Beyond RHR, Munoz and Andretti both score second straight top-10 at Barber

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Ryan Hunter-Reay was the top finishing Andretti Autosport driver Sunday in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, in his No. 28 DHL Honda, but his two teammates added to the overall results haul Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Carlos Munoz (No. 26 Cinsay/ Honda) and Marco Andretti (No. 27 Snapple Honda) each followed up their top-10 results at Long Beach last week with near identical results this week, to give Andretti Autosport a perfect three-for-three in top-10s on the day.

Granted, while lower top-10 results aren’t the goal, and while a higher finish for Andretti was certainly possible, both Munoz and Andretti flew under the radar once again en route to their results.

Munoz started 22nd in the 23-car Verizon IndyCar Series field but advanced as high as eighth, primarily on the pit stop sequence, in his first stint before pitting on Lap 22.

A short-fill and a second stop on Lap 35 positioned him well to make it home on just one more stop from there, which he took on Lap 63, the same lap as race winner Josef Newgarden.

Munoz made it up to seventh by Lap 70, when most of the leaders completed their final round of stops, and gained a further position to sixth when Helio Castroneves needed a splash of fuel with two laps remaining.

“I think sixth for me is like a victory today. I mean I always want to win, but this sixth feels so good because of how we started the weekend,” Munoz said in a team release.

“Starting 22nd at Barber (Motorsports Park), it is really hard to make your way to the front. My team did a great job – in pit stops, in strategy. I think I did a great job at saving fuel; I’m more or less a rookie at saving fuel, but I think now I have my ‘saving fuel degree’ from university (haha). Now I’m looking forward to the next one.”

Andretti recorded his third top-10 finish in four races to open the year on a similar strategy. Stops on Laps 15, 35 and 63 positioned him for a top-10 result, and a last lap pass of Luca Filippi for 10th completed the day’s work. Still, he felt things could have gone better.

“I lost too much time early in the stint to (Scott) Dixon and Ryan (Hunter-Reay); I had a go at Dixon… I got pushed off the track, so we lost a lot of track position,” said Andretti, who at one point made a dynamic outside pass of his teammate on Lap 25 for sixth place.

“I lost a lot of time, really, in that stint trying to conserve (fuel). I need to get better at managing, but we were losing the rear tires, so it was a real struggle.”

Munoz, Hunter-Reay and Andretti now rank 11th, 12th and 13th this season in the points standings heading into the month of May.

As the defending Indianapolis 500 champion team, and a team that has had an excellent setup at Indianapolis each of the last two years, it will be interesting to watch theirs and Honda’s progression into the month of May.

Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.