INDYCAR: what drivers said after Mid-Ohio

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Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s 13th race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule – the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio:

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – WINNER: “I think it was, honestly, with about 15 to go, I started moaning to the team. ‘I’m like, man, I think we’re going to have to pit again.’ A lot of it, I think, was just bad choices from my front. I think after the race, Chip (Ganassi, team owner) said that he had decided that we should have gone to blacks (Firestone primary tires). And I said, ‘Well, how did you and the team — how did we not go to blacks?’ But I said, ‘It looks like the reds (Firestone alternate tires) are holding on pretty well,’ but we made adjustments to the first set of sticker reds and had quite a bit of understeer. We made those changes for the used second set that already had four laps on it from qualifying and they just couldn’t take it. It was too aggressive. Luckily, I used them early to try and get past some of those (lapped) traffic cars that did help us later on, I think, at least (to) delay Felix (Rosenqvist, teammate) getting to us. But ultimately, had we gone to the black tires, we would have maintained our eight- or ten-second gap, but it definitely made it exciting for me and I’m sure everybody else. And huge respect for Felix. He drove clean, and ultimately, I don’t know, it was going to be hard for any car to come past, even though we were about three seconds slower a lap than anyone else.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 Clover Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished second: (About if he had mixed emotions after almost winning the race): “Yes and no. I think we have to keep the perspective. Had our first podium today and also a one-two finish for Chip Ganassi Racing. Obviously tough when I think we really had the right strategy and the pace to win the race. With those five (lapped) cars in front of us it was going to be difficult, and I was really frustrated on the radio. Barry (Wanser), my strategist, tried to really keep me calm and (we) tried to pick off (the lapped cars) one by one, so I used a lot of push-to-pass to get through (Max) Chilton and Marco (Andretti) and whoever was in front of me. I think it’s a bit of a shame because maybe at times we were missing out on a good battle when you had to race cars that were fighting for P24. But anyways, that’s what it is. I really want to credit Chip (Ganassi, team owner) for letting us race. The last lap, I think everyone really enjoyed that. We were enjoying it. We were banging wheels in Turn 2 there, (it) was a bit exciting. But Scott (Dixon) is always going to fight you hard, but fair, and I think I did the same, and maybe one more lap we could have got him. But yeah, it was awesome.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished third: “We were really pushing hard there at the end, and to see how quickly we were closing on (Scott) Dixon and (Felix) Rosenqvist I thought they were in traffic and I thought, man, this could go anybody’s way. I’m not really sure what Josef (Newgarden) was thinking there doing that. He tried to go around the outside and the line through that corner is that you do a diamond and you come back to the apex so he had to expect I was coming back at some point, and then just shoved his nose in there. I don’t know, with the championship like that, (as the points) leader, (it) totally baffled me. I’m just glad it didn’t cut down our right rear tire after fighting like that all day. We started 10th. Amazing strategy from this No. 28 DHL Honda team. Obviously, we’ve had a string of pretty poor results lately, and it’s just a matter of execution. We stumbled at Iowa. We really gambled when it went cold at night. We thought it was going to be more of an understeering race, and we put all our money down on the table and we lost it all in the first hand. That’s how sometimes this sport goes. But we were close today. We were closing in on these guys. Obviously, congrats to Ganassi. They ran a great race, good strategy, and we were closing on them, but just came up a little bit too short so if we keep knocking on the door like that we’ll win plenty. It was nice to just get back on form where we should be.

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished fourth: “It was a tough race, honestly. It was difficult to predict the tire strategy. The red (Firestone alternate) tires were way better when the track temps came up, and unfortunately we used them at the beginning so it just didn’t play into our strategy. It was a pretty frustrating end for Team Penske, really frustrating to see Josef (Newgarden) in the tires at the end. So, overall, not a great team day, but it was a solid finish for the Verizon Chevy. We’ll take it and move on.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – finished fifth: “It was a difficult day overall for us. We didn’t seem to have the pace on either tire (Firestone alternate red and Firestone primary black tires). The team did a good job, kept me focused and we stayed with it and got a top five. We know we have to get points and, fortunately, luck was on our side today. The NAPA Andretti Honda team has done a great job all year. We’ve had pace – we’ve always been there. We just need some more race wins and, hopefully, we can get that after the two-week break. We just need to refocus and hit ’em hard at Pocono.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished sixth: “It was pretty difficult for us to keep up the pace at the end because our car started getting very loose, but overall it was a good race and I thought we got the best finish we could with the Menards Chevrolet. We committed to a three-stop strategy and we got caught behind traffic after pretty much every pit sequence, so that cost us quite a bit. It’s unfortunate because I think that strategy could’ve worked well. The good news is we picked up some points and we’re definitely still in the hunt for the championship.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Autogeek Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet) – finished seventh: “Coming home seventh is not a bad result. It was an interesting race, but it was also tough. I would have liked to have started higher up this afternoon, but to pass the cars we did and have that pace it was really encouraging. The car was great and everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing did a great job with both the strategy and the pit stops. A lot of positives to take away from this one. It was a lot of fun, pretty much 90 laps all out. We were trying to leapfrog people in the pits and pass them in the pits. It was entertaining for me. I hope it was for the fans as well.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) – finished eighth: “The Honda (Indy) 200 was an unfortunate race for me today. I know the No. 88 Capstone Honda car was capable of getting on the podium today, so it’s disappointing that we finished ninth. We had excellent pit stops and the boys worked so hard this weekend, but we should still feel good about a top-10 finish. Looking forward to getting back on track at Pocono Raceway in a few weeks.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda) – finished ninth: “On the start, there was contact ahead and then the seas parted so we got a few spots then. Our strategy was right, I think, but we just couldn’t hang on to the tires and got caught out in lapped traffic there in the end. The car didn’t feel great, which was frustrating. It wasn’t the result we wanted, of course, but it was a top-10 finish and we’ll take it. We creeped to within 10 points of Takuma (Sato), but lost a little ground to (Ryan) Hunter-Reay but we’ll be back on them in a couple of weeks’ time in Pocono and hopefully have a good race. The crowd was phenomenal here, absolutely phenomenal. There’s nothing like being at home. We had a pretty ugly weekend on the track, but the fans made my weekend and I want to thank them.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation SiriusXM Honda) – finished 10th: “It was a well-deserved top-10 finish. We ran between P8 and P12 all weekend, so we ended the race in that same realm. There is a bit of disappointment because we have been performing so well, so our expectations are rising. We all want to do a great job for AutoNation and SiriusXM and especially at Michael’s (Shank, team owner) home track. We know we can do better and while I was pushing hard – I made a mistake which let Graham (Rahal) get by. Overall, it was a very successful weekend for the Meyer Shank Racing crew.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 14th: “I just forced the issue. I was trying to get on the podium there. I got into the side of (Ryan Hunter-Reay), looped it around and lost power. It was my fault trying to force the issue. I wish I could’ve kept the engine running. That was the big thing. We had a great car today with PPG on board. Chevy did a wonderful job. I wish we could’ve done more there at the end. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 19th: “The start was a difficult situation to predict. There was an accordion effect with cars, and when I saw it I had a good, clear gap in front of me. Looking at the replay, Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) had to slow down because he ran wide and it looks like Marcus (Ericsson) just cut inside and that angle was difficult for me to avoid and unfortunately we touched together, which gave me a left front (tire) puncture. And then, I got wide for the very next corner and picked stones up in the next corner, and then we came back to the pit to change the tire. And our pace was actually faster than the leader so that was very encouraging but unfortunately, the fuel rig was damaged by stones so every time we tried to fuel we only got about 90 percent of the fuel. We tried to make it a two-stop race, but obviously the fuel wasn’t full each time so we couldn’t make it. We were hoping for a yellow, but we had to make a late stop for a splash of fuel. It was a tough race.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 22nd: “We got hit on Lap 1, which put us two laps down with a bent car. Obviously, not ideal with no yellows. We didn’t get a chance to get our laps back, which is unfortunate because we had fastest lap of the race, so the No. 5 Arrow car was quick but didn’t get a chance to show it today.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 23rd: “Obviously, a short and disappointing afternoon for us ending our day pretty much in the first corner of the race. I was side-by-side with (teammate) James (Hinchcliffe) when I got hit really hard by (Takuma) Sato, and that made me bounce into James and obviously damaged both of our cars. That ended our day from there. Very disappointing, especially since we had a good qualifying yesterday and a good warmup session where we knew we had a really strong race car. I think we could have had a good race, but it was not our day. Really just disappointed for the whole Arrow SPM team, but we will bounce back.”

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NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

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The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

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Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

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When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

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Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

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