Simon Pagenaud leads 1-2 finish for Schmidt team in Houston Race 2 (VIDEO)

1 Comment

Simon Pagenaud may have had the fastest car throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series’ doubleheader weekend in Houston, but brake problems on his car meant that he didn’t get to show it in Saturday’s Race 1.

In today’s Race 2, he had no such problems and went on to lead Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports to a 1-2 finish at NRG Park. Pagenaud’s second win of the season also bolsters his title hopes; while he stayed fourth in the standings, he moved to within 59 points of leader Will Power.

Climbing out of his No. 77 Oculus Transport Honda, Pagenaud apologized for not being exuberant over his success due to the hot and humid conditions this afternoon in Houston. But he was still very much pleased.

“The car was just beautiful,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “I don’t know if you saw the on-board but it was awesome braking, awesome traction, awesome grip. What else [more] could you expect from a driver?

“That’s why I was so disappointed yesterday. We had such a fast car this weekend. Thanks to the group at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. We regrouped really well after Detroit and they came up with this package. Beautiful.”

When asked if today was the most challenging race he’s done, Pagenaud answered in the affirmative.

“Not in terms of steering effort, but exhaustion from heat,” he said. “There was no air. As you could see under yellows, I was opening the visor but the safety car was going so slow, so I wasn’t getting any air in the helmet. Even the safety car was worse than running fast. But, yeah – good day though!”

Additionally, two rookies were able to hit the Houston podium for the second day in a row. SPHM’s own rookie, Mikhail Aleshin, survived a mid-race incident with Graham Rahal to finish second, while Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth finished third after fighting off veterans such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball.

Aleshin thought his day was over after he ran into the back of Rahal on Lap 29 following the American’s pit stop.

“At that moment, I thought that was it,” said the Russian, who made his last stop on Lap 51 of 90. “But we had a good strategy and I had the same pace as the leaders, so I could catch up and overtake some of them – and with the strategy, we were up there.

“And then – can you imagine? – in the end, I had a flat tire. I had a flat tire on my car in the last few laps, so I was really lucky to finish actually. Really lucky. The team did an amazing job. I don’t have any English words to thank the team for that, because they did an amazing job.”

Hawksworth has shown promising flashes of speed up to today, and he definitely deserves his podium following his battle with the likes of Montoya and Kimball.

But he also benefited from Power suffering a rear suspension failure in the final few laps, which forced him to abandon a possible podium of his own. The Australian wound up finishing 11th.

However, his closest title pursuer, Helio Castroneves, crashed today on Lap 49. That means Power’s lead over the Brazilian has returned to 39 points – the same margin he had going into the weekend.

Castroneves was a threat to win today from the pole position, but lost the lead to Pagenaud following a Lap 48 restart. One lap later, contact with Sebastien Bourdais sent into the outside retaining wall at Turn 6.

Bourdais sustained a damaged front wing in the incident but battled through it to finish fifth behind Kimball in fourth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth today, followed by Montoya in seventh, Ryan Briscoe in eighth, Marco Andretti in ninth, and Tony Kanaan in 10th.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON
Race 2 at NRG Park – Final Results

Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 90, Running
2. (2) Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 90, Running
3. (23) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 90, Running
4. (19) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
5. (5) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, 90, Running
6. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, 90, Running
7. (14) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 90, Running
8. (15) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
9. (16) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 90, Running
10. (8) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
11. (18) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 90, Running
12. (6) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, 89, Running
13. (17) Mike Conway, Carpenter-Chevy, 89, Running
14. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda, 89, Running
15. (12) Luca Filippi, Rahal-Honda, 88, Running
16. (4) Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, 87, Running
17. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, 84, Running
18. (11) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 78, Running
19. (10) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, 74, Contact
20. (22) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 61, Mechanical
21. (1) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 48, Contact
22. (9) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 40, Contact
23. (13) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, 2, Off Course

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 78.981 mph
Time of Race: One hour, 51 minutes, 43.0625 seconds
Margin of victory: 7.2622 seconds
Cautions: 5 for 21 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 2 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Castroneves 1 – 30
Pagenaud 31
Castroneves 32 -48
Pagenaud 49 – 90

Point Standings: Power 405, Castroneves 366, Hunter-Reay 364, Pagenaud 346, Montoya 289, Andretti 281, Munoz 270, Bourdais 242, Dixon 237, Hinchcliffe 229.

NHRA: Top 10 storylines of the 2019 season

NHRA
Leave a comment

The 2019 NHRA season wound up being one where there was almost as much news and highlights made off the drag strip as on it.

That was the case in two of the top four storylines for the recently completed season, with the top story occurring even before the first pass down a drag strip in competition took place.

We’ve also included a poll for you to vote and see if you agree with our picks or not.

Here’s how our top 10 looks:

1. A Force-ful departure: Just two weeks before the 2019 season was due to open, Funny Car driver Courtney Force, daughter of 16-time champion John Force, stunned the drag racing world by announcing she was taking a hiatus from the sport – although she insisted she was not retiring. The wife of IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, Force turned over her high dollar Advance Auto Parts sponsorship to sister and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, who had previously been sponsored by Monster Energy. Courtney Force became the second high-profile female drag racer to step away from the sport in just over a year, joining fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria, who went on hiatus after the 2017 season. This past October, DeJoria announced she would return to full-time NHRA competition in 2020. But as for Courtney, she remains on hiatus for at least the time being.

2. Torrence’s Texas two-step: Proud Texas native Steve Torrence won his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in 2019, winning nine races (including eight in a nine-race stretch). While Torrence enjoyed an outstanding season in 2018, winning 11 races and becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, he won just one playoff race in 2019. But he still managed to earn just enough points to hold off his closest rival, Doug Kalitta, by a mere three points for the second championship. Also of note: Steve’s father Billy finished a career-best fifth in the final standings, even though he competed in just 16 of the season’s 24 national events.

3. What happened to ‘The Sarge’? Tony Schumacher is the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history, with eight championships and 84 national event wins. But he was essentially AWOL in 2019, failing to compete in even one race. The reason: sponsorship. Or more precisely, lack thereof. The U.S. Army, which had sponsored Schumacher for nearly 20 years – which prompted him to adopt the colorful nickname of “The Sarge” — pulled its funding after the 2018 season, leaving Schumacher without a fully-funded ride for 2019. Rather than try to race piecemeal from race to race with limited sponsorship, the son of team owner Don Schumacher decided to watch the season from the sidelines. How Schumacher could not attract a new big dollar sponsor, given his domination and success in the Top Fuel class, is almost unfathomable. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Schumacher – who turns 50 on Christmas Day – may remain sidelined in 2020.

John Force

4. A Force to be reckoned with once again: Even though he fell short of adding to his record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships, the 2019 season was definitely one of resurgence for John Force, the sport’s winningest and most popular driver ever. Force, who turned 70 years old in May, isn’t letting age slow him down, earning two wins during the season – including a milestone 150th Funny Car victory of his career – and finished fourth in the standings (up from ninth in 2018, seventh in 2017, and his best finish since he ended up fourth in 2016).

Robert Hight

5. At the Hight of his success: Robert Hight isn’t flashy or verbose as his boss, John Force. But when he’s not working as president of John Force Racing, the soft-spoken Hight has become one of the premier drivers in Funny Car history. In 2019, he earned his third Funny Car championship – his second in the last three seasons and third since 2009. Along the way, he captured six wins (including a milestone 50th win), was runner-up three other times, reached the semifinals five times and led all drivers as the No. 1 qualifier for eight races (a full one-third of the season). This was perhaps the most dominant championship of all for Hight, including leading the Funny Car standings for 23 of the 24-race season.

Erica Enders

6. Erica’s baaaaccckkkk: Erica Enders is back on top of her game, and on top of the Pro Stock category, earning her third championship in the last six seasons (and first since 2015). Admittedly, her championship came in the first year of a shortened Pro Stock schedule, having been cut from a full 24 races to just 18. Still, the Texas native won two races, finished runner-up three other times and reached the semifinals four other times. Also of note, Enders’ Elite Motorsports teammate, five-time Pro Stoc champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., came oh, so close to winning his sixth title, finishing just 21 points behind Enders in the final standings.

Doug Kalitta

7. What does he have to do to win first championship? Doug Kalitta came the closest he ever has to earning the first Top Fuel championship of his 20-year drag racing career, finishing just three points behind Steve Torrence in the Top Fuel rankings. It was almost heartbreaking as Kalitta seemingly did everything he needed to do to win the championship, including winning the season-ending race in Pomona, California, one of three wins he earned (as well as two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings). Kalitta began the season with a win at Pomona, as well. But Torrence came into the season-ending event at Pomona with just enough of a lead (and reached the semifinals) to hold off Kalitta’s challenge. How close was Kalitta from winning the championship? If he had advanced one more round in any of the six playoff races, he would have bested Torrence. Unfortunately, in a sense, Kalitta – nephew of legendary NHRA team owner and racer Connie Kalitta – has become the Mark Martin of NHRA Top Fuel: always a bridesmaid but never a bride when it comes to winning a championship. But there’s still hope, Kalitta fans: he’s going to give it another try in 2020. Maybe that will be his year – finally.

Andrew Hines

8. He’s one heck of an easy rider: Andrew Hines made it look easy in 2019 – although it was far from it – when he earned his sixth career NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship (and first since 2015). Son of past PSM champion Byron Hines, Andrew Hines enjoyed one of the most dominating seasons ever of his career — not to mention one of the most dominating seasons in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category — winning eight of the 16 PSM events contested, along with earning two runner-up and three semifinal finishes. Hines held off 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie by 26 points and 2018 champ Matt Smith by 46 points.

JR Todd

9. What a difference a year makes: JR Todd had an exceptional season in 2018, with six wins, two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings. Not surprisingly, the Indiana native went on to win the Funny Car championship that season for Kalitta Motorsports. But one year later, Todd was seemingly an afterthought when it came to challenging for the Funny Car crown once again. For as good as he was in 2018, Todd struggled through much of the 2019 season with just one win, three runner-up and two other semifinal finishes, ultimately finishing seventh in the standings, a distant 246 points behind series champ Robert Hight, who was second to Todd in 2018.

Austin Prock

10. Strong start for sport’s top rookie: When your father is renowned crew chief Jimmy Prock, it’s clear that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Such is the case of Austin Prock, who finished his first season in Top Fuel by earning NHRA’s rookie of the year honors. The younger Prock finished eighth in the Top Fuel season standings, including one win and five semifinal finishes driving for John Force Racing. Ironically, he finished one spot higher than three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, who had a rough season, finishing ninth in the standings, with no wins, two runner-up showings and reached the semifinals just five times.

Follow @JerryBonkowski