From left, DSR Top Fuel drivers Leah Pritchett, Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher. Photos courtesy Auto Imagery.

EXCLUSIVE: NHRA’s Don Schumacher, all 7 of his drivers to donate brains for concussion research

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In a collective large-scale move never before seen in motorsports or any other form of professional sports, NHRA drag racing team owner Don Schumacher and all seven of his drivers have pledged in writing to donate their brains upon death to the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF), NBCSports.com’s MotorSportsTalk has learned exclusively.

The pledges were all signed this afternoon at suburban Denver’s Bandimere Speedway, site of this weekend’s Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals.

Team owner Don Schumacher (in red shirt) and his seven Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers sign written pledges to donate their brains for concussion research Friday at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver.

Don Schumacher Racing is the second-most successful team overall in NHRA history, with 11 Top Fuel and five Funny Car championships, as well as over 300 combined nitro national event wins by all seven of its drivers (as well as retired driver Gary Scelzi).

This is the first time an NHRA driver, owner or team has announced they will donate their brains to science for further study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which can only be detected and diagnosed after death.

However, more than 3,000 current and former athletes in other sports have already pledged their brains to research post-mortem, including NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., U.S. Women’s Soccer Team star Brandi Chastain, and several former NFL Pro Bowlers including Randy Cross, Keith Sims, Shawn Springs and Gary Fencik.

MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. plans to donate his brain to CTE research

MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s decision inspires NASCAR Hall of Famer to donate brain for CTE research

While concussions are not a widespread problem in the NHRA as in, for example, the NFL, they still happen from time to time.

With the g-forces, high-speed explosions and crashes and intense vibrations Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers endure while exceeding 330 mph in 1,000 feet, concussions are always a threat, but that threat is usually mitigated by the safety equipment found in the race cars.

Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Car drivers, from left, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps and Matt Hagan.

In pledging their brains, Schumacher and his seven drivers will also “immediately begin a comprehensive brain monitoring process to ensure an in-depth brain profile upon donation,” according to a team statement.

DSR’s pledges coincide with CLF Project Enlist, a new program launched this week by CLF and Infinite Hero Foundation (IHF) a non-profit organization (and a partner of DSR) that assists military veterans returning from battle and their families. IHF’s main goal is to “accelerate research on traumatic brain injury (TBI), CTE and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in military veterans.”

DSR and Project Enlist are conducting recruiting and outreach to military and veteran communities to increase participation in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation (VA-BU-CLF) Brain Bank brain donation registry.

The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank is the world’s largest CTE brain bank specializing in research into concussions, ALS, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Schumacher, who was one of the sport’s most successful drivers in the 1960s and 1970s, has since gone on to build a vast business and racing empire that employs over 2,000 individuals. He is also regarded as one of the top innovators in performance and safety in drag racing.

“Donating my brain for research to help other individuals in this world is something that I’m more than willing to do,” said Don Schumacher, who was recently named to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s Class of 2019. “It surprised my wife, Sarah, but she also agreed to me doing this based on its potential to help drivers, soldiers, business people and the population of the world.

Team owner Don Schumacher.

“I support (the CLF) 100 percent and was thrilled that my seven drivers agreed to donate their brains.”

Here are comments from all of Schumacher’s seven drivers who have pledged to donate their brains to research post-mortem:

Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster: “I think any athlete donating their brain is a great idea once you’re done with it here on earth. If people can come up with a better system, and a better way to keep future drivers safer, that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to improve our world. The doctors and the technology with all athletes right now, they’re diving in deep to come up with concussion research, and as a driver that goes through 11,000-horsepower, 2.5-Richter scale shaking every single run, I think we’re good candidates to research.”

“Fast Jack” Beckman, driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “My wife didn’t take the news that I was pledging my brain quite the way I thought. Apparently, she wants to have me stuffed and put in the corner of our living room (he said with a laugh), but (growing serious) I’ve been an organ donor since I was 16. My thought is, if it can help somebody else, that’s fantastic. When you see these veterans coming back with traumatic brain injuries and PTS, and there’s no one cure for this, it makes you realize how much more we still need to learn about the human brain to have effective treatments for the majority of the injured vets. To be a part of that in some small way; well, I can’t take my brain with me, haven’t used it since I started driving a Funny Car (he said with another laugh), so someone else might as well take advantage.”

Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “When approached with the chance to help the Concussion Legacy Foundation and have an opportunity to help with advancing the study, treatment, and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes as well as other at-risk groups, we said ‘yes’ without hesitation. The Concussion Legacy Foundation is a group of dedicated people doing great things to help the next generations to come, and we’re proud to help in any way we can.”

Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster: “We always want to do whatever we can to help elevate the safety in our sport, and be proactive in bettering the safety for all.”

Matt Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car: “I think it’s pretty cool to donate anything to science. My brain is kind of mush anyways (jokes). Anytime we can do something to help is a good thing and being able to have research off of how your brain is affected by g-force and things like that, is interesting. Driving a nitro Funny Car is not something just anybody gets to do. There are only maybe 50 people in the world that really, truly experience the g-forces we do on a regular basis. These cars are extreme, we put on a show, and we put our bodies through elements that most people will never even understand. If we can help with the research of concussions and saving lives, that’s a great thing, and I’m all about it.”

Tommy Johnson Jr., driver of the Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “I elected to donate my brain because of all of my years of racing, suffering explosions and experiencing tire shake. If the Concussion Legacy Foundation can learn something that would help the next generation, I would be very proud to be a part of that. Tying it in with the soldiers who experience traumatic brain injuries, if we can work together and help one another, I think it’s a great opportunity for the road to recovery for everyone.”

Leah Pritchett, driver of the Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster: “When I was first asked if I would be open to donating my brain for future research, there wasn’t even a question in my mind at all. All of us are safer in our passenger cars and safer in our race cars because of what we’ve been able to learn from the past. We get to do what we do and are safe because of technology and science. If I have a legacy to leave behind, and it can benefit anybody in any way, from the sports community to the military to a child that wants to play football, whatever it may be, once I’m gone, I won’t need my brain so I’m proud to know that it will benefit others.”

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What IndyCar drivers said after the first Indy 500 practice in August

Indy 500 practice quotes
James Black/IndyCar
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A roundup of quotes from NTT IndyCar Series drivers after hitting the track Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first day of Indy 500 practice.

James Hinchcliffe was fastest in the six and a half hour session that started at 11 a.m. Andretti Autosport had three of the five fastest cars.

There will be two more practices Thursday and Friday before qualifying this weekend for the 104th Indianapolis 500.

Fernando Alonso (No. 66 Ruoff Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet): “Today was good. I think we had the day that we wanted, which was a clean day with no issues and trouble-free. In the morning, we got up to speed with the refresher, and in the afternoon we cut it a bit short to work on the car. We may have potentially missed one run in traffic, but it’s nothing we can’t make up tomorrow. We are working step by step, improving the car a little bit each time. We are working on the balance and getting used to the speed again, more in my case than the team. The team is was maybe more ready than me on this first day. We will grow together and got some good mileage today. We have a good understanding of the car and will hopefully have a good setup ready to go tomorrow.”

Marco Andretti (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “It was all good. Funny enough really, I was more focused on the race car. I was trying to bury myself in traffic on older tires a lot today. We didn’t really focus on fast times. It was kind of nice that materialized, as well. Well, second-fastest time. It’s good that the car rolled off with some pace. That’s always kind of like the first hurdle you have to get over. From there, it’s just working on the car balance. That’s what we were able to do. We were one of the better ones in the pack today. It just seems kind of hard to pass where things are at right now. So far so good. It was a good start.”

Oliver Askew (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet): “First day here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an Indy car is pretty special for anyone. It’s great to feel the magic of the place again and to be around other cars. An extra 20-30 mph compared to an Indy Lights car is quite a big difference at those speeds. It’s a bit daunting at first, but as I got used to it I got very comfortable by the end of the day. I’m looking forward to more running tomorrow and to turn up the boost on Friday. Everyone at Arrow McLaren SP and Team Chevy have been doing a really good job so far. The car feels really nice in traffic, and we will continue progressing in all areas.”

Ed Carpenter (No. 20 United States Space Force Chevrolet): “It was an interesting day. I wouldn’t say that it was the day I’ve dreamed of. We have a lot to learn about this car here at this track with the Aeroscreen on. It’s really changed the dynamic. It’s very, very difficult in traffic, but it seemed like everyone was struggling. It’s always this way the first day; you have to figure out what you need to improve on and go from there. I can’t say we found all the answers today, but I’m ready to get the U.S. Space Force Chevrolet back out there tomorrow.”

Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet): “Obviously, big credit to the team. Everything was exactly as if I had not left. It was absolutely the same, which makes it much better for me to get comfortable right away. Great combination. I can’t thank Pennzoil, Chevy and Roger (Penske) for making this happen. I am excited, really excited, even though we have less days. I wish the race would be tomorrow.”

Max Chilton (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “We just finished our first day back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and we’ve got two more days of practice to get the car ready for qualifying. We had a really productive day out there. We were able to work through our oval refresher program and get the speeds that we needed fairly easily. Once we got through the refresher, we did some race running and had a few issues with the balance, but we were able to get there in the end, and the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet felt good at the checkered flag. We obviously have more to work through before we’re qualifying and ready, but I’m really looking forward to the next couple of days now.”

Conor Daly (No. 47 United States Air Force Chevrolet): “Obviously, Cole (Pearn, engineer) and I had a lot to learn today, so it was good to get a full day under our belt with the U.S. Air Force Chevy. We ran a lot of laps right up until the checkered flag, which was my goal so I can get used to this car. It definitely has a different feel to what I’ve had in the past, but that’s always the case when I jump in a car for the first time. I think it was a good day. We went through a lot of things that we wanted to, and I think we have a decent amount of speed. We just have to see making it faster and faster, one day at a time.”

James Davison (No. 51 Jacob Construction/Tilson HR Honda): “It was a solid day for the 51 team. Nearly every year for the one-off Indy entries, there is a number of teething issues that needed to be sorted out, so you lose a little bit of track time as a result. However, we ended more or less in the middle of the field on the speed charts. Really, we are no better or no worse than anyone out there, which is to be expected with this aero package. Thankfully, we have a straight car to build on for the next two days leading up to qualifying. It’s a solid platform for us, and I’m excited to see what development we can do tomorrow.”

Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We had a decent start in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda. We were trying to get through some items that we have on the list. It’s a pretty extensive list, especially with the condensed schedule. It’s a totally new car for me this year with (engineer) Mike Cannon and with a few offseason projects. I definitely think we’re going in the right direction. First practice, it doesn’t mean anything, we’re just trying to get the car comfortable in traffic and so far that seems to be pretty good. The Aeroscreen when we first tested it seemed like it kind of affected the car a little different aerodynamically. I’d say today actually felt more normal. No real difference, and the vision is good.”

Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think it was a good first day. We did the program plan and went through some different setup directions that we wanted to try. For me, it was great to get the laps in. It’s been a while since we’ve been at the Speedway. It’s definitely a very unique place, so you need laps to gain confidence, and that’s what we did. The No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda felt good out there. We have a good baseline to work off. We’re in a good place. Let’s see how tomorrow goes.”

Jack Harvey (No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda): “It feels so great to be back here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Any time you are here it’s awesome. Today was a mix: There were times when I felt like we were doing OK and times when I thought we had some work to do. But that’s pretty much how a normal test day goes at IMS. I think today we found that our qualifying pace looks OK, and we will focus on stepping up our race pace over the next two days.”

James Hinchcliffe (No. 29 Genesys Honda): “Luckily, not a ton of surprises. A couple of new elements, one being the Aeroscreen, but everybody at Andretti Autosport has worked their tails off to prepare for this race. And to have six cars prepared at the level that they do is incredibly impressive, with three of them in the top five after the first day of practice. It’s just practice; there’s obviously a long way to go. But whenever you can kick off the month strong and know you’ve got a decent package, you can kind of work on it from there. It makes your sleep a little better now and between the race.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda): “All in all, it was a promising first day for the DHL Honda team. The guys did a very good job preparing the speedway car over the last few months. I’m optimistic going forward when it comes to our pace for qualifying and as a team. We’ll continue to work on running in groups for race-running, balance and pace. It was a pretty promising day for Andretti Autosport as a whole.”

JR Hildebrand (No. 67 DRR Salesforce Chevrolet): “I felt good with the Aeroscreen right away. Sitting in the pits you can tell it’s a little warmer but not once you are on track – it’s no problem. I felt good in the car. Our DRR team came into this year with a clear perspective with what we needed to do to be competitive in the race. And what we have done so far with our adjustments to the car have checked out. That is good so far. We were focused on trying to answer some of those questions from the last couple of years. Sage (Karam, DRR teammate) worked in traffic more today than we did. He was running in more traffic situations than I was. We don’t have a lot of time this year. And we are moving the right direction with the cars already. Thursday will be a very busy day. So we are prepared to work hard with the cars.”

Tony Kanaan (No. 14 ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Good first day. I think if you’re going to hear everybody’s quote, it’s everybody’s glad to be back here. It took a lot of effort from a lot of people in the Series, in the teams to be here. That shows how important this place is. A lot of mixed feelings this morning driving in and not seeing anybody. Sitting in Garage 1 at this point in the day today, it would be probably 40 people waiting for A.J. (Foyt) outside. So kind of odd day. But as far as track time it was awesome. We had plenty of track time. We had a little bit of an issue at the end of the day, but it didn’t hurt us and we were getting ready to stop. I’m pretty pleased with the car. It was definitely one of our best opening days that we had. The team came really well prepared, and I’m happy. Obviously, still a long way to go, but it’s good to be back.”

Sage Karam (No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet): “Today was pretty good for our DRR WIX Filters Chevy. It was much more solid than last year on the first day of practice. We did a lot of good things today, as I did a lot of traffic running. We got in some big groups and went with the good teams like Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. No one was doing anything different from what I could do in traffic. That was very positive. Now we have to find the next step with mechanical grip to move to the next level with this car. Obviously, passing will be very tough, just like last year. Qualifying will be at a premium. Pit stops will be huge, but this DRR crew is always fast on their stops. So I feel good about that aspect. It feels good to be back on the oval. The road course was a good, little challenge for us. It was good for everyone today. Me to get more seat time and the team to get in a few live stops. It is so much fun around this place when the car is working well. We look forward to Thursday.”

Dalton Kellett (No. 41 K-Line USA / AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Finished up rookie orientation, so it’s good to have that box checked off. I did a baseline run at the end on new tires and got a bit of running around some other cars in the draft, so the speed’s getting up there. We started very conservatively, and we’re working through it, taking understeer out of the car. We were taking small chunks out, so it took us a little time to get through everything. I think that analytical, progressive process is going to help us in the end. It feels good to be out on track, the car feels great. The feedback from Tony (Kanaan) and Charlie (Kimball) is that everyone’s pretty happy all around. First day at the Speedway, it’s an amazing place to be, I’m really excited. I couldn’t be happier to be here, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.” (About his first lap): “The experience of the first lap is hard to put into words. It’s such a magical place — the feeling of being out on track and you want to take the moment, but you also want to focus on what you’re doing. The first slow stages give you time to get up to speed. The car felt great, and I was just grateful and happy to be here and loving every minute of it.”

Charlie Kimball (No. 4 Tresiba AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I think it was a really good start to on-track activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The car felt really good right away. I was pretty comfortable. The guys have obviously done a great job preparing. There was some uncertainty about when we’d get on track, so I’m glad we were able to get some miles in today. The weather looks pretty good for the rest of the week, but we’ve got a lot to do in a condensed schedule. It’s nice to start with a good foundation. Something we can always come back to as needed, but we’ve got to find a little speed – we’re always looking for speed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – but I’ve got a lot of confidence in the Tresiba Chevrolet team to find that as we get into Fast Friday. Ideally we’re looking to qualify in the top nine and race into the top one!”

Josef Newgarden (No. 1 Shell V-Power Nitro Team Penske Chevrolet): “We had a good day for the No. 1 Chevrolet. I felt like it was nice to get back out on track and getting through the processes. It is great to be back here at Indy. So thankfuI that we are able to run. I think we are going to put on a great show next weekend. That’s what we are working on, trying to make our race car drivable in traffic. It is interesting to see who is fast out of the gate, who’s not. We have a long process here. This is a good starting point for us. See if we can get the Shell car fast enough for qualifying and then work on the race after that.”

Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “It is just great to be back at the Speedway. Today was like Christmas! It is just an amazing place. Super-excited to be back in the Menards Chevy. We worked on two different packages today. I think that we know what direction we want to go now, which is great. We were able to check off the list one of the important items for our program. So very excited about that. I think tonight we are 100 percent sure on the decisions we are going to make tomorrow. So that is a big leap forward. Excited about tomorrow and qualifying on the horizon. So far we have been working in the right space. I got my timing sorted with passing and comfortable around the big speedway here. Just very excited to be in Indianapolis again this year. Hopefully we can repeat.”

Alex Palou (No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda): “This is such a different place than the two other ovals I’ve been to. It’s a crazy place, in a good way. That was a lot of fun getting to run with everyone after the rookie orientation earlier today. Right now, running alone is easier than with traffic. I think I got really comfortable in the rookie session and again this afternoon running alone. But then I was just getting up to speed running in traffic. I was able to follow the cars ahead of me, but I’m still working on overtaking them. I’m taking it one step at a time. We have a full day tomorrow and Friday to keep working on that. I think we have a fast car. The Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh crew did a really good job on the setup and preparing the car.”

Spencer Pigot (No. 45 Hy-Vee Embrace Pittsburgh Honda): “Overall, it’s good to be back at Indy. I think we’ve all waited a long time for this so it’s nice to be here. On track, things went pretty well in the first session. It’s cool to be going those speeds again. I haven’t been on an oval since late August last year, so it felt great to go over 220 mph again. The No. 45 Hy-Vee / Embrace Pittsburgh car looks great. I thought we made some good improvements and changes, and the car was feeling pretty good. The afternoon was a little tougher for us. We tried some things on our list, and, even if we don’t go that direction, it was good to get some reads and data on that. We definitely have a good idea of what we want from the car, so hopefully tomorrow we can find it.”

Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Edge Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was actually a pretty good day. I feel like the cars are a little harder to drive now. I feel like the balance of our car is really good now, really good. I feel like we are right in the window right now. We will work on some different philosophies tomorrow. We are in a good spot, so we will try some other stuff to see if we can get it better.”

Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet): “I think it was a solid first day for the entire Arrow McLaren SP team. I think we still have some work to do, but I think we are in a good spot. Today was about running in traffic and trying to create the best package for us for Race Day. We have to keep chipping at it and working at it. We will start off tomorrow where we ended today and keep improving. Thank you to everyone on the team and at Chevrolet for giving us a good starting point.”

Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “End of Day 1 here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I think it was a solid day for our team. I know that sometimes on the timesheets it doesn’t look like it, though. I didn’t get the big tow, in the traffic on new tires, light fuel and all that sort of stuff. In fact, our goal today was to use as little tires as possible. We ended up running two sets of tires almost two full stints per set, so I’m pleased with that, pleased with the consistency of the car. Obviously, we need to find a little bit of speed, find a little more grip in traffic, and I think every driver here is saying that tonight. And if you saw us on track, it’s definitely quite a challenge, for sure. We’re going to sit down with the engineers and try to work on not only the United Rentals car but also our teammates, and hopefully we can get Takuma (Sato) and Spencer (Pigot) a little more competitive, as well. The team had a long list of things we wanted to get done, and we got those done, so now we can go forward from here.”

Felix Rosenqvist (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It’s good to be back on the speedway. I think everyone has missed this place a lot. We had a solid first day. We still need to work on our car in traffic a little bit. We started to run in packs in the end to work on getting the car to stay close to the guy in front. I think we made good progress in the last run. We’re hoping to continue progressing tomorrow. We have some good practice coming up the next two days. I won’t say we have time to relax, but we have time to take it slow here and get up to speed. Overall, it feels good in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda so far.”

Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS / Auto Nation Honda): “Opening day wa OK. We were pleasantly surprised that the screen didn’t create too many issues balance- and performance-wise, which was interesting. I think it’s going to be pretty fast with the boost on Fast Friday, which is exciting for everyone. I think on our own our car is pretty good, but we need to work on when we’re in traffic. It’s still early on. I think it’s always kind of like this on Day 1 running in traffic for the first time. It’s a lot more difficult than you remember, but we’ll definitely have to spend some time tomorrow on group running to make sure we’re happy with our car come Sunday next week. Today was more focused on getting reacquainted with the car and what we learned last year, so I wasn’t too aware of my surroundings, but as the week goes on there will definitely be a noticeable difference without having fans here. It sucks. The energy that you get walking down pit lane or through Gasoline Alley really is a motivating factor going into a session whether its practice, qualifying or the race. It’s unfortunate and sad, but this event still carries a lot of weight and is still as important to everyone now as it has been in the past.”

Takuma Sato (No. 30 Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda): “We’re back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it is a very happy time for us. This is a moment we waited for, for a long time. It’s August, but it is a fantastic feeling. We jumped in the car and went fast, not 230 mph yet because of the boost level today, but it’s a great feeling. We did a number of test items today, splitting over three cars because this year the schedule is compressed a lot. We literally have today and tomorrow for the race setup and then Friday is Fast Friday. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we did a solo run and a group run and were relatively competitive, so it was a very good day.”

Zach Veach (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “Really happy with our day. Looked like we were in the top five of the no tow charts for both sessions, but just didn’t get a tow lap to put us up high on the overall speeds. Really excited to get back to work tomorrow. I think we have a great car.”

Rinus Veekay (No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet): “I had a really good first day. I built it up slowly, but we had a lot of time. Especially on my own, the SONAX Chevrolet is amazing. We needed to do some work in traffic, but we made some really good steps, and I’m very confident for the coming days. We’re heading in a good direction with a really strong car and a really strong team.”