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IndyCar: O’Ward finishes ninth to complete dream IndyCar debut at Sonoma

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The lion’s share of attention will go to Scott Dixon, now a five-time IndyCar Series champion, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who dominated the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma, in the wake up Sunday’s IndyCar season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

However, one other driver deserves his share of attention following the weekend.

Quite simply, Patricio O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, had a dream weekend in his IndyCar debut with Harding Racing.

O’Ward shined in Friday practice, ending up third in Practice 2. He starred in qualifying, making the Firestone Fast Six and qualifying a remarkable fifth. And in Sunday’s race, he took the checkered flag in ninth, Harding’s only Top 10 of the 2018 season and their best result since Gabby Chaves finished fifth for them last year at Texas Motor Speedway.

What’s more, O’Ward underwent a baptism by fire in the opening stint, as he struggled with tire management – he described that his tires lost grip after only a few laps – and he dropped well outside to the Top 10 after the opening round of stops.

However, pit strategy and a timely caution on Lap 44 – Graham Rahal lost power and pulled off on thr back straight away – allowed O’Ward to regroup, and once he found his rhythm, he began charging his way back toward the Top 10.

He ultimately finished a very impressive ninth, putting the cap on a dream weekend for the 19-year-old native of Mexico.

Patricio O’Ward was all smiles after a dream weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

While he admitted that he wanted to finish a little higher, O’Ward was plenty happy afterward.

“It was a really great weekend, we learned a lot,” he detailed. “We qualified the car fifth and we ended the race ninth. As a driver, you want to stay in your qualifying position or get better. But I think for a first try, especially with a super long race with three or four pit stops that was a job well done. I’m really satisfied, and I just want to get better for next year.”

As the Indy Lights champion, O’Ward is guaranteed at least three races in the 2019 IndyCar season, including the Indianapolis 500.

More details about O’Ward 2019 plans will come at a later date.

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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.