- Associated Press - Sunday, August 26, 2012

SONOMA, CALIF. (AP) - Simon Pagenaud spent his Sunday afternoon in wine country barely avoiding spun-out cars. When he finally crossed the finish line, he got an award for his dexterity.

Pagenaud formally clinched IndyCar’s rookie of the year award Sunday with his seventh-place finish, easily outdistancing the rest of the first-year drivers.

“That’s pretty cool,” Pagenaud said. “It was one of our goals for the year, so we can check that box. (And) we are now fifth in the championship, so we are very proud of those accomplishments.”

The French driver did it despite incurring damage on his front wing early in the race, praising his pit crew for changing the nose “lightning-quick.”

“I was hoping to get a top-four position, but we got boxed in … on the last restart,” Pagenaud said. “Those things happen.”

James Hinchcliffe edged out J.R. Hildebrand for the rookie award last year. Hinchcliffe completed only 35 laps before mechanical problems shelved him.


SPEEDY SWIMMER: When Tyler Clary’s swimming career is finished, the Olympic gold medalist wants to go even faster.

The 200-meter backstroke champion in London spent a busy weekend at the Sonoma track, soaking up information and atmosphere in hopes of starting an eventual second career as a race car driver.

“To be here, talking to team owners and drivers, it’s a huge privilege and an honor,” Clary said. “And it’s even cooler to see some of the drivers look at me the same way I look at them.”

Clary made a few trips around the road course in various vehicles, including a ride Sunday that tantalized him.

“That’s the first thing I said when I got out of the car: `I could definitely make this a lifestyle,’” Clary said Sunday, grinning.

Clary was joined in Sonoma by fellow gold medalists Dana Vollmer and Erin Cafaro, two former University of California athletes. Vollmer set a world record in the 100-meter butterfly in London, and Cafaro _ who got a ride with Mario Andretti that left her “a little spinny” _ won her second straight gold in the women’s eight rowing team.

Clary grew up in Southern California with a fascination for motor sports alongside his passion for the pool. His elementary-school swim team had a merchandise booth during NASCAR weekends at the Fontana track near his native Riverside, Calif., and he spent countless weekends out in the California desert “trying to race something.”

Clary, who made waves before the Olympics for his criticism of Michael Phelps’ work ethic, realizes it’s a bit presumptuous of him to assume he can swiftly do what drivers spend their lives figuring out, but he thinks it isn’t impossible to extend athletic talent into multiple arenas.

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