Rossi and Capps. Photo: IndyCar

NHRA champ Capps joins fellow NAPA driver Rossi in Long Beach

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It’s been a good 12 months for NAPA Auto Parts’ sponsorship in motorsports.

NAPA made a last-minute deal to become the primary partner for Alexander Rossi in last year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Rossi subsequently paid them off with the legendary, Bryan Herta-aided strategic “clutch-and-coast” gem where Rossi drove beyond his years for the victory in the No. 98 Honda.

Then at the other end of the experience spectrum, longtime NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car star Ron Capps secured one of the most popular championships in recent memory, finally breaking through in 2016 for his first title in the NAPA Dodge Charger.

And with Chase Elliott on the verge of his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race win – he’s won stages and kicked off 2017 with his second straight Daytona 500 pole in his No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, the company is on the verge of getting back to victory lane there.

Elliott was obviously busy at Texas Motor Speedway on NASCAR duties this weekend but with a break in the NHRA schedule this weekend, Capps made his maiden voyage to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend as a guest of Andretti Autosport and Rossi.

The two of them had met at the NAPA Owner’s meeting in Orlando just before the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg earlier this year.

This weekend, Capps got a first-hand look into the world of IndyCar, and got a two-seater ride with Mario Andretti.

“Getting to ride with Mario in the two-seater is something I never in a million years thought I would do, and what a ride it was,” Capps said. “It was one of the most thrilling things I have ever gotten to do.”

Capps recapped the rest of the weekend, as it was a break in-between NHRA’s most recent round of the season at Las Vegas and a couple weeks before the next three-in-a-row stretch, starting at Houston on April 23 (more below, starting at the 2:52 mark, during this week’s IndyCar Paddock Pass with Anders Krohn).

“I don’t have very many ‘off weekends’ with our (NHRA Funny Car) schedule,” explained Capps, “so, to be able to not only attend the Grand Prix of Long Beach for my first time, I was able to take my family for the weekend and take in everything that had made the Grand Prix of Long Beach what it is today.

“I was pretty excited when I heard Alexander Rossi was going to represent our great sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, but the weekend showed me why Michael (Andretti) and everyone at Andretti Autosport is successful on and off the race track. It was fun to be a part of the great NAPA Racing crew during the race as they executed race strategy that I knew was going give them a great chance to win. And, to watch Alexander drive such a consistent, fast pace all day was exciting for me. I felt devastated for the team when they had the problem near the end of the race. I can’t wait to go to our next IndyCar Series event!”

Rossi was on pace for a likely podium finish at least in his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, probably second or third behind eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe, before a mechanical issue took him out of the race.

F1 Preview – 2018 German Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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