Pruett's cooldown lap: Road America

Burke/Motorsport Images

Pruett's cooldown lap: Road America

Insights & Analysis

Pruett's cooldown lap: Road America

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ROAD TO INDY 

It was a weekend of mechanical woes and messy hits affecting the leaders in Indy Lights. Carlin’s Alex Peroni was on his way to a first win when vehicular problems struck in Round 1; Kyle Kirkwood drove off into the distance to get his fourth win and a brief grasp of the points lead. Recovering from a bad Saturday, David Malukas took Sunday’s win and reclaimed the championship lead as teammate Linus Lundqvist and Kirkwood left the track tied for second, seven points behind Malukas.

Indy Pro 2000 saw points leader Christian Rasmussen close the weekend with a win after Manuel Sulaiman claimed Race 1, and in USF2000, Kiko Porto got another win and extended his championship lead while Thomas Nepveu broke into the winner’s column on Sunday.

LEADERS CIRCLE WATCH 

It’s never too early to check in on how IndyCar’s Leaders Circle competition is going among full-time teams looking to land in the top 22 and earn a $1 million prize money payout for the following season.

Part-timers Santino Ferrucci and Helio Castroneves continue to split a few full-time entries in P22 and P23, respectively. As expected, the absence of those two at Road America helped Andretti’s No. 29 entry for James Hinchcliffe to move into the safe zone in P21 and assuming Ferrucci and Castroneves continue to slide down the order, Hinchcliffe has a decent 19-point gap to AMSP’s problem-stricken No. 7 entry which currently holds P24, but should improve to P22 after Mid-Ohio.

Following the same slide assumption, Foyt’s No. 4 entry might be able to overtake the two part-timers at Mid-Ohio, but there’s no guarantee; it’s 17 points behind the No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Indy 500 winner.

One positive piece of Leaders Circle news came from Max Chilton and the No. 59 Carlin Racing entry which came into the race in last, 22 points behind the No. 4 driven by Dalton Kellett. Thanks to the P10 in the race, the No. 59 cut the deficit to the Foyt car to six points. If the Carlin team can pull of a few more ‘strategery’ surprises before the year’s out, earning a $1 million contract could be possible.

Grosjean (No. 51 Honda) drove with his elbows out all day long at Road America. Abbott/Motorsport Images

MR. INVISIBLE

I know James Hinchcliffe partook in the race, but his presence was, unfortunately, never felt. Improving from P19 to P15, his finish on Sunday was, as astounding as it might seem for the six-time IndyCar race winner, his second-best result of the year.

THE CHICKEN SALAD AWARD GOES TO…

Marcus Ericsson for turning chicken **** into a how-did-he-do-that result of P6.

Starting P18, the CGR driver improved to P12 until he played himself at the exit of Turn 3, getting wide, keeping his foot in the throttle, and creating a tank slapper that threw the No. 8 Honda onto the grass. Sitting stalled, he’d bring out a caution, get restarted, and pit with the rest of field, falling to P21.

The Detroit Round 1 winner would get up to P18 on the return to green and motor to P8 before making his final pit stop on Lap 41. Returning in P16, he’d get back to P12—where he was at when he spun—and improved to P10 when the alternate-strategy duo of Max Chilton and Takuma Sato stopped while holding P1-P2.

Ericsson would get to P9 when the last of the strategy gamblers pitted, and with the last restart coming off of Ed Jones’ problems, he’d take the green in P7 and inherit P6 when Newgarden was hit by the cartoon anvil.

What a wild day for the Swede.

MISC 

  • It was a brief moment in the championship spotlight, but Pato O’Ward did have the team founded in 2001 as Sam Schmidt Motorsports and known today as Arrow McLaren SP holding first in the championship for the very first time. Only lasting seven days, it won’t be the last with the Mexican in the No. 5 Chevy.
  • A lot was made over the weekend’s various broadcasts about Josef Newgarden driving out to the edge of the track in certain corners as some form of risky practice. I’d agree, if it were a random thing where Newgarden wasn’t aware of the situation. But he did it lap after lap, and never lost control. And he’s been the most dominant driver at the track since IndyCar returned in 2016. Which suggests the two-time champion was, indeed, in full control and demonstrating his extreme skills to eke out an advantage.
  • It came as a byproduct of staying out when all the leaders pitted, but it was joyous to see Kevin Magnussen lead an open-wheel race for the first time in forever.
  • Countering the six happy laps with Magnussen in the lead, that’s three straight failures to finish for the No. 7 AMSP Chevy. From the mechanical issue that caused Felix Rosenqvist to crash to the engine problem Oliver Askew experienced to the electrical shutdown that ended Magnussen’s debut, it was a turbulent nine-day span for the No. 7 entry.
  • Six of the nine race winners this year are 24 or younger. One is 30, and the other two are 40 and 46.
  • Spinning and stalling is becoming an unfortunate expectation for Jimmie Johnson. If nothing else, it’s a variable that adds spice to the road and street courses, but he didn’t come here to sacrifice himself for the sake of entertainment. IndyCar’s testing rules won’t allow the CGR team to do whatever it wants with the current car and engine package, so it’s worth asking if renting a large skid pad and putting Johnson in a modern era CART or Champ Car—of which the team has many, and others race in vintage events—and spending a few days living on and going over the ragged edge would be of value. Finding and exceeding the limits on the race weekends, to the detriment of his open-wheel racing education, is increasingly hard to watch.
  • Must be some kind of first to have two Canadians serving as the bottom full-time drivers in the series with James Hinchcliffe in P20 and Dalton Kellett in P25.
  • Romain Grosjean: Absolutely fearless. The Frenchman seemed to be in every multi-car battle, banging wheels, and giving those around him the business. He isn’t afraid to throw down, which has been a joy to observe.
  • His teammate, Ed Jones has been racing harder than ever, but it went unrewarded in Wisconsin with a broken suspension. Together the Coyne drivers should be a headache for the bigger teams, if only the duo could get to the finish line without problems blighting one entry or the other. So far, if one DCR driver has a good day, it’s almost guaranteed the other will be nowhere in sight by the checkered flag.
  • NBC Sports’ slavish devotion to promoting the NASCAR race at Nashville at a non-stop pace from the first IndyCar practice session on Friday to every few minutes during Sunday’s race was the latest reminder of where stock car racing ranks compared to IndyCar within the company. It was downright embarrassing to see how many times the commercials with Brad Paisley and Dale Jr. ran, and the constant tune-in reads the IndyCar broadcast team was told to deliver. And when those weren’t happening, chirons on the left-side timing and scoring pylon were used to promote the race. There’s nothing like making IndyCar fans feel like second-class citizens throughout their race.
  • How do Scott Dixon super fans compete for P1 in the Kiwi’s heart? Michael Crowe would like to submit this permanent gesture for review:

  • Take a deep breath, enjoy a weekend off from IndyCar racing, and enjoy IMSA’s six-hour race at Watkins Glen on Sunday as a palate cleanser before this amazing season resumes July 2-4 at Mid-Ohio.

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