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lam 170424BMS35940Martin Truex Jr. could only muster a laugh about the late speeding penalty that took away his shot at the victory in the Food City 400 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"I thought I was exactly where I was the time before, so the time before must have been close," Truex said with a chuckle. "Typically, we don't get many speeding penalties, but today we were just pushing the issue trying to get a win. Sometimes it'll get you."

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Truex led 116 of 500 laps in the Monday event, which was postponed due to rain. It didn't take long for the Furniture Row Racing driver to make his presence known, with a strong run inside the top five through the first half of the race. After winning the second stage (his fifth of the season), Truex was still wearing down the competition when he was busted for speeding.
It negated him being the first car off pit road – and restarting as the leader – on the race's final pit stop with 35 laps to go. Truex finished a bittersweet eighth instead of challenging eventual winner Jimmie Johnson for his first Bristol victory.

"We were going for it," he said. "Wish we could have had a shot there just to see if we could have won ... Best run we've had here in a long time. It's bittersweet. Wish we could have seen if we could have beat the 48 (Johnson). We were really, really close right there before that last caution. It is what it is. You're trying to get all you can get, and sometimes you cross the line. Today we crossed the line."

Truex said he would be interested to see the data from the stop to see how far over the speed limit he was. Although he has a feeling it was close and "it's going to hurt my feelings a lot."

The good news from the day was that Truex felt his team had made gains at the half-mile. Perhaps not the best car – he repeatedly said he wasn't sure if he could have beaten Johnson – Truex did feel he was the best on the bottom. Plus, it wasn't lost on Truex that despite the speeding penalty, he earned just his third top-10 finish at Bristol in his 23rd start.

"To come here to Bristol and run that good is a good sign for us," Truex said. "We've had some strong cars here the last few times and no finishes to show for it, so, fortunately, today we at least got a decent finish. Not as good as we should have; we ran strong, and they knew we were here."

17BRI1jh 04660Jimmie Johnson surged to victory in the rain-delayed Food City 500 on Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Johnson powered the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet to his second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season, leading 81 of the 500 laps. His 82nd win of his career was his second on the 0.533-mile Tennessee track.

The victory moved Johnson another step up NASCAR's all-time win list, putting him one triumph behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough and two back from fellow inductees Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

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"That's just mind-blowing," said Johnson, who sits seventh on the all-time list. "I wouldn’t be here without Mr. Hendrick's support. Thanks to him and to Jeff Gordon for believing in me. For Hendrick Motorsports to make this job kind of a family environment for all of us to thrive in has been a perfect environment for me and (crew chief) Chad Knaus, and for the consistent group of guys behind me through all these years has led to the environment to win 82 races, or whatever it is, which is just insane. I'm truly humbled."

Clint Bowyer took second place in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford, 1.199 seconds behind the race winner. Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano completed the top five.

Pole-starter Kyle Larson seemed poised for a top-five finish after leading the opening 202 laps including a Stage 1 win, but a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 423 knocked him back to 17th in the running order. He rallied to a sixth-place finish and maintained his lead in the series standings.

Martin Truex Jr., the Stage 2 winner and leader of 116 laps, was also bitten by a speeding penalty on pit road. The infraction shuffled him to 15th place for the final run to the finish. He wound up eighth.

Click here for full results.

Full story to follow.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't sure what happened to his No. 88 Chevrolet to send him hard into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 219 of the Food City 500, but he knows it resulted in another poor finish.

"It's unfortunate," Earnhardt said. "We weren't running that great, but we were working on our car and trying to figure out how to get it run better. And get something out of today, but we are going to have another bad finish. We've had a lot of them this year. It's going to be tough."

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It was an early exit from Bristol Motor Speedway in a race where Earnhardt had not been showing much progress. He started 20th after qualifying was washed out Friday, and had been running around the top 25 when the accident happened. Earnhardt will finish outside the top 30 for the fourth time in eight races.

"I don't know, we broke something in the oil system under caution," Earnhardt said. "The guys said there was some oil in the pit stall after our pit stop. I noticed when I was getting lined up double file for the restart the car was smoking. I just thought maybe we had a tire rub for some reason, but I couldn't remember what might have caused that, and I went into Turn 1 on the restart and the car went straight into the wall with oil all over the tires.

"Came into the garage there, and they are working on where the hole in the system is. Just something is messed up, but that is going to be the finish for us."

After missing the last 18 races of the 2016 season, Earnhardt felt it would take some time to knock the rust off in his return. But it's been a much rockier start to the season than expected, which began with a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500. Since then, Earnhardt has captured just one top-10 finish, which came two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt admitted he was a bit surprised by how off his Hendrick Motorsports team was Monday at Bristol considering how practice went earlier in the weekend.

"We ran into some issues at the end of the last practice [Saturday] with the car and they were still there today," Earnhardt said. "I don't know what in our setup is creating that. It's not like I'm feeling something that I wasn't familiar with. We did have some good practices and felt pretty confident, but apparently, whatever we got into the car late in the last practice we didn't tune it back out.

"We were really tight in the center and tight in the throttle and guys were beating me really bad back to the gas. That ain't no way to run anywhere, really."

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Josef Newgarden hopes that getting a first Penske win under his belt at Barber on Sunday will help to speed up his integration with the team.

Newgarden capitalized on a puncture suffered by teammate Will Power to secure his first win since joining Penske from Ed Carpenter Racing at the end of last season. The 26-year-old said that he hadn't feel any particular pressure to get off the mark with his new employer, but conceded that winning in just his third start as a Penske driver will make it easier for him to focus on other things in the races ahead.

"It's nice to get it out of the way," he said. "There's always expectations in racing. It's not like I felt any more pressure. I think I felt the same pressure you always feel: 'Hey, look, if you're not getting it done, what are you doing in the race seat?'

"Whatever team you're with, it's nice to get [the first win] out of the way early. You feel like you've accomplished something, then you can focus on the next accomplishment for the season.

"I feel like it's gone pretty well so far, [and] I only think it's going to get better. We need some time to understand what I need out of this team, and that just takes experience together. You have to run race weekends, run at the track. The more you do that, the more you build up a rapport. I'm happy we were able to get something pretty big out of the way at the start, and hopefully now we can continue to try to repeat it."

Newgarden's Barber victory makes him the fastest first-time Penske winner among the team's current lineup. Helio Castroneves made his first trip to Victory Lane with Penske in his seventh start with the team at Detroit in 2000 (BELOW), Will Power won at Edmonton in 2009 on his fifth race with Penske, and Simon Pagenaud was making his 19th appearance in Penske colors when he won at Long Beach in 2016.

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alonso seatFernando Alonso will have one of the most decorated race engineers in the paddock to oversee his Indy 500 debut as Andretti Autosport technical director Eric Bretzman has been assigned to the Spaniard for the month of May.

Bretzman, who moved from Chip Ganassi's organization to the Andretti squad during the offseason, earned his stripes as Scott Dixon's engineer where the two combined to win 34 IndyCar races, three championships and the 2008 Indy 500 during a 12-year span.

"Eric is going to be engineering Fernando's car, and he's been such an awesome addition all year," Andretti Autosport COO Rob Edwards told RACER. "We're only three races in, but we've come out of the blocks a lot stronger than we were a year ago and he's had a huge amount to do with that. A year ago, Craig Hampson would have been doing the extra car, but he's got a full-time job now, so using Eric means we can keep it all in-house."

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In addition to engineering Alonso's Andretti/McLaren Honda program, Bretzman (BELOW) will also juggle his role as technical director for the team during its expansion to six cars for the 101st Indy 500.

"Obviously the balance there for us is all of his other roles and responsibilities, but he's going to have a very capable supporting cast on the car to help with the workload," Edwards said. "It's a natural extension of what we're doing for the rest of the year with people we have already."

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With Alonso spending his Monday at the Andretti shop in Indianapolis to have a seat made (BELOW) and meet with more of the staff that will look after his effort, the team also confirmed the engineer for its sixth entry for Jack Harvey. Run in partnership with Michael Shank Racing, Harvey will have Zach Eakin to steer his rookie Indy 500 campaign.

"Zach came through the relationship we have with Mike Shank, and he was part of the original plan to run Stefan Wilson," Edwards added. "Stefan and Zach worked together last year at Indianapolis, and through the various shuffling that has gone on, it seemed logical to keep that piece in place."

Edwards expects Bretzman and Eakin to quickly blend into Andretti's deep pool of race engineering talent.

"Eric and Zach have some familiarity from working together in the past at Ganassi," he said. "In terms of building continuity over a short period of time, it made good sense to go with people who knew each other already."

Working with Alonso will return Bretzman to an IndyCar timing stand for the first time since the end of the 2014 season. After being shifted to Ganassi's NASCAR program in 2015, he spent two seasons away from open-wheel and watched as his race engineer brother Ben earned the 2016 IndyCar title at Team Penske with Simon Pagenaud. Through their respective drivers, the friendly family rivalry will resume next month at Indianapolis.

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lepage 170423 bhm 6285It was an expression I've seldom seen in the 49 years I've spent around Roger Penske. The man whose cars have now won 188 IndyCar races and 14 championships was downright giddy after Josef Newgarden's victory at Barber Motorsports Park.

"He kept Scott Dixon behind him for what, the last 20 laps?" said The Captain of his first-year driver. "I mean, that's impressive isn't it? He made a great move to get around Dixon and then held him off.

"What a job that kid did. That was Scott Dixon."

Newgarden's first of what figures to be many wins for Team Penske illustrated why he got hired to replace Juan Montoya and why the 26-year-old native of Hendersonville, Tenn. has been a force on any track the past couple seasons.

new2Starting seventh because he gambled on scuffed red tires in qualifying and just missed the Fast Six, Newgarden opted for black tires at the green flag and promptly blew past James Hinchcliffe and teammate Simon Pagenaud before the first pit stop.

He leapfrogged Helio Castroneves and Dixon on that stop and found himself in second behind polesitter Will Power. As the third race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar series headed into the stretch it was Power, Newgarden and Dixon separated by a couple seconds.

A caution with 22 laps left brought that trio into the pits one last time and Dixon's crew got him out second between the two Penske Chevys. On the restart, Newgarden dived inside the four-time IndyCar champ at Turn 16 and snatched second place.

JGS 9356 1"I like passing people there – I got Hinch earlier and I think with Scott I might have surprised him a little bit," said Newgarden. "It got him a little off-line and I was under him."

Following the podium celebration Dixon tipped his hat. "I usually keep it pretty tight around there but I was loose and he was really good in those last few corners, so it was a great move on his part."

Of course that only made one of the best performers of the past 25 years more intent on reclaiming the top spot and he had twice as much push-to-pass in his arsenal. But the young man who was allowed to hone his craft and mature thanks to Sarah Fisher, Wink Hartman and Ed Carpenter, did the unthinkable and kept Dixon behind him. And when Power punctured a tire and had to pit with 14 laps to go, Newgarden reaped the reward.

"Tough deal for Will – he led most of the race and was really strong but it's happened to all of us," said Newgarden. "You've got to seize your opportunities."

In the litany of stars that have graced The Captain's roster since he went full-time IndyCar racing in 1971, few have seized it as quickly. It took Pagenaud 19 starts to get that first win, Paul Tracy 17, Mark Donohue 16, 11 for Tom Sneva and Montoya, seven for Rick Mears and Castroneves, five for Gil de Ferran and Power. Al Unser Jr matched Newgarden in winning on his third start back in 1994. Only Danny Sullivan (start number two, the 1985 Indy 500) and Sam Hornish, who won his 2004 debut, have made R.P. smile quicker.

Newgarden scored a podium in his second start and a win in his third – and first time out for sponsor Fitzgerald Glider Kits. I've been saying for four years he's the Penske Perfect driver because of his sponsor-perfect demeanor, media savvy, fan friendliness and prodigious talent.

"I think he's got a great future," said Penske as he skipped (OK that's an exaggeration) off towards Victory Lane.

But what a great start.

Noteworthy at Barber...

16C 3260 1• As first impressions go, Fernando Alonso wowed the IndyCar paddock and press corps with his honestly, openness and sense of humor. The two-time world driving champion gave one of the most entertaining press conferences since Alex Zanardi, mingled with the fans on the grid and repeatedly gave the Indianapolis 500 his ringing endorsement. "It's the greatest race in the world and I'm looking forward to being part of it," he said several times.

• Spencer Pigot was having another fine race when he spun out while running eighth in ECR's Fuzzy's Chevy. The 2015 Indy Lights champ started 17th and made some nifty passes just like he did at St. Pete and was pulling away from veterans Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais when he made a mistake. "And it wasn't even for position, it was a lapped car, so I feel terrible for my crew," said Pigot, who may run Phoenix if J.R. Hildebrand's broken hand isn't sufficiently healed.

• A.J. Foyt missed Barber and won't be at Phoenix as he recovers from his stem cell surgery but Super Tex is on the mend and definitely will be in Indy next month.

Dec08 lead.001This is the 20th installment in RACER's ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.

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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" was a fair summary of the period in which RACER's 200th issue came into being. The gratification felt by the staff at reaching this milestone was tempered by the weight of the challenges everyone was facing in December 2008. The depths of the Great Recession included particularly hard hits to the U.S. automotive industry and so, inevitably, to professional motorsports – and to the media entities that covered them.

Underscoring how much the racing world had changed over the course of our 200 issues, the cover story of the issue detailed the 100 most significant moments in racing since the magazine's launch in May 1992 – and 100 more moments we wanted to happen in the years ahead. How'd we do? Like with all such wish lists, there were some good predictions, some bad.

Dec08 4A best of times/worst of times scenario also was in play for Tony Stewart at the end of 2008. Tom Jensen related how the then two-time NASCAR Cup champion had walked away from the Joe Gibbs Racing he had helped build into a powerhouse to take up co-ownership of Gene Haas' team, which had previously failed to muster much of a challenge. But Stewart would prove the long-term wisdom of his decision by winning a third title with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2011, and helping put in place the ingredients to keep the team a regular contender after he had retired from the cockpit.

Dec08 2For Target Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of '08, it was more a case of going from strength to strength. Having just cleaned up in the IRL with Scott Dixon, the team doubled up for 2009 by recruiting Dario Franchitti – who had preceded Dixon as winner of both the Indianapolis 500 and series title – from Michael Andretti's team. Jeff Olson related how the instant rapport between the two aces helped create an IndyCar superteam before it even turned a wheel.

Dec08 3The flip side of all the uncertainty facing racing at the end of 2008 was that the ultimate owners of the sport – the fans – were more in control than ever before, as we related in our annual look at the sources of power and influence in the sport. While motorsports sponsorship was coming under increasing pressure from corporate belt-tightening, the expansion of TV options and the first glimmerings of internet streaming were making more racing available to more people to view and choose from. That presented both promise and peril to all the interested parties, as Andrew Crask detailed in "Changing Times"

Dec08 5

RACER, of course, was feeling the effects of these changes too, which would lead to some significant new twists and turns in the years ahead.

Image47Two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso visits with RACER's Robin Miller to discuss his upcoming debut at the Indy 500.


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