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Racing Notebook – Thursday, January 30

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12 May, 2011, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA John Andretti ©2011, Michael L. Levitt LAT Photo USA

PITTSBURGH, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The racing world loses a versatile driver, plus a little over a week before “Speedweeks” begins in Daytona and news keeps coming out of the NASCAR world and an IndyCar and Indy 500 Champion announces his plans for 2020.

JOHN ANDRETTI LOSES BATTLE WITH COLON CANCER

John Andretti, a winning driver in IndyCar, IMSA, NASCAR and the NHRA passed away today after a three year battle with colon caner.  He was 56-years-old.

Andretti scored wins in IMSA’s 1989 Rolex 24 At Daytona, the 1991 Gold Coast IndyCar Grand Prix at Surfers Paradise, in NASCAR at the 1997 Pepsi 400 at Daytona and the 1999 Goody’s Body Pain 500 at Martinsville.

In 1993, Andretti reached the Semi-finals in his first NHRA National event at the FRAM Southern Nationals at Atlanta, beating Top Fuel Champion Joe Amato in Round 1, Tommy Johnson Jr. in Round 2 but lost to Mike Dunn in the semi-finals.  Andretti clocked a career-best speed of 299 mph during that weekend.

Andretti was also the first driver to attempt the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 doubleheader in 1994.  Andretti finished 10th at Indy for A.J. Foyt Racing and finished 36th at Charlotte Motor Speedway for car owner Billy Hagan.

Andretti was the son of Aldo Andretti, Mario’s twin brother,  a cousin to Michael and Jeff, uncle and Godfather to Marco, and brother to Mark, Adam and MaryJo Andretti-Dial.

Condolences to his wife Nancy, children Jarrett, Olivia and Amelia and the entire Andretti family.

TONY KANAAN ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR 2020

2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2004 IndyCar Champion Tony Kanaan is closing out his primary IndyCar driving career by driving five oval races for A.J. Foyt Racing.  Check out our story: Tony Kanaan Announces 2020 Will Be His Final IndyCar Season.

A.J. ALLMENDINGER TO DRIVE 8 XFINITY RACES IN 2020

A.J. Allmendinger is gearing up for more races in 2020.  Allmendinger will run 8-Xfinity Series races for Kaulig Racing.

Allmendinger drove in five races in 2019 for Kaulig, scoring a win at The ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a third-place finish at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Complex.

“I’m looking forward to returning to the Kaulig Racing organization” Allmendinger said in a statement.  “I had so much fun working with everyone on the team last season and being teammate with Justin (Haley) and Ross (Chastain).  Hopefully, I can help the team in any way possible so that we ca build on the success we had last year and go for more wins.”

Allmendinger’s eight races include the season opener at Daytona (February 15), Talladega (April 25), Mid-Ohio (May 30), Indianapolis (July 4), Road America (August 8), Watkins Glen (August 15), Daytona (August 28), and the ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway (October 10).

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KOCH INDUSTRIES TO SPONSOR RYAN NEWMAN IN DAYTONA 500

Koch Industries, one of America’s largest private companies, will be sponsoring Ryan Newman’s No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford Mustang at Speedweeks.

Koch Industries owns companies involved in refining, biofuels, chemicals, consumer products and more.

“We are looking forward to teaming up with Koch Industries and having them on the car for one of the most celebrated races of the season,” Newman said in a press release.  “Winning the 500 is one of the biggest accomplishments of my racing career.  We have really fast superspeedway cars at Roush Fenway and we’d like nothing better than to kick off our season by driving the Koch Industries Ford into victory lane at Daytona.”

Koch Industries joins Oscar Mayer, Castrol and Wyndham Rewards as sponsors of Newman’s No. 6 Ford in 2020.

HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS NAMES SPONSORS FOR BOWMAN’S NO. 88

Hendrick Motorsports is using several sponsors on the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by Alex Bowman in 2020.

Valvoline will be the primary sponsor on the No. 88 for the Busch Clash and Daytona 500 as well as two other races in 2020. Additional primary sponsorship comes from Axalta Coating Systems (3 races), Cincinnati (2 races) and Lamar (3 races).

The remainder of the races will be filled out by the website ChevyGoods.com.  The website will promote Adam’s Polishes, NOCO and Truck Hero products when it launches in February.  Bowman’s Chevy will carry the website and will rotate the three brands on the hood.

Bowman picked up his first career NASCAR Cup Series win last season at Chicagoland Speedway in addition to making the NASCAR Playoffs for the second year in-a-row.

NASCAR TWEAKS STAGE LENGTHS

NASCAR is changing the length of stages for 16-Cup Series races, basically shortening the final stage and adjusting the second stage to go beyond the half-way point of a race.

Here are the changes to superspeedway races:

  • Daytona 500 stages will be 65-laps/65/70 (last stage in 2019 was 80-laps).
  • Talladega stages will be 60/60/68 (last stage in 2019 was 78-laps).

Here are the changes to intermediate tracks:

  • Atlanta’s stages will be 105/105/115 (2019 final stage was 155-laps).
  • Texas Motor Speedway’s stages will be 105/105/124 (2019 final stage was 164-laps).
  • Darlington Raceway’s stages will be 115/115/137 (2019 final stage was 167-laps).

Tracks that are a mile or less in length will see these changes:

  • Phoenix Raceway’s stages will be 75/115/122 (final stage in 2019 was 162-laps).
  • New Hampshire will feature stages lengths of 75/110/116 (2019 final stage was 151-laps).
  • Dover’s stage lengths will be 75/162/163 (final stage in 2019 was 160-laps).
  • Richmond Raceway’s stages will be 80/155/165 (2019 final stage was 200-laps).

Pocono Raceway’s doubleheader stage lengths will be different in each race.  Saturday’s race will feature stage lengths of 25/52/53 laps and Sunday’s race will feature stage lengths of 30/55/55.  Sunday’s race is 10-laps longer than Saturday’s race.

Stage lengths have yet to be determined for the road course events at Sonoma and Watkins Glen as well as the ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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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.”

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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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