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IndyCar drivers eagerly anticipating return to Road America

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Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon doesn’t mince words. He says what’s on his mind.

So, when asked if all of his fellow drivers are looking forward to the first IndyCar race at Road America since 2007, Dixon put it very bluntly: “I’m sure every single driver will say so. If they don’t, they are just flat-out lying to you.”

That’s just a microcosm of how eager drivers have been anticipating the return to Road America, which has been one of the premier permanent road courses not just in the U.S., but the world since it opened in 1950.

And now that the Kohler Grand Prix race weekend is at hand, many of them are acting like kids in a candy store, ready to be unleashed on the legendary 4.048-mile, 14-turn permanent road course.

Here’s a cross-section of what several IndyCar drivers are saying about a track that Andretti calls one of the best in the world:

Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet): “I haven’t raced at Road America in quite a while. We had a teammate test there last week and it will be interesting to see what did and didn’t work well for them. It’s a challenging track that tests both the speed and agility of our DeVilbiss Chevrolet. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s going to be fantastic to go back to Road America. We haven’t raced there in a number of years, but I’m excited to get out there and see how the Hitachi Chevrolet performs. It’s a big track, but track position, as usual, will be important.”

James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I’m so excited to go back to Road America. This has been my favorite road course in the country from the moment I first went there in 2004. It’s the kind of track that Indy cars are built for. I hope that it’s a great race and it stays on the calendar for a long time.”

Mikhail Aleshin (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda): “I’ve never been to Road America before but I watched some on-board camera footage and the track looks pretty cool. There are a couple of very fast turns which is always exciting.”

Max Chilton (No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): “After my first experience at Road America last Wednesday, I am super excited to finally get back this weekend to race it. It has a great flow to it and reminds me of my favorite circuit, Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. It’s old-school, fast, hilly and rewarding.”

Scott Dixon (No. 9 Clorox Chevrolet, 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “I know for a fact that Road America is on the top of all the drivers’ lists, and we have been waiting to come back for quite some time. I think my last visit there was in 2002 with CART, and it was great to be back at the track testing again last season. This course is just amazing to drive.”

Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet): “I can’t wait to get back to Road America this weekend. This is one of the best tracks in the U.S. in my opinion. I was able to test there last week with the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet and it felt really good to be back after so long. The track is just so much fun to drive and definitely one of my favorites.”

Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Even though I haven’t raced there in a while, I enjoy the track at Road America. I find it very challenging. Some drivers have tested there and some haven’t. We had a teammate there, so what worked for them will give us a starting point and we’ll go from there.”

Takuma Sato (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “Road America is very impressive and a great, fun track as expected. I’ve heard so many positive stories about this circuit since I joined the IndyCar Series, and I know everyone as well as the fans wanted INDYCAR to go back there. It was a nice experience that we had a great crowd show up at the test day last fall. I had a lot of fun driving this superb track and I’m looking forward to racing there.”

Graham Rahal (No. 15 Gehl/D-A Lubricant Honda): “Road America is my favorite track and the favorite of many drivers. It’s the best track at 4 miles long, with elevation changes and many challenging, interesting parts. If you ask my dad (Bobby Rahal) or many drivers, they will tell you it’s the best, pure road course. It’s another track that I went to a lot as a kid when my dad was racing. It was definitely one of my favorites as a kid.”

Conor Daly (No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda): “I think every driver can’t wait to get there. It’s going to be an incredible race. We’ve always wanted to go back there for many years. I can’t wait to get out there. I’ve won two races there, finished second in a sports car there so I feel pretty good about it. We just have to do the same in an Indy car and try to get ourselves back on the podium.”

Gabby Chaves (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): “Road America is one of my favorite tracks. I haven’t been there since 2009. It’s where I won the Formula BMW Americas Championship, so I’m definitely very excited to get back there and to compete with Dale Coyne Racing. … I’m just really excited to see what we can do out there. It’s going to be a fun track to drive and certainly one of the most enjoyable circuits that we go to this year.”

Spencer Pigot (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It doesn’t get much better than driving an Indy car around Road America. We had a very good test there last week and I can’t wait to get back for the race with the Ed Carpenter Racing crew. It’s an amazing track and I think it’s going to provide some great racing for the fans.”

Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader): “I’m definitely excited to race at Road America. It’s a challenging circuit, but a really fun place with the Indy car. This event has been in the past and remains a classic event on our schedule.”

Marco Andretti (No. 27 United Fiber & Data/Snapple Honda): “We had a solid test at Road America last week and I am looking forward to getting the United Fiber & Data car back on track. This track is my favorite permanent road course to drive. I think it should be a great race with a lot of passing into Turn 5 and through Turns 12 and (Turn) 1.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I’m really looking forward to INDYCAR’s long-awaited return to Road America. Outside of Indy, this place has always been my favorite racetrack, so it’s been tough being away for so many years. It’s been 12 years since I last raced here, and I can’t wait to get the DHL Honda on track for the race this weekend.”

Jack Hawksworth (No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “I love Road America. It’s very quick, has a variety of corners and is the only track we go to that is over 4 miles in length. I had a fantastic time racing there in 2014 (in sports cars), made even better by the fact that I had a very quick car.”

Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet): “Since the return was announced last year, I think everyone, from drivers to fans, has been really excited to head to Elkhart Lake for the race. We had the chance to test there in September and get a feel for it, but I know there’s so much more to learn in a short time this weekend. You just feel the speed at the end of every straight and going into those long corners; it’s unlike anything else on the schedule.”

Alexander Rossi (No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda): “In the past, Road America has always been a race that I look forward to and this year is no exception. It is one of the flagship tracks not only in America, but globally, and I am so excited that the Verizon IndyCar Series is returning this year. We had a positive test there last week, so we will be doing everything we can to make sure the No. 98 car is at the sharp end (of the field). It is going to be an incredible event.”

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NHRA Bristol: Schumacher, Capps, Coughlin Jr. take home wins

Tony Schumacher, from left, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Ron Capps. Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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You’ve heard of classic rock, right?

Well, Sunday’s 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tennessee) Dragway was classic drag racing – old school style, you might say.

Drivers who have combined for 14 national championships between them emerged at the top of the heap, with eight-time champ Tony Schumacher taking Top Fuel honors, former champ Ron Capps took Funny Car honors and five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. grabbing Pro Stock honors.

In Top Fuel, Schumacher earned his sixth career win at Thunder Valley, as well as his first win overall of 2018.

Known as “The Sarge” due to his U.S. Army sponsorship, Schumacher marched through the field to reach the Winner’s Circle.

Schumacher (3.946 seconds at 313.58 mph) defeated Mike Salinas in what would prove to be Schumacher’s third final round of the season and the 150th of his career.

He now is 6-2 in career final round showings at Thunder Valley.

“We have had little things bite us this season, but we knew we had to overcome adversity and we knew we had a great car that was capable of winning,” Schumacher said. “I’m proud of my team for sticking to our plan, and I know our team is going to be a factor for the rest of the season.”

Schumacher was the No. 2 qualifier in the race and defeated Terry McMillen, Pat Dakin, points leader Steve Torrence and Salinas to take the win.

It was the first runner-up finish of Salinas’ career, defeating Leah Pritchett, No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and Scott Palmer before meeting Schumacher in the final.

In Funny Car, like Schumacher, Capps won for the first time this season on the NHRA national event circuit. It was also his second consecutive win at Bristol, having won last year’s event there.

Capps earned the 59th win of his career with a pass of 4.234 seconds at 296.37 mph, defeating Bob Tasca III.

Capps also earned Don Schumacher his 300th career nitro victory as a team owner.

“This is a great facility, and when you roll into this place you get a special feeling,” Capps said. “Getting to the Winner’s Circle at a track like this is even more special because you feel like you really had to earn it, and this weekend I am proud of what my team accomplished in some tough conditions.”

Capps went to the top of the Funny Car mountain starting from the No. 11 qualifying position, defeating 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, 2017 Funny Car national champ Robert and J.R. Todd before defeating Tasca in the final round.

Capps qualified 11th for the event before defeating John Force, defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight and J.R. Todd on his path to Winner’s Circle.

Tasca was the No. 4 qualifier and defeated Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and points leader Courtney Force to reach his first final round since at Seattle in 2013.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin earned his second win in the last three races. It took an effort of 6.709 seconds at 205.10 mph to defeat points leader Greg Anderson in the final round.

“My team has made some transitions this season and now we are running much faster, and it feels pretty great to be on the right track now this season,” Coughlin Jr. said. “Winning at Thunder Valley is historic and it feels fantastic, so to be crowned a champion here is really special.”

Coughlin qualified No. 2 and beat Tommy Lee, Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman en route to overtaking Anderson in the final round.

Anderson now has two runner-up finishes this season, but continues to seek his first win of 2018.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule moves on to its 12th race of the season – the halfway mark of the 2018 campaign – next weekend at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, from June 21-24.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher; 2. Mike Salinas; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Scott Palmer; 5. Pat Dakin; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Brittany Force; 10. Leah Pritchett; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Richie Crampton; 13. Dom Lagana; 14. Bill Litton; 15. Terry Totten; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. Courtney Force; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Robert Hight; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8. Cruz Pedregon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Del Worsham; 11. Jonnie Lindberg; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Jim Campbell; 14. Matt Hagan; 15. John Force; 16. Jeff Diehl.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Greg Anderson; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Tim Freeman; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Jason Line; 10. Bo Butner; 11. Alex Laughlin; 12. John Gaydosh Jr.; 13. Wally Stroupe; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Deric Kramer; 16. Tommy Lee.

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SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Tony Schumacher, 3.946 seconds, 313.58 mph def. Mike Salinas, 5.251 seconds, 152.18 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.234, 296.37 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.709, 205.10 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.741, 205.07.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Mike Salinas, 4.023, 295.53 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.011, 287.72; Scott Palmer, 4.017, 304.39 def. Bill Litton, 4.172, 261.07; Clay Millican, 4.018, 295.14 def. Terry Totten, 4.542, 182.58; Tony Schumacher, 3.917, 316.82 def. Terry McMillen, 5.112, 141.40; Antron Brown, 3.897, 316.82 def. Richie Crampton, 4.057, 297.22; Doug Kalitta, 3.998, 286.38 def. Brittany Force, 3.942, 307.51; Steve Torrence, 3.970, 303.71 def. Shawn Reed, 4.018, 283.25; Pat Dakin, 4.015, 307.30 def. Dom Lagana, 4.107, 272.12; QUARTERFINALS — Salinas, 4.035, 299.20 def. Millican, 9.938, 76.57; Palmer, 4.067, 302.41 def. Kalitta, 4.292, 230.92; Schumacher, 4.028, 288.64 def. Dakin, 4.041, 298.14; Torrence, 4.232, 253.33 def. Brown, 5.090, 155.65; SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 4.042, 301.07 def. Palmer, 4.356, 211.89; Schumacher, 4.038, 297.02 def. Torrence, 4.104, 254.04; FINAL — Schumacher, 3.946, 313.58 def. Salinas, 5.251, 152.18.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.757, 227.23 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 5.978, 124.51; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.169, 307.65 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.382, 262.18; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.213, 300.26 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.362, 252.61; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.133, 303.09 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.183, 289.82; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.582, 229.00 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 5.030, 159.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.243, 296.37 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.824, 128.57; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.283, 281.30 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.569, 266.37; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.253, 291.26 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.381, 142.06; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 4.197, 298.14 def. Johnson Jr., 5.139, 158.45; Tasca III, 4.233, 292.90 def. Pedregon, 5.757, 126.33; Todd, 4.203, 295.92 def. Beckman, 4.333, 277.49; Capps, 4.208, 299.33 def. Hight, 4.233, 300.73; SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.242, 298.93 def. Todd, 4.372, 285.65; Tasca III, 4.219, 298.60 def. C. Force, 4.271, 286.62; FINAL — Capps, 4.234, 296.37 def. Tasca III, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.739, 204.45 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.776, 204.45; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.736, 205.32 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.729, 204.88 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.726, 203.95; Tim Freeman, Camaro, 6.787, 202.58 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.823, 201.94; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.754, 205.13 def. John Gaydosh Jr., Chevrolet Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.715, 204.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 9.845, 93.14; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.716, 204.35 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.027, 176.70; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.719, 205.10 def. Tommy Lee, Camaro, Broke – No Show; QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.789, 204.94 def. Freeman, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.740, 205.26 def. McGaha, 16.733, 48.09; Anderson, 6.723, 204.73 def. Nobile, 6.755, 204.29; Skillman, 6.727, 203.98 def. Enders, 6.743, 204.54; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.750, 204.51 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.768, 204.91 def. Gray, 6.764, 205.19; FINAL — Coughlin, 6.709, 205.10 def. Anderson, 6.741, 205.07.

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UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 896; 2. Clay Millican, 786; 3. Tony Schumacher, 760; 4. Doug Kalitta, 717; 5. Leah Pritchett, 663; 6. Antron Brown, 588; 7. (tie) Brittany Force, 552; Terry McMillen, 552; 9. Scott Palmer, 461; 10. Mike Salinas, 421.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 937; 2. Jack Beckman, 736; 3. Robert Hight, 717; 4. J.R. Todd, 694; 5. Ron Capps, 693; 6. Matt Hagan, 669; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 606; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 508; 9. John Force, 502; 10. Bob Tasca III, 500.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 823; 2. Tanner Gray, 768; 3. Vincent Nobile, 758; 4. Erica Enders, 738; 5. Drew Skillman, 679; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 671; 7. Chris McGaha, 659; 8. Bo Butner, 642; 9. Deric Kramer, 627; 10. Jason Line, 569.

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