NASCAR: Milka Duno to race selected Nationwide Series events

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Milka Duno – she of the four-year IndyCar career that included this memorable disagreement with then-fellow IndyCar driver Danica Patrick at Mid-Ohio, and not a single top-10 finish – has since made the switch to ARCA stock cars, and raced without much in the way of success for several years.

Despite the limited success, Duno has always enjoyed a healthy level of support from her native Venezuela. She’s just been less than stellar on track for the majority of her career.

And it’s with that as a preamble that we reveal this news: she’s racing selected NASCAR Nationwide Series events for RAB Racing.

Ordinarily with press releases like this you just pick out a quote or two, offer a stat or two to complement it and leave it at that for a quick post.

But in this case, I’m gonna say it’s important to show the whole thing, because it’s an… erm… shall we say there were some “performance enhancements” within the release.

Duno signs limited NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule with RAB Racing

Los Angeles, Calif. (August 4, 2014) – RAB Racing has signed multiple race-winning driver Milka Duno to compete in select races in the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series and with the entry Duno will become the first Hispanic female driver in history to compete in a NASCAR national series in the United States.

A successful driver who has competed in multiple racing series Duno has eight major race wins in the highest classes (Prototype) in the American Le Mans Series and the Grand American Rolex Series and the highest finish ever by a female driver (2nd place) in the 24 Hours at Daytona – in the now 52-year history of the race.

When she won the Rolex Series Grand Prix of Miami she became the first woman in history to win a major international race in the USA.

In 2007, Duno was also the first Hispanic female driver, in the now 103-year history of the race, to qualify for and compete in the world famous Indianapolis 500. Duno competed in the Indianapolis 500 for three consecutive seasons and in the IndyCar Series for four consecutive seasons – running partial schedules in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and a full schedule in 2010.

In making her transition to stock car racing and her ultimate entry into NASCAR Duno has been competing in the ARCA Racing Series (ARCA) for the past three seasons. In 2011 and 2012 she competed in partial schedules and in her first full ARCA season in 2013, competing with Venturini Motorsports, she finished the season 7th in the driver point standings and became the 2nd highest finishing female driver in ARCA’s now 62-year history. Duno is also the first Hispanic female driver to compete in ARCA.

During her 2013 ARCA season Duno started 2nd in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway and took the lead on the first lap and led the race for several laps – becoming the first Hispanic female driver to lead an ARCA race.

At Talladega Superspeedway she earned the pole, led the race and became the first Hispanic female driver to earn an ARCA pole. She also became only the fourth female driver in ARCA history, and only the second female driver in 25 years, to earn an ARCA pole at Talladega. Duno finished her 2013 ARCA season 3rd in most laps completed and 3rd in hard charger points.

“I’m really very excited and honored to enter into NASCAR and the Nationwide Series,” said Duno. “It has always been a goal and dream of mine to compete in NASCAR and I worked very hard in ARCA to turn this goal into a reality. I always strive to challenge myself as a driver and I’ve been fortunate to compete in many types of racing – and while the competition is always my number one focus – I am very proud of the history that I have made as a female driver, and the Hispanic sports history as well, that has been made along the way.” Added Duno, “NASCAR is the most competitive and popular racing series in the USA and I’m very proud to enter the series with RAB Racing and I look forward to competing with them in their No. 29 Toyota Camry.”

Veteran crew chief Chris Rice will helm Duno’s NNS effort. In 2013, Rice lead RAB Racing’s No. 99 Toyota Camry to two poles, two top-5 finishes, and six top-10 finishes.

“We’ve watched Milka develop in the ARCA Racing Series and feel she is prepared for the next step in her stock car racing career,” said RAB Racing owner Robby Benton. “I think that working together with Chris Rice, Milka can find a home in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. She has a very strong fan base and we hope we can attract them to follow her in her NASCAR endeavors. Milka is very intelligent and educated and we look forward to working with her.”

If you’ve followed Duno’s career for any length of time, you’re aware how enhanced those quotes and stats can be.

That aforementioned Rolex Grand Prix of Miami, Duno ran less than half an hour in the two and a half hour plus race, and co-driver Andy Wallace needed to perform a minor miracle to recover the lost time, claw back the deficit and win the race.

She was frequently black flagged in IndyCar for failing to sustain the minimum pace on road and street courses.

Leading an ARCA race at Daytona is hardly the racing world’s most memorable accomplishment.

All that aside, I do wish Duno the best, and I also hope for her sake and the team’s sake that her past performances in other forms of motorsport do not negatively impact her NASCAR career.

If it means to her as much as she says it does within this release, ideally she’s improved her craft enough in ARCA to where she will not be a potential liability on track.

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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