Colton Herta wins inaugural IndyCar Classic at COTA, becomes youngest winner in series history

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It was a weekend of firsts in Austin, Texas for the NTT IndyCar Series.

For the Circuit of the Americas, Sunday’s IndyCar Classic was the first visit by the series to the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

For Harding Steinbrenner Racing, Sunday’s victory was the first in team history, and for their rookie driver, 18-year-old-Colton Herta, Sunday’s win is the first in his relatively short IndyCar career.

After qualifying an impressive fourth in only his third series start, Herta ran up front all afternoon, and through the luck of a late caution and a mechanical failure for leader Will Power, the young driver found himself leading the pack to the green flag in the race’s only restart with 11 laps to go.

Herta then maintained his lead through the checkered flag to become the youngest winner in IndyCar Series history at 18 years, 11 months, and 25 days. The previous record was set by Graham Rahal in the 2008 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, when Rahal was 19 years, three months and 2 days old.

“We were not expecting that,” Herta, who turns 19 on Saturday, told NBC Sports. “I think we were going to get a podium. We had the pace for that, but holy crap, man. I am worn out!”

Running as high as second to Power in the early moments of the race, Herta made his final pit stop on lap 43 under green. At that point, it had still appeared that Power was on his way to his first win of the season, as the Team Penske driver had led every lap up until then.

However, when James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist made contact on lap 44, Rosenqvist’s car hit the barrier and brought out the only caution of the race. Power, as well as Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon and others went into the pits under yellow to make their final stops, giving Herta the lead. Power’s drive shaft would also break when he attempted to leave his pit box, ending the Aussie’s chances of winning the race and collecting a $100,000 bonus offered by the track to any driver who could win from the pole.

“I just want to have a good run, man,” Power told NBC Sports. “I just want to have a normal run in a season without this sort of crap.”

Josef Newgarden, who won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, finished second, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal and Sébastien Bourdais rounding out the top five.

Positions six through 10 were filled by Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato, Patricio O’Ward (in his first start for Carlin), Alexander Rossi, and Jack Harvey.

Zach Veach finished 22nd after spinning off the track and into a gravel pit on Lap 1. Rosenqvist was credited with 23rd and Power was last after his mechanical issues caused him to be the only DNF of the race.

The next race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series calendar is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, with will take place on April 7 at Barber Motorsports Park. Coverage begins at 4:00 PM ET on NBCSN.

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Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick team up again on NBC’s Indy 500 coverage

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Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick will return to NBC Sports’ coverage of the Indianapolis 500, which will be broadcast Aug. 23 at 1 p.m. ET on NBC (green flag at 2:30 p.m.).

Tirico and Patrick, who both joined NBC Sports for its inaugural coverage of the event last year, will reprise their roles as host and studio analyst.

One of the most versatile voices in sports, Tirico also hosts NBC Olympics’ primetime coverage, Football Night in America and many other premier events, including hosting on-site at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this year for the first-ever IndyCar-NASCAR crossover weekend.

AT THE BRICKYARD: Daily Indy 500 coverage schedule on NBC, NBCSN

He again will be joined during prerace, in-race, and postrace coverage by Patrick, who became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 in 2005 and also was the first female pole-sitter in NASCAR driver.

They will make their debut together duing practice coverage on Aug. 21, on NBCSN.

“My first Indy 500 last year exceeded my very high expectations in every way,” Tirico said in a release. “Although this year’s race will take place under unprecedented circumstances, I can’t wait to get back to Indy. I’m confident that our team at the Brickyard will provide viewers with as exciting a viewing experience as possible. I am also thrilled that Danica Patrick is along for the ride again this year. We had such a great time last May and look forward to bringing Indy home for the viewers again.”

Said Patrick: “The Indianapolis 500 is an event that transcends mainstream and motorsports which is why it’s so special. We are living during a time that if we can bring people together, we should. Even if it’s not physically. I am honored to be back with the NBC Sports team and Mike Tirico. The memories I have from 15 years at IMS hold such a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to make more this year in the booth, or however we are positioned in 2020!”

This will mark NBC Sports’ second season as the exclusive home of the NTT IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500, which will take place in August for the first time ever because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.