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Aleshin on surviving for top-five: “I managed not to crash”

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – With the top four in front of him in Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series season-opener Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves, all race winners and two series champions (JPM and RHR), the surprise top finisher behind them in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was Mikhail Aleshin in fifth.

Even more surprising that the result came by the Russian after a late arrival back in the U.S. once he got his visa sorted, after missing the two final preseason tests at Phoenix and Sebring in late February and early March.

Aleshin, in the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, started 17th and made it up to 10th place by Lap 45.

But where Aleshin really emerged was after the eight-car pileup on Lap 57. He was 18th at the time after his pit stop sequence, and made it up to seventh once the wreck was clear.

Aleshin got ahead of Alexander Rossi for fifth place on Lap 86 and then held the position through to the finish.

It’s his second career top-five (second, Houston race two, 2014) in the championship.

“Some passes, strategy, but a lot of luck,” Aleshin told NBC Sports. “The car was really good.

“Yeah, I think I managed not to crash with all the group of the guys, and I found the reverse really fast. Got out of it without any major problems.

“It’s so very nice to be back like that, and come top-five without any tests. It shows the car and team potential. We can be up there with the No. 7 SMP Racing car.”

With the net gain of 12 spots, Aleshin also moved forward the most of any driver in the field. Tony Kanaan gained 10 spots to climb from 19th to ninth.

Aleshin’s teammate, James Hinchcliffe, ended a lapped 19th after a day with contact and a cut tire in his return to the series after his accident last year in Indianapolis.

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.