AVONDALE, Ariz. – Two right front flat tires for Team Penske have taken the thus far dominant pairing of Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya out of the lead and dropped them to nearly the end of the 22-car field in tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season (LIVE on NBCSN).
The respective issues for Castroneves on Lap 40 and Montoya just before Lap 100 left two Chip Ganassi Racing Teams in the lead, with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan up front.
The passing star behind them has been Ryan Hunter-Reay, who started 12th and was up to seventh in the opening five laps, and ran as high as third before the second pit stop sequence.
But Hunter-Reay’s charge was halted when Andretti Autosport teammate Carlos Munoz stopped on course on Lap 120 going into Turn 1, right in the middle of the sequence. It caught Hunter-Reay and several others one or more laps down who had just made a stop.
Just nine cars were on the lead lap at the halfway mark, with Dixon leading the returning Will Power, Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Charlie Kimball in the top five.
The remaining lead lap cars are Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Josef Newgarden (who overcame an earlier pit issue) and Sebastien Bourdais.
Castroneves and Montoya fell to 13th and 14th, a lap down.
With the higher downforce kits making passing difficult, NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski took to Twitter to chime in:
Jalek Swoll and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna teammate Malcolm Stewart sustained injury in separate crashes late last week. Stewart missed Anaheim 2 and Swoll will not mount up for the 250 East season opener in Houston on February 4.
“Spent all of yesterday in the ER and today getting surgery so haven’t been able to make an update post,” Swoll posted on Instagram. “Spiral fractured my humorous yesterday and was lucky enough to get into surgery today. Absolutely heartbroken that I couldn’t show all the hard work me, [Mike Brown], [Aldon Baker], and [Joel Perez] were working on truly felt like this year was going to a big one with massive improvements we made but I guess it just wasn’t my time.”
The team announced on Instagram that Swoll underwent successful surgery to repair a broken bone in his arm, sustained in a practice crash on Friday. After missing the division opener, no further timeline has been given for his return.
Swoll made eight starts in the 250 West division last season with a best finish of fifth. In 2021, he scored his first SuperMotocross win in the outdoor Pro Motocross season at High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania.
Stewart missed Anaheim 2 due to a practice injury. Likewise, the team did not announce a timetable for Stewart’s return.
He showed a lot of speed in the first two rounds before accidents eliminated him from contention in both rounds. He finished 16th at Anaheim 1 and 15th in San Diego, putting him in a points’ deficit that was already going to be difficult to overcome.
Stewart entered the 2023 season with a ton of confidence and believed all he needed was to stack his chips the right way to get this year’s championship.
Husqvarna is now represented by RJ Hampshire in the 250 West division and Christian Craig in 450s.
Hampshire had a rough weekend in Anaheim 2 and finished 11th in the overall standings after scoring a last place result in Race 2 with a bike sidelined by crash damage and a 13th in Race 3 after another fall.
Craig has not yet scored a top-10 on his 450 with a best of 11th at San Diego and Anaheim 2.
The news of these two injuries comes on the heels of the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team losing three of their four 250 riders.
Last week, Pro Circuit Kawasaki announced Seth Hammaker would miss the season opener with a wrist injury. Almost immediately, it was announced Jo Shimoda would also miss the 250 East opener with a shoulder injury.
Chris Blose will serve as a replacement rider in the 250 East division with Carson Mumford scheduled to replace the injured Austin Forkner in the West.