Indy Lights: Herta wins Freedom 100 thriller

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The Freedom 100 was its usual thrill-ride for the Firestone Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship, though this year proved to be a little more intense than usual. Frantic, three-wide racing was the name of game from the outset and saw five different drivers swap the lead a record 20 times, obliterating the previous record of nine.

In the end, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta held off Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to take the victory, his first on an oval, and complete a sweep of the Indy Lights events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – he also won both races on the IMS Road Course earlier this month.

An elated Herta was beside himself after scoring a victory on the 2.5-mile oval.

“It’s so cool. I didn’t really realize how cool it was until I got to kiss the bricks. Both my dad’s IndyCar wins, I held off here because I didn’t deserve it. Now I finally deserved it. Damn, that’s so cool,” he declared in the post-race press conference.”

The final lead change came at the white flag, with Herta passing Santi Urrutia in a three-wide move that also saw O’Ward go to the outside of Urrutia and take second.

From there, Herta needed to fend off a late challenge from O’Ward and Dalton Kellett, and who worked his way up to third on the final lap.

Herta just barely managed to do so, winning by half of a car-width at the end.

In describing the final pass, Herta also revealed that he had no idea they were starting the final lap when it happened.

“I didn’t even know it was the white flag until I pulled out, the guy was waving the white flag. (I passed them on the last lap and held it,” he added.

Second place finisher O’Ward described that his No. 27 Dallara IL-15 got in the aero wash of Herta’s No. 98 machine exiting the final corner, which forced O’Ward to lift, and that proved to be all the difference in the run to the checkered flag.

“I tried to position myself the best I could for the last lap. But I just got the wash coming out of turn four. My car was facing directly towards the wall. I had to lift. Dalton was behind me. I got a nice little tow from Colton. It just wasn’t enough to get him at the line. We barely missed it by a wing,” O’Ward detailed.

Kellett rounded out the podium, followed by Urrutia, Ryan Norman, Aaron Telitz, Davey Hamilton Jr., and Victor Franzoni, who finished two laps down after a pair of unscheduled pit stops for tire problems.

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Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.