NASCAR: Jeff Gordon still a home favorite at Sonoma

0 Comments

Jeff Gordon may have rose through the racing ranks while living in Indiana, but the four-time Sprint Cup champion is a California native. Additionally, his “first” hometown of Vallejo, California is not too far from the Sonoma Raceway.

And it’s those Sonoma fans that give him one of the better welcomes along the Cup circuit.

“It is hard to say it is my home track, but this is home for me,” Gordon said today at Sonoma between practice sessions.

“I love coming out here, and yet had I not moved to Indiana, I don’t know if I would be here today, and get the reception we get out here, which is a fantastic one.

“It is awesome. Even my truck driver was saying that the truck parade that was last night in Sacramento, he saw 24 hats everywhere. That is not necessarily the case in Johnson City, Tennessee.”

This weekend, Gordon returns to Sonoma as the Sprint Cup championship leader and firmly in the Chase after his win earlier this year at Kansas Speedway.

But all he has to do is look across the garage at defending Cup champion and teammate Jimmie Johnson – who has rattled off three wins in the last four weeks – and he knows that he has some catching up to do.

He’s also looking to finally capture his sixth career win at Sonoma after taking No. 5 all the way back in 2006. But with the way Hendrick Motorsports has been performing lately, Gordon has every reason to be confident.

“We know that we need to get to Victory Lane a few more times and I think we are capable of doing that,” Gordon said. “I think that we are a team that can be very consistent and yet also be a real threat to win.

“This year, the way my cars are running everywhere we go, I’m excited to get in it, push the limits of it and I’m having a blast. Every time they drop the green flag I feel like we have a car that can compete for a win.

“That is very exciting and I’m proud of the effort that has been put in to make that happen.”

Gordon also said that his back issues from the Coca-Cola 600 have not been bothering him on the hilly Sonoma circuit, which he seemed to take as a pleasant surprise.

“I’m happy – as hard as you are braking, and all the shifting you are doing out here, I was a little concerned, but it has gone really well,” he said.

“The plane ride out was harder than anything – sitting there for five, six hours.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”