Nearly 40 days have passed since the first race of the INDY NXT by Firestone’s season was held. The sting of that race’s ending has not passed for Jacob Abel.
The driver of the No. 51 Abel Motorsports entry cannot shake the disappointment that came from the potential win that got away from him. After leading 27 of the race’s first 34 laps, Abel got into a restart tussle with fellow series returnee Christian Rasmussen in Turn 1, slid wide, wiggled badly and lost the lead to Nolan Siegel, who on another restart four laps later lost the lead to eventual winner Danial Frost.
Abel atoned for that battle with Rasmussen by keeping his car straight in a second incident with Rasmussen, but the damage, so to speak, had been done. Abel had to settle for third place after starting from the outside of Row 1.
“It was a super-bittersweet result because in racing you never know how many opportunities you’ll get to win a race like that,” said Abel, who paced the first practice of the weekend. “When you have a car (and) a setup where you’re so dominant on a weekend that when it does happen you really, really want to capitalize on it.
“I think we were the dominant car all weekend long, and it all felt easy, you know? Being out there in the lead was so nice, and I was comfortable with it.”
But cautions have a way of rearranging the running order, which can be great for the show but not the driver showing the way. Leads can evaporate, as Abel’s healthy advantage did.
“As soon as it went yellow (for rookie Josh Pierson’s incident on Lap 28) I was like, ‘OK, well, I know I expected one of these,’” Abel said. “But I managed (the restart), and then it went yellow again.”
The Lap 32 caution was for rookie Jamie Chadwick’s incident in Turn 4. That’s when bad luck caught Abel in the form of Rasmussen’s bid to swipe the lead on that restart.
“It was hard to be disappointed with (finishing a career-best) third, but I was disappointed with third,” he said.
The second race of the 14-race season is the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday, April 30 at Barber Motorsports Park.
Abel, 22, who is seeking his first series race victory, is certainly a driver to watch not only this season but in future years. The team owned by Abel’s father, Bill, has its shop located across the street from Juncos Hollinger Racing, a stone’s throw south of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are similarities between the two racing organizations.
Abel Motorsports is working toward entering the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, if not this year, then likely next. Abel, who finished eighth in INDY NXT points last season, won’t be the driver if it happens for next month’s event, but he is positioned to give the “500” – and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES as a whole – a go in the near future.
That was Juncos Hollinger Racing not that long ago.
“It’s definitely really cool to be in position on a team that’s growing,” Abel said. “We’ve been the little team for so long, and I think we will be for the next couple of years. But it just takes a couple of good results, whether that’s in INDY NXT or the INDYCAR SERIES, to make you not the little team anymore.
“You look at teams like Juncos and Meyer Shank Racing, and I don’t think you look at them as ‘little guys’ anymore. (JHR has drivers fifth and 12th in the current INDYCAR SERIES standings) Meyer Shank won the (2021) Indianapolis 500. Three or four years ago, they were in a similar position to where we are now.
“It’s very promising to see those (teams), so you never know (about us). I’m trying to keep my blinders on a little bit and stay focused on my championship because we’ve got a big opportunity here.”