Munoz followed that debut with a solid rookie year in 2014, again in the Andretti camp, in which he claimed three podium finishes, finished eighth in the championship, and recorded another top-five finish at the Indy 500 by finishing fourth. He subsequently took his first career IndyCar win with the team at Detroit Race 1 in 2015, and 2016 saw him finish second once more at the Indy 500 – to teammate Alexander Rossi – before securing his first career pole with them at Texas Motor Speedway.
In short, Munoz rejoining Andretti Autosport is similar to a successful marriage getting rekindled. And, ironically, talks between both sides ignited at a wedding.
“Yeah, funny story because Marco (Andretti) invited me to his wedding. I went to the wedding. I start talking to J.F. (Thormann) and Michael (Andretti) about what they’re going to do next year. They said they’re going to do six cars in the Indy 500, all in-house. I say, ‘Whoa, that was interesting,'” Munoz said o their initial discussions.
Munoz added that, even though they waited until i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed to formally make the announcement, a deal with Andretti was always going to be in the works.
“So we started talking after the wedding to see what was going on. Just a few days ago, I think last week, we finalized all the little details. But we knew we (were) going to race with them for a long time. So, you know, I’ve been with them for five years, so we know each other really well. Everything was pretty easy. Even if the contract was not signed yet, we knew is going to work out in the end,” Munoz detailed.
The reunion between them is also reflected on the driver front, as Munoz has been teammates with all of Andretti Autosport’s current full-season drivers in his career – Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay from 2014 to 2016, Alexander Rossi in 2016, and Zach Veach in 2013, with Andretti Autosport’s Indy Lights program, and in 2017, when Veach joined A.J. Foyt Racing in a one-off entry for the Indy 500. He’ll have the chance to work with Stefan Wilson as well next May.
Munoz revealed that working with so many familiar faces is another facet of this reunion that makes him happy.
“I think Zach is going to be quick right away with a good car. You know, we will work a little bit in the 500. I think he did a really good job as my teammate there. So we’ll see what happens really. Just really excited to work again with all my teammates, with Alex, with Marco, and with Ryan.”
Munoz’s entry will be a sixth effort out of the Andretti Autosport shop, with all six being in-house. While that number seems a little high for one team to field, Munoz pointed to the team’s history of fielding fast cars – they’ve won the Indy 500 three of the last four years – as evidence of their ability to field several fast entries without skipping a beat.
“When I talk to Marco, to (J.F.), Michael, at the wedding, they say all of the six cars, they’re going to go in-house made with their own people, with no other teams in the middle. I was really interested, you know, because I thought maybe the sixth car would be with another team in the middle and wouldn’t be the same. Andretti has shown, like, (it) doesn’t matter if they put four or five cars, they have always been quick, all of them, like in the get-go. They do a really good job of being really quick, all of them,” Munoz explained.
Of course, the previous success the two have had together indicates that more success is possible. And while Munoz acknowledged that the 2018 aero kit is a big variable to tackle, he thinks Andretti Autosport will figure it out very quickly.
“Next year with the new car, all the teams starting from zero, it’s going to be completely different car, you know. The driving style, as well. Mechanical setup is going to be completely different. Now is a question mark how competitive all the teams is going to be, who is going to be the fastest, you know. But I’m really confident that Andretti is going to be right away really quick,” Munoz asserted.
And as far as other races he may run in 2018, Munoz admitted that he is considering racing in other series, but the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indy 500 are still his number one priority.
“I’m going to do my best. I think all the team, my manager and everything, we’re going to work really hard to keep more races,” Munoz revealed. “I want to keep my focus in IndyCar. As right now, I’m still young. I’m still 25 years old. I want to keep my options in IndyCar still. I feel that I have not done anything I can. I have some work to do, like to win the (Indy 500), to win more races, to be fighting, for sure. So right now my main focus is the IndyCar.”
John Force may be 69 years old, but Sunday he proved he is still a major force to reckon with in NHRA Funny Car competition.
The winningest driver in NHRA history, the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion won his 149th national event Sunday, capturing the Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado (suburban Denver).
Force (4.075 seconds at 315.42 mph) defeated 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps (4.067 seconds at 308.71 mph) in the final round to earn his first win in over a year.
Force has now won at least one race in each of the last 31 seasons and qualifies for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“The fire is back in me, I’m fighting,” Force said. “I got tired of hearing me snivel to myself. My wife doesn’t even want to talk to me. … I don’t know why I won this race but I have a lot more fight in my belly.”
Admittedly, before Sunday, he has struggled for much of the last year since his last win.
“I found myself with all the crashes and everything that happened probably at the lowest point in my career,” Force said. “It has been worse than when I crashed in 2007 (in the worst wreck of his career).
“I have been fighting to get back. I never let on to anyone but it showed that I just looked like a mess. I am fighting to get back. I had four crashes (this season) and after my last one I had John Bandimere (owner of Bandimere Speedway) call me and say, ‘We have to talk.’ I said ‘I know you love God and I know where you want to go.’ He told me to listen to him and he set me straight.
“I didn’t know if I would ever get back in position to win a race. Bandimere told me I could and I won’t stand here and preach the Gospel but he said when I get to Denver I will be fixed. He didn’t say I was going to win but that I would be fixed. He told me to go out there and show me who John Force is.”
It was Force’s eighth win (and first there since 2016) and 13th final round appearance at Denver in his career, making him the winningest Funny Car driver ever at Bandimere Speedway.
Force defeated daughter and No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in the semifinals to set up the deciding run vs. Capps. Prior to defeating Courtney, Force beat Matt Hagan and Cruz Pedregon in the first two rounds of eliminations earlier in the day.
“I had to beat a lot of great racers today, Hagan, Cruz, Capps, I love them all,” Force said.
Here are more tidbits about Force’s day, which leaves him one win away from 150 career wins:
Force now has 1,303 round wins in his career. He has beaten 137 different drivers en route to that mark.
376 of those round wins came against 15 world champions including two-time champ Matt Hagan, against whom he improved his record to 21-17 with today’s first round victory.
Force claimed 152 round wins at the expense of the Pedregon brothers: Cruz, Tony and Frank.
He has beaten fathers and sons (Jim and Mike Dunn, Paul and Mike Smith, Tim and Dan Wilkerson) and brothers (Cruz, Tony and Frank Pedregon along with Ron and Jon Capps)
He has beaten Cruz Pedregon 70 times, more often than any other driver
He earned 21 round wins against daughters Ashley Force Hood and Courtney Force and 22 against Robert Hight, his protégé and the father of granddaughter Autumn Hight.
He has won rounds on 27 different tracks in 18 states and Canada
He has won 128 rounds in three different events at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the most at any single track
He has won 76 rounds in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, the most in any single event
Other winners in the first of the NHRA’s annual three-race “Western Swing” (Denver; Sonoma, California; and Seattle) included Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, Greg Anderson won his first race of the season in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. earned his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win since 2015.
The race was the 14th of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
In Top Fuel, Pritchett (3.831 seconds at 316.45 mph) earned her second win of 2018 and seventh of her career. She was No. 1 qualifier for the event (also for the second race in a row and 10th No. 1 of her career) and defeated Doug Kalitta (3.852 seconds at 319.82 mph) for the win.
Prior to facing Kalitta, Pritchett defeated Terry Totten, Scott Palmer and Clay Millican in the first three rounds.
“Our crew has really impressed, attitude of gratitude, as high as the altitude here,” Pritchett said. “They chipped away at it and didn’t let themselves get down earlier this year when we were in a slump and they didn’t let me get myself down in a slump either. I always have my confidence in them and they have their confidence in me and this weekend we pulled it all together.”
In Pro Stock, Anderson earned his first win of the season, his third at Bandimere and 91st triumph of his career.
Anderson (6.943 seconds at 196.53 mph) defeated Summit Racing Equipment teammate Jason Line (6.947 seconds at 196.19 mph). Also, the victory put Anderson back atop the Pro Stock points standings.
“We have had a heck of a battle this year, we have had great running cars but we have made mistakes on Sunday and haven’t been able to close the deal,” Anderson said. “The class is so tough right now, it is so hard to win. The bottom line is we haven’t put forth our best effort on Sunday, we haven’t lost giving it our best shot and today we did.”
Anderson defeated Joey Grose, Vincent Nobile, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. to advance to the finals showdown with Line.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. earned his first win since St. Louis in 2015 and his 12th career NHRA triumph.
In his first final round of the season, Arana (7.170 seconds at 185.89 mph), who earlier this year became the first rider to crack the 200 mph barrier, won easily when 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie fouled at the starting line.
“We have had a fast bike all the time, just been working on consistency and then when the bike was good I was making little errors,” Arana Jr. said. “Dedication, hard work, and practicing to bring it all together. Finally got over some hurdles over here and now we should be back on track.”
The Western Swing continues July 27-29 with the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
FINAL FINISHING ORDER:
TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Clay Millican; 4. Blake Alexander; 5. Scott Palmer; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Jim Maroney; 8. Richie Crampton; 9. Tony Schumacher; 10. Antron Brown; 11. Greg Carrillo; 12. Terry Totten; 13. Bill Litton; 14. Brittany Force; 15. Mike Salinas; 16. Terry McMillen.
FUNNY CAR: 1. John Force; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Robert Hight; 4. Courtney Force; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Tim Wilkerson; 8. Jack Beckman; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Jonnie Lindberg; 11. Matt Hagan; 12. Jeff Diehl; 13. Terry Haddock; 14. Bob Tasca III; 15. Shawn Langdon; 16. Todd Simpson.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jason Line; 3. Chris McGaha; 4. Jeg Coughlin; 5. Deric Kramer; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Tanner Gray; 9. Bo Butner; 10. Drew Skillman; 11. Matt Hartford; 12. Fernando Cuadra; 13. Erica Enders; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Joey Grose; 16. Will Hatcher.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Hector Arana Jr.; 2. Jerry Savoie; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Karen Stoffer; 5. Scotty Pollacheck; 6. LE Tonglet; 7. Steve Johnson; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Angie Smith; 11. Jim Underdahl; 12. Angelle Sampey; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. Joey Gladstone; 15. Cory Reed; 16. Eddie Krawiec.
TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,132; 2. Clay Millican, 959; 3. Leah Pritchett, 949; 4. Tony Schumacher, 930; 5. Doug Kalitta, 893; 6. Antron Brown, 750; 7. Terry McMillen, 696; 8. Brittany Force, 658; 9. Richie Crampton, 576; 10. Scott Palmer, 544.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 1,156; 2. Matt Hagan, 946; 3. Ron Capps, 930; 4. Robert Hight, 911; 5. Jack Beckman, 906; 6. J.R. Todd, 832; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 746; 8. John Force, 735; 9. Shawn Langdon, 647; 10. Bob Tasca III, 596.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 1,044; 2. Tanner Gray, 976; 3. Erica Enders, 969; 4. Vincent Nobile, 947; 5. Chris McGaha, 875; 6. Drew Skillman, 842; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 838; 8. Bo Butner, 782; 9. Jason Line, 778; 10. Deric Kramer, 725.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 591; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 564; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 501; 4. LE Tonglet, 493; 5. Jerry Savoie, 481; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 417; 7. Matt Smith, 411; 8. Angie Smith, 304; 9. (tie) Hector Arana, 289; Angelle Sampey, 289.