Yesterday, JR Hildebrand got back in an IndyCar, and today, his Giants could win the World Series


Sometimes there’s one driver every offseason who hits the jackpot – and occasionally it happens to be a guy who didn’t have a full-time ride the previous season.

From 2011 into 2012, that driver was Simon Pagenaud. He starred in cameo appearances in IndyCar en route to a full-time ride with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in ’12, where he would then finish fifth in points and win rookie-of-the-year honors.

Last year, it was Ryan Briscoe. After a half-IndyCar, half-sports car career odyssey in 2013, Briscoe made it back to IndyCar full-time this year with Chip Ganassi Racing and additionally earned a role as a third driver with Corvette Racing in TUDOR United SportsCar Championship endurance races.

This year, it’s looking like it could be JR Hildebrand.

The up-and-coming American wasn’t fully able to capitalize on his potential in two and a half years with Panther Racing before his contract was determined after the 2013 Indianapolis 500. He punched above his weight in two starts with Bryan Herta Autosport later in 2013 and finished in the top-10 in his only IndyCar start this year, with Ed Carpenter Racing at this year’s ‘500.

On Monday, Hildebrand returned to an IndyCar for the first time since the ‘500 by taking over the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet driven by Carpenter (ovals) and Mike Conway (road/street courses) this past season.

Both he and Josef Newgarden had a chance to work together for the first time with the merged CFH Racing, and with their Chevrolet engines. This marked Hildebrand’s first road course appearance in an IndyCar since August 2013, at Sonoma, when Hildebrand made his last road or street start with BHA.

“INDYCAR is where I want to be and I’ve made no bones about letting it be known that I enjoyed my experience with ECR at Indy and wanting to continue that in whatever capacity,” he said, via “The team is here to bang through some things and start getting on the same page. I’m trying to help with that as much as possible and get back out here. It’s been a year and some change since I was in an IndyCar on a road course so it’s great to get back in the car and get up to speed quickly.”

Carpenter said in the same piece that while he’d like to have Conway back, he wouldn’t enter into an agreement if he’d lose him for a couple races. As chronicled on MotorSportsTalk, at least three and likely five IndyCar/FIA World Endurance Championship conflicts are expected for 2015.

Meanwhile for Hildebrand, his hometown San Francisco Giants stand on the doorstep of their third MLB World Series championship in the last five years tonight. They now travel to Kansas City for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead.

So if Hildebrand’s Giants win the World Series, that’s one great piece of news in the bag. And with the possibility of a return to IndyCar looming, it could be two.

Worth noting it already has happened once before where the Giants won the World Series and Hildebrand got a ride the next year, when the Giants took the 2010 title and Hildebrand debuted with Panther Racing in 2011 (after 2 part-time cameos in 2010).

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)