Photo courtesy IndyCar

Alfonso Celis Jr. to get second career IndyCar start at Portland

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Juncos Racing announced Friday that Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his second career IndyCar start in the Grand Prix of Portland on Sept. 2 at Portland International Raceway.

The 21-year-old Celis Jr., a native of Mexico, will drive the No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet for the second time, having previously raced on another permanent road course, central Wisconsin’s Road America on June 24, where he finished 20th.

“I’m very happy to be able to make my dream come true again and return to my second Indy car race,” Celis said in a media release. “This is a great way to continue building a project that I think has a lot of future and that I’m extremely excited about.”

Celis is one of three drivers who have driven the No. 32 this season, joining Kyle Kaiser and Rene Binder. The team has started 11 of the first 13 races this season, with a best finish of 16th (Kaiser at Long Beach, Binder at Barber).

The Portland race on the 1.968-mile permanent road course will be the second-to-last race on the 2018 IndyCar schedule, and brings Indy car racing back to the track – and the Pacific Northwest, for that matter – following an 11-year absence.

Celis has had a significant amount of racing experience in a very short period of time. In addition to two years as a test driver for Sahara Force India in Formula One, he finished third in the 2017 Formula V8 3.5 Series championship. He also drove for Juncos Racing in Indy Lights earlier this year at Barber Motorsports Park before getting the one-off IndyCar race ride at Road America.

“I’m very motivated about racing in Portland,” Celis added. “We have worked together on developing the setup of the car both on track and in the (racing simulator), and I feel very proud to be able to do all this work together with Juncos Racing.

“Before my debut in Road America, I had been out of the car for a while and it was also my first time in an Indy car, so this second time around should be even better. I’ve been training as hard as I can and I feel ready for this challenge.

“I’m very grateful with Juncos Racing for giving me this opportunity and putting their trust in me, and for all the people that have helped make this happen,” he said. “The Verizon IndyCar Series has the best racing and the best drivers in the world, and this is where I want to be.

“There has been huge following of the series in Mexico over the years and I want to do everything I can to help revive that love for the sport in my country.”

Added team owner Ricardo Juncos, “We had a great weekend overall with him back at Road America. His knowledge and feedback of the car provided our team with very valuable and important data. I am confident he will put on another great weekend and we look forward to getting him back in the car later this month.”

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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.