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NBCSN’s Bell’s insights on a crazy week of IndyCar news

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NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell joined The Marshall Pruett Podcast this week to recap a rather busy week of IndyCar news, funny considering we’re in late October and there’s not any actual racing coming up (testing not included).

With Ed Jones’ appointment at Chip Ganassi Racing, Conor Daly’s getting let go from A.J. Foyt Enterprises and a handful of other nuggets, there was plenty Bell weighed in on in an engaging 90-plus minute conversation.

On Jones, Bell said, “I love that news. Was I surprised? Absolutely… but I was pleasantly surprised. He really did everything right as a rookie with a small resource team. Frankly I can’t think of a mistake Ed Jones made on track.”

How Jones got the opportunity came in large part following the strong speculation that Brendon Hartley was headed for that seat, but has instead been provided a fresh chance in Formula 1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso. Bell, who’s highly regarded for his business acumen, explained this side of the sport.

“Frankly that’s the business side of the sport. I believe in every business that happens every day of the week,” Bell said. “If there was a contract, and if it was signed, there could have been language that gave him an out if a Formula 1 opportunity materialized. And if I was advising a driver like Hartley I would have encouraged and asked for that language, because of that possibility.”

About Daly’s being dropped, Bell made an interesting point and it’s one we’ve made on NBCSports.com before. Daly’s half season of Indy Lights in 2011, when he alternated racing in America and in Europe in GP3, meant he didn’t have a proper oval education in the open-wheel ladder system until he got to IndyCar.

“He didn’t get the oval education that a Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones, Kyle Kaiser, Jack Harvey, etc. did,” Bell explained. “So he was learning ovals for the first time in IndyCar… no different than Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Justin Wilson… it takes a few years! I don’t think we talk enough about how that’s a fact of life. The one driver recently that’s shown up and been sensational on ovals is Fernando Alonso…. So there you go. And he’s a two-time World Champion.”

Bell expressed interest in Daly and RC Enerson slotting into the remaining vacancies still on the grid at Dale Coyne Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing for 2018, “not because they’re American, but I think they’re the two most qualified guys to deliver.”

“RC is a name that unfortunately fell off the scene but he delivered in a big way, much like Ed Jones, and frankly I think (was) a little more impressive with what he did in those three races in 2016. I’d love to see that guy get a shot,” Bell said of Enerson.

The full podcast, some 90 minutes long, is embedded below.

It’s official: Laguna Seca to host INDYCAR for at least next 3 seasons

Laguna Seca, from the 1991 CART race there. Photo: Getty Images
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INDYCAR made it official today: the 2019 season-ending race will move a couple of hours down the Northern California coast to WeatherTechRaceway Laguna Seca.

Sonoma Raceway, which has hosted INDYCAR since 2005 – including the last five season-ending races (that includes this year’s upcoming season finale) – will not be part of next season’s schedule.

Earlier today, the Monterey County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors, which oversees operation of the iconic racing facility, approved a three-year agreement with INDYCAR to host next year’s season finale on Sept. 20-22, 2019.

The remaining two race dates for 2020 and 2021 will be announced later, according to an INDYCAR media release.

The 2.238-mile permanent road course previously hosted CART and Champ Car World Series Indy car races from 1983 through 2004, including the season-ending races from 1989 through 1996.

“I can’t imagine a more attractive destination location for INDYCAR’s season finale,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement. “Monterey is a place people want to be, and we will bring all of our guests. I think it’s a great choice for us.”

Bobby Rahal, former CART/CCWS driver and current INDYCAR team co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won four of the prior 22 previous Indy car races at Laguna Seca, all consecutively (1984-87).

“It’s great news, but I might be biased,” Rahal said. “I personally won four Indy car races there and won my first Can-Am race there. Our Indy car team won with Bryan Herta and Max Papis and our sports car team won IMSA races there.

“So I would almost bet you that Laguna Seca is the site of more victories for me as a driver and team owner combined of any track I’ve ever raced on.

“There is nothing better than the Monterey Bay area, and it’s a great circuit that always drew great crowds. So I’m thrilled to have Indy car racing coming back to a circuit I love so much. We will put on a good show, for sure.”

In addition to Rahal as a multiple winner, two-time winners at Laguna Seca were fellow current INDYCAR team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta, INDYCAR on NBCSN analyst Paul Tracy, Danny Sullivan and Patrick Carpentier.

“The return of INDYCAR to its spiritual road racing home of Laguna Seca is a tremendous honor and testament to the appeal of Monterey, and through the support of the County of Monterey will provide a significant economic benefit to our area businesses,” said Timothy McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, “We are looking forward to creating more memories in race fans’ minds like Bobby Rahal’s four consecutive Indy car wins from 1984-1987, Mario Andretti’s farewell race in 1994 and Alex Zanardi’s last-lap overtaking of Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew in 1996 that simply became known as ‘The Pass.'”

NBC Sports Group has secured exclusive domestic television and digital media rights for INDYCAR races beginning in 2019. Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, agreed that Laguna Seca is an ideal venue to close out the schedule.

“We commend INDYCAR for returning to Laguna Seca, a historic track and an inspired place for the 2019 season finale,” Miller said. “The 2019 season will be our first as the exclusive media rights partner of INDYCAR, and we could not be more pleased to broadcast the championship from beautiful Monterrey.”

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