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Racing Notebook – Wednesday, January 29

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway

PITTSBURGH, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – A busy week of news in the racing world. Today’s notebook features an Indy 500 winner and IndyCar Champion, plus NASCAR and their media partners are holding their annual “production days” so that means plenty of news out of the Concord, North Carolina hub.

2019 INDY 500 WINNER SIMON PAGENAUD UNVEILS 2020 INDY 500 TICKET

2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud (pictured above with Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles and Penske Entertainment President Mark Miles) unveiled the ticket for the 104th Indianapolis 500, which captures the former Series Champion enjoying the iconic bottle of milk enjoyed by 500 winners in victory lane.

“This moment of me drinking the bottle of milk is the moment I realized it happened,” said Pagenaud.  “It’s a sweet moment for me.  And I didn’t know it was the picture, so it’s pretty cool to see it now and realize that it transpired.  People saw it was a very, very, very special moment for me.”

The image, by Indianapolis Motor Speedway photographer Chris Owens, is printed on the 500 ticket.  The Indy 500 ticket, one of the most coveted keepsakes in sports, is printed on thick stock with spot-raised MVP coating and gold foil stamp.

The ticket unveiling also featured a special gift for Norman Pagenaud, Simon and wife Hailey’s beloved Jack Russel Terrier, who captured the hearts and imaginations of race fans worldwide when he barked and wagged his tail in delight in the winner’s circle after Simon’s win.

The gift was a special ticket featuring a shot of Norman barking in victory circle next to a celebrating Pagenaud.  The ticket was for a fictitious seat in “Terrier Terrace” at IMS, Section 20, Seat 20, Row K9.

DANIEL SUAREZ TO RUN FULL SEASON FOR GAUNT BROTHERS RACING

Gaunt Brothers Racing is gearing up to run the full 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season and they are putting 2016 Xfinity Series Champion Daniel Suarez behind the wheel of the No. 96 Toyota.

Sponsorship will come from Coca-Cola and CommScope, a leader in communication network technology, who has been with Suárez through its ARRIS and Ruckus Networks brands since 2014 when he first competed in the Xfinity Series.

“It’s great to be back with Toyota and back in the NASCAR Cup Series,” said the 28-year-old Suárez, who was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico and now calls Huntersville, North Carolina home. “My NASCAR career started off really well and Toyota was a very big part of that. To have them in my corner again gives me a lot of confidence. Gaunt Brothers Racing has something to prove and so do I. We’re committed to each other and we’re going to build each other up.”

“We’ve been working toward this moment since Gaunt Brothers Racing joined the Cup Series in 2017,” said Marty Gaunt, president, Gaunt Brothers Racing. “We’ve made steady improvement every year, but bringing Daniel on board allows us to take a giant leap forward.  We’re investing in each other.  He’s not content to just be here and neither are we. We’ve been very strategic in everything we’ve done, and between our partnership with Toyota and the resources now available to us, we can take that next step and deliver for Daniel and all of our partners.”

Three Rivers Karting

CITGO PETROLEUM TO SPONSOR JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK IN 2020

CITGO Petroleum is expanding their relationship with Front Row Motorsports by sponsoring Rookie-of-the-Year candidate John Hunter Nemecheck in 2020.

CITGO’s CITGUARD Heavy Duty Engine Oil will be the primary sponsor for JHN in his Daytona 500 debut in February. CITGARD will then return to the No. 38 Ford Mustang and Nemechek as the primary partner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July, Michigan International Speedway in August, Bristol Motor Speedway in September and the ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October.  The brand will also be featured as an Associate Sponsor throughout the season.

“CITGO Petroleum is an iconic brand in NASCAR,” said Nemechek.  “Growing up in NASCAR, everyone knows the colors of CITGO and the past two seasons the CITGARD brand has brought the company back into the sport with FRM.  It’s awesome to join their team and carry on their tradition and winning history.  I can’t wait to represent CITGARD in the Daytona 500. There is no better race to start this relationship.”

The No. 38 CITGARD Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang driven by John Hunter Nemechek

“Our customers are NASCAR fans and have showed their support since our return to NASCAR with Front Row Motorsports over the past two seasons,” said Brian Paulson, General Manager, Lubricants, CITGO Petroleum Corporation.  “We are expanding our relationship in 2020 and including the sport’s biggest day, the Daytona 500.  We will be there with John Hunter Nemechek, who is a proven winner in every series he’s competed in coming up to the Cup Series.  We’re looking forward to another successful season.”

CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY CELEBRATING 60TH SEASON IN 2020

Charlotte Motor Speedway is celebrating its 60th anniversary this season in grand style.

Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith and Greg Walter, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s executive vice president and general manager, unveiled an agglomeration of attractions for the upcoming season.

Highlights included:

  • · Elvis Presley’s iconic pink Cadillac at the April 2-5 Pennzoil AutoFair
  • · Every ticket to the May 16 NASCAR All-Star Race is a pit pass
  • · Chris Janson’s pre-race concert at the All-Star Race
  • · Chef Irvine’s exclusive Coca-Cola 600 suite menu
  • · Details on a Mission 600 visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

“When my dad (Bruton Smith) started to move dirt out here on what was a farm in 1959, I’m not sure he ever imagined it would be this big,” Smith said.  “He’s got a great vision for big things, but I think what’s happened (with Charlotte Motor Speedway) in the last six decades is just the start of what we’ll see going forward in the next 60 years.”

PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL RACE COMPLEX HIRING

The Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Wampum, PA is looking to fill several positions for the 2020 racing season.  Pitt Race is looking for help in the following areas:

  • Corner Marshals
  • Gate Attendants
  • Housekeeping
  • Karting
  • Maintenance
  • Retail
  • Fire/Rescue

Interested parties can apply in-person by stopping by the track office, Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or online at https://pittrace.com.  In-person interviews will begin the week of February 24th.

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou Wins NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

LONG BEACH, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – In just his first year with the team Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou is your 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion.

Palou’s 4th-place finish in Sunday’s season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach guaranteed the 24-year-old native of Spain his first INDYCAR Championship in his second season and the Ganassi team their 14th title since 1996.

“This team is amazing,” said Palou. “I’m super proud to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing, all our partners. I’m super proud to be a champion and for the opportunity these guys gave me. What a race, what a year, what a season.”

“People win Championships,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “The driver, the team, and especially the people behind the scenes, leaving the shop in the winter when it’s dark out and snowing, that don’t get the notoriety.”

Palou started the race in tenth position in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda.  Palou’s closest Championship rival, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, started the race in eighth position.  Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden started on the pole position with Palou’s CGR teammate Scott Dixon alongside in second place in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.

Newgarden took the lead in turn one with Dixon in tow as the field took the green flag.  The race wasn’t even 2-laps old when Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan’s Ed Jones made an ambitious attempt to pass James Hinchcliffe, but made contact with O’Ward with Palou right behind Jones!

Three Rivers Karting

O’Ward brought out the caution flag a short time later on lap 20 when the right rear driveshaft failed on the front stretch.

The caution flag shuffled the field as some cars went to pit road for service while other cars stayed out to gain track position, giving the lead to Helio Castroneves, who took a turn at the front of the field until he went to pit road on lap 34, giving the lead to Colton Herta.

Herta earned his turn at the front as he was making moves through the field throughout the race and following the last restart, it was Newgarden and Dixon giving chase.  Palou was behind Dixon in fourth doing what he needed to get the car to the checkered flag in one piece.

Herta pulled away in the end to a .5883-second victory, his ?? win of 2021.  Newgarden finished second to jump O’Ward for second in the Championship, 38-points behind Palou.

Dixon finished third followed by Palou in fourth. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud rounded out the Top 5.

Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Sebastian Bourdais, Takuma Sato and Will Power made up spots 6 through 10.

Honda claimed the Engine Manufacturer’s Championship for the fourth straight year.

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Josef Newgarden wins pole position for INDYCAR Acura Long Beach Grand Prix

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

LONG BEACH, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is on the pole position for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Newgarden’s fast lap of 1-minute, 8.2241-seconds around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit was .2181-seconds faster than Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon’s best lap in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.

The pole position and valuable Championship point is exactly what Newgarden needs to do to win his third series title.  Newgarden enters the race in third position in the standings, 48-points behind leader Alex Palou, and must win, lead the most laps and hope Palou finishes 25th or worse.

“It’s very improbable for us to win this championship,” Newgarden said. “So, our goal is to win the race tomorrow. Let’s finish our season on a high note, and we’ll see what happens. I think it’s pretty unlikely, but you never say never in this sport.”

The only other driver with a shot at the Championship is Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who will start eighth in the 28-car field.  O’Ward also needs to win and hope for Palou to finish 25th or worse.

Three Rivers Karting

“Our car has been good,” said O’Ward. “We didn’t roll off the best, but I think we made some really good changes, just kept improving. We had enough for the Fast 6.”

Palou will start 10th in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.  Palou and O’Ward were on flying laps when they were forced to slow for a local yellow for Will Power, costing both valuable lap time which eventually cost both the ability to advance to the final round of knockout-style qualifying.

“That yellow flag didn’t help us at all,” said Palou. “I think we were going to be easy through, but racing stuff, right?  I’m happy because the car’s good, a bit better than yesterday and this morning.”

“Kind of sucks to get hosed by a very odd call,” added O’Ward. “We should have been in the Fast 6.”

Palou must finish 12th or better – or 13th or better if he leads a lap – to clinch his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship and CGR’s 14th title since 1996!

Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network. A 30-minute warmup starts at noon (ET), live on Peacock Premium.

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Colton Herta goes back-to-back at Laguna Seca

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Joe Skibinski

MONTEREY, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta won Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey giving him back-to-back victories two decades after his father accomplished the same feat.  Herta beat Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou by 1.9747-seconds to pick up his second victory of 2021 and fifth of his career.

“Alex, really the whole race, was right there,” said Herta. “Then Grosjean at the end pressured Alex, therefore pressured me. To go two-for-two so far (at Laguna Seca) is great. We were fast all weekend, and I’m glad we could pull it off in the race.”

Palou continued his march towards his first series title with a second place after last week’s win at Portland, which gives Palou and the No. 10 NTT DATA team a 35-point lead ahead of second place Pato O’Ward.

“Unfortunately we didn’t have the pace that Colton had,” explained Palou. “I think in reds and blacks he had a bit more. As soon as I tried to catch him, which we tried, I would just cook my tires. Yeah, I couldn’t go as fast as him without losing my tires.”

Three Rivers Karting

Palou, O’Ward and two-time series champion Josef Newgarden are the only drivers eligible to win the Astor Challenge Cup at the season finale. Newgarden is third in the standings, 48 points back.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson were eliminated from contention at this race after finishing 13th and sixth, respectively.

“All weekend we didn’t have it,” O’Ward said. “I truly feel like we used every single ounce of energy and pace that this car had. We pulled off a near-miracle in qualifying to start in the first three rows. In the race, honestly, that was as much as I had.

“All we can do at Long Beach is win, and then let everything else fall. I’ve got faith in myself. I know I’m pretty handy around a street course, so let’s see what we can pull off next week.”

Herta’s victory clinched the Manufacturers Championship for the fourth consecutive season.

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