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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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Scott Dixon looking to get season and title fight on track at Mid-Ohio

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Penske Entertainment

LEXINGTON, OH (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is looking to get back to victory lane and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Complex could be exactly what ‘the Iceman’ needs.

Chip Ganassi Racing has 11-wins at Mid-Ohio, the 13-turn 2.258-mile permanent road course 181-miles West of Pittsburgh.  The list of winners includes Alex Zanardi (1996, 1997), Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Dario Franchitti (2010), Charlie Kimball (2013) and Dixon (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2019).

“I think the last to first of course was probably the best one,” recalled Dixon. “Obviously the most unexpected one where I think where we were able to save a ton of fuel. We kind of caught a caution, which I think was Ryan Hunter-Reay, at the perfect time and went on to win”.

The 1-2 finish between he and one of his CGR teammates was one of the most memorable too.

“I think that probably was the craziest one was with Felix Rosenqvist, a few years back, where it was a two-stop strategy against a three-stop strategy. We drove the tires off, and I think I had a whole logjam behind me the last three or four laps.”

Three Rivers Karting

Dixon and the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda team is looking up at a logjam in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship where Dixon sits sixth, 67-points behind teammate Marcus Ericsson.

“I think as a group and as a team, we just haven’t been getting the job done,” said Dixon, a 6-time Series Champion. “I was hoping that the Indy 500 was going to be that turn and kick that we needed, but yeah, it’s been an interesting year, lots of ups and downs and some missed opportunities. We’ll keep after it.”

Dixon, and his teammates, have come up as part of rumors swirling about driver movement in coming seasons.  Dixon said he has not been part of those conversations and is happy where he is at.

“I haven’t been a part of any of these conversations, so not really sure where a lot of these things come from,” said Dixon.  “Obviously people talk. I even got a few messages from people asking about the same thing. For me I love doing what I’m doing, I love being a part of the team that I’m with, and who knows what comes in the future, but as of right now just focusing on this season. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say really. There’s nothing to it.”

Dixon and the rest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES competitors hit the track for 1st practice Friday at 3:30 p.m.  Tickets are available at www.midohio.com.

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Josef Newgarden puts the PPG colors in victory lane at Road America

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Penske Entertainment: Chris Owens

ELKHART LAKE, WI (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Josef Newgarden leapfrogged leader Alexander Rossi during green flag pit stops and held off a hard-charging Marcus Ericsson late in the race to win Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America.

The victory was Newgarden’s third of the year and came with a $1-million dollar bonus from PeopleReady.  The bonus went to the first driver to win on an oval (Texas) a street course (Long Beach) and a road course (Road America).  The money will be spit with half going to Newgarden and Team Penske and the other half to charities of Newgarden’s choice.

“To finally get it done and most importantly to give that money to charity, half of that money is going to charity with SeriousFun Network and Wags and Walks Nashville,” said Newgarden. “I hope they’re happy about it, that’s a lot of money coming their way.”

Newgarden started second and tucked in behind Rossi, the pole sitter, for the first 14-laps when the first round of green flag pit stops took place.  Newgarden’s No. 2 PPG Chevy crew got the two-time Series Champion out ahead of Rossi and as the rest of the field completed their stops.  Newgarden inherited the lead.

“You’ve got to be on your toes at all times (in this series),” said Newgarden. “You can go in with a plan, but you probably have to change your plan 90 percent of the time once the race starts to unfold.”

Three Rivers Karting

Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson finished second in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda after passing Rossi on a late restart.  The runner-up finish came despite Ericsson making contact with his teammate, and defending Series Champion, Alex Palou while racing for third in Turn 5 on Lap 4.

“First of all, I’m really sorry,” Ericsson said. “You never want to have contact with a teammate. From my point of view, the door was open, and I was already side by side. If you see a gap, you go for it. It’s important at the beginning of the race to get track position.”

Ericsson regained the points lead with the second place finish and sits 27-points ahead of 2nd place Will Power (293-266).  Power, last week’s winner at Detroit, finished 19th after rookie Devlin Defrancesco punted Power into the Turn 5 wall early in the race.

The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race is The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by the All-New Civic Type R on Sunday, July 3 (noon ET, NBC, Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Radio Network).  Mid-Ohio is the closest track to Pittsburgh that the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races.

INDYCAR Road America Results

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Racing Notebook: Rossi on INDYCAR pole; Larson on Cup pole; Busch wins Truck Race

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Sunday’s Racing Notebook has details on the starting lineups for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at Road America and the NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma as well as Kyle Busch winning another truck series race>

Rossi on INDYCAR Series Pole:

  • Andretti Autosports Alexander Rossi earned his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole position in three years by beating Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in knockout-style qualifying for Sunday’s race at Road America.  Rossi’s fast lap of 1 minute, 44.8656 seconds edged Newgarden’s 1:44.9371 in the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet. Defending series champion Alex Palou, who led the final warmup session on Saturday afternoon, qualified third at 1:45.3822 in the No. 10 American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Teammate and 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson joins Palou in the second row after his best lap of 1:45.4240 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Road America INDYCAR Lineup
Three Rivers Karting

Larson Leads Hendrick Cup Series Front Row:

  • Hendrick Motorsports Kyle Larson is on the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma.  Larson’s fast lap of 92.111 mph (1m70.776s) edged teammate Chase Elliott’s 92.083 mph in the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet.  Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s Chris Buescher qualified third at 91.919 mph after missing last week’s race due to Covid-19. Michael McDowell starts fourth after posting a fast lap of 91.916. Sonoma Cup Lineup

Kyle Busch Wins Truck Series Race:

  • Kyle Busch held off Zane Smith to earn his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of the year Saturday at Sonoma.  The win extended his record career total to 62 series victories and a streak of 10 consecutive years with at least one series win.  Busch led 45 of the 75 laps in the victory.  Wexford’s Kris Wright finished 26th in the No. 44 FNB Chevrolet after starting 30th in his first race at Sonoma. Sonoma Truck Results
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