INDYCAR: What drivers said after Laguna Seca

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Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s 17th and final race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule – the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca:

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) – WINNER: “Yeah, it was a perfect race. Whenever you win an INDYCAR race, it has to be a perfect race. You can’t really make mistakes and get away with it, just because there’s always two or three other guys on that day that can win. For sure there was a few guys that could win today, and we just outdid them. We had the pace on them, and we were definitely the best today, so we definitely deserved to win.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished second: “It was very impressive. Yeah, I mean he (Colton Herta) does a great job. I was hoping he would make a little mistake, but no mistakes. Man, I was giving it everything I got. I think we had a slightly quicker car, but he hung on. Yeah, he’s going to be tough when he gets a bit of experience.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished third: “The car was by far better on the red Firestone tires than the black primaries. There was a ton of tire degradation and it kind of threw us for a loop. Great result for PNC Bank, great for Honda winning the manufacturer title and great for Felix for the Rookie title. It was a hard-fought battle with Simon at the end and hope it was a good show as we haven’t been back at Laguna Seca for some time.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished fourth: “Overall I thought it was an amazing race. I thought we gave a great show for the fans, and it was a great crowd out here today, and there’s nothing to be disappointed about. I tried as hard as I could all weekend. You saw me drive with my heart. I won Indianapolis this year. There’s nothing to be disappointed about. We finished second. That’s the second time we’re second in the championship. We won the championship in ’16. I think the numbers talk for themselves. Do I want to win the championship? Of course. But I’m just equally happy for Josef and the whole team, to wrap up the Indy 500 and the championship in one year is just absolutely incredible. I had a blast. I had a blast today. It was disappointing not to get Dixon because I really thought I had a shot for the win and Herta. But it is what it is. I tried everything I had and it didn’t work out.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished fifth/won Rookie of the Year: “Today was exciting with Colton starting P1 and us in 14th for the Rookie battle. He led almost every lap. We managed to pass a ton of cars and executed perfectly. Well-deserved for all the NTT DATA guys on a season-long effort. I think I used a lot of anger from yesterday to move forward. It was a great way to finish the season and I can’t wait until next year with this team.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – finished sixth: “It is the way it goes. We started on the used Firestones. We knew ultimately the guys were Scott (Dixon) and Colton (Herta) because we knew we needed to win the race. We went opposite of them on tire choice on the grid. It was a gamble. We made the decision this morning if we were going to go for it, we would rather finish third than second and be complacent. It is the way the chips fell. Nonetheless, I think the (No.) 27 NAPA Andretti Honda had some highlights this year. Ultimately, we just weren’t good enough. We need to regroup and work hard this offseason.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) – finished seventh: “It was a wonderful way to finish the season for the No. 18 SealMaster Honda team. It was a heck of a race for us. We started 19th and about lap 11 I got in a groove. The car was clearly good and we started to show our pace. Then we gained a lot of positions on the overcut (pitting later) and we did that pretty much the whole race. The yellow also really benefited us. It regrouped everyone and at the end, we were on new red tires (Firestone alternative tire). It was a really positive note to end the season, going from 19th to seventh in a straight-up fight. We’ll definitely take that and move into 2020 looking for more success.” 

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished eighth/won series championship: “I’m just happy it’s done with, to be honest with you. I’ve been dreading the last couple weeks because I don’t think it really hits you until you get finally to Laguna or after Portland I should say, two weeks to go, because then you really realize the points situation. It’s just such a stressful deal with double points. I hated it. I hated thinking about it, and I know we didn’t build up enough of a gap to make it super easy on ourselves, and I was just kind of dreading it, to be honest with you. Just didn’t know what was going to happen today, and I just wanted to make sure we secured the championship because I felt like our guys deserved it. Everyone works really hard in this paddock. It doesn’t matter which team or what driver you are. I think everyone works really hard. I’m pretty intimate with my guys and know how hard they work personally, and I just wanted them to be rewarded with the championship. That was weighing on me a lot. I was just happy we were able to get through today. It was kind of a chaotic event. There were moments where I didn’t think it was going to go our way. We kind of set a strategy and stuck to it, and I don’t know that it was working out part way through, but then you saw towards the end, the way things were positioned, it ended up being okay, which made me really pleased. But I think we were trying to cover our bases as a team. The most important thing was for a Team Penske car to win the championship, and that’s the way we devised our strategy, and you hope it works out in your favor, but ultimately what’s important is the team winning the championship, and that was our plan. Just really proud of everybody. I’m just so thankful to have the opportunity, and I’m just happy it’s over with, to be honest with you. I can’t wait to go into this offseason. I think it’s going to be a nice little rest before next year.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 10th: “We had a good start and picked up a spot. On our first stop, we had an issue where the car stalled. Not sure what the reason  yet – looks like a timing issue with selecting first gear or potentially a boost issue. We fell to last and had to pass 12 cars to make it up to where we finished in 10th. We had a fun day out there and I passed a lot of cars. But it made it more work than it needed to be. We picked up a position in points but then tied with Colton (Herta).”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) – finished 12th: “Today was a tough day. I thought at times that we had decent pace and at other times we really struggled with the rear of the car. We’re just missing a little something. We’ve been close this year but not quite there. I’m proud of our mechanics and all of the guys for keeping their heads down and continuing to work hard. It wasn’t the easiest of years but everyone stayed positive and fought until the end. We’re thankful for all of our partners and looking forward to 2020.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 13th: “I felt like I drove a technically perfect race today. I was aggressive off the start and really good around Turn 2. Unfortunately we got sandwiched in (Turn) three, which gave me some damage and I got swamped a little bit. Once the race settled down three or four laps in, I did the best overtake of my life in Turn 5 around the outside of Daly, then we were on good pace and toward the end of the stint, I was able to get Rahal. Unfortunately I think that we pitted too early because then Rahal ended up getting back past us on the stops, which should’ve never happened. After that I was behind too many people and it took all race to get past them. We had one minor issue in the pits as well where we had to wait to come out that cost us some time. I think those things combined cost us a top-10 finish. The good thing is that we showed solid pace all weekend and we can be proud of that heading into next season.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda) – finished 14th: “We just didn’t get all of the fuel in on the first stop. We had to drive a defensive race with an arm tied behind our back the whole time. The potential was so much greater. The U.S. Concrete car was hooked up. We had a monster start. We did everything we needed to do. We just didn’t get all of the fuel in on that first stop and that set the day.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 15th: “A huge credit to the Carlin guys – they’ve worked so hard all year. Unfortunately we weren’t able to give them a couple of top-10 finishes to close out the season, which are the results that they deserve with all of the effort they put in week in and week out. It was a hard race. The tires degraded as we expected. I think not everyone knew what tire to be on between the Firestone alternate and primary tires, which created some really good racing. The guys did a great job in pit lane and I’m proud to be able to bring it home in 15th after starting 20th , especially with some of the on-track battles I had. I’m just really proud of the (No.) 23 crew. Everyone at Carlin works so hard from management to engineering to business ops and especially the mechanics.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 16th: “It was an okay race for us. I think we were actually pretty competitive in the beginning. We struggled with the race pace all weekend long, so I think by the end of the day we should have been a couple tenths quicker a lap to be able to be more competitive, but we did what we could do. Looking forward to what’s next. I want to thank ABC Supply for all the years that they helped this team. We have a long off-season now, so we have a lot of time to work on the things that we think are going to have to be better. We’ll be back next year, reset and start again.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 17th: “Overall a difficult race today, I thought we had a better pace. We made some changes after qualifying and I feel like we didn’t go in the right direction today. Our tire degradation was pretty high with both types of tires. Still, it was a fun race, I think we were in the mix back there, not where we wanted to be but still in the mix and not so far off the pace. I felt that towards the end of the year we gained some pace with the car and the car setup overall. We’re still far away from where we want to be but we’re going to keep working hard and hopefully we will be back next year.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) – finished 18th: “We were a bit of a pinball out there today. We made a mistake on our side, had the car way too low with the fuel load. We really struggled the first five to six laps of a stint because the bottoming was so bad. The team did an awesome job to combat that with tire pressures and other things. We figured it out after our first stop and were on our way moving forward and got up to 14th, running right behind Marco (Andretti), then was just under fire from Spencer Pigot. He just cooked it a little too hard in the corner and punted both of us off of Turn 2. That was frustrating. We lost a few spots in that incident then when I got to the Corkscrew, I got hit again and pushed off the track and lost another three spots. It was a bad lap but we did the best we could with what we had. I can’t thank Gainbridge enough for everything this year. My entire crew and Mark Bryant and everything he has done to help me for these last four races. It has been such a good end of the year for us as far as getting things done.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda) – finished 19th: “It’s a bit obvious to say that this weekend is not how we wanted to end our year. We’ve been on such a good momentum swing and there’s really only two places where we have lacked pace. I’m just sad that we tested so well here and we weren’t able to replicate that during the race weekend. Overall we’ve learned a lot as a team this year and we’ve come a long way as a team and I’m excited for what’s to come.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet) – finished 20th: “It was not a very strong race for us. I am disappointed to end the season on this kind of note. There were some positives throughout the year that we can look back on, but also some areas we need to work on. I want to thank everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing for always trying their best and making the most of every situation! We’ll work to be better next time.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 ABeam Honda) – finished 21st: “I think the season was great. It was a little bit up and down, of course but we achieved a couple of pole positions, a couple of podiums and two wins and I think it was a great season. I can’t thank everyone enough for their support. We had some difficult circumstances but the team was fully behind me and I was able to push all the way through the season.  In the race, we had some issues and a mechanical failure in the end. It is a shame that we couldn’t finish high and try to get fifth in the championship. In the end we dropped significantly in the standings. The No. 30 car ran beautifully this season with Graham and I pushing each other all season. We will come back even stronger next season and I’m really looking forward to that. Thank you to everyone for their support.”

CONOR DALY (No. 25 U.S. Air Force Honda) – finished 22nd: “After sort of getting shoved off the track at the beginning, I think we had a pretty good car. Our car conserved tires really well and treated our tires nicely to be able to make some moves back forward. I misjudged trying to go around Marco (Andretti). I thought he was giving me the position then I got in the marbles too much in the brake zone. That was my fault. It’s a shame, that’s on me. After that, I was just driving around. It was great to represent U.S. Air Force this weekend. We had a few difficult times but just tried to the best we could.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet) – finished 23rd: “It was a frustrating weekend and even though we didn’t quite have the pace, we worked hard during the race. Obviously the restarts are quite eventful, when it goes green you are allowed to pass and it seems a lot of people didn’t realize that going into Turn 11. I made up a few places, then again into Turn 2 I was making up some more. We were on the outside of the track when another car just drove straight into us. Unfortunately, it damaged the car and we had to retire from the race.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda) – finished 24th: “We were having a good race but then on the restart I forgot to put the brake bias back to the rear, and going into Turn 1 I locked the fronts. I knew I was going to hit (Takuma) Sato, so I just tried to hit him square to do the minimal amount of damage, but sadly I ended up with most of it. I’m sorry to him and his team for messing up their race. It was my mistake. Looking back, I feel pretty good about our season as a whole. I feel it went exceptionally well. It’s just unfortunate because I think today is the only mistake I made all year. It’s not the way I wanted to end the season but overall we’ve had a great year and I think we can be proud of that.”

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NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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