Former NHRA Pro-Stock champ Greg Anderson proves heart surgery hasn’t slowed him down

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If there was any doubt about former NHRA Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson’s health and whether he could still pilot a race car, it was erased during Monday’s final round of the Summit Racing Equipment Spring Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

Anderson underwent heart surgery less than two weeks prior to the start of the season-opening NHRA WinterNationals to repair a defective valve.

As a result, Anderson missed the first five races of the 2014 season recuperating. Had he not undergone the surgery – which the veteran of the quartermile wars originally balked at – Anderson’s doctor said the valve would likely have disintegrated and Anderson could have died, possibly in his race car due to the G-forces and high speeds.

But with his freshly repaired heart and at Atlanta in Monday’s finals, which had been postponed due to rain on Sunday, it was vintage Anderson behind the wheel.

Of course, he had extra incentive to perform well, given that the race was presented by his primary sponsor, Summit Racing.

And while Anderson finished runner-up to five-time and reigning Mello Yello Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin, who earned his first win of the 2014 season, just doing what he did was as close as a win as you can get without actually doing it.

“I had a good day behind the wheel of my Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro,” Anderson said in an NHRA media release. “I’m disappointed because I wanted that win, needed that win, but I’m happy because my health is fine and I can still drive these things. That’s good news.”

Coughlin powered his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart to his 57th career Pro Stock win with a 6.558 at 211.63, bettering Anderson’s effort of 6.588 at 212.13 in the final round.

“It’s great to have Greg back and racing with us,” Coughlin said. “We stayed in touch as he was going through his recovery. Sure, we have different sponsors on the sides of our cars, but we’re a close family out here.”

Reaching the final round at Atlanta proved something very significant to Anderson.

“I know that I can win again, it’s just a matter of time,” Anderson said. “We’re close, but we’re not there yet with our Camaros.

“But now I’ve answered the question: ‘Can I still do this?’ Yes. I can start my racing career over. It’s a new chapter for me. A new lease on life.”

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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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