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Veach happy to be thrown into IndyCar in Alabama

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Zach Veach had called Ed Carpenter Racing simply to check in on a fellow injured driver.

But, since he was on the phone and there was a temporary vacancy, Veach figured he may as well let general manager Tim Broyles know he was available and “more than happy to help out” if there was a need.

Carpenter and Broyles eventually took him up on the offer, meaning the 22-year-old from Ohio will make his IndyCar debut five weeks earlier than expected. He is filling in this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, while JR Hildebrand recovers from a broken left hand sustained in a last-lap accident at Long Beach.

Hildebrand. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s like being thrown into the fire a little bit,” Veach said, “but it’s a good fire to be in.”

Veach, who was already slated to run the Indianapolis 500 for A.J. Foyt Racing, was offered a ride in the No. 21 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Alabama earlier this week. Filling in for an injured driver is not the way he wanted to land his first IndyCar shot, but it was coming soon anyway.

This gives the young driver a chance to get acclimated to the Indy cars before getting behind the wheel at the signature race next month. He won the 2014 Indy Lights race at the 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course in Alabama.

“In a way, I’m very thankful I can make my IndyCar debut before the Indianapolis 500,” Veach said. “It’s good to get familiar with the engine and the characteristics of the car itself as well as getting used to pit stops. I definitely think I’ll be a lot more prepared going into the month of May with this opportunity.”

Broyles had seen Veach come up the ladder from lower series to Indy Lights, where he had six wins and six poles in three seasons. This is just the next rung. Spencer Pigot, who will be Veach’s teammate at Barber, was the 2015 Indy Lights champion.

Veach’s first run in an Indy car, perhaps not so coincidentally, was in the No. 21 Chevy during a testing session at Sonoma Raceway last September. Clearly, Broyles and Carpenter liked what they saw.

They still do. Broyles said Veach has been asking the right questions and making good observations.

“He’s one of those guys that you can’t base his experience on his age,” Broyles said. “His experience probably outweighs his age. He’s very mature, and he does have a pretty good understanding of how things operate in the IndyCar series. He’s been around it enough and he’s watched and he was paying attention.”

Veach said he plans to be a sponge this weekend, soaking up advice from the team and other drivers. He got a mid-week call from friend James Hinchcliffe, the winner at Long Beach, with a track tutorial.

“He painted a pretty clear picture for me,” Veach said.

Broyles said the team’s goals still include remaining competitive and making it at least out of the first round of qualifying, but they also want the rookie driver to stay on the track and avoid contact when possible.

“Mainly just giving him laps and keeping his nose clean,” he said.

More AP racing coverage: http://www.racing.ap.org

Steinbrenner brings winning tradition to IndyCar Victory Lane

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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AUSTIN, Texas – Opening Day for the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball is Thursday against the hapless Baltimore Orioles. But the Steinbrenner family can already celebrate a big-time, major league victory in 2019.

George Michael Steinbrenner, IV is the 22-year-old son of Yankees co-owner and co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner. He is the grandson of the legendary Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose fiery tenure at the helm of the Yankees restored the team to the prestige and pride it continues to enjoy as the most successful professional sports franchise in the world.

Steinbrenner, IV, is co-owner of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series and the youngest team owner in IndyCar history.

When his grandfather was ruling the Yankees, excellence wasn’t expected; it was demanded. Those are traits that define the Steinbrenner family.

On Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, young Steinbrenner became an IndyCar winner in just his third race in the series in the INDYCAR Classic. It was also historic as his driver, Colton Herta, became the youngest driver in history to win an IndyCar race at race at 18 years, 11 months and 25 days. Graham Rahal was 19 years 3 months and 2 days when he won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2008.

“Break up the Yankees” was a popular battle cry around baseball in the glory days of the boys in pinstripes, from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter and A-Rod.

What makes the latest Steinbrenner winner so stunning, is how quickly it happened.

“We didn’t think this was possible so soon,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com from the team’s pit stand seconds after the checkered flag waved for Herta’s victory. “What a drive by Colton and what a job by the crew. They did everything they could to keep us ahead of the 2 car (Josef Newgarden) all day. Wow, I can’t believe it.”

Steinbrenner has the Yankees in his blood and DNA, but his passion has always been IndyCar racing. He was just 16 when he met then 12-year-old Herta at a Skip Barber race at Lime Rock, Connecticut. The two became friends and joined together to begin their climb to IndyCar.

“I interned at Bryan Herta Rallysport for the 2016 season, learning the top to bottom of how a race team operates during the week and during the weekend,” Steinbrenner recalled. “When Colton and I decided that we’d start this crazy journey together in Indy Lights, being able to partner with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights was huge. They’re a buttoned-down organization, do everything right. To be able to learn from the folks there was a huge jump-start, the perfect jump-start I could have hoped for, for INDYCAR ownership.”

For two years, they joined forces with team owner Michael Andretti in Indy Lights. Andretti helped broker a deal for Steinbrenner and Herta to step up to IndyCar by joining a team owned by Indianapolis paving company owner Mike Harding.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing was announced last summer with tremendous fanfare at Yankee Stadium before a New York Yankees game.

Andretti is still part of the operation as Andretti Technologies supplies engineering and crew support to Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

“None of this would have been possible without Michael Andretti,” Herta said. “I’d like to say thank you to Michael and his team. He elevated us to the top really quick and without them we wouldn’t be here.”

When Steinbrenner announced his goal of taking Herta to the IndyCar, it was a long-term commitment. Herta’s first victory at an 18-year-old could be the start of something great, beginning another winning tradition for the Steinbrenners.

“We’ve had a pretty good start here,” Steinbrenner said. “This is huge, to get this win off our belts. We showed the IndyCar world what we could do.”

Herta qualified fourth and raced his way to third in a race that Will Power dominated. The Team Penske driver led the first 45 laps from the pole while he was pursued by Alexander Rossi.

The two front-runners planned on being the last two drivers in the 24-car field to make their final pit stop.

That plan was foiled, however, when James Hinchcliffe’s Honda ran into the back of Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda, sending it into the barrier in Turn 20. That was the only caution in the 60-lap race. Power and Rossi would go from the top two to 14thand 15thafter making their pit stops.

Power’s race ended on pit lane when a broken half-shaft kept his car from engaging in gear and he went from first to worst in the 24-car field.

That put Herta in the lead under caution. Right behind him was the intimidating sight of the No. 2 Chevrolet driven by Team Penske’s 28-year-old Josef Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion and the winner of the 2019 season-opener at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“We knew we got on the right side of the pit strategy and had the pace to stay ahead of two extremely fast guys behind us,” Steinbrenner said. “It was a matter of Colton staying out in front and nursing it home.”

When the green flag waved to restart the race with 10 laps left, the 18-year-old was calm and cool as he was able to get a great restart and pull away from Newgarden.

Back in the pit area, Steinbrenner stood on the timing stand in the pits alongside co-owner Mike Harding and team president and race strategist Brian Barnhart. Because COTA is a 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course, it takes a while to complete a lap. Herta had the fastest lap in the race on Lap 54 and it was 108.9853 seconds.

The long course added to the tension as the 60-lap race neared its conclusion.

Steinbrenner, who bears a resemblance to 1980s actor Fisher Stevens, remained cool on the timing stand.

When Herta’s Honda came out of Turn 20 on the final lap to the checkered flag, Steinbrenner could finally celebrate, pumping his fist in the air.

“I was very concerned,” Steinbrenner admitted. “Most of the guys in the paddock, you are concerned with in a situation like that, especially a former champion. It was nerve-racking.

“Wow. It’s a dream come true.”

Steinbrenner got his first win in IndyCar before the New York Yankees.

“Not too far apart, but a couple of days in front,” Steinbrenner laughed.

For a Steinbrenner, there are always more goals to achieve. Sunday’s first victory is like a “regular season” win to the Yankees. That team’s goal is to win the World Series.

Steinbrenner, IV’s goal is to win the biggest race in the world – the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26.

“I think there’s a pretty big race in May,” Steinbrenner said. “I think for us, that’s the next big goal.

“I grew up with two passions: baseball and racing. I thought my family had one pretty well covered. We’ll go and chase another one.”

When a Steinbrenner sets a goal, don’t bet against it.