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).

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)