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SPM taps Munoz to sub for Wickens at Portland, Sonoma

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Carloz Munoz will pilot the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in this weekend’s Grand Prix of Portland (September 2, 2:30 p.m. on NBCSN) and the season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma as a substitute for the injured Robert Wickens.

Munoz has one previous start in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season – at the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport, where he finished seventh – but this weekend’s event in Portland will be his first road course race since last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, meaning he has not yet raced the 2018 aero kit in road course trim.

However, with Thursday serving as a test day for the IndyCar teams, Munoz will have a chance to get himself up to speed with the 2018 aero kit and learn the 1.967-mile, 12-turn track.

“Robert and his family have been in my prayers and I continue to pray for his recovery,” said a gracious Munoz. “I’m very grateful that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have entrusted me to compete in the Lucas Oil Honda for the last two races of the season. I am looking forward to pushing hard for a great result for the team and for Robert.”

 

Munoz was previously a full-time IndyCar competitor for four seasons (2014-2016 with Andretti Autosport, and 2017 with A.J. Foyt Racing). However, after parting ways with Foyt, Munoz was only able to put together an Indy-only deal with Andretti Autosport for the 2018 season.

This is also not the first time Munoz has served in a replacement role. In 2013, while still racing full-time in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship, Munoz was enlisted to sub for then Panther Racing driver Ryan Briscoe at the Honda Indy Toronto – he competed in Race 2 of that year’s double header.

Later that year, Andretti Autosport drafted him in to race in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway, subbing for E.J. Viso. He also made his IndyCar debut with Andretti that year, finishing second at the Indy 500.

Munoz has one career IndyCar win, in Race 1 of the 2015 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Robert Wickens continues to receive treatment for injuries to his spine, right arm, and lower extremities, suffered in a violent crash at the ABC Supply 500. The most recent update, which came shortly before last weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500, revealed that he is breathing without assistance and was able to speak with his family.

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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.