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DiZinno: Mid-Ohio thoughts, musings, observations

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Here’s some final thoughts after this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course:

  • Newgarden’s first dominant Penske win. Yes, he led the majority of laps in Toronto (58 of 85) but vaulted to the lead there based on the yellow timing and when he pitted. At Barber, he got into the lead after Will Power’s late-race puncture. Finally, Mid-Ohio saw Josef Newgarden exorcise demons of the last three years at this track when potential wins went begging. Between qualifying second, his first front row start of the season, that fake-out, then blow past Power move for the lead (second straight year Power’s been snookered by a teammate at Mid-Ohio) and subsequent check-out the rest of the day, this was one you have to say the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet earned from the off. Newgarden was just happy to not see it fall away, like it did at Road America. “It’s always stressful, even when the car’s fast. It seemed like the car was working on reds, blacks, didn’t really matter. It just got better throughout the race and as the track gripped up. Only real drama was the restart, felt like we were on the wrong tire again, kind of like Road America. Fortunately, we had a bit of a buffer, even with the car in between. Even there, I thought Gutierrez was going to run into us on Turn 4 for a second, but we seemed to skate through.”
  • An age thought on the new points leader. Newgarden is 26, and that’s an interesting point to note. As one of the leading 20-somethings in the series, Newgarden has an opportunity to become IndyCar’s first under-30 champion since Scott Dixon, then 28, in 2008. Since then, it’s been Dario Franchitti (three straight 2009-2011), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2012), Dixon (2013 and 2015), Will Power (2014) and Simon Pagenaud (2016) who have won titles since. All of those drivers have been in the series at least six full seasons and been 31 years of age or older. Newgarden is in his sixth season. The last 20-year-old American champion was Sam Hornish Jr., driving for Team Penske in 2006, at age 27. He’d won titles at 22 and 23 with Panther Racing in 2001 and 2002, and Dixon’s first title in 2003 came at the tender age of 23.
  • Speaking of Dixon, a tough ninth owing to valiant effort. Results like 10th at Toronto and ninth at Mid-Ohio may not do much for Scott Dixon in the moment, but could do much more for him as the year rolls on. Dixon fought a horribly ill-handling car in the second stint and needed several turns of front wing taken out to make it viable later in the race. You knew something was wrong when he was barely hanging on ahead of a pack of others behind him, led by Helio Castroneves, and almost holding them up. Dixon’s valiant effort was the capper to a tough weekend for the Chip Ganassi Racing quartet; none of Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball looked anything more than a midfielder all weekend, although all three had fun with NBCSN contributor Robin Miller during his “Grid Run” segment pre-race, Chilton in particular making the most of Miller’s gift basket presented ahead of his upcoming wedding later this month.
  • Rahal’s roll continues. Another special performance from Graham Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team got turned in this weekend. They continue to fly the flag as regular contenders for great qualifying and race results. In some respects it’s a pity their start of the season was so bad as he’d be even closer in the championship picture.
  • Not much shakeup in the field from qualifying. Without a yellow coming at the wrong time – all but JR Hildebrand got away with it on Sunday although Hildebrand was caught out despite doing a good fuel-save run – each of the top 11 starters finished in the top-11 positions, and only Conor Daly advanced into a top-10 finishing position from outside the top-10 on the grid, passing his old landlord James Hinchcliffe. In some respects that was nice to see a race not get inverted by a yellow lottery. In others, as Newgarden noted earlier in the weekend, the lottery doesn’t give drivers a chance to make something of a weekend where their qualifying doesn’t go to plan.
  • Funny Chevrolet, Honda and PPG sponsor win notes. Honda swept both Chevrolet-sponsored races this year in Detroit, GM’s backyard. Chevrolet has now gone three-for-three in Honda-sponsored races in Barber, Toronto and Mid-Ohio, with Newgarden winning all three. Of Newgarden’s six career wins, five have come in Honda-sponsored races and all with Chevrolet power. Newgarden also noted he won in the PPG colors, with Simon Pagenaud won with three times last year and Juan Pablo Montoya won with at Pocono in 2014. Honda always does a good job of making the Mid-Ohio weekend a fun one with its camping theme – this year’s galactic one was a hit – but one wonders if they’re sick of the run of Chevrolet wins in races they sponsor!
  • Other quick thoughts. Conor Daly turned in his best weekend of the season at an important time. With a good qualifying run, it made a top-10 achievable, and was properly earned in a race where all 21 cars finished and there was only one caution. … After his strong start to the year, Ed Jones has hit a rough patch of results with one seventh the only bright spot in a six-race period with five finishes of 17th or worse, and three DNFs. …  It was a tense weekend in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, culminating with impound of the top three Pro Mazda cars after Sunday’s race. … The four Pirelli World Challenge races were interesting enough, particularly in GTS and the GTA subclass within GT.

Although there aren’t any further races until Pocono Raceway on August 20, IndyCar still has several tests between now and then, including the road course test of the new Dallara 2018 universal aero kit at Mid-Ohio today, and at Iowa Speedway on August 10, and a Gateway Motorsports Park test on August 3 following the repave.

2016 Knoxville Nationals champ Jason Johnson succumbs to injuries from sprint car crash

Photo courtesy Jason Johnson Racing official Facebook page
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Former Knoxville Nationals champion sprint car driver Jason Johnson has died from injuries suffered in a crash Saturday night in a World of Outlaws race at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway).

Known as the “Ragin’ Cajun” for his aggressive style of racing, Johnson, 41, passed away this morning, according to an announcement by WoO. He was one of the most respected and well-liked drivers on the circuit by both fellow competitors and fans.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson, a Eunice, Louisiana resident, was racing for the lead in the main event on the one-third-mile clay track with eventual race winner Daryn Pitman, when Johnson crashed on Lap 18 shortly after a restart.

Johnson’s car left the track surface in Turn 3 and flew through at least one billboard adjacent to the racetrack, according to media and witness reports.

It took rescue workers several minutes to extricate Johnson, who was taken by ambulance to a local hospital before being airlifted to Aurora Summit Hospital in Summit, Wisconsin, according to the Journal Sentinel report.

How many will remember Johnson:

Johnson, who won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals – the sport’s biggest race – in Iowa in storybook fashion, had been a primarily part-time racer on various sprint car circuits from 1998 until he went full-time on the Outlaws series, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.

MORE: Knoxville win should be big boost to Jason Johnson’s season, career

Johnson had 12 wins on the Outlaws circuit, including two victories this season.

The Journal Sentinel also posted a statement from SLS Promotions, which promoted Saturday’s race:

“Everyone at SLS Promotions offers our deepest, most sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to Bobbi Johnson (Jason’s wife), Jaxx Johnson (the couple’s son) and the entire Johnson family and JJR Racing team.

“Jason was a great competitor and true ambassador for the sport. It was an honor and a privilege to work with him during his time on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series trail. Jason will never be forgotten”

Other notables also commented on his death on social media:

According to the Journal Sentinel, Johnson is the second driver in four years to die at the small track northwest of Milwaukee. In September 2014, Scott Semmelann, 47, was killed there while practicing for an Interstate Racing Association event.

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