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Neil Elliott tops the Monster Jam Power Rankings as lead shrinks

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Neil Elliott climbed into No. 1 spot with his Max-D monster truck three weeks ago and has not relinquished it yet. Meanwhile two of his hottest rivals each gained more than 10 points last week and moved up in the rankings.

Despite maintaining the lead both in the Power Rankings and in the Stadium Series Green, Elliott had a troublesome week. He was knocked out of the racing bracket in the first round, opening the opportunity for Morgan Kane (Grave Digger) and Ryan Anderson (Son-Uva Digger) to make up points with only four events remaining.

Kane won the overall with 39 points to Elliott’s 27 partly as the result of winning the skills challenge. It was his first skills challenge win of the year and could not have come at a more fortuitous time. Kane’s overall win is his fourth of the season and it helped him climb to sixth in the Power Rankings.

With a second-place finish in the racing competition to Jimmy Creten (Bounty Hunter) and a win in the freestyle competition, Anderson banked 38 points and climbed two spots in the rankings to fourth. The Jacksonville event will be shown Sunday, March 8 at 2 p.m. ET; (click here for streaming). Fans can watch the drama play out.

Todd LeDuc held onto the second position in the rankings with the Stadium Series Red taking the week off. This series will resume activity at Las Vegas on March 21.

Charlie Pauken won the overall in Arlington to climb into the Monster Jam Power Rankings. Feld Entertainment Inc.

Colton Eichelberger (Max-D) slipped one spot in the rankings, but not because he had a bad week. With pair of event wins that included multiple victories in monster truck racing, ATV racing, donuts, the speedster obstacle course and freestyle, he was a quintuple threat in the Triple Threat Series Central. He was overtaken by Anderson with his near-perfect showing in Stadium Series Green.

Rounding out the top five was Brandon Vinson (Grave Digger). Winning two of three overall events, he showed consistency and strength. Vinson won two of three ATV racing competitions and one on speedster obstacle course. With seven events remaining, he holds a 61-point advantage over Tristan England (EarthShaker).

Charlie Pauken (Grave Digger) displaced Coty Saucier in the 10th spot. Pauken finished second in the Stadium Series Yellow racing competition, but Pauken took the overall win on the back of a skills competition win.

Power Rankings

1. Neil Elliott–same
2. Todd LeDuc–same
3. Ryan Anderson–up 2
4. Colton Eichelberger–down 1
5. Brandon Vinson–up 1
6. Morgan Kane–up 2
7. Tom Meents–same
8. Tyler Menninga–down 4
9. Camden Murphy–same
10. Charlie Pauken-new

Upcoming TV Schedule (All showings on Eastern time on NBCSN)

Jacksonville: March 8 (Sunday); 2 p.m.
Detroit: March 21 (Saturday); 11 p.m.
Las Vegas: March 28 (Saturday); 7 p.m.
Santa Clara: April 11 (Saturday); 7 p.m.
Philadelphia: April 17 (Friday); 2:30 p.m.
Denver: April 25 (Saturday); 6:30 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals Racing: May 9 (Saturday); 5 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals: May 19 (Tuesday); 4 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals Freestyle: May 20 (Wednesday); 12 a.m.
Monster Jam World Finals: June 20 (Saturday); 2:30 p.m.

‘His Mona Lisa’: Roger Penske adds his golden touch to iconic Indy

AP Photo/Jenna Fryer

INDIANAPOLIS — The purists can relax: Roger Penske did not remove troughs from the men’s bathrooms at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He replaced them, of course, with the shiniest, sleekest basins on the urinal market, thus preserving one of the speedway’s treasured if unusual features while still insisting every inch of the facility be brought up to Penske code. It’s been six months since Penske completed his purchase of the 111-year-old national landmark, a fixer-upper that he already has lavished with some $15 million worth of improvements.

“It’s like you just bought a Ferrari,” said Penske, “but it was rained on.”

Penske gave The Associated Press a two-hour tour of the speedway this week, showing off with dizzying detail the new landscaping, paved lots, planted trees, picnic tables, widened pedestrian paths, hand dryers in every bathroom, improved sight lines, pressure-washed buildings, freshly painted signs and LED monitors everywhere.

There is not a lone pièce de résistance; Penske is equally proud of every change, including a 104-by-20-foot video board on the Pagoda, a lift in the winner’s circle to raise the winning car and, of course. those old-school troughs.

Two days before the speedway opened for a historic NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader race weekend, the 83-year-old Penske was pushing a car onto the lift as he quadruple-checked its functionality. He went through another dry run of the lift, ensuring it lined up perfectly for postrace celebrations and alerting an employee to some manufacturer stickers he wanted removed lest the public seem anything short of Penske perfect.

“This is his life’s work,” said Chip Ganassi, a longtime rival car owner. “The way he talks about the place, the energy in his voice over every element. This is his Mona Lisa.”

A car drives past the 16th Street entrance to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has been refurbished by Roger Penske over the past six months (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).

Penske, for the record, is a billionaire transportation titan with a record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.

He has powerhouse teams in both NASCAR and IndyCar, but the latter is now even more of a beloved project. When Tony George approached him last September to inform him the Hulman family was looking to sell the famous speedway, Penske pounced on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The deal was finalized in six weeks and he got the keys – he literally has a set of keys that opens doors inside the speedway – the first week of January. He quickly was climbing through the grandstands in a freezing Indiana rain as he personally inspected his sprawling new property, one of the most famous sports venues in history.

Penske is meticulous and every element of his operations reflects an immaculate and organized culture. When “The Captain” talks about sprucing up the speedway, he often references Augusta National, home of the Masters and a gold standard among golf tournaments in terms of resources, presentation and hospitality.

It is Penske’s expectation that fans will view Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the same level of admiration, awe and respect that Augusta receives.

“It’s my job. I’m not looking for a gold star or a blue ribbon, I just want to be sure the guests, the fans that come, ultimately when they can come, will have the experience that I hope they will,” Penske said. “I want to take Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the next level.”

He envisions three IndyCar races a season, a return of Formula One, a crown jewel sports car race and an improved NASCAR weekend that potentially could see the Cup Series shift to the road course and away from the 2.5-mile oval.

The updated rear facade of the Pagoda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).

The platform above the new Pagoda video board is wide enough to fit 18 Indy cars – or a musical act for a concert in the plaza. The monitor itself could be used for a movie night, and Penske said eventually IndyCar races in other cities will be aired on the screen for watch parties.

He knows off the top of his head that 25,000 linear square feet of fencing – almost two laps around the oval – has been erected on the grounds. Penske said 4,000 cans of paint and counting have been used and can point out areas that have been updated. He marvels at the 400,000 square feet of asphalt that has been paved, particularly in lots once notorious for being muddy messes.

He can spot the new trees on the property and notes that 3 acres of sod were put down. Penske marveled at the immaculate grounds of the Brickyard Crossing golf course on the property, so he put the groundskeeper in charge of the entire place.

They temporarily closed the Crossing so energy could be focused on the rest of the grounds in time for this weekend’s race. Ganassi said as he flew into Indy, the green grass was what most struck him from his aerial view.

The place looks brand new and yet the work won’t stop any time soon.

Penske hopes to host 175,000 fans – half of capacity – for the rescheduled Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23, and he wants them to be wowed. There will be no fans this weekend, and even race teams are highly restricted on where they can go.

Mark Miles, the day-to-day head of the speedway, recalled that Penske executive Tim Cindric said “the place looks 25 years younger,” which Miles said is an understatement.

“It’s not just fresher and younger. There are areas that are just better,” Miles said. “The scale of the improvements, the comprehensiveness of the improvements, is remarkable. But the one thing that is really going to blow people away is the new big board on the back of the Pagoda. The mayor’s office downtown can hear the audio system on that. We’re looking forward to being able to show these things off.”

A new sign at Indianapolis Motor Speedway greets visitors as they enter the north entrance (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).