IndyCar: Potential record-tying 11th season winner possible at Milwaukee

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The Verizon IndyCar Series has three races to tie or eclipse the overall record for most winners in a season a Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers.

If that sounds like deja vu from last year, it’s because it basically is.

Last season, there were 10 different winners through 15 races, and the series had four shots to tie the mark of 11, achieved in the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons. But it stayed stuck at 10 with Will Power, the 10th different winner of 2013, winning three of the last five races.

This year… we again have 10 different winners through 15 races.

So who could potentially break through as lucky number 11? We run down the candidates, in order of likelihood:

  • Tony Kanaan. “TK” is the active starts leader (14) and a two-time winner at Milwaukee (2006, 2007) and most recently finished second to Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012. After leading 247 laps at the only other short oval this season at Iowa, Kanaan is a good bet.
  • James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian has the best average finish at Milwaukee in his three starts – 4.7 – and enters the weekend off his first podium of 2014 two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio. If the setup is right, Hinch should be a factor.
  • Marco Andretti. What’s been a recent stretch of rough races for Marco could be cleansed with a trip to one of his better tracks. His average starting position of 7.1 is third best in the field but he’s been unable to get a result to match on race day. Dominated a year ago before mechanical gremlins struck.
  • Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe and the NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing team have run better of late, and like Kanaan, he’s a former Milwaukee winner (2008). Also was strong at Iowa. Not the first person you’d pick to win, but wouldn’t surprise either.
  • Takuma Sato. It would make sense on several levels. Sato and the A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ team’s short oval package was very strong a year ago and seventh was a result unrepresentative of how the No. 14 Honda ran. Add in this is the home-sponsored race for sponsor ABC Supply Co. and you could well have a popular winner if Sato’s trademark “No Attack, No Chance” strategy comes good.
  • Josef Newgarden. Depends largely on setup, but as I wrote after his Mid-Ohio disappointment, his near miss there reminds me a lot of Michel Jourdain Jr. in 2003 – talented, promising young driver bouncing back and securing his first career win at Milwaukee.
  • Graham Rahal. Another in the “has run better of late than his results have indicated” camp, and also has a previous Milwaukee podium finish in the bank. Struggled on setup at this race last year and the hope is Bill Pappas’ engineering will improve what was a difficult race car in 2013.
  • Justin Wilson. Wilson’s been strangely anonymous this year – not bad by any stretch, but those usual Wilson/Dale Coyne Racing giant-killing performances haven’t come with the same frequency. Like Rahal, comes to Milwaukee with a different engineer, and with Pappas now at RLL it’s the Michael Cannon-led No. 19 crew trying to turn things around for the likable and tall Englishman.
  • Charlie Kimball. Milwaukee’s been something of a bogey track for Kimball, whose average start of 20th and average finish of 16th in three prior races is among the worst in the field. Here’s hoping the Ganassi short oval setup also helps the driver of the No. 83 car.
  • Sebastian Saavedra. The Colombian posted an oval career-best qualifying of sixth this race last year but was unable to sustain it in the race.
  • Carlos Munoz, Mikhail Aleshin, Jack Hawksworth. The rookie trio is unproven at this track and a win actually would be a surprise. I’d expect more from Aleshin this weekend given his quick adaption to ovals. Munoz is a hard one to project in Milwaukee. His team, Andretti Autosport, have been excellent in oval setup and so he could well be in the top five. Or, as in Iowa, midpack and out of lead contention. Neither he nor Hawksworth did particularly well here in Indy Lights, either.

NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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