Thursday, June 13, 2013

Track Walk: Milwaukee 2013

Helio Castroneves took the points lead after his first win of the season last Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway and leads the Izod IndyCar Series to the Milwaukee Mile. Last year at Milwaukee Ryan Hunter-Reay picked up his first of four wins during his championship season.

The Death of Jason Leffler
Jason Leffler died last night after succumbing to injuries suffered in a sprint car accident at Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, New Jersey. Leffler, 37, is survived by a son Charlie.

A diverse racer, Leffler won three consecutive USAC National Midget Championships from 1997 to 1999 and the 1998 USAC Silver Crown Championship. Leffler made three starts in IndyCar over two years with a career best fifteenth at Las Vegas in 2000. He started the 2000 Indianapolis 500 where he started and finished seventeenth. In 2000, Leffler ran the full NASCAR Busch Series season for Joe Gibbs Racing before moving up to the then NASCAR Winston Cup Series for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2001. In his rookie season for Ganassi, Leffer struggled, failing to qualify for five races and having an average finish of 27.7. He did have one bright spot scoring the pole position in the inaugural race at Kansas Speedway. Leffler would score his lone career top ten in NASCAR's top division in 2001 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It would be another four years before Leffler got another shot at driving full-time in the top division of NASCAR.

In the interim, he drove in the Truck and Busch Series where Leffler found success. In 2002, driving for Ultra Motorsports, Leffler won eight poles, scored eleven top fives and fifteen top tens in twenty-two races and finished fifth in the point standings but did not win a race. In 2003, Leffler won the Truck race at Dover for his first career win in NASCAR. By 2004, Leffler was back in the NASCAR Busch Series driving for Gene Haas and won at Nashville Superspeedway.

Leffler's return to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series was not highly successful. He only raced nineteen times for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2005, scoring a best finish of twelfth at Martinsville Speedway with the low point being failing to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. Leffler returned to the Busch Series in 2006 and ran every race from 2006 to 2011, picking up his second career win at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2007, the first first win for Toyota in the Busch Series. Leffler made his final career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start last Sunday at Pocono Raceway, completing eight laps before retiring, finishing forty-third.

Briscoe Is Back
Ryan Briscoe will have a busy few weeks. Last week, when IndyCar was in Texas, Briscoe was in Le Mans, getting his first test laps done on Circuit de la Sarthe in preparation for the the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 22nd and 23rd. This week he is flying back to the United States to drive the National Guard Chevrolet for Panther Racing at Milwaukee. This will be his third start with the team after running the doubleheader at Belle Isle. Briscoe won his first career IndyCar race at Milwaukee in 2008 and would finish second in 2009 but has not finished in the top ten at the Milwaukee Mile since it returned from it's one-year sabbatical in 2010.

Races for the rest of 2013 are up in the air for Briscoe. Next week, he will be racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Level 5 Motorsports, while Oriol Serviá will be in the #4 at Iowa. The American Le Mans Series is at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut the day before the Pocono race. Other possible conflicts for Briscoe are October 5 when the Houston doubleheader and Virginia International Raceway are head-to-head and October 19 when both series have their season finales, IndyCar at Fontana and ALMS with Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Both IndyCar and ALMS race at Baltimore on Labor Day weekend.

IndyCar in Forza Motorsport 5
The IndyCar of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon and Will Power will be included in Forza Motorsport 5, a racing simulator for the new Xbox One due to be released this fall. This is the first time open-wheel race cars will be included in the game. Indianapolis Motor Speedway will also be in the game. Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden were on hand for the announcement last night in Los Angeles.

Forecast and A Potential TV Conflict
Friday at the Milwaukee Mile calls for sunny conditions with a high of 70 degrees Fahrenheit, chance of rain at ten percent. Saturday's forecast is scattered thunderstorms, a high of 73 degrees Fahrenheit and chance of rain at fifty percent.

Rain on Saturday could cause a television conflict. Green flag time for Saturday is scheduled around 4:40 p.m. ET and the NBCSN television window goes to 7 p.m. ET. The pre-game show for game two of the Stanley Cup Final follows the race with game two starting at 8 p.m. ET. Should a delay last any longer than an hour, IndyCar will be between a rock and a hard place with no backup plan having been announced. Let's keep an eye on that.

Track Facts
Andretti Autosport has won five of the last six races on ovals under a mile and a half. Active drivers who have won at Milwaukee Mile are Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Tony Kanaan and Sébastien Bourdais. Hunter-Reay, Franchitti and Kanaan each have two wins at the track.

In the last twenty races at Milwaukee, the winner has come from pole six times, with Dario Franchitti in 2011 being the most recent. The farthest back a winner has come from in the last twenty races is eleventh, done by Ryan Briscoe in 2008.

Extra Notes
25 More Laps: For the first time since Ryan Hunter-Reay led flag-to-flag in 2004, the IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile will be 250 laps. Since reunification, Milwaukee has only been a 225 lap race.

As of Thursday morning, the driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Honda has yet to be announced.

Give me Ryan Hunter-Reay. He has won the last two races on short tracks and Andretti Autosport has shown to be the best team on ovals the last two seasons. Last week Andretti Autosport had all four cars in the top ten. I think they will get three cars in the top ten this week. Penske Racing has not won on a short track since Briscoe's win at Milwaukee in 2008. I think neither Will Power or Helio Castroneves score a top five this week. Tony Kanaan will pick up another top five. Graham Rahal will finish ahead of his teammate James Jakes but neither will be in the top ten. Scott Dixon is the top finishing Ganassi driver and top finishing Honda. Sleeper: EJ Viso.