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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.

IndyCar

INDYCAR Season Preview: Scott Dixon Chasing History; Stacked ‘Rookie’ Class; Highly Competitive Field

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Photo: Karl Zemlin

BIRMINGHAM, AL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The green flag drops on the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park and the season is full of storylines race fans are going to want to watch and follow until the checkered flag falls at Long Beach in September.

PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, the reigning and six-time Series Champion, is seeking a record-tying seventh title in 2021. A seventh title would tie INDYCAR legend AJ Foyt for the most Championships in the history of the sport. Foyt won the last of his championships in 1979, which means his mark has stood unmatched for 42 years.

Dixon started 2020 with three-straight wins to propel him to his sixth title.  Speaking of wins, Dixon sits third on the all-time wins list with 50-career wins.  Mario Andretti is 2nd all-time with 52-wins so Dixon could pass Mario this season.  Foyt is first with 67-career wins so ‘Super Tex’s’ win record is safe, for now.

“Building on 2020, we had a pretty good start,” team owner Chip Ganassi told Pittsburgh Racing Now about Dixon’s start in 2020. “With his fast start of the season, it was a fast start for our team. If we can do that in ’21 I’ll be stunned. Fingers crossed.”

In addition to Dixon, CGR has Marcus Ericsson returning in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda.  Alex Palou joins the team in 2021 taking over the No. 10 Honda and a rookie is going to splitting time with Tony Kanaan in the No. 48 Honda.

The 2021 INDYCAR rookie class is deep, talented and loaded with all kinds of experience.  Joining the series in 2021 are seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, who is driving the road and street course schedule for Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing; three-time Australian Super Cars Champion Scott McLaughlin, who is driving the full schedule for Team Penske with sponsorship from Pittsburgh-headquartered PPG Paints; Long time Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean is competing for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing.

“This might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing that we see something like this,” said INDYCAR President Jay Frye. “We’re really excited. The good thing about these three is they’re great people on and off the track. They’ve taken this very seriously. It’s going to be amazing to watch their progress over the course of the year. Really excited to have them.”

“Any team owner would want Jimmie Johnson on his team,” said Ganassi. “He’s a damn hard worker. He set the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in and my hats off to him. He’s always on the simulator, on the computer, on the phone making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team.  The guy doesn’t slow down.”

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES isn’t slowing down either as Team Penske returns with a 4-car lineup featuring former Series Champions Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud along with the rookie McLaughlin.

Andretti Autosport returns with a 4-car full-time lineup led by former Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The pair will be joined by Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe, who returns to full-time competition in 2021. Marco Andretti will run a fifth entry in the Indy 500.

Three Rivers Karting

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will field two full-time cars for two-time 500 winner Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal.  RLL will field a third car in the 500 with Santino Ferrucci behind the wheel.

Arrow McLaren SP is on a mission in 2021 to join the ‘Big 3’ (Ganassi, Penske, Andretti) as one of the teams to beat week in and week out.  Pato O’Ward returns for his second season with team and starts on the pole position Sunday.  O’Ward will be joined at AMSP by former CGR driver Felix Rosenqvist.  AMSP will field a third car in the 500 for two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s 10th season of competition finds Conor Daly running the road and street courses and team owner Ed Carpenter in the cockpit for the oval events.  Rinus VeeKay remains the team’s full-time driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet. The trio will again make up ECR’s three-car lineup in the Indianapolis 500.

Four-time Champion Sebastien Bourdais leads AJ Foyt Racing into 2021 as the affable Frenchman returns to full-time INDYCAR competition in 2021.  Joining Bourdais all season long will be second-year driver Dalton Kellett, who made eight starts in 2020.  Veteran Charlie Kimball will be joining the team for the GMR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan will field a car for Ed Jones, who returns to INDYCAR full time in 2021. In addition to Grosjean, DCR with RWR will field an additional entry in selected events in 2021.  Cody Ware participated in the recent Indy 500 open test for the team.

Meyer Shank Racing begins its second full-time season with Jack Harvey behind the wheel of the teams full-season entry. Helio Castroneves will be competing in six events including the Indy 500, an event that Castroneves has won three-times.

The schedule is packed with action as the global pandemic has moved a couple of events from their traditional dates to new dates.  The season starts with six races in seven weeks.

“I get particularly excited about the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule,” said Mark Miles, Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO. “I think it’s a really, really potent start that will get our fans refocused on the INDYCAR SERIES. Can’t wait to be in Alabama at Barber this weekend, but we go from there in consecutive weekends, as everybody knows, to St. Pete. That’s going to be really terrific to be back there, to the Texas Motor Speedway. We have a weekend off, and then we’re at May. We know what May brings. We’ve got the two races and the time trials in between, and all the exciting practice, Fast Friday, Carb Day, all the exciting things in between.”

One addition to the schedule is the inaugural Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee.

“I hear every day from fans who want to know how they get their tickets for Nashville,” said Miles. “The anticipation there is fantastic. We think it’s going to be a great event, a terrific addition to the series.”

The green flag drops on the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBC.  The race can be heard on the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Pato O’Ward Wins INDYCAR Pole Position At Barber Motorsports Park

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Photo: Chris Owens

BIRMINGHAM, AL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward is on the pole position for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opening race after knockout-style qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park.

O’Ward’s fast lap of ?105.8479-seconds (125.744 mph) was .0698-seconds faster than the No. 27 NAPA Honda of Alexander Rossi who will start second.

“The times you saw today, you don’t see that anywhere else in the world,” said O’Ward of the tight qualifying times. “I was really happy with the car.  It was behaving well.  You really have to hustle this car to get the speed out of it. We’ve got a good car.”

“I think our best starting spot in year’s past was eighth so a big step up and we have a shot at it tomorrow,” said Rossi.

The newest member of Chip Ganassi Racing, Alex Palou, will line up third in the No. 10 SegiTV Honda after a fast lap of 1:06:0538 (125.611 mph).

“Qualifying was super close as INDYCAR is, it’s amazing to be honest,” said Palou. “The competition here is crazy. We have a good race car so hopefully we can bring back some trophies.”

Team Penske’s Will Power starts fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet.  Power’s best lap was 1:06:1186 (125.230).

PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon begins his quest for a seventh Championship from the fifth starting spot in the No. 9 Grow Up Great Honda after a quick lap of 1:06:3976 (124.703).

Three Rivers Karting

Dixon’s CGR teammate Marcus Ericsson rounds out the fast six with a fast lap of 1:06:4102 (124.680) in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda.

Driver’s failing to advance to the fast six included former Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean, who will start seventh in his series debut.

Grosjean is one of three, highly-touted rookies who have diverse racing backgrounds.

The second rookie, three-time Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLaughlin will start in there 12th position after failing to make it out of the second round.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson set a goal of not qualifying last in his first attempt in an INDYCAR.  Johnson accomplished that goal and will start 21st in the No. 48 Carvana American Legion Honda.  Carvana Racing caught up with the rookie-of-the-year contender.

Two veterans who experienced issues and went off track will start deep in the field.  Felix Rosenqvist will start 22nd and James Hinchcliffe will start 24th.

Track action for The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama starts at 11:30 a.m. (ET) Sunday with a 30-minute warm-up session (live on Peacock) followed by the race beginning at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Barber INDYCAR Starting Lineup

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Josef Newgarden Leads Day 2 Of Indy 500 Testing

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Photo: James Black

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Sunny skies and better weather conditions contributed to higher speeds in Day 2 of open testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for next month’s 105th running of The Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden topped the speed chart with a fast lap of 226.819 mph in the No. 2 Chevrolet. That easily eclipsed the 224.427 top speed from the rain-hampered first day on Thursday that was set by Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.

“It was a pretty good day,” said Newgarden. “I was happy enough with the car. I think we still need some work, for sure, but to just get an initial read on where we’re at is good. Obviously, there are a lot of new parts and differences to the last couple of years, so we’re just trying to assess what we need to really work on these last couple of weeks before we get back here in May. But I’m pretty happy.”

Two-time and reigning Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was second on the speed chart at 226.369 in the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Two-time 500 winner and 1999 CART Champion Juan Pablo Montoya was third quickest at 226.123 in the No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

“Today was good,” said Montoya. “We worked through a lot of things. We found a lot of good things and a lot of bad things like you always do.  It was nice to get back a little bit in the draft. A lot to catch up again and learn and understand again what you need to do and the timing.  Everybody at Arrow McLaren SP has done a great job and this test has been very, very, useful.”

Three Rivers Karting

6-time and defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was fourth fastest in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda with a fast lap of 225.906.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal rounded out the top five with a fast lap of 225.644 in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

The 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is scheduled for Sunday, May 30 at IMS.

The green flag drops on the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES with the season opening, Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on Sunday, April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network will provide live coverage starting at 3 p.m. (ET).

INDYCAR Practice 3

INDYCAR ROP 2

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