Ten with Townsend: NOLA debrief

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The third season of the MotorSportsTalk original series “Ten with Townsend” – a 10-question Q&A with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell – premieres this week following the first NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series race broadcast of 2015, the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. A full archive of past posts is linked here.

Here’s the breakdown after Sunday’s race held in mixed conditions, and won by James Hinchcliffe.

-What were your thoughts on NOLA Motorsports Park as a track, facility and organization? How does it compare to other first-time venues?

I’m sure the owners were frustrated to have spent all that money to build a new venue and not have proper drainage for the racing surface. That shouldn’t happen at a new track.

I think the track flow is good, the drivers enjoy it, but I imagine they’ll look to adjust the layout  to create a longer braking zone (tighter corners at the end of the straights).  Figuring out how to get parking established on site for fans will also be important.

-When there was green flag running, do you feel the drivers handled themselves better than at St. Petersburg in the opener?

They were aggressive. Just as I hoped they would be.

-How did this race compare to other “flukey” type of races you’ve seen throughout your career?

This ranks up there with fluke wins. Max Papis at Laguna Seca (2001), Michael Andretti at Long Beach (2002), and Mario Dominguez at Surfers’ Paradise the same year. But they all count just the same on the record books!  Congrats to Hinch and SPM for taking a gamble, keeping it on the island, and riding off with those giant Mardi Balls.

Podium beads… in giant sizes. Photo: AP

-Through two races, how do you look at the job Juan Pablo Montoya is doing?

Fantastic. He’s fast, racy, and confident that he has his game working on all fronts. 

-Does it look like Team Penske has the clear edge thus far performance-wise in dry conditions?

I would give Penske the nod on street circuits right now and Ganassi the nod on permanent road courses.  It was a shame for Ganassi that they did not see a dry race track after Friday practice 1.  They were the team to beat, IMO.

-How do you rate the job the rookies/first-year drivers are doing so far?

So far, nobody is showing the kind of collective rookie talent that we saw in 2014 from Hawksworth and Munoz.

-What was your biggest surprise of the weekend? 

Probably seeing the Foyt team struggle after looking so strong in St. Pete on pace. I’m sure Long Beach will be different; they’ve won there before.

-Is there anyone you feel has punched above their weight and impressed the opening couple races? Anyone you’re looking to see improve heading into Long Beach?

Simona.  I’m not surprised because I don’t think we’ve fully seen what she’s capable of yet. For her to finish in the top-five, best of her team, with very little track time is remarkable.  I hope she runs all season because she deserves it, and I think the second half of her season would be very strong as she settles back in after quite some time away.

I think if Sage Karam gets to run Long Beach he clearly needs a solid weekend.  Not so much a result, but precise execution through all sessions and the race.  I’ve been there and didn’t manage to accomplish that my rookie year. I hope he can get through this tough phase because the other side looks very promising.  But he needs to buy himself some breathing room, and right now he’s short on that SK Money.

-With Long Beach next, do you expect a similar caution-fest event as occurred at St. Petersburg or just typical Long Beach in terms of accidents/surprise winner?

Weather looks to be great this weekend and I think the drivers have learned from St. Pete how big the perfromance penalty is for front wing damage in the ‘body kit era.’  Will Power will win in his sleep. 

-Collectively, you, Brian Till and Paul Tracy were all playing well off each other this weekend. How did it feel to get back in the booth after a long layoff since Auto Club? How do you stay fresh from a commentary perspective when it’s that long a break? 

I maintain a strict commentary training program which includes critiquing and yelling during other sports events on TV while at home on the couch. It’s quite popular with the rest of the family.

Kyle Larson wins High Limit Sprint race at Tri-City Speedway ahead of Rico Abreu

Larson High Limit Tri-City
High Limit Sprint Car Series

A late race caution set up a 14-lap shootout at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Illinois with Kyle Larson winning his second consecutive High Limit Sprint Car Series race over Rico Abreu.

Starting eight on the grid after a disappointing pole dash, Larson missed several major incidents as he worked his way to the front. On Lap 1 of 35, a five-car accident claimed Tyler Courtney and Michael “Buddy” Kofoid, who both took a tumble and before collecting three other cars. Once that red flag was lifted, it didn’t take long for drivers to get tangled again as the leader Danny Dietrich experienced engine trouble on Lap 8. When he slowed rapidly, second-place Brent Marks collided with his back tire, ending the day for both.

Larson moved up to fourth with this incident.

Another red flag on Lap 21 for a flip involving Parker Price-Miller set up the dash for the win.

“My car felt really good and then we got that red,” Larson said from victory lane. “I was kind of running through the crumbs before that in 3 and 4; I could tell the top was getting really sketchy. Parker was making mistakes up there.

“When the red came out, I could see there was a clean lane of grip – not just marbles. It’s hard to see when you’re at speed. I figured Rico was going to run the top and he did. I got to his inside a couple of times and I was like ‘please don’t go to the bottom,’ and I threw a slider on him. Then he went to the bottom and I thought I was screwed until he spun his tires really bad off the corner and I was able to hit the top okay and get another run and slide him. I got good grip off the cushion.”

The victory makes Larson the first repeat winner in the series’ five-race history. He beat Justin Sanders earlier this month at Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio.

With 10 laps remaining, Larson caught and pressured Abreu. The two threw a series of sliders at one another until Abreu bobbled on the cushion and lost momentum.

“Anytime you race Rico and he’s on the wall like that, you have to get aggressive,” Larson said. “He’s pushing so hard that just to stay in the striking zone if he makes a mistake, you have to push hard too.”

For Abreu, it was his second near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps.

“I felt like I made a lot of mistakes at the end,” Abreu said. “It’s just hard to judge race pace. You’ve got Kyle behind you and [Anthony] Macri and these guys that have had speed all year long. I was racing as hard as I could and the mistake factor is more and more critical.”

Cory Eliason earned his career-best High Limit finish of third after starting deep in the field in 13th.

Macri lost one position during the race to finish fourth with Sam Hafertepe, Jr. rounding out the top five.

Visiting from the NASCAR Cup series, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 19th in the 25-car field after advancing from the B-Main.

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway