IndyCar’s carryover avoidable contact penalty draws mix of reactions from drivers, teams

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LONG BEACH, California – The night before the NTT IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway last month, Graham Rahal gave a prescient answer when asked, “Is there anyone you’re worried about (racing)?”

“And I said, ‘Devlin,’ ” Rahal told reporters before practice Friday at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. “I said one name. Because he’s crazy. You can just tell some people just have blinders, and they’re just super aggressive. Aggressive is fine in places, but aggressive is not OK at Texas.”

Aggression was the story of the Texas debut for Devlin DeFrancesco, who was involved in three separate incidents that sidelined five cars (including his own No. 29 Dallara-Honda.

LONG BEACH PRIMER: Info, schedules for watching on NBC

The Andretti Autosport rookie drew the wrath of IndyCar officials for the final crash on Lap 148 of 250 that also collected the Hondas of Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves after earlier incidents eliminated Kyle Kirkwood and Takuma Sato.

DeFrancesco, 22, was slapped with a six-position grid penalty, meaning he will start six spots lower in Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET, NBC) than where he qualifies (guaranteed to be last if he’s within the last three rows).

The “avoidable contact” penalty was an unusual move by IndyCar, which normally reserves such punishment for unauthorized engine changes and rarely punishes drivers for in-race actions after the checkered flag.

But with the crash damage incurring an estimated price tag in the seven figures, and without a means for retroactively penalizing DeFrancesco, IndyCar took action in a way that it had hinted was possible to the IndyCar paddock.

DeFrancesco, who already had apologized for his Texas mistake while vowing to use it for motivation, told the Associated Press on Friday that he had expected the penalty “and we’ll do our best to overcome it.”

The penalty drew a wide spectrum of emotions and reaction in IndyCar, angering Michael Andretti (DeFrancesco’s team owner told the Associated Press it was unwarranted and that he wanted DeFrancesco “to keep doing what he’s doing”), and pleasing Castroneves.

Rahal was ambivalent about the penalty and whether it’s a deterrent, but he stressed what he had told DeFrancesco after they climbed into the safety truck together at Texas – that his lack of experience on ovals must be respected.

“This isn’t Xfinity to Cup (in NASCAR) where it’s pretty much the same on an oval,” Rahal said. “An Indy Lights car to an Indy car at Texas is like a Cessna prop plane to a fighter jet. They’re so different. And that’s what I was trying to explain to him. You have to use your head because this can be used as a weapon if you don’t use it properly.

“A six-place grid penalty, fine, but it only cost us about a half-million dollars in damage. Let alone Helio or whatever. Let alone our safety. At the end of the day to me, what happens here doesn’t reflect on Texas. I just hope he genuinely pays attention because he punted Takuma, and all that was about was not lifting (off the accelerator).”

In an interview with NBC Sports, Castroneves, 46, said he had faced similar scrutiny but for different reasons.

“I had my fair share when I was young the same way, hitting people unnecessarily,” Castroneves told NBC Sports. “(DeFrancesco) didn’t do that on purpose. I did (in) Indy Lights, and I learned. So I feel maybe it’s the responsibility of the series to help and teach everyone. Not only the young ones but everyone. You’ve got to be responsible for the consequences of your actions.

“And I feel he understood. When I spoke to him, he knew he made a mistake. I said, ‘Look, if it would have been 10 laps to go, maybe that was the move that he was going for (the win) because you’re fighting for position. However when it’s 120 laps to go, maybe you should just be thinking about that.

“He will learn. It’s a good message from the series. When we put the helmets on, and I’m in the same boat, we forget about what (IndyCar officials) say.”

IndyCar began talking with drivers and teams about issuing postrace penalties after a similar incident in the Aug. 21, 2021 race at Gateway, where Rinus VeeKay crashed and took out the championship-contending Chip Ganassi Racing cars of Alex Palou and Scott Dixon.

The conversations continued during an offseason meeting in December at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and drivers were briefed that carryover grid penalties now were a possibility.

But Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly still was “blown away” by the penalty to DeFrancesco but said it was fair because “you’ve got to hold people responsible.

“I’ve know Devlin for a long time, and obviously he’s a good kid,” Daly said. “If you make mistakes like that, there has to be a penalty. Obviously it’s a very different system than NASCAR. In NASCAR, it’s encouraged. You can’t do it here. I hope it makes everyone think a little bit more. I certainly don’t want a grid penalty anywhere now because it’s hard to pass.

“I’m very curious to see if that would happen to a non-rookie. But if I do something stupid, I would expect to probably be penalized for that. That’s how it was in the junior categories and when I was racing in Europe. If you did dumb stuff, you probably are going to feel it.”

Both Kirkwood and Sato, whose crashes weren’t involved in the penalty decision, both said there were no hard feelings toward DeFrancesco

“Hopefully he learned from the lesson,” Sato said. “I know he’s a competitive driver, just a little calm down and respect each other, particularly on an oval.”

Rahal recalled being licensed to race the Indy 500 under the watchful eye of Indy 500 winners Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Jr., and he suggested such scrutiny was missing for today’s youth in IndyCar.

“It was pretty intense then, and nowadays, everyone is too friendly,” Rahal said. “Culturally it’s different. I think these guys come into the sport and don’t realize how fast it really is. If you don’t, then you’re never going to understand how bad it can be.”

Rahal said he was texted an apology by DeFrancesco, whose father, Andy, is also a friend and an entrepreneur who has helped fund his son’s career and is well-connected in the paddock.

“He’s a good kid, and I know his dad, Andy, and have known him a long time,” Rahal said. “He’s a good dude. I’m sure they’re paying attention, but these things are dangerous. If you’re not aware of that, it can be really bad. Unfortunately, the position I’m in life, too, with family and having lost friends in the sport, I don’t really have any tolerance for that anymore, for young guys who come in like that.

“We’ll see what (the penalty) does. I think there’s a lot of leniency right now for causing accidents. Or reckless driving. I don’t think (IndyCar stewards are) as aggressive as they once were. So it’s good to at least see that they did something. It’s tough now. It’s very late to the game. And super expensive.

“He has a leg up because his dad Andy has been fairly involved with a lot of people around here for a long time with sponsorship and advice. I have a good relationship with Andy, so I’m not going to go beat up his son. At the same time, doesn’t mean I’m more lenient on him. He can be here a long time. But he needs to learn. Because we’re going to Indy next, and that’s almost even worse.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.