Auto Racing  

Herta wants to run Wickens in next year's Indianapolis 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Bryan Herta wants to enter Canadian driver Robert Wickens in the Indianapolis 500 as early as 2024 — a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He's worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai he returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old from Guelph, Ont., won a pair of races driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he's determined to do with Wickens.

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We've spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn't enough,” Herta said. “That's not something you can rush. There's some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on and things we just have to get right. It's a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That'd be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We'd like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told the AP. "But I don't know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort," he added. "I don't want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.” 

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing and welcomed the birth of his first child, a son named Wesley who is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker. 


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Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500 ride next month

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves has ruled out running next month's NASCAR season-opening Daytona 500.

Castroneves has been chasing a seat since winning one of Tony Stewart's summer all-star races last season to win a bet with the SRX head that promised Castroneves help finding a NASCAR ride. He'd tried to put a deal together with Trackhouse Racing, which said last week that it ultimately decided it did not want to run three cars.

Castroneves then tried to talk to Floyd Mayweather's team, but said Thursday he couldn't get a deal done with The Money Team Racing in time for next month's Daytona 500. TMT last year raced itself into the Daytona 500 with driver Kaz Grala in the first NASCAR race for Mayweather's team.

“Unfortunately, for me, lack of experience, no testing, a lot of things. I believe it will be a little bit tough throwing myself in on such short notice,” Castroneves said. “To go to a place where you've got to race yourself into (the race), as of right now, it's not going to happen. We need to have an opportunity, and we've just got to ... give me a little more experience."

Castroneves, who on Saturday will attempt to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona for a third consecutive year, said he's considering attending the Daytona 500 as a spectator.


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Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to extension

Stewart-Haas Racing announced a multiyear contract extension with Chase Briscoe on Thursday, making him the senior-most driver inside the NASCAR organization when two of his teammates retire at the end of the season.

Terms of the deal were not announced but SHR said Briscoe would drive the “No. 14 Ford Mustang for many more seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series.”

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results," said SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, an Indiana native who started the No. 14 and has handed it over to the 28-year-old fellow Hoosier.

“Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come.”

SHR fields Fords in the Cup Series for Briscoe, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and newcomer Ryan Preece. Almirola was supposed to retire before this season but returned for one more year; Harvick has said the 2023 season will be his last.

Briscoe was promoted to the Cup Series in 2021 after winning nine races in the Xfinity Series. He was Cup rookie of the year and last season scored his first Cup victory and made the playoffs.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart-Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am," said Briscoe.

“Growing up in Indiana and racing sprint cars, the guy I always looked up to was Tony Stewart. To be able to drive for him is a dream come true. To know I’ll have my name above the door of that No. 14 Ford Mustang for a really long time means a lot, and I’m ready to write my own history in it.”


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Austin Cindric seeks Rolex watch to add to Daytona 500 ring

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Based on experience alone, Austin Cindric figured he'd win a Rolex watch long before he'd earn a diamond-encrusted Daytona 500 ring.

He was wrong.

Cindric as a NASCAR rookie last year won the Daytona 500 to open his season with the biggest win of his career. It was a bit surreal since the bulk of his time at Daytona International Speedway had been either hanging around Roger Penske's sports car team or driving in the Rolex 24 and its support races.

Cindric's start to this year is his fifth appearance in the Rolex 24 this weekend with a lineup full of winners in the LMP2 class. He's hoping the Saturday into Sunday race will earn him his first Rolex.

“I’ve been coming to Daytona a lot longer for this race (Rolex 24) than I have for the (Daytona) 500 or NASCAR Speedweeks," Cindric said. “However long it takes, I want to win this race. It's why I put so much work in, it's why I don't care about sacrificing the last two weeks of my offseason, because it's something I'm really passionate about and I am not passionate about just doing the event — I want to go win it.”

The No. 51 Rick Ware Racing in the LMP2 class is comprised of IndyCar driver Devlin DeFrancesco and sports car driver Eric Lux, who were both part of the class-winning car a year ago. The fourth driver is Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi who on Tuesday was confirmed as the reserve driver for Haas F1 for a fifth consecutive season.

Cindric, the only full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver in the field, is trying to join Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon as winners of both the Daytona 500 and Rolex 24. That goal is why he chose the Ware entry for this year's race.

“I’m not going to do something or be part of something I don’t think has the legs to be able to do it and between the lineup and the experience a lot of the team guys have, I think this has that potential," Cindric said. “And it’s fun because I feel this lineup itself represents what makes this event fun for everybody. You’ve got one guy from NASCAR, one guy from Formula One, one guy whose IMSA, one guy from IndyCar and that’s what this event is all about, it’s a coming together of the people and individuals of motorsports.”

The entry list for the most prestigious sports car race in North America this year includes the debuts for Romain Grosjean, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, the latter two receiving rare permission from boss Roger Penske to run a race outside of IndyCar.

Cindric has been allowed by Penske to race Daytona as part of his development process and relationship-building with manufacturers. But the boss had long been reluctant to let his other drivers dabble in another discipline and at last changed his mind this year, when even Will Power was granted permission to race the Rolex before pulling out because his wife is ill.

“Roger believes in the right opportunity, and he protects us in terms of what's good and what he thinks is beneficial for us,” McLaughlin said.

Colton Herta was part of the winning LMP2 lineup last year but this year returns in the top GTP class seeking the overall victory. Herta is part of the BMW lineup and is slated to drive both its cars in the twice-round-the-clock endurance race.

IMSA rules require a minimum of two hours of drive time for in the top GTP class, so Herta needs only to do one normal stint in each car. His goal?

“To finish first and second,” Herta said. “Obviously I have two chances to win, but I'd like to finish first and second.”


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Hamilton recalls bullying, racial abuse during school years

Formula One great Lewis Hamilton experienced bullying when he was only 6 years old and said he had bananas thrown at him when he was racially abused at school.

The seven-time champion, who is the only Black driver in F1, called his schooldays the most traumatic of times.

“For me, school was probably the most traumatizing and most difficult part of my life," Hamilton said in an interview for the On Purpose podcast, which was released Monday. “I already was being bullied at the age of 6 ... I think at the time, (at) that particular school, I was probably one of three kids of color and just bigger, stronger, bullying kids were throwing me around a lot of the time.”

Born and educated in Stevenage, England, Hamilton described how racial abuse continued during his school years, along with the utter isolation and confusion he felt.

“And then constant jabs (jibes), the things that are thrown at you, like bananas, people that would use the N-word just so relaxed. People calling you half-caste and just really not knowing where you fit in," the 38-year-old Hamilton told the podcast show. "That for me was difficult, and then when you go into history class and everything you learn in history there are no people of color in the history they were teaching us. So I was thinking, ‘Where are the people who look like me?’”

Hamilton said even figures of authority would pick on him.

“There were only around six or seven black kids out of 1,200 kids and three of us were put outside the headmaster’s office all the time," he said. "The headmaster just had it out for us and particularly for me I would say.

“I was put in all the lowest sets at school and told that if you do well you can progress. They never ever let me progress, no matter how hard I tried," Hamilton added. “I really felt the system was up against me and I was swimming against the tide."

Hamilton said he felt the bitter pain of exclusion, even at recreation times.

“I was always the last picked, you know when you are standing in a line, when they are picking teams for football (soccer). I was always the last one chosen or not even chosen. Even if I was better than somebody else," he said. “Just juggling all these emotions that you're feeling, plus I struggled at school. I didn't find out until I was 16 that I was dyslexic.”

Hamilton described how he bottled up his pain and put on a brave face when he got home.

“There were a lot of things that I suppressed. I didn’t feel I could go home and tell my parents that these kids kept calling me the N-word today, (that) I got bullied, beaten up at school today, or I wasn't able to defend myself," he said. “I didn’t want my dad to think I was not strong and so if I had tears I would hold them back, if I had emotions it would be in a quiet place. It wasn't really until I started racing that I was able to channel this emotion that I had into my driving.”

Hamilton is F1's record-holder with 103 Grand Prix wins and 103 pole positions, and shares the record for most F1 titles with fellow great Michael Schumacher. The Mercedes star, who did not win a Grand Prix last season, begins his quest for an eighth F1 title when the season begins in Bahrain on March 5.

In recent years, Hamilton has distinguished himself away from the track, campaigning tirelessly to fight racism and urging others in F1 to speak out more.

Hamilton set up “The Hamilton Commission” to improve F1?s diversity, and has also been outspoken on human rights abuses in countries where F1 goes racing.

Last year, Hamilton said “ archaic mindsets ” have to change after retired champion Nelson Piquet reportedly used a racial slur against him.


Column: Roger Penske moves closer to shot at winning Le Mans

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Roger Penske believes in goals, even when his to-do list is pretty well covered.

The one hole in the Team Penske trophy case can only be filled by the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Winning the most prestigious sports car race in the world is on Penske’s bucket list as his 86th birthday draws near.

Last year was pretty big year for “The Captain” as it opened with Austin Cindric’s victory in the Daytona 500 on Penske’s 85th birthday. Will Power won the IndyCar title and Joey Logano the NASCAR Cup Series title to mark the first time Team Penske won the top two North American racing series in the same season.

The lure of Le Mans brought Penske back to sports car racing under revamped IMSA regulations that have created a top GTP class of cars featuring hybrid engines that will be eligible to compete at Le Mans in June. IMSA will be the first North American series to compete with hybrid technology and the advancement has drawn the top names in the business to the series.

Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche have made for a nine-car class this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the unofficial opener to the motorsports season and the first true reliability test for these new hybrid engines.

The technology is too enticing to avoid, and just this month Michael Andretti partnered with Wayne Taylor Racing on an Acura program that might get Andretti a shot at entering a team at Le Mans. BMW jumped up to the top class with Bobby Rahal, who had been content running his cars in a lower class but was swayed to move by the importance of the project.

That's what brought Roger Penske back after previously shuttering his IMSA sports car program following three seasons and the 2021 championship. Penske pulled out because the class was going to soon be obsolete as it transitioned to hybrid and IMSA made its push to become part of the Le Mans field.

He wanted in, early, on what was brewing to ensure it was a “Penske Perfect” effort this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Penske himself raced the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1963, and in 1971 entered a Ferrari for Mark Donohue and David Hobbs.

Both cars failed to finish the race and Penske did not return to Le Mans until last year, when Team Penske and partner Porsche entered a car that finished fifth in class. It was a test of all the work Penske and Porsche had been doing in two-plus years of program building.

Porsche and Penske have a storied history that began nearly five decades ago in the Can-Am series with back-to-back championships in the Porsche 917/10 for drivers George Follmer and Donohue. Porsche and Penske paired up again to win three consecutive IMSA titles in the Le Mans Prototype 2 class from 2006 through 2008.

The task now is to qualify the Porsche Penske entries for Le Mans and give Penske the opportunity to win the one race that has escaped his grasp.

“We all need goals and I’ve been very fortunate over the years racing with our teams to win championships, great wins," Penske said. “There’s always that one you want. I think that’s one of the things that Le Mans would mean to us as a team. Certainly for me personally. It’s a goal that we want to achieve.”

Felipe Nasr qualified Penske's No. 7 Porsche 963 second for the start of Saturday's race while a mistake by Nick Tandy on his attempt to win the pole led to the No. 6 crashing during qualifying.

Nasr, who left his championship-winning team after the 2021 title for a chance to drive for Penske, has spent the better part of the last year helping to develop the Porsche and launch the program. With that comes getting to know one of the most respected figures in motorsports.

“I become more of a fan of Roger every time I get the chance to speak to him,” Nasr said. “I can tell you how excited he is about this program. That's what he talks about night and day, sometimes we get phone calls at midnight, or early morning, and he wants to know everything. He's here, he's at the track and it's pretty unique to see someone putting in so much dedication and energy.”

With it comes pressure to deliver this summer in France for his new boss.

“That's his biggest dream right now, I think it's what he wants more than anything,” Nasr said. “So everything from now until then, it needs to be done right. Because when it comes to Le Mans, it is too important to him. That alone has been a great motivator to the entire staff, the mechanics, the engineers, everyone. Roger is not joking around about this.”


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Ford CEO Farley makes professional racing debut at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Tucked in the back corner of an outpost paddock at Daytona International Speedway stood the chief executive of Ford, leaning against a cart having a casual conversation with the heads of The Wood Brothers Racing team.

Jim Farley was wearing a firesuit and hardly looked the CEO part. On Saturday, he was a racer.

The 60-year-old made his professional racing debut with a 12th-place finish in the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge at Daytona. An accomplished historic racer, Farley drove a Multimatic Motorsports-run Ford Mustang GT4 in the GSX class.

It was the first sprint race in the new multi-class series that features Bronze or Silver-rated drivers.

Farley tried to fly under the radar and roam Daytona as any other “gentleman driver” and not the head of one of the most active automakers in motorsports. But he's still the head of Ford, and that's why Eddie and Leonard Wood traveled from Friday night's NASCAR Hall of Fame ceremony in North Carolina down to Daytona to watch Farley race.

Across the speedway in his motorhome, Roger Penske and Tim Cindric watched Farley race on a massive television screen with timing and scoring of the event on a second screen.

“I should have used a fake name on the entry form,” Farley joked to The Associated Press. He said motorsports is a vital part of Ford Motor Co., particularly in employee morale. Ford last year won the Daytona 500 with Austin Cindric and the NASCAR Cup championship with Joey Logano.

“It's so good that he's interested,” Penske said of Farley racing at Daytona. “It's good for Ford because he understands what motorsports means to the company. You know, both General Motors and Ford have the top leadership really invested into motorsports and how it can evolve in making a better car.”


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2-time Daytona 500 winner Kenseth inducted into Hall of Fame

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Two-time Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth finally reached the top rung of his career on Friday night when he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The 50-year-old Kenseth, who drove 18 full seasons in NASCAR before retiring in 2020 with 39 Cup victories and 20 poles, highlighted a class that also included longtime driver Hershel McGriff and crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine.

The driver who many referred to as “Matt the brat” when he first broke into racing ranks 21st on NASCAR’s career wins list. He won all of the sport’s biggest races including the Daytona 500 in 2009 and 2012, the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500 and the All-Star race.

“I always looked at my career as a ladder — you always start at the bottom and you hope to climb your way to the top,” Kenseth said in his acceptance speech. “My ladder has hundreds and hundreds of rungs on it. and without any of them, bottom, middle or top — no matter who you fit in my life — I wouldn't be here without any of you. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you all.”

Kenseth's wife, Katie, and father, Roy, inducted him.

“The internal drive is what put Matt on this stage tonight,” Katie Kenseth said.

Kenseth captured the 2003 Cup Series championship behind a dominating season in which he led the points standings for the final 32 weeks. He made the NASCAR playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons and finished runner-up twice. He also won 29 Xfinity Series races.

Kenseth talked about learning to love NASCAR by watching his family race at Jefferson Speedway where he grew up in Wisconsin and begging his father to take him to his uncle Gary's house so he could help him work on his race cars.

“Racing truly is a family sport,” he said.

Kenseth earned the respect of his contemporaries, including Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Johnson, a seven-time Cup champion, said some of his fiercest battles on the race track have been with Kenseth.

“There was always just a deep level of trust that we’re going to give 100 percent, not step over the line, not clean each other out,” Johnson said. “As a competitor, he was one of the few that I knew we’d race hard but we wouldn’t cross the line.”

Johnson said the two forged a friendship away from the track riding bikes.

“I absolutely call him a friend,” Johnson said. “His family, his kids are close to my kids, our wives are close, like we’ve really become friends and I am so thankful for it.”

Harvick also described Kenseth as a fair driver, but added that he is “that sneaky guy that would dump you.”

“If you did him wrong, he was going to give back exactly what he got,” Harvick said. “As you look back at Matt, he was one of the rare few that would always just figure it out and find his way to the front by the time that the race was over. He’s a great hardcore good racer and I always respected him.”

Shelmerdine was the crew chief and front tire change for four of Dale Earnhardt’s seven championships. Only two crew chiefs have more premier series titles than Shelmerdine: class of 2012 inductee Dale Inman with eight and Chad Knaus, who will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2024, with seven.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. inducted Shelmerdine, saying “he put my dad on the path to greatness.”

“What makes a great crew chief? It's simple, a great driver,” Shelmerdine said. “What else can we say about him? When we started together, Dale and I just kind of clicked intuitively.”

The 95-year-old McGriff competed on race tracks for 68 years.

From 1954 until 2018, he participated in 271 races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA Menards West Series), winning 34 races and posting 100 top-five finishes. He captured the series championship in 1986 at 58 years old and finished second in points in 1985 and 1987.

McGriff spoke at length about his career path, saying he started driving vehicles at age 7.

"I have had a happy life and this induction is just icing on the cake," McGriff said, tearing up several times during his speech. He joked that he still plans to write a book about his life.

Mike Helton was honored as the Landmark Award winner for outstanding contributions to the sport. Helton was the first person outside the France family to handle NASCAR's day-to-day operations.

Photographer T. Taylor Warren was named the recipient of the 2023 Squier-Hall Award.


AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report


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Busch, Bowyer, Harvick, Helio to all race SRX this summer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick will all make their debuts this season in Tony Stewart's summer all-star series, while four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves confirmed Wednesday he'll return for a third season.

Busch, who left Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last season and will drive for Richard Childress in NASCAR this year, will run the middle two Superstar Racing Experience events of the season. Busch will race at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia in July, and again the following Thursday night at Berlin Raceway in Michigan.

SRX this summer will move from racing on Saturday nights at local short tracks to Thursday nights in a new television package with ESPN. The date change for the six consecutive weeks of racing is more conducive for several current stars who want to be part of the summer short track events but didn't have the time during regular race weekends.

“I’ve been working with everyone at SRX trying to get one of their races on my schedule the last couple seasons and things didn’t work out, so when they announced they were having weeknight races in close proximity to a couple races on the Cup schedule, SRX and I immediately got together to plan something for this year," Busch said. "I’ve won at Berlin in the Super Late Model and I really enjoy racing at these local short tracks across the country, so it’ll be fun to go back and support those tracks and the great fan bases that they have.”

Bowyer, a current NASCAR analyst for Fox, will be out of the broadcast booth by the time SRX begins its season and has picked three races for this summer. Bowyer will race in the opener at Stafford Speedway in Connecticut, at Motor Mile alongside Busch and then in the SRX finale at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri.

“Clint is a blast to watch wheel a racecar, microphone or simply watching him hold court in the garage,” said second-year SRX CEO Don Hawk. “He was on our short list (of drivers) and I'm thankful he said ‘Yes.’"

Harvick, who is retiring from NASCAR competition at the end of the season, was announced Tuesday to compete at Stafford and Berlin. Castroneves, who won last year's SRX opener, will compete at Motor Mile, Berlin Speedway and Lucas Oil.


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Column: Hendrick checking off his own personal bucket list

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hendrick Motorsports started as All-Star Racing in a old shop with wood-paneled walls and just enough room for its eight employees.

Rick Hendrick had cobbled together just enough money to launch that unsponsored NASCAR team for the 1984 season. He had owned City Chevrolet in Charlotte for just over five years, but racing was his first love, so he gave it a go as NASCAR's growth began sprawling past its Southern borders.

All-Star Racing nearly went broke two months into its inaugural season before a victory by Geoff Bodine — the third choice driver! — saved the season and kept the wheels rolling on what is now the winningest organization in NASCAR history.

That Bodine win at Martinsville in the eighth race of the 1984 season fortified a bond with General Motors that has taken Hendrick to the top of two different industries. Hendrick Automotive Group is the largest privately held group of car dealerships in the United States, and Hendrick Motorsports is NASCAR's version of the New York Yankees.

Hendrick's playground has always been NASCAR. Exclusively NASCAR, and he's never really allowed his drivers to play around in other series. They are highly compensated to drive Hendrick Chevrolets and Hendrick didn't want them getting hurt fulfilling vanity projects.

Well, Hendrick is now 73 and his drivers — young enough to be his grandchildren — want to race anything with wheels. With safety enhancements vastly improved, Hendrick has loosened up and now lets his drivers stretch their legs a bit.

Next up? The Indianapolis 500.

Rick Hendrick, the boss who barely let his drivers ride bicycles during the NASCAR season, has agreed to let Kyle Larson race the Indy 500. Larson will attempt “the Double” and race both the Coca-Cola 600 — a home race held practically within shouting distance of Hendrick Motorsports' sprawling campus — and the Indy 500 on the same day in late May.

What's even more eye-popping is that Hendrick will be co-owner of the car. And that will come as he also sends one of NASCAR's new Next Gen cars to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June.

That's right, Hendrick, a hard-line NASCAR lifer with a record 14 Cup Series titles, is crossing races off his very own bucket list. His change in approach for his drivers has given the boss the chance to dabble outside stock cars and in true Hendrick form, he's not messing around.

Hendrick has utilized his deep resources and put his best people on giving him a chance to race on the biggest stages in the world. Jimmie Johnson helped Hendrick the last two seasons enter the endurance races in the IMSA sports car program. The effort was run by Chad Knaus and sure, IMSA is owned by NASCAR, but it was something different and gave Hendrick skin in the game at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring.

That opened discussions on a special NASCAR project for the 24 Hours of Le Mans at its centenary race this June. NASCAR wanted to display its new Next Gen stock car in a special category and Hendrick said he'd run the effort with General Motors.

The deal initially rankled rivals quick to outpoint the Le Mans project gave Hendrick employees unfair access to the Next Gen. There are now data sharing agreements in place and Hendrick is indeed going to Le Mans with a lineup expected to include Johnson.

Last week came word that Hendrick was letting Larson go to Indy in 2024 with McLaren Racing, with Hendrick listed as the co-owner and HendrickCars.com as the sponsor. It's a partnership with, you guessed it, General Motors and McLaren Racing, which is run by American Zak Brown.

Brown and Jeff Gordon, both racers originally from California, put the Larson deal together as Gordon now handles many of Hendrick Motorsports' day-to-day deals. Brown is a big dreamer open to any idea, and the chance to bring Rick Hendrick to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was one worth pursuing.

Larson was the golden ticket because it is Larson's dream race, and Larson has lobbied Hendrick and Gordon for a chance to race the Indy 500 since joining the team in 2021. Brown struck when Hendrick was most vulnerable.

“Kyle has made it very clear to me that he would love to do it. I never thought it would happen," Hendrick said.

The real draw is that after all these years, Hendrick is now getting a chance to sample motorsports far outside the NASCAR ovals. He has already tried sports car racing in North America and will go international in June; he's been dirt racing and short track racing and raced for fun, and now he's going to try to win the Indy 500.

“For me to do it with Chevrolet, I always wanted to be with a premier team if we ever did do it,” Hendrick said. "To be able to partner with McLaren and have Hendrick Cars on it, that is special to me and our whole organization. A bucket list for any racer.”

Before now, the only known Hendrick bucket list was the obvious car dealer mantra: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."

Now he wants to win Daytona. And Indianapolis, too.


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Travis Pastrana to attempt Daytona 500 with 23XI Racing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Travis Pastrana is a motor sports icon decorated for his fearless attack on anything with wheels or engines or ramps or danger.

But there is one thing missing from his resume, and as far as Pastrana is concerned, no event is bigger.

Pastrana said Tuesday he'll make his long-coveted attempt to race the Daytona 500 this year in an entry fielded by 23XI Racing and sponsored by Black Rifle Coffee. The No. 67 Toyota will be a third entry for the NASCAR team owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, and gives action-star Pastrana the chance to fulfill his career dream.

“As my career gets further to the end, I just really, really, really want to be able to line up one day at the Daytona 500. It's the biggest race in the world as far as my family is concerned,” Pastrana told The Associated Press.

“My grandma watched the Daytona 500. It was our one really big family/friend event that everybody pretty much in our county would go and watch. It was a holiday for us,” Pastrana said. “It has a big place in my heart, a lot of great memories, and I always said, 'Man, one day I’d love to go racing in the Daytona 500.”

Pastrana, mind you, is a decorated X Games star and has won championships in supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross, rally racing and, most recently, offshore powerboat racing. But as he begins to wind down his career — the father of two turns 40 this year — Pastrana couldn't let go of his desire to race the Daytona 500.

He made a brief run at NASCAR a decade ago and raced the full Xfinity Series schedule in 2013 for Roush Fenway Racing. Pastrana struggled far more than he expected — “I didn't pick up on the rear-wheel drive on pavement as quick as I needed to,” he told the AP — and sponsorship was a challenge, so his NASCAR career came to a halt.

Pastrana had shown, though, that he can handle fast cars. He finished 10th that year in the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona International Speedway and won the pole at Talladega Superspeedway. He will need to be fast next month at Daytona, where Pastrana will have to qualify his way into “The Great American Race.”

There are only four open spots in the 40-car field and seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, is vying for one of them. Another potential entrant is four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

Pastrana will be teammates with Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing newcomer Tyler Reddick, and he will be part of the larger Toyota group that includes team co-owner Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is expecting a fast motor but knows the pressure will be intense just to make the race.

“Everything else that I do uses a lot of practice. But this is the first time I’ll ever (drive) a Cup car over 40 mph, the first time I’ll ever have a Cup car on the Daytona track, the first time I’ll ever be in front of the world with all the sponsors and everything trying to qualify — will be my qualifying lap,” Pastrana said. “2311 said: ‘We’re going to give you the absolute best that we can. We’re not playing favorites.' And for me, looking those guys in the eye, I realized we've got a shot to go out there and not just qualify, but qualify well and put ourselves up in a position to potentially mix it up in there.

“I definitely can drive and I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to put my best foot forward.”

Acknowledging that racing in the Daytona 500 was a “pay-to-play” venture in which he had to fund the package, Pastrana needed to partner with a team that gave him a shot to compete and not blow the money in a failed effort. He said he chose to take the Black Rifle sponsorship to 23XI because of an existing friendship with Kurt Busch and others inside the organization.

Pastrana, who broke his pelvis and back last year, insists he's slowing down. But as he heads into the Daytona 500, he'll be in an airplane or a car every day between his announcement Tuesday and arriving in Daytona. On his working list is representing the United States with Tanner Foust at the Race of Champions in Sweden later this month.

“I love what I do. I love driving. I love competition,” said Pastana, who also hailed the lifestyle. He met his wife through extreme sports and they raise their daughters at events around the world.

“We have so much access to trampolines and go-karts and bicycles and motorcycles, and I just feel like I can be the best father that I can be,” Pastrana said. "But I realized that it’s very difficult to stay on top and I’ve been very fortunate to have a long career. And it’s — I wouldn’t say it’s over or coming to an end — but definitely my priorities are changing.

“That’s why I’m doing the Daytona 500 this year. I felt like even though the door didn't totally close 10 years ago, I feel like it’s close.”


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Sato joins Ganassi as Japanese driver to race ovals only

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato will wind down his career this season by scaling back to ovals only in IndyCar as the Japanese driver moves to Chip Ganassi Racing.

Sato will share the No. 11 Honda with rookie Marcus Armstrong, who was hired to drive the IndyCar street and road course races for Ganassi. There are five oval races on this year's IndyCar schedule and Tuesday's announcement said only that Sato will “pilot the No. 11 Honda in oval competition.”

Sato would almost certainly be at the Indianapolis 500, which he won in 2017 driving for Michael Andretti and 2020 driving for Bobby Rahal. Sato is the only Japanese winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Sato finished third at Indy in 2019 and crashed on the final lap racing Dario Franchitti for the 2012 victory. Franchitti won the race for Ganassi, an organization Sato is finally joining in a career that has spanned more than two decades, multiple teams and a start in Formula One.

“Focusing on the oval races is a new chapter for me but I’m thrilled to have the ability to race with team members and teammates that have won the championships and Indianapolis 500 in the past, which is a tremendous advantage," Sato said.

Ganassi won last year's Indianapolis 500 with Marcus Ericsson and the 2021 IndyCar championship with Alex Palou.

Sato has six career victories over 13 seasons in IndyCar. His 215 career starts is sixth among active drivers and 22nd all-time. He spent last season driving for Dale Coyne Racing.

Sato spent seven seasons in F1 from 2002-08 with 90 career starts. He earned 44 points with one podium.


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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