Steinbrenner continues winning family legacy, but in different sport

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MONTEREY, California – There is something in the Steinbrenner family DNA that knows how to win.

From the late George Steinbrenner’s leadership of the New York Yankees that restored the franchise to World Series championships, through the current ownership of his sons Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, winning is expected.

On Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, there was another generation of the Steinbrenner family holding a trophy. It was 22-year-old George Michael Steinbrenner, IV.

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

He was holding the winning trophy for his NTT IndyCar Series team’s victory in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. His 19-year-old driver, Colton Herta, had just completed an impressive victory where he led 83 of the 90 laps in the race to complete a rookie season that included three poles and two wins.

There are more trophies in Steinbrenner’s future.

“Borg-Warner Trophy, Astor Cup (season championship) one of those, that would be nice,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com in Victory Lane, referring to the trophies that go to the Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion.

Even a family that thrives on success admitted the 2019 accomplishments exceeded expectations.

“No, I did not expect two wins this season,” Steinbrenner said. “It was a crazy season. A lot of ups. A lot of downs. We had speed all year and this race was the first one all year that was a complete race for the whole team.

“We had speed all year. This race was the first one that was a complete race for the whole team. Colton drove not only with the best of them, but he drove like a complete veteran. He took care of his tires. Stayed out in front and the crew kept us out in front of that pack behind us. At a place like this, if you leave the pit cycle in first, odds are you are going to go back in, in first.”

When Herta became the youngest winner in IndyCar history with his win on March 24 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in the INDYCAR Classic, it was actually Will Power that dominated that race. Once the caution flag came out and Power had yet to pit while every other driver had already made their final stop, he was shuffled to mid-pack.

Herta benefited that day, but was brilliant in keeping his Honda-powered car up front and across the checkered flag, just 10 days before his 19thbirthday.

This weekend was different.

He won his third pole and drove away from the field. In the end, he held off three of the best drivers of this era including 2014 IndyCar Series champion Will Power by 0.5878, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon by 6.240 and 2016 IndyCar Series champion and this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud by 6.3545.

“He drove a veteran race today,” Steinbrenner said. “It was best drive of his career so far. To have that and the last race of the year at a place like this that means a lot to his family is a big deal.”

It’s also a big deal to the Steinbrenner family, as his father Hank and uncle Hal are guiding the Yankees into the American League Playoffs in Major League Baseball.

“Next up is the World Series. That would be nice. We could get another trophy.”

This wasn’t an easy season, however, for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. In fact, the team was lucky to make it to the end of the season after having sponsorship difficulties leave the team without expected funding.

“It’s been a roller-coaster, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of curveballs,” Steinbrenner said. “Overall, three pole positions and two wins. We might not have gotten rookie of the year, but I wouldn’t trade our season for anything.

“Ending on a note like this on a drive like that, the car performing the way it did and the crew and driver performing the way we did, it’s the perfect way to go into the offseason.”

On Saturday, it was officially announced that Harding Steinbrenner Racing will join Andretti Autosport as a fifth entry. That will put the team on solid ground, creating an even stronger foundation and a chance to challenge for more victories and a championship.

Herta represents INDYCAR’s future in terms of driving talent. Steinbrenner’s success represents INDYCAR’s future in terms of developing and creating new team owners.

At the end of the race as Steinbrenner stood in the back of a room, championship team owner Roger Penske walked in after his driver, Josef Newgarden, had delivered the 16thIndyCar championship of team Penske’s career. Penske warmly greeted young Steinbrenner and was reminded of the connection between the two families.

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

The Steinbrenner Family, dating back to George Steinbrenner, attended the prestigious Culver Military Academy in Northern Indiana. Hank Steinbrenner was born in Culver, Indiana and young Steinbrenner is part of the deep connection of CMA, although he never attended the Academy as a cadet.

Roger Penske also was a cadet at Culver Military Academy as a youngster and learned the discipline and organization that has made him successful in auto racing and as a business and industrial leader.

“Well, George Steinbrenner wasfrom Cleveland where I’m from, so we have that in common, and I knew George Sr.,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “And to have a Steinbrenner in motorsports is terrific.

“It’s like Ganassi, it’s like Andretti, all these people, Rahal, on and on and on. To see what they’ve put together, a small team, and the quality and the capability of Colton Herta is amazing. You could see him today, he ran a perfect race, stops were good, we were right next to him.

“So, I think they’ve got great momentum, and you’re going to hear a lot about them in the future, and I think we need more owners and ones who understand how to win and want to win.”

Penske is part of IndyCar’s history. Steinbrenner is laying claim to IndyCar’s future.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter @BruceMartin_500

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.