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:)

MX-5 Cup Shootout winner Glenn McGee joins JJRD program

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Photo: Mazda Road to 24
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Glenn McGee’s a name you might hear down the road as he progresses through the Mazda Road to 24 program, having won the shootout to compete in the Mazda MX-5 Cup this season after advancing in from iRacing.

He’s now joined the Jonathan Jorge Racing Development (JJRD) driver development program for the year. A full release on that is below, along with a video of his shootout win.

JJ Racing Development (JJRD), an industry leader in coaching and driver development services among the junior and pro-levels of motorsports, has selected professional gamer turned professional race car driver, Glenn McGee to join their 2016 driver development program. In addition to JJRD’s full coaching services, designed to prepare drivers for the demands of a professional racing career, JJRD’s team of drivers will also benefit from the expert instructors, advanced modern formula race cars, and seat-time at North America’s premiere tracks, provided by the Lucas Oil School of Racing.

With the intent to identify and develop elite drivers, JJRD scouts for those whom demonstrate the raw ingredients to succeed in motorsports and works to successfully transition them into the pro-ranks; instilling the racing techniques, physical, social, and mental tools required to climb the motorsports ladder. Elite talents, scouted and retained within JJRD’s Driver Development program include current Indy Lights driver/winner, R.C. Enerson; Mazda Prototype driver, Tristan Nunez; and Indy Driver, Spencer Pigot.

McGee’s induction into the program is unique and offers an equally unique challenge to JJRD in that he will be the first of their drivers transitioning from virtual-to-reality. McGee recently went from being the fastest virtual Mazda driver in world competition (through motorsport simulation software, iRacing.com) to earning an invite and eventually winning the 2015 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout against real-life Mazda club racing champions; taking home a $100,000 Mazda scholarship and pro-seat in the 2016 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, Presented by BFGoodrich Tires.

Part of JJRD’s program will be designed around helping the young driver successfully move from the virtual world to a real pro-racing career, while complimenting Mazda’s own driver development plans for McGee.

“We are committed to guiding talented drivers towards reaching their full-potential and are proud of what our drivers have achieved,” said JJRD’s Jonatan Jorge. “We’ve helped successfully guide drivers to the top of both the Mazda Road to Indy and Mazda Road to 24 ladder systems; evidenced by JJRD development drivers RC Enerson, Spencer Pigot and Tristian Nunez, and we think we can do the same with McGee,” Jorge continued “He has shown he has raw speed and a lot of the attributes that we look for when identifying these promising talents for the future and we are excited to invest in a driver from such a unique background. With our support, it will be interesting to see what a top simulation driver can do in the real world”

“I’m really honored to be a part of JJRD’s team which has already produced great drivers,” said McGee. “This is a big year for me as I navigate from being a pro sim-driver on iRacing.com to becoming a full fledged professional racing driver,” “There is an extraordinary amount to learn, but JJRD specializes in nurturing drivers from the start of their career and has proven that their methods work. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together!”

McGee begins his program in earnest with JJRD and the Lucas Oil School of Racing where he’ll gain valuable seat time and instruction; working closely with staff on learning in-depth knowledge of advanced racing techniques, speed, racecraft, strategies, chassis setup, and the myriad of mental tools required to grow into a world-class professional driver. Open to drivers who complete the 2-Day course, McGee will also be attending the schools winter racing series, the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series, to further supplement his training with JJRD.

IndyCar Ministry prepares for another season of at-track service

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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There’s a lot of things that occur at a Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend behind-the-scenes but are intriguing and crucial elements of what makes the traveling road show tick.

IndyCar Ministry is one of those elements.

Although it’s not directly affiliated with INDYCAR (series sanctioning body), the ministry serves as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit non-denominational Christian organization that ministers to IndyCar plus the three series on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000.

The organization went through a leadership change this offseason with Chaplain David Storvick taking over as full Director of the ministry, following the resignation of past Chaplain Bob Hillis. Storvick was interim director prior to losing the interim tag, and had served as primary Chaplain for the Mazda Road to Indy series.

Storvick, a Purdue engineering graduate, had been a crew member going back to the early 2000s and began helping Hillis once the Mazda Road to Indy schedules grew and expanded. He later received his Masters’ in seminary at Cincinnati Christian, and has been traveling full-time since 2008.

The ministry’s mission is to be there for support for those who need it at the track, whether they’re drivers, crew members or other key stakeholders on a weekend.

“We work to make ourselves available,” Storvick told NBC Sports. “At track, obviously we’re there, in whatever situation for drivers, crew and their family,. We try to be a spiritual help to family in (tough) situations.

“After a tragedy or when something like that happens, there’s lots of what I would call ‘impromptu counseling.’ Getting people to understand what happened in those situations. For us to have the privilege, it is a privilege, and we take it very seriously. We try to do it as effectively as possible.”

The offseason for IndyCar Ministry sees the group do a bit of fundraising, through phone calls and emails to help secure funding for the following year, while continuing to raise awareness. Monthly newsletters also come out.

“It feels like a race team,” Storvick said. “We have to raise enough funding to do what we do to get to the track. It’s always a constant.

“But INDYCAR does allow us to use its logo and places for us. We’re not supported by them per se; financially, we’re solely on God’s provision, through individual and corporate donations.”

There are a lot of programs IndyCar Ministry completes on a weekend, which Storvick outlined.

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“For a race weekend, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it,” Storvick said.

“There’s a chapel service and there’s a message prepared. We make a point to offer prayer to every driver before every race in every series.

“You’d see it on the false grid for Mazda Road to Indy races, but I’ll come through to every driver, in all four series, at driver introductions, if the driver wants to pray before introduced, we will. IndyCar will do not just drivers, but also teams. But there’s a lot of activity on a race day, from our standpoint, to chapel, to prayer.

“And then obviously there’s a lot of people we work with on a regular basis. Sometimes we have those sessions at the track. We do other services as well, such as weddings or funerals that obviously requires extra planning.

“It’s about building relationships with people, sharing the hope of Christ with them, and taking it to next level.”

VIDEO: Ferrari fires up 2016 F1 power unit at Maranello

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel,of Germany, steers his car during a testing session of Pirelli Formula One rain tires, at the Paul Ricard circuit, in Le Castellet, near Marseille, Tuesday, Jan.26, 2016. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
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Ferrari has released a short video of the first fire-up of its new power unit for the 2016 Formula 1 season at Maranello in Italy.

Although there is nothing to suggest what the new car will look like thanks to some cannily-terrible camera work, it is nevertheless an interesting snippet ahead of the new season.

Ferrari is yet to confirm when it will launch its 2016 runner, but is likely to do so online in the days leading up to the first pre-season test in Barcelona on February 22.

There has been much speculation about the new car as Ferrari bids to overhaul Mercedes at the head of the field and secure its first championship in eight years.

Sebastian Vettel will be hoping to build on an impressive maiden campaign with Ferrari in 2015 that yielded three race wins, while Kimi Raikkonen remains keen to pick up more silverware in what may be his last season in F1.

Chilton says IndyCar test debut went “swimmingly well”

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 12:  Max Chilton of Great Britain and Marussia speaks with members of the media during the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom on October 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Along with new Chevrolet aerodynamic components being tried out at the “it’s green in February and it’s never this green the later into the year we get” Sonoma Raceway, the other interesting storyline out of Wednesday’s six-car Verizon IndyCar Series test was that it marked Max Chilton’s testing debut with Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 8 Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Chevrolet.

Chilton’s made the announcement, addressed the media and had his sponsor confirmed within the last week-plus.

But it was on Wednesday that the talking stopped and the driving restarted, for what was not only the 24-year-old Brit’s first time in an IndyCar but also his first time at Sonoma.

“It’s a bit of a shock today,” Chilton said, via a track-issued release. “I haven’t been in a racing car in six months and that was an Indy Lights car, so I’ve got to learn the track today and the car.

“But I think the morning went swimmingly well. I was quicker than I thought I would be.  It’s a really nice kit and I can’t wait to explore it throughout the season.”

Here’s a few photos on social media, either ones he or the track shared, of his maiden day in an IndyCar.

Chilton’s next test comes later this week, still in California, at Auto Club Speedway for his first oval run in an IndyCar.

Chilton joined his three Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, for the test. Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud also tested on Wednesday.