Coke Zero 400 - Practice

Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally break 34-race restrictor plate track drought Saturday at Daytona?

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. once was the undisputed king of restrictor plate racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

From 2001 to 2004, Earnhardt won seven plate races. Five came at Talladega Superspeedway (including four in a row from 2001 to 2003).

Two other wins came at Daytona International Speedway: the 2001 Pepsi 400, an emotional homage to his father, who was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 less than five months earlier, as well as the 2004 Daytona 500.

But Junior has not won a plate race in nearly nine years, the last being in October 2004 at Talladega.

Add it up and he hasn’t won a restrictor plate race in his last 34 attempts!

Sure, he’s come close with three runner-up and three other third-place finishes at Daytona, and a runner-up at Talladega, but the fact remains he isn’t the plate racer he once was.

And no one knows that better than Junior.

“We’ve come awfully close trying to win the 500 in the last few years,” Earnhardt said during his weekly media availability Thursday at Daytona. “We’ve been finishing well, but haven’t really been able to figure out what I need to do to get into first place on the last lap.

“We’ve had no problem finding our way to the front, but not been able to overtake the leaders. So, I think we might need to try to be at a better position sooner, where we’re not having to have to do so much right at the end of the race and not have an opportunity to challenge for the win.”

As he prepares for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400, Earnhardt knows what he has to do in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – both in the race itself as well as for the remainder of the season as he once again continues to chase his first Sprint Cup championship.

“Maybe throughout the race trying to be a little more proactive toward improving track position, being a little more aggressive just trying to improve track position might be in our best interest if we want to try to have a shot at winning,” Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt was aggressive earlier this season, with finishes of second (Daytona 500), fifth, seventh, sixth and second (Fontana) in his first five starts. In fact, Earnhardt even was No. 1 in the Sprint Cup standings after Fontana – albeit for just one week.

But in the last seven weeks, Earnhardt hasn’t had the same kind of performance as earlier in the season, battling inconsistency and, surprisingly, engine issues in at least two races.

As a result, he’s dropped from third to a season-low of seventh before climbing back to sixth place in the weekly standings the last two weeks.

He’s looking to climb back up even further Saturday and has his strategy already set in his mind.

“Being aggressive and trying to get track position or make track position happen or move forward, just mentally aggressive, not out there driving in the side of everybody, more so, just trying to force myself to take a few more chances,” Earnhardt said.

One other thing that Earnhardt, who hasn’t won a race now in more than a year, will likely change for Saturday: to make what he hopes is his race-winning kick a little bit sooner than he typically does.

“You just continue to leap frog one at a time, but that one guy you aren’t successful with (as a drafting partner) you go all the way to the back,” he said. “It’s a gamble, but maybe if you want to win the race, I’ve got to be further ahead than fourth on the last lap.

“We had enough race car to win the (Daytona) 500 and just ran out of laps. I need to be a little further forward to be able to have that shot.”

(By the way, in case you want to take a trip back memory lane to see Junior’s last plate race win, here it is:)

DiZinno: Engine drama dominates 2015 silly season thus far

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So it’s mid-October, and in both Formula 1 and IndyCar, the story of silly season 2015 is not about the drivers behind the wheel, but more about the lumps giving the drivers the power with which to do so.

The war in IndyCar has gone on more behind-the-scenes between Honda and Chevrolet as it relates to performance clauses and what can or can’t be updated for 2016.

However F1’s engine battle has been a very public spat, and been the dominant silly season storyline this fall.

F1’s driver silly season never really got going for next season. As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith has chronicled, the one potential domino that could have made things interesting – Kimi Raikkonen’s status at Ferrari – will go unchanged into 2016.

As such, it leaves with a grid where the lineups at Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Force India, Sauber and most recently McLaren are confirmed to stay the same for 2016.

The only driver switch at present is Romain Grosjean leaving the unsettled, fluid situation at Lotus to lead Haas F1 Team’s charge in its maiden season.

This brings us then, simply, to the Red Bull teams.

Red Bull may give you wings, and wings right now are all that’s confirmed to power the teams into 2016.

A season-long row, spat, disagreement or whatever word you want to call it has occurred between Red Bull and Renault to the point where Red Bull has threatened to pull out of Formula 1 – which would leave its quartet of talented youngsters, Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. – all sidelined. Let alone all its talented mechanics and crew.

Mercedes has already moved its fourth engine supply from Lotus to Manor, and Ferrari has proposed offering a 2015 power unit, neither of which were really feasible solutions for Red Bull and by default, Toro Rosso as well.

It’s then left the two parties in a proverbial stalemate, where Red Bull needs Renault more than Renault needs Red Bull.

And in social terms, it’s a case of Red Bull needing to go back to the girl they want to dump, because it’s their only option. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the term “F1 booty call” was occasionally used on social media over the weekend to describe the situation.

The Red Bull quit threat, unfortunately, continues to persist. Adrian Newey, the sport’s most successful designer, has reiterated the concerns in an interview with Reuters over the weekend.

“Unfortunately, our relationship with Renault is pretty terminal — there’s been too much of a marriage breakdown, so we have no engine,” Newey told Reuters while in Abu Dhabi to judge the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy.

“Red Bull should not be put in a position where they’re only there to make up the numbers,” he added, noting the desired need for improvement from Renault.

One could argue, of course, that Newey’s departure has had a psychological effect on the team, perhaps as much if not a greater impact than Renault’s engine woes. And easy as it is to forget, Ricciardo still won three Grands Prix a year ago and was in mathematical championship contention until the final few races of the season.

Think in Renault’s case as well, that as a sole constructor and owner of Lotus as it is shaping up to be next year, it would behoove them to have a second set of data at its disposal, rather than going solo without another team. See Honda and McLaren for how that’s gone this year…

The fact that Red Bull has opted to go for the nuclear threat in print of quitting when all it’s really had is a bad year – something it’s experienced plenty both early in its own team lifespan, and in its prior guises as Jaguar and Stewart dating to the Stewart team’s inception in 1997 – really smacks of poor professionalism, unbecoming of the brand.

Red Bull didn’t get the top of the mountain in the business world, and in F1, without a desire to be the best.

But in the interest of becoming a true fabric of the F1 community through both thick and thin – as teams like Ferrari, Williams and McLaren have done for decades – it needs to take a step back, chalk 2015 up as a year to forget and figure out a way to bury the hatchet so it doesn’t leave all the affected individuals high and dry.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Briscoe

Ryan Briscoe
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MotorSportsTalk continues its review of the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with a look at Ryan Briscoe. Despite not having a ride to start the year, Briscoe ended strongly courtesy of a series of strong runs at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Ryan Briscoe, No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

  • 2014: 11th Place, Best Finish 4th, Best Start 4th, 1 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 12.8 Avg. Start, 10.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 18th Place (8 starts), Best Finish 5th, Best Start 2nd, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 10 Laps Led, 17.8 Avg. Start, 12.0 Avg. Finish

For those who slag on Briscoe as being undeserving of top level equipment, his 2015 second half provided a friendly reminder of his overall ability level in what might be less than the best machinery.

Briscoe was thrust into the No. 5 car under trying circumstances to begin with, getting all of an hour’s worth practice replacing the injured James Hinchcliffe ahead of the Indianapolis 500. But subsequent drives on the ovals there, Texas, Fontana, Milwaukee and Iowa – even if the results were less than ideal – showcased a driver determined to show to the paddock he still had it, and then some. His defense against Juan Pablo Montoya in Sonoma was nothing short of brilliant, and courtesy of double points he actually finished ahead of full-season driver Stefano Coletti.

The Australian immediately gelled with the SPM team, engineer Allen McDonald and race strategist Robert Gue. He continues to prove he’s an asset, as he has enjoyed multiple opportunities to extend his career in various arenas of motorsport in both open-wheel and sports cars, the latter of which he won at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Corvette Racing this year.