Senior staff writer
Noblesville’s Dakota Armstrong remains determined to show team owner Richard Petty that he is improving over his first Xfinity Series campaign last year.
Armstrong, 24, is bettering himself as he prepares for the 250-mile race Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We’ve made it into the top 15 points, and that’s a big step,” Armstrong said at Kentucky Speedway. “No doubt we could have had better finishes; we are getting better.”
Although he grew up in open-wheel territory, Armstrong has raced mostly stock cars. Last year was his first in NASCAR’s No. 2 series.
Armstrong admired Jeff Gordon for his NASCAR career from racing sprints and midgets in Indiana and taking a stock car path.
“Our paths were a bit different, but I’m trying for the same goal, to race in Sprint Cup,” Armstrong said. “Jeff is ‘that guy’ for my generation because we look up at what he has accomplished. He is a big leader of the sport. Every young driver wants to become the next Jeff Gordon.”
After 16 races, Armstrong is 12th in points with a best finish of sixth earlier this month at Daytona, where he started on the pole last year. He was 13th in points for the season with three top 10s. He has flirted with the top-10 ranking this season.
“If you’re running consistently in the top 10, you’ll have shots at winning races,” he said. “That’s the goal – to run consistently in the top 10 so we can have a good season.”
Newman not so quiet
South Bend native Ryan Newman usually does his talking on the racetrack. The graduate of USAC midget and sprint cars has 17 wins and 51 poles in 14 years of Sprint Cup competition. He was winless last year but was the series runner-up.
He has not won a Sprint Cup race since his 2013 Brickyard with Newman-Haas Racing. His best finish this season, his second with team owner Richard Childress, was second at Martinsville, Va.
Newman expressed his true desire to win this season and make The Chase on wins instead of points.
He has been outspoken twice this season.
In an interview with NBC after the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway earlier this month, Newman talked about the horrendous multiple-car accident that sent Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet airborne into the front stretch catch fence. The potential for tragedy was alarming, particularly in the aftermath of Dan Weldon’s fatal crash at Las Vegas in 2011 and Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona in 2001.
“NASCAR got what they wanted, that’s the end of it,” said Newman, who has an engineering degree from Purdue University.
“Cars getting airborne, unsafe drivers, same old stuff. They just don’t listen. They had an event in 2001, and they’ve had several events since then. They just don’t pay attention to safety, simple as that.”
At least some drivers have NASCAR’s collective ear. The recently established drivers council has urged the governing body to make car rules so that the driving is back in the drivers’ hands.
Earlier this season Newman was part of the Tiregate at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where officials had been looking at a number of teams who had allegedly altered tires by drilling small holes in the tires to let air out during the course of a run for better wear and grip. Tires were taken after the March 22 race at Auto Club
Speedway in California.
Newman’s team, the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress, was assessed a 75-point reduction and a $125,000 fine for crew chief Luke Lambert, who was suspended for six races along with a tire technician and team engineer.
Newman was dropped to 26th in points, but he is back to 14th after the Quaker State 400. If he continues winless but remains in the top 16, he could make the Chase.
Nevertheless, he is looking forward to the Brickyard 400 and breaking his winless slide.
Brickyard aero package
The mandated aero package at the Brickyard requires a 9-inch rear spoiler, a 1-inch wicker bill, a 2-inch leading edge on the front splitter and a 43-inch splitter extension panel.
NASCAR executive Chris O’Donnell expects lap speeds to be 10 mph slower than last year. Officials expect more passing and drafting with the new rules.
Kevin Harvick holds the one-lap qualifying record of 188.470 mph at the Brickyard.
Schedule of events
Activities begin Thursday on Main Street in Speedway with the annual hauler parade and entertainment from 5-8 p.m.
Sprint Cup and Xfinity drivers have practice sessions from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, with autograph sessions at 9 and 11 a.m. Xfinity Series qualifying is at 11:35 a.m. Saturday, followed by Sprint Cup qualifying at 1:10 p.m. The Xfinity Lilly Diabetes 250 starts at 3:50 p.m.
The Crown Royal presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard starts at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Country music star Kellie Pickler will sing the national anthem.
The Brickyard race honors Jeff Kyle of Texas, a recipient of the Navy Achievement Medal for leading the first Marine detachment to transport a nuclear submarine through hostile waters. He was deployed multiple times to Iraq and Africa during his eight years of military service.
Honoring Sgt. Kyle is part of Crown Royal’s unique program that recognizes a military hero with his name as part of the Sprint Cup race at the Brickyard. He was announced as the winner last month at a Texas Rangers home baseball game, where he threw the first pitch.
Kyle is an advocate for veterans and provides support through his involvement with several organizations.
• Jeff Gordon, who won his fifth Brickyard last year, has 17 top-10 finish in 21 Brickyard 400s. Gordon is the race’s youngest winner, having taken the checkered flag for the inaugural race in 1994, just two days after his 23rd birthday.
• Kyle Larson, who finished seventh last year, was the highest finishing rookie.
• Bill Elliott is the oldest winner; he was 46 when he won in 2002.
• Gordon has the most wins with five; his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson has four. Tony Stewart and Dale Jarrett have two each. Other winners are Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Newman, Ricky Rudd, Harvick, Earnhardt and Bill Elliott.
• Team owner Rick Hendrick has nine wins. Roger Penske, who has a record 16 Indianapolis 500 wins, has never won the race.