IndyCar: Ganassi seeks first win, or Pocono encore this weekend

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Considering its success in the Verizon IndyCar Series for most of the last two decades, to see Chip Ganassi Racing winless through 10 races for the second straight season is as surprising as it is frustrating for the team that has achieved so much.

Last year though, the tides turned with a crushing, seemingly out of nowhere podium sweep at the Pocono 400. Scott Dixon went from having no wins to having three in eight days, as he led the Pocono podium and then won both races in Toronto.

This year, through the change in driver and engineering lineup and change in engine from Honda to Chevrolet, Ganassi hasn’t fully extracted the maximum performance on a consistent basis. There have been plenty of flashes but not enough luck or results to show for it.

After 10 races this season, Dixon ranks ninth and Tony Kanaan 11th in the two Target-backed cars, while Ryan Briscoe’s No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Levemir® FlexTouch® Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet sit 13th and 15th in the championships standings. All bar Briscoe have a single podium finish, but none has finished better than third.

Kanaan has seven top-10 finishes this year, with Kimball on six, Briscoe on five and Dixon on four. All of Dixon’s top-10s were top-fives, though.

Briscoe will no doubt have an easier weekend this year than last in terms of logistics. Last year, he didn’t qualify as he was racing the American Le Mans Series event at Lime Rock Park on the Saturday, then flew back to Pocono to compete in the National Guard Panther Racing entry on Sunday.

For Kimball, who still looked fresh as a daisy after his fourth-place finish in Houston Race 2 last Sunday, he’s already bagged three top-five finishes this year. A fourth would set a new career high. He’s a good sleeper pick this weekend considering he finished second to Dixon last year and had arguably his best ever oval race last fall at Fontana, where he led late before an engine failure.

As for the Target pair, Dixon and Kanaan have several 500-mile race wins already under their belt, and shouldn’t be ruled out this weekend. Last year Dixon parlayed better fuel mileage – then with a Honda – to his advantage while Kanaan had pace but burned fuel faster when leading in his Chevrolet.

We’ll see if the team can pull an encore of its Pocono performance this weekend (Sunday, noon ET, NBCSN). If any of the drivers win, they’ll be the eighth different driver from the sixth different team this year. If Briscoe podiums, he’ll be the 17th different driver to do so in 2014.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)