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Monday Racing Roundup: Hinchcliffe Prevails in Wet, Wild Indy GP of Louisiana

James Hinchcliffe had a premonition midway through the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana when his crew ordered him not to make a pit stop like the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field leaders at NOLA Motorsports Park. The hunch came true when the Canadian took the checkered flag to win a wild and unpredictable series debut on the 2.74-mile road course outside New Orleans.

Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda, won under a full-course caution ahead of Helio Castroneves, in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. The race, run in changing track conditions after heavy morning rains, ended after 47 laps due to the 1-hour, 45-minute time limit. It marks the fourth career Indy car victory for Hinchcliffe and fifth for his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.

Most of the front-runners came to the pits on Lap 33 during a full-course caution, but Robert Gue, Hinchcliffe’s race strategist on the team pit stand, ordered the 28-year-old to remain on course and he inherited the lead. The race would see only three more green-flag laps the rest of the way, allowing Hinchcliffe – whose lone pit stop came on Lap 13 – to keep Castroneves and the rest of the field at bay.

“When we first decided to stay out, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we could make this a one-stopper?’” said Hinchcliffe, whose last win came on the Iowa Speedway oval in June 2013. “I just never thought it (would happen). On one hand, I feel badly that we didn’t have more green-flag laps for the fans and everybody here at NOLA, but on the other hand, those guys called it awesome. 

“The car was unbelievable on the (Firestone) reds. We pulled away from a couple of Penskes on those restarts. If we had gone green, I think we could’ve held them off at the end as long as we had the fuel. I’m just so happy.”

James Jakes, Hinchcliffe’s teammate, came home third in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Simona de Silvestro, in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda, placed fourth ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Montoya, who won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29, retains the provisional points lead with 84, 10 ahead of Castroneves. Will Power, who finished seventh in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevy, sits third in points (70) while Hinchcliffe is fourth (65).

The Verizon IndyCar Series races again this week at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Come May, the series will be on the road course for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the famed oval for the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

MotoGP: Marquez regains top form at Texas

Reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez sent a message out to the rest of the paddock that he was back after his mishap in Qatar, as he dominated the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas, at one point leading by over 5 seconds.

After mixed weather over the course of the weekend, the sun came out and track temperatures rose to 80 degrees in time for the start of the race.

Andrea Dovizioso led the field into turn 1, with Marquez happy to let the Ducati GP15 open up a 0.5s lead during the opening couple of laps. The Spaniard took the lead on Lap 5 and didn't look back as he went on to leave the rest of the field behind to maintain his perfect record at the Circuit of the Americas.

A brilliant battle for second then ensued between Italians Valentino Rossi, Dovizioso, and his Ducati teammate Andrea Iannone. “The Doctor” had to use all of his skill and experience to hold off the charge of the red machines as they tried to make their power advantage count. Rossi would eventually lose out to Dovizioso, who made it another podium for the resurgent Ducati Team, although he maintained his lead in the Championship standings by finishing third.

Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo overtook the Ducati GP15 of Iannone with only three laps to go to snatch fourth place from the Italian, with Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith rounding out the top 6 as the leading Satellite rider.

MotoGP will compete at Indianapolis on Aug. 9 in the Red Bull Indianapolis GP.

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Johnson the man again in Texas

Jimmie Johnson continued his recent domination of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night, rallying after a late pit stop for a victory in the 19th annual Duck Commander 500.

Johnson, the six-time NSCS champion, took the lead on Lap 321 of the scheduled 334 when he drove under and past Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick exiting the dogleg of TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval. The final 14 laps featured a battle between Johnson and Harvick, the reigning NSCS champion, who finished second despite scraping the Turn 4 wall on Lap 331.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, finished 1.107 seconds ahead of Harvick and his No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS. Johnson, of Hendrick Motorsports, posted his 72nd career victory in 478 NSCS starts and seventh for team owner Rick Hendrick.

"The end of the race was nutty," said Johnson, who said he woke up sick Saturday morning and addressed the media post-race through a scratchy voice. "Those last three pit stops with the varied tire strategies, our car wasn’t handling like it did when we were leading. The third one (on Lap 310), our car was really, really good and I was able to work our way forward. The No. 4 was having trouble with the No. 1 (of McMurray) and slid up…and I thought I had it under control. Just a lot of great racing; the (worn-out) surface of this racetrack allows that to happen.”

Johnson scored his fifth win at TMS and third in his last six starts, but his first victory in the spring event. Johnson earned his first win of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a sister 1.5-mile layout to TMS, in the second race on the schedule.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will race on July 26 at IMS in the Crown Royal presents “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard.

NASCAR XFINITY Series: Youth served as Jones wins

Teenager Erik Jones turned his first NASCAR XFINITY Series pole at Texas Motor Speedway into his first series victory Friday night, schooling NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. en route to the checkered flag.

Jones, 18, held off Keselowski on a restart on Lap 175 of the scheduled 200 for a margin of victory of 1.624 seconds in the first night race of the season. Jones’ first series win came in his ninth start. In the process Jones became the second-youngest series winner at TMS at 18 years, 10 months, 11 days – a record set last year by Chase Elliott at 18 years, 4 months and 7 days when he scored his first series victory in this event.
 
“This is surreal. That confidence is something I never doubted in myself,” Jones said. “This is just amazing. We beat Cup guys tonight! Just a really cool day and something I’m really proud of not only for myself but everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s a great feeling knowing you had to work for it, that it was not just handed to you.”

Jones, driver of the No. 20 GameStop/Mortal Kombat X Toyota Camry, previously had competed at TMS in the NASCAR Camping World Series. He started fifth and finished 11th in last June’s annual summer night race.

The XFINITY Series comes to IMS on July 25 for the Lilly Diabetes 250.

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