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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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