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Racing Notebook – Friday, February 7

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PITTSBURGH, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The second big race weekend of 2020 is here as the ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) cars hit the track at Daytona International Speedway for practice with all eyes on Hailie Deegan.  Arrow McLaren SP unveils their cars for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series. Max Chilton is returning to the NTT IndyCar Series.  Aaron Reutzel captures the checkered flag at Thursday’s DIRTcar Nationals.  The RUSH Late Model Series adds a track for 2020 and tons of sponsor news including Tony Stewart Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Rudolph Motorsports.

ARCA Cars Hit Track For Two Practice Sessions:

  • The ARCA Series took to the high-banks of Daytona International Speedway on Friday in preparation for Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire.  Plenty of eyes in the racing world will be on 18-year-old Hailie Deegan, who is moving up to ARCA after driving Late Models.  Deegan was the fastest in the first practice, turning a fast lap of 49.027-seconds (183.572 MPH) in the DGR Crosley Ford Mustang.  In the Twitter posting below she talks about drafting at Daytona:

Arrow McLaren SP Unveils 2020 IndyCar Livery:

  • Arrow McLaren SP unveiled their cars for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series and drivers Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew and used their social media platforms to do it:

Max Chilton And Gallagher Returning To Carlin Racing:

  • Carlin Racing announced the return of driver Max Chilton and sponsor Gallagher to the Chevy-powered NTT IndyCar Series team.  Chilton will be in the cockpit of the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet for the 12 road and street course events in 2020 as well as the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.  Gallagher is a leading global insurance brokerage, risk management and consulting services firm.

Aaron Reutzel Grabs All Star Circuit of Champions Win Thursday Night In Florida:

  • Aaron Reutzel took home the checkered flag in Thursday nights All-Star Circuit of Champions DIRTcar Nationals win at Volusia Speedway Park.  The victory was Reutzel’s 26th of his career and first-ever at Volusia. Defending World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Brad Sweet finished second followed by Ian Madsen, Donny Schatz and James McFadden.
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Tony Stewart Racing And Advance Auto Parts Expand Partnership:

  • Tony Stewart and Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) are pleased to announce that Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket parts provider that serves both professional installers and do-it-yourself customers, will continue its role within TSR in 2020 boosting its position to a primary sponsor. Advance and its family of brands, including Advance Professional, Carquest and TechNet Professional Automotive Service, will be primary partners for TSR during the new year and will be carried by 10-time World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Champion Donny Schatz, and Tony Stewart Racing team-owner, Tony Stewart.

Air Force Returns To Sponsor Bubba Wallace And Richard Petty Motorsports:

  • Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) and the United States Air Force will once again join forces for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) season. For the 12th consecutive season, the U.S. Air Force Recruiting Service, charged with the mission to inspire, engage and recruit future Airmen, will continue the partnership with the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. in the NASCAR Cup Series. The No. 43 Chevy will again display the iconic teeth of the A-10 Warthog for the second consecutive year. The special U.S. Air Force “Warthog” scheme debuted at the Daytona International Speedway in 2019, and was an instant favorite among fans.

RUSH Late Models Adds Bradford Speedway to 2020 Schedule:

  • The RUSH Lates Model announced that Bradford Speedway is returning to the schedule for 2020:

Rudolph Motorsports Brew House Racing Continues Partnership:

  • Rudolph Motorsports Brew House Racing has announced that Around Back Restaurant is returning as a partner for the 2020 season.  Around Back Restaurant joins Pittsburgh Board and Brush and the Gibsonia Giant Eagle who are also partnering with the team.  Chris Rudolph took to his social media accounts to announce the good news:

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Josef Newgarden tops first INDYCAR practice as Laguna Seca

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Penske Entertainment: James Black

MONTEREY, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is starting INDYCAR Championship weekend off on the right pedal by leading the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice session on Friday.

Newgarden’s No. 2 Hitachi Chevy turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 11.4103 seconds (112.824 mph) around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course circuit with Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta second-quickest at 1:11:8266 (112.170) in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.

“Yeah, just a tricky session,” noted Newgarden. “There was a lot of people going off, there was a lot of dirt on the track, so it was quite difficult to put it together. So not a very straightforward session. But I think very productive in a lot of ways. It’s not a lot of running, and you’re trying to make the most use of just a couple runs, and I felt like we did that, so I was happy about that.”

Championship-leader Will Power was 7th quickest, 1:11:9858 (111.922) in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy.  Power leads Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon by 20-points heading into Sunday’s season finale.

“Tough track, man,” said Power. “Very low grip. You get one lap on tires, and they’re gone. It’s hard to get a read because the car changes so much over a run.”

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Championship contender Marcus Ericsson was tenth fastest in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 1:12:0803 (111.775) and trails Power by ??-points in the title fight.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be a high-deg (tire degradation) race, and it seems to be that way,” said Ericsson. “Usually our team and myself from my experience, we’re usually pretty good at that. Yeah, the tires seemed to degrade quite quickly here. It was the same in the test and the same today in practice.”

Last weekend’s winner Scott McLaughlin was next in line with a 1:12:0877 (111.764). McLaughlin has an outside shot at the title as he sits ??-points behind Power.

Dixon, the six-time series Champion, was 17th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at 1:12:3911 (111.295) despite a team test at the track a few weeks ago.

“It’s going to be a pretty high-deg  race, man,” said Dixon, who can tie INDYCAR Legend A.J. Foyt for all-time Championships with a seventh.

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Determined drive by Scott Dixon in Portland earns podium and shot at 7th Championship

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Penske Entertainment: James Black

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is in the fight for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship after a third place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Dixon entered the race in third-place in the Championship fight, 14-points behind Team Penske’s Will Power and 11-points behind Power’s teammate Josef Newgarden.  Dixon leaves Portland tied with Newgarden but Power finished ahead of both and now sits 20-points ahead going into the season finale on Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

“Yeah, you know, still in it,” said Dixon. “That’s all that we can hope for.”

Dixon started the race from the 16th position after failing to advance out of the first round of knockout-style qualifying on Saturday.  Qualifying has been a bit of an ‘Achilles heel’ for the No. 9 this season.

“We’ve got to work on qualifying and stop making it so difficult on us,” reflected Dixon, who gained more positions (+13) than anyone in the field from the start to finish of the race. “The car was fantastic in Q1 on the box. Didn’t expect too much of a change and thought we would have converted easy and didn’t even make it. We have to stop doing these most improved days, for sure. It’s not that much fun.”

Dixon opened the race on the less-grippy Firestone primary tires while the majority of those starting ahead of him started on the stickier Firestone alternate tires and quickly moved up a couple of spots before being one of the first to come to pit road for his first pit stop on Lap 13.

Dixon’s No. 9 ‘Wolfpack’ crew swapped out the primary tires for the alternate tires, topped the PNC Bank Honda off with fuel and sent the six-time series Champion back out into the fight where he put his foot down and continued to gain positions as various strategies started playing out.

Dixon’s second to last pit-stop saw his crew put on used alternate Firestones, setting him up for new alternate tires for his final pit stop.  Dixon was chasing Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi for fifth place when CGR Managing Director and Dixon’s strategist Mike Hull called him to pit road for the last time.

“We had to use a lot of overtake early on, so that definitely changed things up, I think, for the strategy towards the final five there,” said Dixon. “Had a tricky moment with the 10 car coming in front of us in the pit, which kind of screwed us a bit as well, and lost a position that we should have got on Rossi, which was frustrating.”

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Dixon’s frustration was short-lived as the caution came out on Lap 84 when Rinus VeeKay misjudged a pass on Dixon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson, pinching the No. 48 Carvana Honda into the wall ending Johnson’s day.

The 4-lap caution period set-up a restart with Scott McLaughlin leading Power, Pato O’Ward, Newgarden, Rossi and Dixon as the green flag dropped.  McLaughlin got a great start and Power settled in behind his teammate when O’Ward made an ambitious move trying to pass Power in Turn 1. It didn’t work.

“Yeah, he sent it straight into me,” Power explained. “I left as much room as I could. Inside, inside, and I kept going further, and, bam, he hit me over the curve. I didn’t expect it from Pato, though. He is usually a pretty good racer, pretty smart racer. He was probably needing to win the race to have a shot at the championship, so he probably just went a little bit too far.”

Turn 1 usually produces some memorable highlights at Portland and this restart was no different as right behind the Power/O’Ward tussle, Newgarden and Rossi got together opening the door for Dixon, who didn’t hesitate to take advantage.

“I think when I saw Josef break I was, like, ‘Wow, I’m not sure if he is going to make the corner,'” said Dixon. “He did all that he could to make the corner, but put him at a weird angle, and that, obviously, offset him and Rossi because Rossi had a great run on him out of 12 into turn one. Then, got a great exit.”

Dixon turned hard left, avoided that calamity, and carried the momentum through the turn and set his sights on O’Ward, who was still gaining speed after hitting Power and made a reactionary move to Dixon’s passing attempt, which is a violation of INDYCAR rules.

“I got a run on Pato, and he put a pretty big block on, and a lap later IndyCar called that, and I was able to get past, which thankfully I think the front three, we pulled a ten-second gap on the next pack where we pulled away really quickly,” said Dixon. “It was a great restart. Something that definitely helped us on the points side, and we’ll take what we can.”

Dixon set his sights on Power and was able to get within a second of the No. 12 Chevy but wasn’t able to challenge for the second spot on the podium.

“We did as much as we could today,” said Dixon.  “All in all, I think the team did a great job today. Yeah, we’ll see. See what comes next week. I think it’s pretty cool that we don’t need any resets or any chase championships or anything like that. It always comes down to the wire in the INDYCAR Series.”

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Ganassi’s Alex Palou won’t repeat as INDYCAR Champion

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Chip Ganassi Racing

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou’s hopes of repeating as NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion is over after Palou was mathematically eliminated after his 12th-place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Palou stated the race in the fourth position on Firestone alternate red sidewall tires and ran in the Top 5 through the first stint of the race.  Palou however radioed the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants crew during the second stint that something was wrong with the rear of the car.  Palou was on the less-grippy, black sidewall Firestone tires.

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“Starting fourth, we were running okay in the beginning and then lost a bit of pace,” said Palou. “We’ll check on what went on today and recover next week in Laguna. We still have one race to go, and we will try to win it.”

Palou’s sits 66-points behind championship leader Will Power going into the season finale next Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Palou’s teammates Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson remain in the title fight with Dixon tied for second place, 20-points behind Power and Ericsson 39-points out of the top spot.

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