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Harrison Burton will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut April 25 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in the No. 96 DEX Imaging Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing.
The 20-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina, won the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie-of-the-year title with four victories in the stepping-stone division to the premier NASCAR Cup Series. Burton is currently in his second Xfinity Series season and will make his milestone 50th career Xfinity Series start on Saturday, April 24 at Talladega before climbing into the No. 96 DEX Imaging Toyota Camry on Sunday.
“I’m incredibly grateful to DEX Imaging and Toyota for providing this opportunity with Gaunt Brothers Racing,” Burton said. “From the moment I started racing, the Cup Series was always the goal. In everything I’ve done, I’ve been working toward this moment. I saw how hard my dad worked to get to Cup and how hard he worked to compete and win races. He instilled that same work ethic in me and I’m just really proud and honored to have the chance to do what he did and compete with the best of the best.”
Burton is the son of Jeff Burton, a 21-race winner in the NASCAR Cup Series. Despite Harrison’s youth, the second-generation driver has been racing for 16 years. He started in Quarter Midgets at age four, eventually winning three national championships (2009, 2011 and 2012). By 11, he was also racing Late Model stock cars, winning his first pole in 2011 at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, North Carolina, and earning his first win in 2012 at Dillon (S.C.) Motor Speedway.
Burton has been climbing the racing ladder ever since, winning his first Pro Late Model division race in February 2014 at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway to become the youngest Division I winner in the history of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. When Burton made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut in October 2015 at All American Speedway in Roseville, California, he became the youngest driver to compete in that series at just 15 years, eight days old.
Burton has raced and won at nearly every level he has competed, with victories in Super Late Models, the K&N Pro Series, the ARCA Menards Series and the Xfinity Series. Along the way, Burton won the 2017 K&N Pro Series East championship and some of the biggest Late Model races in the country, including the 2017 World Series of Asphalt Championship at New Smyrna, the 2017 ARCA/CRA Super Late Model Series Speedfest at Crisp Motorsports Park in Cordele, Georgia, the 2018 Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway in Kinston, and the 2018 World Series 100 at New Smyrna.
Supporting Burton throughout his rise to the NASCAR Cup Series is DEX Imaging, the nation’s largest independent dealer of imaging equipment.
“Our partnership with Harrison goes back to when he was 13 years old racing Late Models, and DEX Imaging has grown right along with him,” said Dan Doyle Jr., CEO, DEX Imaging. “We’ve been a part of a lot of ‘firsts’ with Harrison, from his first Super Late Model start to his first K&N start, first ARCA start, first Truck Series start, first Xfinity Series start and, now, first Cup Series start. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success together and look forward to this next chapter with him.”
DEX Imaging is the digital document imaging division of Staples, the world’s largest business solutions provider. Founded by the father-and-son team of industry innovators Dan Doyle and Dan Doyle Jr., DEX Imaging sells and services the broadest selection of copiers, printers and data management solutions in the industry, such as Konica Minolta, Canon, Kyocera and HP. The family-based company is headquartered in Tampa, Florida, and has more than 50 locations in the eastern United States.
“We’re proud to represent such an innovative brand in DEX Imaging and equally proud to have Harrison make his first NASCAR Cup Series start with us,” said Marty Gaunt, President, Gaunt Brothers Racing. “As a Toyota team, we’ve seen firsthand how well Harrison has developed. He’s been racing and winning in Toyotas for years, and yet he’s still only 20 years old. He has a very bright future ahead of him and we aim to make his Cup Series debut a successful one.”
SiriusXM today announced its season-long coverage for the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES® season, featuring live broadcasts of every race all season long, as well as shows and podcasts hosted by active drivers.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES season begins with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday, April 18 (3:00 pm ET). SiriusXM listeners will have access to the live call of this race and every one of the 17 events on the INDYCAR calendar, from the green flag through the finish, including the Indianapolis 500 on May 30. SiriusXM listeners will also get coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying sessions the day before each race.
Race broadcasts will be available to subscribers nationwide on the SiriusXM INDYCAR Nation channel, available on SiriusXM radios (channel 205) and on the SiriusXM app. For a schedule of races go to: SiriusXM.com/IndySeries.
2004 series champion Tony Kanaan will host SiriusXM’s exclusive INDYCAR show, Brick by Brick, with veteran motorsports broadcaster Jack Arute throughout the season. Brick by Brick airs every Wednesday (7:00-8:00 pm ET) on the NBC Sports Audio channel (SiriusXM channel 211). Kanaan retired as a primary driver after last season and will run a part-time schedule driving the No. 48 Dallara Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021.
INDYCAR fans can also tune in to the podcast Off Track with Hinch & Rossi, hosted by Andretti Autosport teammates James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi. New episodes of Off Track with Hinch & Rossi debut weekly and can be heard on the SiriusXM app, Pandora and Stitcher. The podcast will also air on race days on SiriusXM INDYCAR Nation (channel 205).
In addition to NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, SiriusXM will also air Indy Lights races throughout the course of the season. Indy Lights is the final step in the Road to Indy driver development series, which features some of the world’s best young open-wheel drivers and has produced many of the stars in INDYCAR today.
Strong Field of Drivers to Battle in Saturday’s Late Model Stock Car Twinbill at South Boston Speedway
With three Virginia speedways not holding NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division events this weekend, a strong field of drivers is expected to be on hand for Saturday afternoon’s 2 p.m. running of the NASCAR Late Model Twin 75s racing program at South Boston Speedway.
Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway, Motor Mile Speedway and Dominion Raceway are not holding NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model Stock Car Division races this weekend, and some teams that compete at those venues will be coming to “America’s Hometown Track” to battle the South Boston Speedway regulars for wins and trophies in Saturday afternoon’s twin 75-lap NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division races.
Mike Looney, the 2019 NASCAR national runner-up and Motor Mile Speedway champion, veteran driver Mark Wertz, a strong competitor at Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway and John Goin, who finished 12th last year in the NASCAR national standings, are among the visiting drivers expected to be in the field for Saturday’s twinbill.
Along with the twin 75-lap NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model Stock Car Division races Saturday afternoon’s six-race card includes a 50-lap race for the Limited Sportsman Division, a 30-lap race for the Budweiser Pure Stock Division and a 15-lap race for the Budweiser Hornets Division.
In addition to the races featuring South Boston Speedway’s four regular racing divisions fans will get to see the competitors of the regional touring Southern Ground Pounders Vintage Racing Club. The Modified and Sportsman cars of the Southern Ground Pounders Vintage Racing Club will compete in a 25-lap race.
South Boston Speedway’s event will be the second event of the season for the Southern Ground Pounders Vintage Racing Club. Greg Butcher of Mocksville, North Carolina won the series’ Sportsman Division title in 2019 and Dwight “Cowboy” Sauls of Apex, North Carolina won the Modified Division championship in 2019. The series did not award championships in 2020.
Five-time South Boston Speedway NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division Champion Peyton Sellers of Danville, Virginia swept the season-opening twinbill at “America’s Hometown Track” and holds the track points lead over Stuart Crews of Long Island, Virginia. There is a huge battle underway behind Sellers as Crews is among five drivers that are within an 11-point umbrella.
There is a hot battle underway in the Limited Sportsman Division as well with the top three drivers, Daniel Moss of Danville, Virginia, Eric Winslow of Pelham, North Carolina and drew Dawson of Nathalie, Virginia all in a five-point umbrella.
Nathan Crews of Long Island, Virginia will be going for his third win in a row in the Budweiser Pure Stock Division as will Josh Dawson of Halifax, Virginia in the Budweiser Hornets Division.
Saturday’s race day schedule has registration and pit gates opening at 9 a.m. Practice starts at 11 a.m. and grandstand gates will open at 12:30 p.m. Qualifying will begin at 1 p.m. and the first race will get the green flag at 2 p.m.
Advance adult general admission tickets for Saturday’s race are priced at $10 each and may be purchased online on South Boston Speedway’s website www.southbostonspeedway.com through Friday night, April 16. Adult general admission tickets at the gate on race day are priced at $15 each. Kids ages 12 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.
The speedway will be following COVID-19 mitigation mandates set forth by the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia during the event. Masks will be required for fans entering the speedway. Social distancing and additional mitigation measures will also be followed.
South Boston Speedway is participating in the Advance Auto Parts My Track Challenge, a contest for NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series tracks. Fans have the opportunity to vote for their favorite NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series track through Tuesday, April 27 and can vote up to three times a day. When fans cast their vote they will be entered to win NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series prizes. Votes for South Boston Speedway can be cast at https://bit.ly/VoteForSoBo.
The six tracks that receive the most votes after April 27 will be part of a two-day final round of voting that is scheduled to start on Sunday, May 9.
A $50,000 prize will be awarded to the winning track that can be used toward facility enhancements and community-based programs. The runner-up track will receive $15,000 and the third-place track will receive $10,000.
The latest news and updates about South Boston Speedway and its racing events can be found on the South Boston Speedway website and on the speedway’s social media channels.
The world watched in silence and fear as Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean and his car disappeared in a hellish dome of fire after a crash during the Bahrain Grand Prix last year. While the imagery froze onlookers, track and safety officials rushed to Grosjean’s aid.
Their response was praised and hailed as a factor in Grosjean’s survival. It’s the same kind of training and response you’ll see from World of Outlaws and DIRTcar officials at every dirt racing event. And it’s the same kind of training and response Series officials hope to see from safety workers at every track they go to.
The World of Outlaws and DIRTcar have partnered with ESI Equipment Inc. and the International Council of Motorsports Sciences to make racetrack and safety officials aware of the SFI accredited Short Track Incident Response Program in an effort to have those officials properly trained in how to handle any kind of race car accident.
“Back in the day, there are racetracks, you’d call them and you would ask them if they had an ambulance on site. They’d say, ‘Yes,’” World of Outlaws and DIRTcar Safety Director Tyler Bachman said. “They did not lie to you. The ambulance was there. But it hadn’t been moved in seven years. So, we’ve come from that five years ago to always having an ambulance there. Now, we’re trying to get the people in those ambulances to understand the cars.
“Someone on the safety crew may have never sat in a Late Model before. They might not realize there is so much sheet metal around it. Or a Big Block, they might not realize the driver sits in the middle of the car. Most of the time, if the car went for a wild ride, flipped, or hit the wall, there’s a good chance the sheet metal has folded and made for a not an easy way to get out.”
The program tackles everything from putting out various types of fires to helping extricate a patient from a race car and different methods of properly flipping race cars over so the driver doesn’t sustain any further injuries. Sprint Car, Late Model and Big Block chassis are on site of each course – and they’re always looking for more used chassis to be donated, wrecked or not – so participants can see what it’s like to sit in the cars, practice getting patients out of the cars and practice where they’ll need to cut the chassis if the driver can’t get out on their own power.
In a recent class with 25 participants from the Buffalo Township Volunteer Fire Company – who serve as safety workers at Lernerville Speedway – they got to be strapped into a car, flipped over, and taught the variety of different style safety harnesses drivers where and how to undo them. Some drivers may wear a Simpson Hybrid, while others may wear a HANS device. And different models between those brands have different ways of being disconnected.
“So, a safety person, if you haven’t raced you probably don’t know how to take that off,” Bachman said. “If you look at a Simpson Hybrid Pro, which a lot of our guys have, you might not know you have to pull the strings (to get it off). You could look at it for 20 minutes and not realize how to get it off. Just stuff like that. It’s really a big awareness.
"Doing stuff in the fire service with vehicle rescue and car crashes… race car rescues are a lot different. You can’t just open a door. They don’t have a door. Fuels are different, too. With the Sprint Cars, you have methanol. You may run up to the car and not even know it is on fire. So that’s a big thing too.”
Every official with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars, World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model, Super DIRTcar Series and DIRTcar took the course last year, and are certified by SFI – a non-profit organization established to issue and administer standards for the quality assurance of specialty performance and racing equipment. The crew from the Buffalo Township Volunteer Fire Company is the latest affiliation with the Series to take the course. The goal is to have three to five courses a year, Bachman said, for tracks across the country. He’d like to eventually see every track the series race at go through the program.
“I thought it was very comprehensive and really opened my eyes to how intricate extricating a driver can be," World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Director Carlton Reimers said after participating in the program last year. "I mean, who would have thought that a Sawzall with a special tipped blade was faster at cutting through a frame than the Jaws of Life. That’s only in certain situations, of course, but I would have never known. I hope we do more of this training in the future.”
There are various versions of ESI's Race Track Safety Services to accommodate a variety of series like Formula 1, IndyCar and NHRA. While the techniques may differ from series to series and track to track with each having its own idiosyncrasies, the level of training is the same throughout them all.
“The information is consistent throughout whatever series we’re doing,” said John Evans, president of ESI Equipment Inc. and facilitator of the programs. “It’s like, why should a Formula 1 driver get something different than a dirt driver? Technically, they shouldn’t. You’re not going to get any different treatment on the street depending on what kind of car you drive. Whether you’re in an Audi or a Volkswagen, if you crash on the street, you’re going to get the same level of care no matter who is coming in that ambulance.
“That’s kind of where our thought process is. Why should it be different? It shouldn’t be different. We should all have that same knowledge and skills and technical information that make us all good responders on the track.”
In a similar program for Formula 1 safety workers, the class convinced the doctors who tail the field on the first lap to carry high-flow fire extinguishers with them. That type of extinguisher was what they used to help clear a path for Grosjean to get out of the fire, according to Evans.
“That’s the kind of information and training that we are providing,” he said. “Not only in an FIA Formula 1 situation, put to people who are responding on dirt tracks.”
He knows how important that is firsthand. One guy in his group faced an incident where a Sprint Car was upside down and on fire with the driver still inside. The fire department on site didn’t have the proper training or equipment to give the safety worker a clear path to the driver. He tried 16 times to get to the driver, Evans said. Fortunately, the driver survived but suffered 95% burns on his body. Those are the kinds of situations Evans knows need to be corrected at every level of racing.
The Short Track Incident Response Program has been around for only a few years now but has become one of the most popular classes, according to Evans. More than 200 people have gone through the course, so far. Before teaming up with the World of Outlaws and DIRTcar, the majority of trainees came from the program being put on during PRI in Indianapolis. That’s where Bachman first found out about the course and realized it was something the series needed to be a part of.
Bachman has worked with the World of Outlaws and DIRTcar for nine years and has worked in the fire service since 2007. While he’s been through courses and experienced several accidents throughout his career, he said the Short Track Incident Response Program was still eye-opening.
“Any class you take, from a structure fire to a car wreck class, you learn something every time,” he said. “I learned a new technique on how to get [drivers] out. There’re new boards out called med boards. We just saw them when we were down there (in Volusia for the class) and loved how they work to get a driver out of the car. So, we actually ordered one for each Series.”
The same sentiment was shared by those who participated in the Buffalo Township Volunteer Fire Company class.
“A couple of the guys said to me going into this, ‘Ah, it’s going to just be another fire class. It’s just going to be another race car rescue class.’ Well, at the end of it, they all said they learned some new technique,” Bachman said. “They hadn’t realized you could do that, or they didn’t realize they could roll over a car that way. Most people who are doing this are volunteer firemen, or paid firemen, or doctors. If there’re one or two things every time that they go, ‘Wow, I never realized that or, Wow, that’s a lot quicker,’ I think this class is incredible and I wish every racetrack would do it.”
Another class is being scheduled during the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in November, then, next year, Bachman would like to see the expansion of several classes in each region of the country.
“I think the more people that take this in our sport, in the World of Outlaws and DIRTcar racing, it will benefit our drivers that travel with us,” he said.
The course is available for track owners, local rescue crews, and any other motorsports affiliated company that might benefit from it. To request a Short Track Incident Response Program at your facility, or attend a scheduled class, contact:
RELATED: In addition to the Short Track Safety Program, the World of Outlaws has worked with the Med-Star Dirt Track Rescue team for several years and will utilize their services during the World of Outlaws Bristol Throwdown at Bristol Motor Speedway, April 22-24, which features the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and Super DIRTcar Series.
Led by Jay Masur, CEO and President of Med-Star Paramedic and Ambulance, Med-Star Dirt Track Rescue has more than 40 years of dirt track experience and has been commended as one of the best safety teams due to their extensive knowledge and quick response times. They regularly work with the World of Outlaws during Northern Midwest events.
Along with providing rescue support at the track, like the Short Track Safety Program, they also train safety workers on the proper ways to handle a wreck and how to attend to a driver.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision with the annual Platinum FAST PASS subscription for $299/year or the monthly FAST PASS subscription for $39/month.
One track is an ultraslick, ultramodern indoor entertainment center in a destination mall where students, grandparents, businesspeople, teachers, and just about anyone else with a need for speed race Formula 1- inspired, Italian electric pro-karts that can reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour.
The other, almost 50 miles northwest and established in 1919, is one of the nation’s oldest continuously operating dirt tracks where , Dirt Modifieds stock car, street stock, demo derby, and Motocross competitors battle it out in the dirt -- that glorious dirt -- right by the fairgrounds.
While they may appear very different on the surface, Autobahn Indoor Speedway & Events Palisades, part of one of the country’s leading indoor go-kart chains, and Orange County Fair Speedway (OCFS), one of the country’s most beloved dirt tracks, have one thing in common: the love of all things fast and fun.
And in a sport so driven by cutthroat competition for fans, technology, and sponsors, this collaboration may help both entities make racing more accessible to people throughout the region.
For the entire OCFS season, which runs April through October, both tracks will be promoting each other. Autobahn will promote upcoming dirt track races onsite, and OCFS will help turn racing spectators into racing competitors at Autobahn.
Throughout the year, the two tracks will celebrate two forms of racing that have served as gateways to NASCAR, Formula 1, IndyCar, and other top series. In January 2022, Autobahn and OCFS will have a joint event to benefit a local charity.
“Both of us are in the business of affordable, family entertainment,” says Peter Reynolds, director of sponsorship and business partnerships at Orange County Fair Speedway.” “People will drive great distances for the thrill of racing, whether they’re seated in the stands or seated in a kart. Even though we’re about 45 minutes apart, we know a lot of people who love OCFS will love Autobahn, and a lot of people who love Autobahn will love us.”
The 43,000-square-foot Autobahn attracts racing enthusiasts of all levels, from everyday people of all ages just looking for high-speed exhilaration to up-and-coming juniors to some of the world’s top drivers in Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR, and other circuits.
Autobahn also founded the American E-Kart Championship, the first indoor electric karting competition to bring together the top drivers from tracks around the country that was featured on “Anybody’s Race” on the ESPN network. “We’re proud to collaborate with Orange Motorsports & Entertainment in bringing more attention to the great racing in the area,” says David Larson, managing partner, Autobahn Indoor Speedway & Events. “Karting and dirt track racing have played such a big part in developing so many of the world’s most famous drivers. For more than 100 years, Orange County Fair Speedway has brought together fans and drivers of all levels to enjoy the thrill of racing, and at Autobahn, we’re trying to make it accessible to everyone”.
Autobahn Indoor Speedway offers the popular "Arrive & Drive" race format, assigning racers to one of the upcoming races and requiring no reservations. Up to 10 drivers will compete in each race to set the fastest lap times.
Autobahn Indoor Speedway is a fun and exciting place for company outings, social groups and birthday parties. Various group race packages are designed to meet the needs of most events but a custom package can be arranged (including private full facility rentals). Groups have reserved race times, exclusive use of the track during their races and they can compete individually or in teams.
One week later than originally scheduled, Macon Speedway is set to open the doors on a new season for the 76th time, this coming Saturday, April 17th. The fastest 1/5-mile dirt track in the world will have an action-packed evening, featuring six different classes of race cars plus CEFCU Kids Club, Spectator Drags, concession specials, and a $1,000 to win Pro Mod race.
The DIRTcar Pro Mods will be competing in their biggest event of the year, running for a $1,000 top prize. The division had a big race at Lincoln Speedway last weekend, which ran extremely clean and saw Macon Speedway regular, Kevin Crowder, claim the win.
Kids 11 and under will be treated to the first edition of CEFCU Kids Club, which was also rolled over from last week. Those who sign up for the club, will receive the new 2021 edition of the CEFCU Kids Club t-shirt. There is no cost to enroll but child must be in attendance.
At intermission, the first Spectator Drag event of the season will be held. Spectator drags are an event where fans can take their street legal vehicle on track, compete in a one lap race against one other fan, and move onto the next round if they win. To enter the event at no cost to compete, call the office at 217-764-3000. Overall winner will receive a trophy and only the first 8 entries will be accepted.
All fans should come to the track hungry and thirsty, as Saturday is also $1 dog/$2 beer night. Hot dogs will be sold for $1 each, while the adult refreshment stands will be selling beer for $2 per can.
Divisions on track will be the Decatur Building Trades Pro Late Models, BillingsleyRewards.com Modifieds, DIRTcar Pro Mods, DIRTcar Sportsman, Archers Alley Street Stocks, and DIRTcar Hornets.
Pits open Saturday at 3:00, which is an hour earlier than normal to help allow for opening night paperwork to get filled out. At 5:00, the grandstand gates will swing open, while hotlaps begin on track at 6:00. Racing will begin at its normal time at 7:00.
Grandstand admission will be $15 for adults and free for kids 11 and under.
For more information on the event or to view the full season schedule, visit www.maconracing.com.
Macon Speedway PR
Scott Dixon’s race against history begins this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst, the season-opening event of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
Six months removed from winning a sixth series championship, Dixon has A.J. Foyt’s all-time record of seven titles within reach. Foyt won the last of his championships in 1979, which means his mark has stood unmatched for 42 years.
Dixon’s sixth title was fueled by a three-race winning streak to begin the 2020 season. Can he use a similar start this year in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, or will Josef Newgarden, who has won two of the past four season titles, dethrone him in Team Penske’s No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet? Or, will it be another driver – a veteran or perhaps a rising star – stealing the spotlight?
NTT P1 Award qualifying starts at 5:55 p.m. (ET) Saturday, with the race at 3 p.m. Sunday. Here are five things to watch as the drama builds this weekend:
Dixon Needs a Barber
It can be argued that Dixon is the most successful NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver in Barber Motorsports Park history and yet he doesn’t have a trophy to show for it.
Who wouldn’t take Dixon’s stat line at the 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course? Eight podium finishes in 10 races, six times a race runner-up. That’s impressive by any measure.
As for reaching the top step of the Birmingham, Alabama, podium, Newgarden has been the track’s recent master, winning three of the past five races. Team Penske teammate Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Chevrolet) and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) have won two races each. Takuma Sato, who drives the No. 30 Panasonic/Shield Cleansers Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won in 2019, the series’ most recent race there as last year’s event was canceled amid the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Power is a four-time NTT P1 Award winner at Barber, part of the 62 poles he has scored in his career. Five more such awards ties him with Mario Andretti for the sport’s all-time lead.
New Kings To Be Crowned?
Dixon and Newgarden have combined to win the past four INDYCAR championships, and their teams – Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske – have won the past eight titles.
So, who breaks the streak? It’s best to look to Andretti Autosport or Arrow McLaren SP, where Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda), Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) and Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) are employed.
Rossi was on pace to score five consecutive podiums to end last season until his car spun after leading 61 of the first 69 laps in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in October. Rossi won the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in 2016 and has seven career wins, but he is massively hungry for his first series championship.
“I’m more motivated than you can believe, and I’m really excited,” he said. “I have a lot of points to prove.”
Herta and O’Ward have shown capable of defining INDYCAR’s future. Each enters the season 21 years old – O’Ward turns 22 on May 6 -- and they battled for the 2018 Indy Lights championship as teammates (O’Ward won).
Last year, Herta finished third in the standings with O’Ward fourth, and they’re desperate to move up. O’Ward has been outstanding in preseason testing but is still seeking his first win in the series. Herta has won three times and scored four poles to O’Ward’s single pole (at Road America last year).
An Experienced Rookie Class
INDYCAR might have to go back a couple of decades to find a newcomer class with as much high-level motorsports experience as this one.
The intrigue starts with Jimmie Johnson, who shares the record for NASCAR Cup Series championships with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt (seven each). Johnson grew up wanting to be an INDYCAR driver, and at 45 he’s finally getting his chance in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 48 Carvana Honda. He has been tutored by four-time series champion Dario Franchitti and has learned plenty from Scott Dixon, but the challenge that awaits him will be unlike anything he has experienced in his career.
“It’s a monster – that’s the best way I can put it,” Johnson said of driving one of INDYCAR’s machines. “There’s so much power, so much downforce, so much grip. It’s wild to drive.”
Driving the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda, Romain Grosjean is a nine-year veteran of Formula One, recognized as the pinnacle of global motorsports, and he finished on the podium 10 times with second-tier teams. Like Johnson, Grosjean, 34, is only scheduled to compete on INDYCAR’s road courses and street circuits this season as he adapts to the series.
“What attracts people to INDYCAR is that it’s a top series, top cars, top drivers, and the driver can actually make a difference,” Grosjean said.
Scott McLaughlin joined Team Penske’s INDYCAR program after driving for Roger Penske and Dick Johnson the past four years in Australian V8 Supercars. McLaughlin, 27, had completed his Down Under checklist, winning 56 races, three consecutive season championships and earning 76 poles and 106 podiums. It was time to move on, and he did so at the end of last year by competing in INDYCAR’s season-ending race in St. Petersburg. He finished 22nd.
“There’s a bit of nerves, absolutely,” said McLaughlin, the driver of the No. 3 PPG Chevrolet, of the full season that awaits. “There’s an unknown there, but I said to my wife last night I feel as prepared as I can be right now. The only thing I lack is experience, and that will come.”
Faces in New Places
Among the 24 entries at Barber Motorsports Park are several INDYCAR veterans who have different opportunities for the upcoming season.
Felix Rosenqvist, Ed Jones and Alex Palou have new teams while Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe and Dalton Kellett have increased their number of races with the teams with which they finished the 2020 season.
Rosenqvist, who won a race last year at Road America, will drive the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Jones is back in the series after a year away, and he returns to the organization in which he had success in 2017 (he finished third in the Indianapolis 500). Jones will drive the No. 18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan Honda. Palou is now in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing.
Bourdais (No. 14 ROCKiT Chevrolet) and Kellett (No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet) now have full-season roles with AJ Foyt Racing. Bourdais is a four-time INDYCAR champion with 37 career race wins. Kellett drove in eight races last year for the team as a rookie.
Hinchcliffe is set for his second stint with Andretti Autosport, having won three of his six career races there. After competing in six races with Michael Andretti’s organization in 2020, Hinchcliffe will be full-time in the No. 29 Genesys Honda fielded by Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport.
“I think expectations are high for the year (as Andretti) has got a pretty stacked lineup,” Hinchcliffe said. “There was good momentum with the team at the end of last year.”
How To Watch
Nine of the 17 races, including this weekend’s and the two at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, will air live on NBC. The other eight can be found on the NBC Sports Network.
Fans can enjoy live coverage of all practice and qualifying sessions, as well as coverage surrounding the “500,” Indy Lights races, race day warmups and full-event replays of the 2021 season on Peacock Premium, NBC’s direct-to-consumer platform, for $4.99 per month. Signup information can be found at www.peacocktv.com.
At the track, a capacity of 20,000 has been reached for Sunday’s race. General admission tickets remain for action on Friday and Saturday.
NTT IndyCar Series PR