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Indy 500 Racing Notebook: Bob Jenkins honored; Mario wins again; Milo Ventimiglia honorary starter; Danica driving and more!

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Photo: Karl Zemlin

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The Indianapolis 500 racing notebook is loaded with news including longtime broadcaster Bob Jenkins being honored at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Mario Andretti winning again; Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ricky Davis honored; Simon Pagenaud goes to the dogs; ‘This Is Us’ star Milo Ventimiglia waving the green flag and Danica Patrick getting back behind the wheel.

Bob Jenkins wins Robin Miller Award:

  • Veteran broadcaster Bob Jenkins is this year’s winner of the Robin Miller Award, presented annually to a member of the media for their dedication to INDYCAR racing and the Indianapolis 500.  Jenkins is not working the month of May at the Speedway as he is being treated for brain cancer.  Jenkins has done play-by-play for both INDYCAR and NASCAR in addition to decades of radio and television work.  The award is about “honoring an unheralded individual who has dedicated a significant portion of their life to IndyCar racing while bringing unbridled passion and unrelenting work ethic to enrich the sport.”

Mario Andretti and Robin Miller honored:

  • 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti and journalist Robin Miller each received the Bob Russo Founders Award at Indianapolis on Friday.  The award is presented to the individual that demonstrated tireless efforts and dedication to auto racing.  Andretti received the award for 2020 and Miller received the award for 2021.

Ganassi’s Ricky Davis wins Clint Brawner Award:

  • Longtime Chip Ganassi Racing Crew Chief Ricky Davis is this year’s winner of the Clint Brawner Award.  The award is presented every year to the Indianapolis 500 Chief Mechanic who “exemplifies the mechanical and scientific creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, dedication, enthusiasm and expertise” of Brawner, a self-taught mechanical genius.  Davis has been with CGR for 26-years, winning with drivers Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and, more recently, Alex Palou and Felix Rosenqvist.
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Pagenaud partners with Julius K-9 and K-9 Comfort Dogs:

  • 2019 Indianapolis 500 Simon Pagenaud and his partner Julius K-9 presented a $5,000 check to Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs, an organization who provides Comfort Dogs for those affected by tragedies. LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs were in New York and New Jersey visiting victims of Superstorm Sandy, and in Connecticut after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lutheran Church Charities currently has over 130 LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs serving in more than 27 states.  For more information visit, www.comfortdogs.com.

Milo Ventimiglia named honorary starter:

  • Milo Ventimiglia, one of the stars of NBC’s “This Is Us” will serve as the honorary starter for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.  Ventimiglia will be waving the green flag and sending the field of 33-drivers into turn one for ‘The Greatest Spectacle In Racing’. Ventimiglia starred in the 2019 adaptation of the best-selling novel “The Art of Racing In The Rain”, which focuses on a family dog who evaluates his live through the lessons learned by his human owner, a professional race car driver played by Ventimiglia.

Danica Patrick to drive Corvette pace car:

  • 2004 Indianapolis 500 ‘Rookie of the Year’ Danica Patrick will pace the field of 33-drivers and cars for this year’s race in a Chevrolet Corvette.  Patrick, who drove for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Andretti Autosport before moving over to NASCAR, was the first woman to lead the race back in 2004 and won a race in Motegi Japan in 2007.  Patrick retired from professional driving and now hosts a podcast and owns a winery.

2022 Indianapolis 500 Logo Unveiled:

  • The Indianapolis Motor Speedway unveiled the logo for the 2022 Indianapolis 500, which will take place on May 29, 2022.  The logo incorporates the Wreath that all winners receive in victory lane.  Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said the logo design uses another of the Speedway’s iconic images.  This year’s logo incorporates the Pagoda and logos the past few years have included the twin checkered flags and the yard of bricks.
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Alex Palou survives Turn 1 melee to win Grand Prix of Portland

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou survived a first lap incident heading into Portland International Raceway’s first turn and came back to win Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Grand Prix of Portland.

The victory was the third of the season for Palou, who regained the Championship points lead with the victory.

“It was massive,” Palou said of the victory. “I don’t think that much about the three wins or two wins. I think that’s important but not super. What I think is important is that even having a really bad start of the race, we were able to fight.”

Palou started on the pole position and was leading the field down the frontstretch with Alexander Rossi to his left in second place and Scott Dixon behind him to Palou’s inside in third when fourth-starting Felix Rosenqvist carried too much speed into the first turn. As Rosenqvist took evasive action he made contact with Dixon, which prevented the six-time series Champion from making turn one.  Dixon went straight through the runoff area but that move prevented Palou and Rossi from making the turn too.

“I filled that gap because I figured Rahal or somebody was going to try and scoot down the inside of us,” explained Dixon. “I bailed out of it and then got hit from behind, I think it was Felix (Rosenqvist), and that caused a bit of an interesting moment for all of us on the start there.”

All four drivers went through the runoff area and rejoined the field however more turn one chaos was happening behind them as several drivers made contact or were forced to take evasive action to avoid contact bringing out the caution flag.  Among the drivers sustaining damage were Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power, Romain Grosjean and Oliver Askew.

INDYCAR race control penalized Palou, Rossi, Dixon and Rosenqvist and sent them to the back of the field for not taking the first turn, which mystified the drivers.

“I got hit at some point,” said Palou. “I knew Scott was on the inside, so I couldn’t really go there, so I knew I had to go through the chicane. I made it through the chicane, and I said, ‘okay, I only lost like five positions’, which is a lot, but I said, ‘at least I’m not out’. And then INDYCAR decided that that was not penalizing enough, and they put me in the back, which I don’t know what they want me to do at that point. Do they prefer me to like completely stop the car and make that corner, making the race unsafe?”

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“It was just the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in racing a little while,” explained Dixon. “I don’t know what they (race control) were thinking or how that came about, but put all of us at the back the field. Be interesting to go talk to them later and see how they came up with that scenario.”

“I thought it was pretty low grip in Turn 1 when Felix, I guess — when Scott and Alex and them kind of slid through, I didn’t really have anywhere to go, and I thought if we got back to the styrofoam chicane, that was acceptable,” said Rossi. “But it was self-penalizing because we all went from like first, second, third to sixth, seventh, eighth, and then they’re like, ‘oh, you’re going to 24th’. It was like, okay, cool.  But fortunately it all came around.”

INDYCAR rules state that cars avoiding the collision and remaining on the racing surface at the timing lines embedded in the track through the chicane are placed at the front of the field on the restart, with drivers avoiding the collision but leaving the racetrack placed behind them, followed by drivers involved in the incident.

The reshuffling of the field and subsequent restart saw Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who was leading the Championship by 10-points coming into the weekend, take the early lead with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal right behind in second place.  Those two remained out front until their first round of pit stops.

The second caution flag came out on lap 52 when rookie Callum Ilott and Dalton Kellett both slowed on different parts of the track.  Several drivers elected to pit for service but Rahal elected to stay out and led until Lap 74, when he and second-place Ed Jones pitted to hand the lead to Jack Harvey.

Pit stop strategy eventually worked out in the favor of Palou, Rossi and Dixon. Palou, who made his final stop on Lap 79, one lap before teammate Dixon, took the lead for good on Lap 86 and survived two late restarts and was able to hold off Rossi and Dixon for the win.

Two races remain in the season-long championship, WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca and the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where the 2021 Champion will be crowned.

“Clearly we are in the fight,” said Palou of his Championship chances. “But I think until Long Beach we are not going to know really who’s what. I think that many people today after the first lap thought that Pato was going to win and that we were going to lose 40 points, and it was the opposite. That’s why INDYCAR is INDYCAR, which is really good. I think that makes the racing super exciting and the championship super exciting until the end.”

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Alex Palou wins INDYCAR Portland Grand Prix pole position

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Joe Skibinski

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou is on the pole position for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Grand Prix of Portland.  The P1 Pole Award is the first of Palou’s INDYCAR career.

Palou’s fast lap of 58.7701-seconds (120.306 mph) in the No. 10 PNC Bank Honda was 0.08-seconds faster than Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi fast lap of 58.8573-seconds (120.128) in the No. 27 Honda and 0.09-seconds faster than his CGR teammate Scott Dixon in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda (58.8673/120.107).

“I’m super happy with my first pole in INDYCAR,” Palou said. “We’re starting on the best position tomorrow, and we know we have a really fast car. I cannot wait for tomorrow’s race.”

Palou also earns a valuable Championship point in his quest to win his first series title. Palou entered the weekend 10-points behind Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward thanks in part to Palou’s two worst finishes of the season, a 27th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course following an engine failure and 20th at World Wide Technology Raceway after being taken out in a crash.

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“We all know that the last two race weekends we had, it was out of our control,” said Palou. “So, we’re fully laser-focused on these three races we have to get that championship home, and we’ll try to get that.”

Championship leader O’Ward qualified seventh in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet after being eliminated by teammate Rosenqvist by .0103 of a second on the last lap of the second qualifying session.

Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden sits third in the Championship standings, 22 points behind O’Ward, and will start 18th in the 27-car field in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet after all of the Penske team failed to advance past the first round of qualifying for the first time this season.

The 110-lap race on the 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday, live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Racing journalist and Motorsports Hall of Famer Robin Miller dies at 71

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Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Legendary racing journalist and Motorsports Hall of Famer Robin Miller is dead at the age of 71.

In a July 31, 2021 story on Racer.com titled ‘MILLER: A letter to the RACER Nation’, Miller said in his own inimitable style, “when cancer and leukemia decide to gang up on you then everything changes, and you are suddenly lining up in a heat race with The Grim Reaper. Might be a 50-lapper, could be an enduro or you might get lucky and run for a year or two.”

A trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with his father Bob in 1957, followed by a trip to his first “500” two years later, began a 50-year relationship with the sport and the iconic racetrack.

In 1968 Miller began working, or “stooging” as he called it, for one of his racing heroes Jim Hurtubise.  His career as a mechanic not long after it started when he ruined part of the paint on the race car.

Two week’s later, Miller’s career began at The Indianapolis Star where he did everything from answering phones to taking box score information to covering the Indiana Pacers.

Miller joked to us in 2019 that it was his inability as a mechanic and driver that led him down the path of sportswriter and broadcaster.

The driving part begin in the early 1970’s when Miller bought a Formula Ford from Andy Granatelli. Two years later, Miller purchased a midget from Gary Bettenhausen to ignite a 10-year run as a USAC competitor.

The experience as a competitor as well as a healthy respect for the men and women who worked on the cars fueled Miller’s ability to tell stories from the cockpit to the pit box to pit road.

Miller was renowned for his ability to break a story long before anybody else on the INDYCAR beat as well as his unfiltered opinion on the sport he loved deeply.

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The Star fired Miller in 2001. The Star claimed Miller violated its ethics policy.  Many in the garage area and paddock felt it was Miller’s criticism of former Speedway owner Tony George’s decision to start the Indy Racing League (IRL) and the two decade long open wheel split George created, that didn’t sit well with management.

Miller was quickly snatched up bu ESPN, then SPEED and most recently NBC Sports and Racer.com.

Ironically it was Miller who broke the story of open wheel reunification in 2008 as well as Tony George’s ouster from control of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by his family.  And those are just two of hundred’s of stories Miller broke that left others in the paddock wondering how in the world he knew!

In 2019 Miller was honored by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who created the ‘Robin Miller Award’ to be given annually to an “unheralded individual who has brought unbridled passion and an unrelenting work ethic to enrich the sport.” Last month at the INDYCAR/NASCAR Doubleheader at IMS, he was inducted into the Motorsport Hall of Fame.

Tributes quickly came pouring in over social media as news of Miller’s death spread through the racing world.

Miller, a lifelong bachelor, is survived by a sister, Diane, and nieces Emily and Ashley.

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