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Pigot delivers fiery start, but suffers fiery end, in St. Petersburg

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The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a case of “what might have been” for Verizon IndyCar Series sophomore Spencer Pigot.

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver started 13th, avoided the spinning car of Graham Rahal and the wounded cars of Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz, and then made a series of great passes to run fifth during the opening stint.

However, it all came undone under the second caution period. The caution itself was going to hurt the team’s strategy, but a much bigger problem emerged when smoke began billowing from the left-rear corner of his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

The left-rear brake rotor had begun to malfunction and eventually exploded as he entered his pit stall. He rejoined the race after losing several laps while undergoing repairs, but the team eventually retired the car when it became apparent they wouldn’t gain more positions by continuing.

Still, despite the disappointing result, Pigot was upbeat about the overall performance.

“It was fun!” he told NBC Sports afterward. “The pace was there, we definitely made improvements Saturday night into Sunday. All the hard work we did in the off-season is starting to pay off and we’re fighting a lot higher up the grid, which is what the goal was in the first place.”

Pigot is also boosted by the continuity with Ed Carpenter Racing. Last year, he made his debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but was only on a three-race deal and had nothing confirmed beyond the Indianapolis 500.

He joined the Ed Carpenter-led team at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, but switching teams mid-season is hardly ideal. The switch was made all the more difficult by a change in manufacturers. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing runs Hondas, while Ed Carpenter Racing runs Chevrolets. The manufacturer shift meant his learning curve was compounded even further and he struggled to find pace all year.

Returning to Ed Carpenter Racing allows the 23-year-old to build on relationships he built with the team. And while he is not yet a full-time driver (Pigot is running the road/street races for the No. 20 effort, with Ed Carpenter again assuming driving duties at the oval races), competing with the same team and knowing he’ll run most of the races make him much more comfortable.

“It’s nice to know I’m pretty much going to be in every race this year. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. The goal is to obviously be here full-time and this is the first step. I’m very happy to be back with the team and they did a great job this weekend.”

While the Verizon IndyCar Series is off until the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 7-9), Pigot will not sit idle. He will rejoin Mazda Racing’s program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at at next week’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. He will again be a co-driver on the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P entry, partnering Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito.

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).