NASCAR: RCR trio hopes to continue Chase push at New Hampshire

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With Aric Almirola’s win last Sunday at Daytona, 11 spots on the Chase Grid have been secured.

Of the remaining five spots that are still up for grabs, three of them are occupied by Richard Childress Racing.

But with no wins between them, Ryan Newman (pictured, right), Paul Menard, and Austin Dillon are far from safe.

Newman sits 13th in the Grid (534 points), Menard is 14th (516 points), and Dillon is holding the 16th and final position (494 points) with just a four-point lead over Greg Biffle.

Eight races remain in the 2014 regular season and at this point of the year, the consequences of a bad result have a greater impact.

Perhaps mindful of that, RCR recently tested at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which will host the Sprint Cup Series this weekend and again in September for the second race of the Chase.

Additionally, Menard will compete in Saturday’s Nationwide Series event at the Magic Mile along with Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301.

But out of the three RCR drivers, Newman may have the best chance this weekend to get a win and lock himself into the post-season.

New Hampshire is where he earned his first Cup win in 2002, and he’s got three Cup wins there overall (2005, 2011).

“This Caterpillar team just needs to stay focused and keep doing what we are doing,” Newman said in a release. “Kentucky was big for us to be able to get that ice breaker of a Top-5 out of the way. You really can’t expect to win a race by running 11th, 10th and seventh.

“But when you are in the Top 3, you are proving that you have a chance. I believe that’s the direction this team is headed and to look for a similar run this weekend in Loudon.”

As for Dillon and Menard, they too are optimistic but know that they need to have good cars around New Hampshire’s relatively flat corners (two to seven degrees of banking on each end of the track).

“If you’re not comfortable with that amount of banking, it can be difficult to really get your balance right on the car,” said Dillon, who has run at New Hampshire in Nationwide and Trucks. “You have to give up certain points of the corner in order to be good on the long run, and then also off the corner.”

“It’s really hard to pass, but it’s a couple grooves so you just have to make your car work where the other guys can’t,” said Menard. “We’ll try to work on that apron and get some good drive off, but you have to maintain the turn.”

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

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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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.”