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INDYCAR Racing In The Streets This Weekend At Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

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Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

ST. PETERSBURG, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is racing in the streets this weekend for the 18th annual Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The 14-turn, 1.89-mile temporary street circuit that incorporates city streets and part of the Albert Whitted Airport to make up the picturesque course that is a fan (and media) favorite on the schedule.

Josef Newgarden is the defending race winner, taking home the victory when the Series finished their 2020 season on Florida’s Gulf Coast after rescheduling the race due to the global pandemic.

Chip Ganassi’s team enters the weekend with a ton of momentum following the season opening race at Barber Motorsports Park. Three of the four Ganassi entries finished in the top 10 and 2-out-of-3 finished on the podium

Alex Palou won the race in the No. 10 SegiTV Honda. The victory included a couple of firsts for Palou: His first INDYCAR Series win; His first win with CGR and he is the first Spaniard since Oriol Servia to win an INDYCAR car race since 2005.

“Tough to describe how it feels,” Palou said of that first victory. “You feel like all the work that you’ve done the past years, the past months, the past days, it feels amazing that you did a good job and the team did a good job.”

Scott Dixon finished third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda after staring fifth. Dixon has never won at St. Pete but has four runner-up finishes, the most recent coming in 2019.

“It’s just one of those things that hasn’t worked out,” said Dixon about that elusive victory. “This place owes me nothing.  It’s hard. It’s a difficult track. I’ve definitely had races here where we probably should’ve converted to a win and either made a mistake or we missed it on strategy. We’ll work hard, that’s the only way you’re going get to possibly get a win here, and keep knocking on that door.”

Marcus Ericsson finished eighth in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda but the finish was hardly indicative of his performance. Ericsson was running as high as fourth late in the race when he had to go into fuel conservation mode to make it to the end.

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The No. 8 team employed the same two-stop strategy as the No. 9 and No. 10 but was the first to come to pit road for the final stop. If a caution would have come out they would have been in the proverbial cat bird seat.

The ‘rookie’ on the team, seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, finished 19th in his first race in the series, 3-laps down after an early spin.

“This weekend again is going to be like starting all over,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “A tire I have not been on. A circuit I have not been on. Never been in a street race either, so there are so many new things. I really feel like I am starting all over again.”

What Johnson is trying to accomplish is nothing short of amazing, something that is not lost on his six-time Champion teammate.

“What Jimmie is trying to do, I couldn’t think of anything more difficult,” said Dixon. “With the limited track-time we get nowadays, you have one maybe two practice sessions and then into qualifying, it’s very difficult on rookies.“

Team Penske’s Will Power is also carrying momentum into St. Pete after finishing second to Palou at Barber. Power was thrilled to start the season with a strong finish.

“I was happy to have a good start to the year,” said Power. “Obviously a win is always great but compared to the way we started last year this is nice. It was a very calm day for me. I’m calm about the season. I’ve been around long enough to know how this ebbs and flows.”

One of the keys at St. Pete is keeping the car on the course. Another key is getting the car to work on multiple surfaces: pavement, concrete, runway, taxiway.

“Typically when you go back to a road course they stay pretty similar from year-to-year,” explained Dixon. “Here turn 9 and turn 10 has been resurfaced since last year, so there’s a different amount of grip and that could be for three or four or five turns through the circuit. Plus, how they build the walls. An apex one year could be in this place and now it’s in a different place. It definitely makes it interesting. The margin of error – you’re talking just inches before you’re slamming yourself into a wall.”

The race is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. with coverage starting a Noon on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Jimmie Johnson to run the full 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series Season for Chip Ganassi

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Jimmie Johnson is adding the full 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule to his racing activities for the upcoming year.

Johnson competed in 12-road and street course events for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 and finished the season by testing on the ovals at Texas Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The 2021 experience and oval tests only served to ignite Johnson’s passion to compete in ‘The Greatest Spectacle In Racing’.

“I’m really excited about this next chapter of my career,” said Johnson. “The safety of these cars has come so far, and after I tested the ovals at Texas and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I realized this was a challenge I wanted to undertake.”

Online automobile retailer Carvana returns to sponsor Johnson and will be on the No. 48 Honda for the Indianapolis 500 and every race except Iowa, where associate sponsor the American Legion will be featured.

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“I can’t wait to be part of the Indianapolis 500, it’s a childhood dream come true,” said Johnson. “Last season was so incredible for me and I made a lot of progress, so I know I can be competitive on tracks that I have experience on.”

Team owner Chip Ganassi is equally fired-up to see Johnson get back behind the wheel of one of his race cars.

“I am looking forward to seeing Jimmie get back on the track after having a year under his belt,” said Ganassi. “With all the experience he has on ovals from his NASCAR career and adding it to his 2021 experience in an Indy car, we think the IndyCar ovals will play right into his strength. I can’t wait for the 2022 season to begin.”

An announcement on the role of Tony Kanaan, who drove the No. 48 Honda in the oval races in 2021, is expected after the Holidays.

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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!

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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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