Danica Patrick finishes career-best 6th after G-W-C craziness in Atlanta

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In her best drive of the season, Danica Patrick finished sixth Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway – a new career-best result for her in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Her previous best had been a seventh at Kansas this past May.

“That race felt like it was 700 miles,” Patrick told ESPN. “Sometimes when you’re running well, they feel like that because you’re just hoping it stays there and it keeps going well, you keep improving, you don’t lose it.

“And there were definitely a couple of times later in the race where we fell back. The middle of the race, the car was very good and it took a little step back. But it came back at the end and [crew chief Tony] Gibson just reset everything to where we were when we were running well.”

Patrick had been running in the lower reaches of the Top 10 for much of the night before an incident involving Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. brought out the caution with just two laps to go in the scheduled 325-lap distance.

Before the first GWC attempt, Patrick came in for pit service and moved up one spot to seventh thanks to a lightning-quick stop.

That was important, because it allowed her to go on the inside lane for GWC1; moments after the green flag, Patrick was able to dodge a crash involving Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard on the outside lane and move up to fourth.

“…There were a couple of rough [stops] in the beginning, but [the last one] made up for all of it because that put us seventh for the restart,” she said. “We had a good line on the inside and didn’t get caught up on the outside.”

Patrick couldn’t stay in the Top 5 during GWC2, but she was still very happy for herself and the team. She also hopes that she’s got some momentum heading into next weekend’s race at Richmond, where she’s finished 29th, 30th, and 34th in her Cup career.

“We’ve really had pretty fast cars for quite a while now and not really great finishes to show for it,” she said. “…I’ve sucked at Richmond every time, so I sure hope I can run well at Richmond now.”

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.”