Sam Hornish Jr.: ‘There’s still some miles left on these tires of mine’

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Sam Hornish Jr. wants to make this very clear: his NASCAR career is far from over.

When he was released at the end of 2015 after just one season of racing in the Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty Motorsports, it appeared as if Hornish may have driven his last NASCAR race.

He looked for rides during the offseason, but none was forthcoming. As a result, he threw himself into doing more things with his family, yet kept his cell phone close in case a team that needed a fill-in driver came calling.

That call already has come three times thus far this year: once by Joe Gibbs Racing and twice by Richard Childress Racing, all in the Xfinity Series.

Hornish has not disappointed. He won his solo outing for JGR at Iowa (filling in for the injured Matt Tifft), came back for a second race at Iowa for RCR and finished sixth, and on Saturday at Mid-Ohio, in his second stint for RCR, finished a close second in a rain-plagued race.

As a result, Hornish has a combined average finish of 3.0 and an average start of 3.7 in those three races. The three-time IndyCar champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner definitely has proven he can get the job done. He just needs a good team with good equipment to get back into the mix.

“I’m really thankful that everybody at RCR and the people at Rheem (the sponsor of the No. 2 Chevy in Saturday’s race) gave me the opportunity to come out and do this,” Hornish said after Saturday’s race. “Hopefully, it will mean more racing in the future.”

Although he’d prefer a full-time ride in 2017, Hornish also would take a part-time ride.

“We’re really using this year to build for the next, kind of where my career is at right now,” he said. “I want to be in some good stuff, and I don’t care if there’s a couple races in-between. As much as I want to be out there full-time, I also want to do it the right way.”

Although he’s hoping for more still to come, Hornish has at least one more race on his 2016 schedule: a third start for RCR in the Xfinity Series at Kentucky on Sept. 24.

“Kentucky is one of my favorite racetracks and is where I got one of my first big breaks there,” Hornish said. “What it will all mean for next year, I don’t know, but I’m just thankful for the opportunity. It’s not fun to sit and to wait and hope you get opportunities.”

Hornish struggled several times during Saturday’s race at Mid-Ohio. He ran off-course a couple of times, spun a couple of others and fell way back in the pack.

But falling back on the extensive road course experience he’s amassed in his lengthy career, he methodically worked his way back up to the front.

But the combination of heavy rain in the closing laps and the domination by race winner Justin Marks kept Hornish from mounting one last surge, losing by 3.707 seconds in a race whose average speed was just 53.347 mph.

“It was awful, I don’t ever want to do it again,” Hornish joked about the rain, which was moderate in the opening laps, gave way to a dry period, and then the track was inundated with heavy rain that made seeing – let alone passing – all but impossible in the laps heading to the checkered flag.

“There were some ups and downs and some things that I wish we could do over again,” Hornish said. “I feel the 42 (Marks) did some things that allowed them to be better in the wet with the setup in their race car.

“My hat’s off to Justin Marks. I knew he was a good rain racer, and that he was probably going to be the guy I had to beat, and that’s the way it wound up.”

Still, there was a lot of good to be taken away from Saturday’s race for Hornish.

“This is my second pole in a row at Mid-Ohio, this is my best finish at Mid-Ohio, I feel I’m doing the things I need to do, so I’m just happy to keep working away at it,” he said. “I got a little down with less than 25 laps to go when it started raining again because I knew we were a second and a half faster than everybody else on the dry.

“We wound up second, and I came up just a little bit short, but for what it could have been today, it ended up pretty good.”

Hornish, 37, then proudly reiterated something about where his career stands after winning the Mid-Ohio pole a day earlier.

“When I set the new track record, I said, ‘Not bad for an old guy.’ There’s still some miles left on these tires of mine.”

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Hailie Deegan on IMSA debut: ‘I’m not mad. I’m gaining experience’

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The first day of Hailie Deegan’s foray into sports car racing was one with mixed results.

Deegan and teammate, NASCAR Xfinity driver Chase Briscoe, finished 43rd of 51 teams that were entered in Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona International Speedway.

Deegan ran as high as 15th before the car experienced mechanical issues roughly three hours into the four-hour event, and it was brought in to be worked on for the remaining time.

Deegan and Briscoe were in the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Inc. Ford GT4, which ran a total of 86 laps. One other NASCAR driver, Xfinity pilot Austin Cindric, was teamed with Seb Priaulx in the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Inc. Ford Mustang GT4, and together they finished 45th, completing 78 laps.

One other name of note was IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves, who finished 28th (completed 107 laps).

The fastest team in the field was Dylan Murry, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Jim Cox, who collectively ran the entire 110 laps.

While her team continued to work on the car in the garage, Deegan visited the infield media center to speak about her first race experience in an IMSA sports car.

I feel like I just gained a lot of experience,” Deegan said. “I’m here to gain experience after that three-day road test, coming here and practicing for two days.

“I just feel like I know a lot more about racing than I did before. And that’s why I’m here and supposed to be doing.”

The biggest challenge, Deegan said, was the large number of cars she had to compete against.

“The traffic is a little difficult to deal with; it’s not bad, though,” Deegan said. “It makes it fun. It makes it interesting. You constantly have to be on your toes.

“What I like about sports car racing is how many of the points you have to remember in your head. You get a little distracted for a second, and the next thing you know, you overdrive the corner that kind of laps into the next corner.

“So there’s constantly so much going on, you have to be on top of your game.”

While she would have liked to have more time on track had it not been for the mechanical issue, Deegan was philosophical about how the day played out.

“I’m not mad, I’m gaining experience,” she said. “That’s what I’m here to do.”

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DC Solar founders to plead guilty to charges related to $1 billion Ponzi scheme

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Thirteen months after the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service raided the headquarters of DC Solar and the home of its founders, Jeff and Paulette Carpoff, the couple has entered plea agreements related to a $1 billion Ponzi scheme, the impact of which saw Chip Ganassi Racing close its Xfinity Series program in 2019.

Jeff Carpoff has agreed to plead guilty to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering while Paulette Carpoff will plead guilty to one count each of conspiracy and money laundering.

According to the plea agreements filed with the Eastern District of California, the government will recommend an initial sentence of 30 years in prison for Jeff Carpoff and 15 years for Paulette Carpoff prior to any co-operation they provide with the case.

The agreement outlines a Ponzi scheme that operated from March 2011 to December 2018, ending with the raids on the Carpoff’s residence in Martinez, California, and DC Solar’s headquarters in Benicia, California.

DC Solar was a company that built and leased solar energy equipment and also sponsored Chip Ganassi Racing in the Cup and Xfinity Series. It was the primary or co-primary sponsor for Kyle Larson in 16 Cup races and for three races with Jamie McMurray in 2018. It also sponsored 10 Xfinity races with Ganassi and announced in November 2018 it would sponsor Ross Chastain’s full-time ride in 2019.

It also sponsored Xfinity Series races in 2018 at Phoenix Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the infield “FanGrounds” at Richmond Raceway.

In the wake of the raids and the company filing for bankruptcy in January 2019, CGR was forced to close its Xfinity operation.

During the nearly eight-year scheme, the plea agreement says the Carpoffs used the money generated from it to buy their NASCAR sponsorships, 150 luxury and collectible vehicles and luxury real estate in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, the Caribbean and Mexico.

They also purchased a suite at a professional football stadium, a subscription private jet service, the Martinez (California) Clippers minor league baseball team and a 2018 performance by an internationally known rapper at a company holiday party.

Funds were also used to make illicit payments to their co-conspirators and others.

As part of their respective plea agreements, the Carpoffs have agreed to pay restitution to their victims, totaling between $800 million and $1.6 billion.

Jim France bullish on the future: ‘We’re getting some momentum back’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a rare interview Friday, NASCAR CEO and chairman Jim France said he’s bullish about the momentum of his racing series, particularly since last year’s ISC merger.

“Very much so,” France said when asked if he’s looking forward to the return of stock cars to Daytona International Speedway next month for Speedweeks. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus has been on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said with a laugh. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

France spoke with a small group of reporters after a major news conference at Daytona involving the IMSA Series that will create a bridge for the premier sports car classes at Daytona and Le Mans.

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, who is also the chairman of IMSA.

Kaz Grala returning to Richard Childress Racing for select Xfinity races

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Kaz Grala will return to compete for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series this year in select races, the team announced Friday.

Grala, 21, will be one of three drivers to pilot the No. 21 Chevrolet during the full season, joining Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo.

Grala made five starts in the No. 21 in 2019, earning a best result of fifth at Road America.

“I learned a lot as a driver working with RCR last year, so I feel confident that our existing chemistry as a team will lead to even better results in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season,” Grala said in a press release. “RCR’s Xfinity Series program is top-notch, and with the No. 21 car running all year, I am excited to be a part of the team chasing yet another owner’s championship. I’m very grateful to Richard Childress for giving me this opportunity to further my career.”

No sponsors were part of the announcement.

“Kaz showed quite a bit of speed and promise in the No. 21 car last year for RCR,” Richard Childress said in a press release. “I’m confident the results will show in 2020, especially after a year under his belt in our proven Xfinity program.”