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Daly’s in-race lead lap defense briefly comes under fire at Barber

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Considering Graham Rahal finished second and Conor Daly in 20th, you wouldn’t think their races really would have intersected Sunday in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Round 4 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

However, they did, because Daly ran the middle portion of the race trying to remain on the lead lap, but was struggling for pace.

The No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda ran ahead of race leader Simon Pagenaud in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinishes Team Penske Chevrolet, teammate Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and Rahal, in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Daly later took to social media to defend himself after the race.

Here’s Daly’s feed in the immediate aftermath of the race:

DalyTweets

Meanwhile, Rahal’s dad and team co-owner Bobby Rahal responded:

BobbyTweets

I spoke to Daly, post-race, and here was his thoughts on the day:

“We shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place, that’s all, we shoot ourselves in the foot,” Daly told NBC Sports. “I don’t know what the heck was going on at the start here (with several car accordion effect accident).

“Absolutely, the time it actually went green, every boxed up and I had to cut left or I would have plowed into the guys in front of me. All of us backed up about half-way past the start zone, so they’ve got to re-think places like this because we saw one start, and we’ve got two cars crashing. And the next start the same thing would have happened.

“That killed us, but we were still in a decent position, and we just lost it in the pits, so it was a shame after that.”

“I couldn’t let anyone by. We had to hope for a yellow. If they were going to pass me, I would have let them by.  I think it’s so hard to pass here anyway that it wasn’t costing the guys behind us anyway. Our car wasn’t that bad.”

Race winner Simon Pagenaud, who was immediately behind Daly for most of the middle stint, defended Daly’s right to remain on the lead lap.

“It’s a judgment call from drivers, but he’s just playing by the rules. That’s his right,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports during the post-race press conference.

“I used to get upset about it. But those are the rules. If there was a yellow, he’d be back with a chance to do better.

“It was frustrating, absolutely. But when that happened, I tried to keep my tires underneath me.

“It’s a shame we don’t have the lucky dog… we could race and there could be more respect.

“He did everything by the rules, and I have nothing to be upset about.”

And as it later turned out, Rahal’s radio comments were meant in jest. Rahal took to Twitter later Sunday to sort it out:

GRtweets

Top Fuel driver Austin Prock earns 2019 NHRA top rookie honors

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Having just completed a promising first year in NHRA Top Fuel competition, Austin Prock is on the road to even greater drag racing success in his career.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Prock was named the winner of the 2019 Auto Club Road to the Future Award during Monday night’s annual NHRA Awards dinner at the Ray Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

The Road to the Future Award is NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year, and Prock was among the brightest young stars on the circuit this past season, including winning his first national event at the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, the 16th race on the 24-race schedule.

What made that first win all the more sweeter is it came at the same event that his boss, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, captured his milestone 150th career win.

One month ago, Prock set a personal best run of 3.688 seconds at 334.40 mph over veteran driver Doug Kalitta in the first round of eliminations at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals three weeks ago in Ennis, Texas (suburban Dallas).

“I am proud of the season this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team put together,” Prock said in a media release. “My guys worked their asses off all season long to give me the opportunity to win the Auto Club Road the Future Award. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“I would have never been here without John Force and Robert Hight (president of John Force Racing). They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I owe the world to them. I hope I made them proud.”

Prock became only the 10th rookie in the history of the NHRA pro ranks to both win a race in their first season and also go on to win the Road to the Future award. He also was the 13th rookie in the sport’s history to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six race playoffs.

Prock becomes the sixth John Force Racing driver to earn the Road to the Future Award, joining Tony Pedregon (1996), Hight (2005), Ashley Force-Hood (2007), Mike Neff (2008), Courtney Force (2012) and Brittany Force (2013).

Austin Prock is the son of veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock, who tuned Hight to his third career NHRA Funny Car championship this past Sunday.

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