Matt Fraver, IndyCar

Schmidt Peterson earn Top-10 finishes with Hinchcliffe, Ericsson

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Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports placed both drivers in the top 10 during Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but while it was a confidence booster for one driver, it was a disappointment for the other.

If the box scores from practice were to be trusted, James Hinchcliffe should have charged to the lead in the opening laps at Barber Motorsports Park and stayed there to challenge for the win.

His best lap in Friday’s first practice was less than a tenth off leader Felix Rosenqvist’s pace. Then, Hinchcliffe got increasingly faster with chart-topping laps in Practice 2 and in Saturday’s Practice 3.

A small mistake cost Hinchcliffe a shot at the pole, allowing the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing duo of Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal to leap frog him with Scott Dixon in tow. Hinchcliffe qualified fourth.

The first sign that he was losing some of his dominance came in Sunday morning warmup, when he posted the 14th-fastest lap.

Hinchliffe was able to take the lead a couple of times during pit stop sequences, but overall, the effort that landed him sixth at the finish was underwhelming in light of his practice speed.

“Obviously, with the pace we had all weekend, sixth is a bit of a disappointment, for sure,” he said after the race. “The Arrow car had a solid podium going there until that [Lap 58 caution] caught us off guard. We were all over (Scott) Dixon’s gearbox in that third stint. We were quite a bit quicker, just couldn’t get past. We were looking to make a move during that cycle, but that restart just threw us for a loop.

“We had a little bit too much understeer in the car in that last stint. We had a good long-run car, but we weren’t the quickest getting up to speed. I don’t think our out laps were great, and the first lap or so on the restart, we weren’t awesome. Certainly, a bit disappointed. I feel like we left a couple of positions out there today. It is what it is. The pace was good all weekend, and if we keep doing that, eventually our day will come.”

Hinchcliffe has started this season with two sixth-place finishes sandwiching a 16th-place result at Austin. Last season, he finished fourth (St. Petersburg), sixth (Phoenix) and ninth (Long Beach) in his first three races.

Finishing one position behind Hinchcliffe, teammate Marcus Ericsson could be much more pleased with his seventh-place result, however. Ericsson was the biggest gainer of the race, advancing 13 positions from his 20th-place spot on the grid.

Leaving Formula One at the end of last season after a 5-year run (best finish: eighth in the 2015 Australian Grand Prix), Ericsson expected to perform much better in IndyCar.

He ran well at St. Petersburg before a engine cooling issue forced him to retire a little past the halfway mark in 20th. The IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas did not go much better: He completed the race, but trouble in the pits relegated him to 15th at the end.

“I think, like St. Pete and COTA, we’ve shown how strong we are in the races,” Ericsson said Sunday. “Going from an obviously disappointing qualifying starting from P20 going all the way up to P7, I think that shows the potential we have and the whole package that we’ve got. So, I’m really, really happy with my race; we got the strategy perfect again like we have done the last couple of times, as well.

“It was really nice to finally get the result as well. We should’ve been in the top five at COTA without that penalty, and also in St. Pete, we were in for a top-eight finish. It’s so nice to finally bring it home and not get that bad luck to cause our problems like the last two rounds.”

But while Ericsson closed the deal, this also marked the first time in 2019 that the top-finishing rookie failed to crack the top five. Felix Rosenqvist was fourth at St Petersburg, with Colton Herta winning at COTA.

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Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘THEY’VE STUCK BEHIND ME’: Kyle Larson comments on future, Outlaws plans

“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.