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Here’s what IndyCar drivers said after Friday’s two practices

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Here’s what all 24 IndyCar drivers entered for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix at St. Petersburg had to say after the first two practice sessions Friday.

There will be one more practice session Saturday before qualifying later in the afternoon.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “We had a smooth enough first practice session today, and we were really just trying to figure out the new car and how it handled here on the streets of St. Pete. We started to work some things out in Session 2 and we’re starting to feel really good about the Hitachi Chevrolet. We still have some work to do, but I know the Hitachi Team Penske guys are the best in the business. Team Chevy is doing a great job giving us all we need, so we’ll be back it for practice and qualifying on Saturday.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “The whole day was pretty good, I think. The first practice we were P1, so I was impressed with myself (laughs) and probably the team was, as well. It was a good start to the weekend, and I think the second session went good as well. We probably had a car to finish in the top-five, but I just had too much traffic when I was on reds. P12 is still good I think. I’m looking forward to the weekend and the season. Probably tomorrow is going to be a better day than today, and we’re going to be up there with the top guys.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “The 2018 car is very different, I can tell you that. I think you’re going to hear that a lot over the weekend and a lot over the year as we go to the racetracks the first time with it. St. Pete, it’s always interesting on Friday, super low grip, a lot of different series out there laying rubber down and all the rest of it. Some interesting challenges today, a lot to learn with the new car, our side personally with the new team, new personnel on the team I should say. But, yeah, a solid start to the day.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): (How this first experience compared to his practice session experience at Road America in 2017) “It’s a lot more relaxed. That Road America thing was so last minute. I got a phone call on a Thursday to ask if I was even in North America, flew out, and arrived in Chicago at 1 a.m., two-hour drive to Elkhart Lake, two hours of sleep, and the whole day was just stressed and rushed. I couldn’t really enjoy it. Whereas now, I got the proper Thursday set-up day preparation, running through the whole program today was a lot more relaxed. I feel a lot better about it. I’ve had a really good day in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda. You couldn’t ask for much more than to be top ten in both sessions today. Hopefully that can be a trend for the rest of the weekend.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a tricky start to the weekend for us. The car is just very different from what we had last year. The car is skating everywhere and that last session I think we just got a little bit unlucky with traffic in the PNC Bank car. I think we’re right there and the car has the speed, we just need to get out of traffic a bit and we hope to show that tomorrow in qualifying.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a tough day today, but it was the same for everyone with the new car here at St. Pete. I think we all probably had less grip than we thought we would and that was the case for me in the NTT DATA car. It’s a new challenge, but one we’re up for. I don’t think our speed was reflective of the car we have, we just got caught in traffic. I don’t think we’re too far off though. A few changes for tomorrow and we’re right back up there.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “The Verizon Chevy was very good today – it was definitely a good start. I think we’re very close to getting the car where we need to be. We’ll work on fine tuning things, but we’re headed in the right direction. This new car is so fun to drive. It goes so much faster on the straights and it’s very quick in the turns as well. I think it’s definitely going to make for some entertaining racing this year.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was a decent first day. The biggest accomplishment we wanted to do was have the ABC Supply team running all day. We did that and everybody stayed calm. We had a very good first session and I knew people were going to step it up (in the second session), so now we just need to keep our heads together. It was a decent second session, we’re there. The goal obviously is to win races, but we came here to be realistic and I think if we are in the top 10 for this first race and what we’re building, it would be really good. We’re there right now (inside top 10), so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “We went down a path in testing at Sebring, and unfortunately Sebring is a high grip circuit, which we knew, and I think it just misled us. I fully believe that overnight we will find some changes and get ourselves pointed in a much better position. We are struggling with the rear of the car ,which is very strange. We did at our first test, as well, but in general I think it hasn’t been an issue to this magnitude. We have a lot of work to do. Obviously Taku (Takuma Sato) did a good job putting a lap in and I just didn’t. We are going back to the drawing board for tomorrow and make the United Rentals car quicker.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team Sealmaster Honda): “It wasn’t a bad day. We made a change for the second practice and we didn’t go in the right direction. A lot of guys improved on reds (Firestone alternate tire) and we got a red flag when we went out on reds. Then I didn’t get any laps that were representative because there was traffic in front of me. You probably have one lap, maybe two if you don’t hit it too hard, but with the red flag and the traffic, it was game over. On the blacks (Firestone primary tires), it’s not bad. It’s just we are looking for front grip and we haven’t found a friendly way to do it.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda): “We had a good morning session, I was really happy with how it went. Then I struggled a bit more in the afternoon session with the heat and there was a lot of traffic that I wasn’t able to put a lap together. We know where we are with the car, I know where I need to get better, so I’m pretty confident we’ll be fine come practice tomorrow. It’s really exciting driving on the St. Petersburg track aboard an Indy car. It’s a handful with the new universal aero kit, but I’m really enjoying it and I’m sure it’s going to be a really close qualifying and race for everyone.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “There’s not too many dissimilarities between this car and the ones I used to drive (Formula 2, 2015-2017). There is a lot of crossover, which has made it a lot easier to jump in and drive the car. However, there’s so much to learn procedurally. I have to learn the circuits, the way the tires behave, the way the mechanics work. So there’s a lot more going on than just driving the car. I’ve not driven any of these circuits before, so it will be a new experience each weekend. There’s always going to be learning, right up until the end of the season. I do feel comfortable within the car and driving it, which is a positive because the goal is to be as comfortable as possible as quickly as possible.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Autogeek Chevrolet): “We are better than what came out on the time sheets. Where we struggled the most as getting clear track. There was a lot of traffic and a lot of cars, so it was really tough to get clear space when the tires were at their best. We missed that today, so hopefully we will be able to get clear track in Practice 3 tomorrow morning and really see where we stack up. There are still a few areas where we need to do some work and find some more speed, but overall, the Autogeek car feels pretty good.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “The morning session went pretty well for us on the Menards Chevy and we were trying some different things in the afternoon and it didn’t really work out. We made some changes with red Firestone tires to see if what we did last year would still apply this year and we learned that it just didn’t transfer. Late in the afternoon session we lost traction late in Turn 2 and the car spun. Thankfully we only brushed the wall and minimized the damage. The Menards Team Penske guys will do a great job fixing it up and we’ll be ready to go for tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “We’ve learned a lot every time we’ve been on track in the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet, whether it’s been testing or during today’s two practices. When you’re starting from scratch informationally, any time you do a lap you make progress. We actually made quite a bit of progress today and we learned a lot. We have a good direction to head tomorrow, and obviously tomorrow is when it counts with qualifying, so we need to try and maximize the setup on the car. I know the guys at Carlin have already made a monumental effort to have such a trouble-free day on our first day at a racetrack for a race weekend, and I know tonight we’ll work to make it even better for tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “Overall it was a productive day. We didn’t really get to show how good our car was. We got caught up in traffic all through the second session. It seemed like every time we put a set of tires on we seemed to run into someone on track. We’re happy with where things are. Obviously with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) being quick, it shows where our cars have some good pace. Hopefully we have a cleaner track tomorrow. There are a few things I need to go back and work on tonight, but I think we have a good shot of getting the Group One Thousand One car in the top 12 during qualifying and we’ll see where we can go in the race from there.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “I think it was positive day for the team overall – it’s a good way to start the weekend. We actually did our best time on our third attempt on Firestone Red (Alternate Tires) because of a multitude of issues. I think the pace of the NAPA AUTO PARTS car is pretty good – we’ll work on it overnight. Everyone is going to learn a lot  tonight, so we’ll have to take a step ahead with them. All-in-all I think it was a positive start to 2018.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Finishing first overall today is not a bad way to start the season. We’re still in the early days and will need to all put our heads together at Andretti tonight and figure out how we’re going to make these cars go faster tomorrow. I think everybody left today feeling like they left something on the table, ourselves included, but it’s nice to see the No. 28 DHL Honda up at the sharp end – right up in front. Hopefully we can carry that momentum into tomorrow and see what we have for qualifying.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It always feels great to get on track for the opening race of the season. I love the atmosphere of St. Petersburg. There are already a lot of fans here on a Friday; it’s fantastic. We didn’t quite have as good of a first session as we wanted. A few things about the car were a little bit unexpected. Practice 1, I couldn’t do as many laps as I wanted. The second practice was a good improvement. We still need to work hard on some things but hopefully we can improve again for tomorrow.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “We ended the day on a positive note with valuable lessons learned. I improved quite as the day progressed. My time improved substantially from the first practice today. We tried a new set up with more front wing, which did not work out for me. Ultimately, I lost it at the high speed corner, but luckily there was no contact. We made a good step forward and we will see what tomorrow brings.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “We got a lot of miles in today for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. It was the first day of a milestone weekend for the team, being their first-ever Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend. We kept the car running and got loads of information, but we aren’t quite where we want to be yet. With this being our first race weekend with the new team, Charlie (Kimball), and I just have to make sure that we’re giving as much feedback as possible to help ourselves learn as quickly as we can. Obviously we’re sort of on the back foot, being a rookie team, but I believe in Carlin and what the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet can do.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM MSR w/SPM Honda): “I think the day went pretty well. We have a good pace right now and there is definitely more to come out of the car. The first session was a solid run and gave us lots of room for improvement which I think was a good starting spot. There were areas where I was improving every lap and now I just need to put my quickest lap together. Overall, I feel like it is a pretty solid start for where we want to be. I haven’t driven here in a few years, so things have changed a lot on the track but it’s just like I remember it. It’s quick and a bit wild in places but overall it was a lot of fun.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Our first official day as a full-time team in the season opener at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete. We started not where we wanted, but we quickly realized what our issues were, addressed them and got them sorted for Practice 2. Now we can have an optimistic outlook on the weekend and work from here to get the best result we can in our debut.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Ruoff Home Mortgage / Curb Honda): “It was a decent first day. We were on for a top-three lap time there when the red flag came out, so we’re happier than the times look. We’ve made big improvements from Practice 1 to Practice 2. We just have to maintain our progression. I’m happy with the car on the Firestone reds (alternate tires), which is where we need to be. I feel pretty confident in the Ruoff Home Mortgage / Curb machine moving into tomorrow.”

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NHRA Bristol: Schumacher, Capps, Coughlin Jr. take home wins

Tony Schumacher, from left, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Ron Capps. Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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You’ve heard of classic rock, right?

Well, Sunday’s 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tennessee) Dragway was classic drag racing – old school style, you might say.

Drivers who have combined for 14 national championships between them emerged at the top of the heap, with eight-time champ Tony Schumacher taking Top Fuel honors, former champ Ron Capps took Funny Car honors and five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. grabbing Pro Stock honors.

In Top Fuel, Schumacher earned his sixth career win at Thunder Valley, as well as his first win overall of 2018.

Known as “The Sarge” due to his U.S. Army sponsorship, Schumacher marched through the field to reach the Winner’s Circle.

Schumacher (3.946 seconds at 313.58 mph) defeated Mike Salinas in what would prove to be Schumacher’s third final round of the season and the 150th of his career.

He now is 6-2 in career final round showings at Thunder Valley.

“We have had little things bite us this season, but we knew we had to overcome adversity and we knew we had a great car that was capable of winning,” Schumacher said. “I’m proud of my team for sticking to our plan, and I know our team is going to be a factor for the rest of the season.”

Schumacher was the No. 2 qualifier in the race and defeated Terry McMillen, Pat Dakin, points leader Steve Torrence and Salinas to take the win.

It was the first runner-up finish of Salinas’ career, defeating Leah Pritchett, No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and Scott Palmer before meeting Schumacher in the final.

In Funny Car, like Schumacher, Capps won for the first time this season on the NHRA national event circuit. It was also his second consecutive win at Bristol, having won last year’s event there.

Capps earned the 59th win of his career with a pass of 4.234 seconds at 296.37 mph, defeating Bob Tasca III.

Capps also earned Don Schumacher his 300th career nitro victory as a team owner.

“This is a great facility, and when you roll into this place you get a special feeling,” Capps said. “Getting to the Winner’s Circle at a track like this is even more special because you feel like you really had to earn it, and this weekend I am proud of what my team accomplished in some tough conditions.”

Capps went to the top of the Funny Car mountain starting from the No. 11 qualifying position, defeating 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, 2017 Funny Car national champ Robert and J.R. Todd before defeating Tasca in the final round.

Capps qualified 11th for the event before defeating John Force, defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight and J.R. Todd on his path to Winner’s Circle.

Tasca was the No. 4 qualifier and defeated Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and points leader Courtney Force to reach his first final round since at Seattle in 2013.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin earned his second win in the last three races. It took an effort of 6.709 seconds at 205.10 mph to defeat points leader Greg Anderson in the final round.

“My team has made some transitions this season and now we are running much faster, and it feels pretty great to be on the right track now this season,” Coughlin Jr. said. “Winning at Thunder Valley is historic and it feels fantastic, so to be crowned a champion here is really special.”

Coughlin qualified No. 2 and beat Tommy Lee, Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman en route to overtaking Anderson in the final round.

Anderson now has two runner-up finishes this season, but continues to seek his first win of 2018.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule moves on to its 12th race of the season – the halfway mark of the 2018 campaign – next weekend at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, from June 21-24.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher; 2. Mike Salinas; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Scott Palmer; 5. Pat Dakin; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Brittany Force; 10. Leah Pritchett; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Richie Crampton; 13. Dom Lagana; 14. Bill Litton; 15. Terry Totten; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. Courtney Force; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Robert Hight; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8. Cruz Pedregon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Del Worsham; 11. Jonnie Lindberg; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Jim Campbell; 14. Matt Hagan; 15. John Force; 16. Jeff Diehl.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Greg Anderson; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Tim Freeman; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Jason Line; 10. Bo Butner; 11. Alex Laughlin; 12. John Gaydosh Jr.; 13. Wally Stroupe; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Deric Kramer; 16. Tommy Lee.

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SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Tony Schumacher, 3.946 seconds, 313.58 mph def. Mike Salinas, 5.251 seconds, 152.18 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.234, 296.37 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.709, 205.10 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.741, 205.07.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Mike Salinas, 4.023, 295.53 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.011, 287.72; Scott Palmer, 4.017, 304.39 def. Bill Litton, 4.172, 261.07; Clay Millican, 4.018, 295.14 def. Terry Totten, 4.542, 182.58; Tony Schumacher, 3.917, 316.82 def. Terry McMillen, 5.112, 141.40; Antron Brown, 3.897, 316.82 def. Richie Crampton, 4.057, 297.22; Doug Kalitta, 3.998, 286.38 def. Brittany Force, 3.942, 307.51; Steve Torrence, 3.970, 303.71 def. Shawn Reed, 4.018, 283.25; Pat Dakin, 4.015, 307.30 def. Dom Lagana, 4.107, 272.12; QUARTERFINALS — Salinas, 4.035, 299.20 def. Millican, 9.938, 76.57; Palmer, 4.067, 302.41 def. Kalitta, 4.292, 230.92; Schumacher, 4.028, 288.64 def. Dakin, 4.041, 298.14; Torrence, 4.232, 253.33 def. Brown, 5.090, 155.65; SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 4.042, 301.07 def. Palmer, 4.356, 211.89; Schumacher, 4.038, 297.02 def. Torrence, 4.104, 254.04; FINAL — Schumacher, 3.946, 313.58 def. Salinas, 5.251, 152.18.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.757, 227.23 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 5.978, 124.51; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.169, 307.65 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.382, 262.18; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.213, 300.26 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.362, 252.61; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.133, 303.09 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.183, 289.82; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.582, 229.00 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 5.030, 159.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.243, 296.37 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.824, 128.57; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.283, 281.30 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.569, 266.37; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.253, 291.26 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.381, 142.06; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 4.197, 298.14 def. Johnson Jr., 5.139, 158.45; Tasca III, 4.233, 292.90 def. Pedregon, 5.757, 126.33; Todd, 4.203, 295.92 def. Beckman, 4.333, 277.49; Capps, 4.208, 299.33 def. Hight, 4.233, 300.73; SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.242, 298.93 def. Todd, 4.372, 285.65; Tasca III, 4.219, 298.60 def. C. Force, 4.271, 286.62; FINAL — Capps, 4.234, 296.37 def. Tasca III, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.739, 204.45 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.776, 204.45; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.736, 205.32 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.729, 204.88 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.726, 203.95; Tim Freeman, Camaro, 6.787, 202.58 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.823, 201.94; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.754, 205.13 def. John Gaydosh Jr., Chevrolet Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.715, 204.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 9.845, 93.14; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.716, 204.35 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.027, 176.70; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.719, 205.10 def. Tommy Lee, Camaro, Broke – No Show; QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.789, 204.94 def. Freeman, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.740, 205.26 def. McGaha, 16.733, 48.09; Anderson, 6.723, 204.73 def. Nobile, 6.755, 204.29; Skillman, 6.727, 203.98 def. Enders, 6.743, 204.54; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.750, 204.51 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.768, 204.91 def. Gray, 6.764, 205.19; FINAL — Coughlin, 6.709, 205.10 def. Anderson, 6.741, 205.07.

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UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 896; 2. Clay Millican, 786; 3. Tony Schumacher, 760; 4. Doug Kalitta, 717; 5. Leah Pritchett, 663; 6. Antron Brown, 588; 7. (tie) Brittany Force, 552; Terry McMillen, 552; 9. Scott Palmer, 461; 10. Mike Salinas, 421.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 937; 2. Jack Beckman, 736; 3. Robert Hight, 717; 4. J.R. Todd, 694; 5. Ron Capps, 693; 6. Matt Hagan, 669; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 606; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 508; 9. John Force, 502; 10. Bob Tasca III, 500.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 823; 2. Tanner Gray, 768; 3. Vincent Nobile, 758; 4. Erica Enders, 738; 5. Drew Skillman, 679; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 671; 7. Chris McGaha, 659; 8. Bo Butner, 642; 9. Deric Kramer, 627; 10. Jason Line, 569.

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