Ten with Townsend: Long Beach and Barber debrief

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Following what was easily the best race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park, we check in with our NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for the latest in the MotorSportsTalk original series “Ten with Townsend.”

A recap of Barber and Long Beach, held last week, is below; a series archive is linked here and as always, we thank him for his time and insights:

-How much did IndyCar need these last two races after a ragged first two races?

I didn’t mind the drama (entertainment) from the first two races. That was the exception, not the norm for IndyCar, and it highlighted challenges for all sides of the IndyCar community. This sport has a lot of complex moving parts.

-Where do you rate Barber among some of the best races you’ve watched? How much fun was it to call following all the strategies, passes and other elements?

Half the time I was lost trying to do all the strategy math in my head. I’m going to put that down to old age. Watching Graham come charging to the front was enjoyable along with Josef’s first win – he drove flawlessly. Big congrats to him and the CFH team. Long time coming for those boys (and team co-owners Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman, -Ed.).

-Robin Miller made a note during the NBCSN telecast that Americans winning help the series. Agree with that? Think Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal can help move the needle?

That’s probably tough to measure but we all like to see homegrown talent realize their full potential and Graham and Josef delivered that at Barber. We even had a Brit in the booth get pretty excited about two Americans! That can’t hurt.

-What did you make of Newgarden and his CFH Racing team essentially dominating Sunday’s race at Barber? How cool is it to see a first-time winner?

Can’t ask for much more than that.

-How impressed are you by Rahal and his team’s improved performance this year?

A team member told me that the dynamic of having Bobby step back and Graham step up has been huge. The results would certainly support that. I don’t think anyone has come close to completing the number of incident free passes on track this season that Graham has.

He has an extremely good sense of where the ‘spacing’ is with his car and that of his competitors. He had a fortuitous strategy to help the result at Barber but his speed, relative to other top Honda drivers, this season has been strong.

-Has Dixon’s quick turnaround the last two races, with the Long Beach win and a third at Barber, come as any surprise whatsoever? Or just a case where he and the Ganassi team are now fully firing on all cylinders earlier in the year than anticipated?

I think he is the Fernando Alonso of our sport. He simply performs, regardless of circumstance. Always.

-Do you think Honda made a stride at Barber or did it still seem as though Chevrolet held the overall advantage?

I thought their engine drivability was strong and maybe looked after the rear tires a bit better. Tough to really judge from the outside but that was my hunch. On pure speed, I don’t think the gap has changed.

-What was your biggest surprise at Long Beach, and biggest surprise at Barber?

– Long Beach: No Simona (de Silvestro) when when she had earned a sixth place points position after the first two rounds.

– Barber: (Francesco) Dracone because we all assumed he was a lap down while causing headaches for the field early on (apologies to Dale Coyne Racing). In fact, that was for position! Sort of…

-Two weekends, and two different broadcast partners for you. How do Leigh Diffey and Steve Matchett’s energy and enthusiasm help add to the broadcast?

I’ve got the fastest/sharpest mind in play-by-play to one side and a freakishly sharp eye for detail on the other. It keeps me on my toes.

-Lastly you have a busy month of May ahead, highlighted by your latest Indianapolis 500 confirmation with Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing. It’s been a few years since you were with DRR, what excites you most about the homecoming? And what do you think will be the difference on running the car with the new oval aero kit for the first time?

Time to go beast mode.. Take off the tie….. and strap on.

I always enjoyed racing for DRR. The team is really focused, well equipped, and ready to go. I like the fact that they have competed so well in the pitstop competition in recent years as a warm-up to race day. Those are the easiest passes I can make on raceday- on pit lane.

The cars will be faster than 2014. The question is… How fast? We’ll find out very soon.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in the final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a victory over Pipo Derani in the the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

With the rebranding of DPi to GTP for the new LMDh cars, Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”