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Dale Jr. Excited To Join INDYCAR iRacing Challenge Field

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iRacing/Graham Rahal Twitter

PITTSBURGH, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is looking forward to mixing it up with this Saturday’s INDYCAR iRacing Challenge Series field at virtual Michigan International Speedway.

Earnhardt Jr. is one of five drivers who are participating in the series for the first time. Joining Earnhardt Jr and the rest of the INDYCAR field for the event are Marco Andretti (Andretti Herta with Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian), Max Chilton (Carlin Racing), James Davison (INDYCAR Provisional) and 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport).

“I had such a great time when I went to the Indy 500 last year, and I have so much respect for the guys that are in the field and the guys that we’ll be practicing with and racing with this weekend,” said Earnhardt Jr.  “I’ve got a few friends in the series but certainly want to know the other guys and get to know the rest of them really well, so this is such a great opportunity for me to do that. I think the fans are really going to appreciate getting the opportunity to see them on the racetrack, on the virtual racetrack throughout this break, to get to know them even more. I love it.”.

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin won Round 2 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge on Saturday, April 4, the Virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park. He edged Team Penske teammate Will Power by .4241 of a second.

“I’m really excited to be running the No. 2 Snap-on Tools car in this weekend’s INDYCAR iRacing Challenge race in Michigan and am proud to be representing this iconic brand on the racetrack,” said McLaughlin.  “And I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to get my first crack at an oval in an Indy car – and to get to race against Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. at the same time”.

Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing won the inaugural round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge on Saturday, March 28, the American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International. Karam beat NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist to the checkered flag by 3.6174 seconds.

Three Rivers Karting

“Looking forward to Week 3 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge,” said Rosenqvist.  “I haven’t practiced that much yet, but I’ve had a look at the track. I think it’s always going to be very different when a lot of people run, especially because it’s an oval this time. Ovals probably require more respect from the drivers to not have any crashes.”

Crashes are exactly what Rosenqvist’s teammate Marcus Ericsson, driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda, told The Pittsburgh Racing Now Podcast he wants to avoid.

“I’ve been taken out in Lap 1 in the first two races without anything I could do differently, so that has been a bit frustrating,” said Ericsson.  “It’s very exciting to go on an oval for the first time in the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. I’m hoping the fans will love it and that we’ll have a great show.  I’m also hoping to bring the Chip Ganassi Huski Chocolate No. 8 car up to the front!”.

The pre-race activities will be highlighted by NBC’s “The Voice” contestant Beth Griffith-Manley singing the national anthem and NBC Sports host Mike Tirico giving the command to start engines.

The race will start at 2:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

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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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