But even though any bit of trepidation about the move should have evaporated by now, the former Sprint Cup champion said earlier this week at Daytona International Speedway – site of tonight’s Coke Zero 400 – that he still feels pressure every week to perform well for his new team.
“I don’t know that it ever totally goes away,” said Kenseth, who will start on the front row tonight alongside JGR teammate Kyle Busch. “I think that in this sport in general, you always have to have that sense of urgency and I don’t think you could ever get too comfortable. Everybody can be replaced and you have to perform each and every week. It’s a really ‘what have you done for me lately’ sport, obviously.
“I don’t know that you ever get 100 percent comfortable in what you’re doing. I think you have to stay hungry and always be focused on what’s in front of you and not necessarily what’s behind you.”
But Kenseth also feels a high sense of confidence going into tonight’s 400-miler, as he should. The Wisconsin native has become one of the drivers to beat whenever the Cup circus visits a restrictor plate track, collecting two wins and leading 473 total laps across the last six plate races at both Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.
“I feel real good about it,” said Kenseth of his chances. “I’ve been really spoiled honestly the last year and a half – the last six plate races. Our cars have just been unbelievable.”
As for what he expects to see tonight, Kenseth feels that the race may play out as a cross between the season-opening Daytona 500 and the race at Talladega back in May. Those events were decidedly different, with the former marked by long stretches of single-file racing and the latter seeing lots of pack racing.
“Probably more like Talladega – I’m not sure why,” he said. “I’m not sure why Talladega would’ve been different other than just people learn more about the [Gen 6] cars – getting the cars better – figure out how to put them in different positions in situations to make more passing and more side-by-side. I’m not sure.
“You know in February [at Daytona], the groove was right around the top and you couldn’t really do much different than that and [at] Talladega, it wasn’t at all. It was actually – it didn’t seem like you wanted to be way up there. So, we’ll kind of have to wait and see.”
A number of 2017 race schedules are already coming into focus
As the summer of 2016 rolls into the final days of July and the beginning of August – a month in which several key non-NASCAR forms of motorsport, F1, IndyCar and Red Bull GRC go on extended breaks before the end of the month – it’s worth noting that many series already have a lot of ducks in a row for their 2017 schedules.
Let’s start first with the full 2016-2017 or 2017 schedules that have already been released, the FIA Formula E Championship and NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series calendars:
We’re then hearing of a couple other schedules which could be coming out in the next few weeks.
We hear the Pirelli World Challenge schedule might come out this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which would make sense because Mid-Ohio is traditionally the event where series stakeholders get a lay of the land on how the year’s gone and what’s to come for the following year.
Similarly next week at Road America, there’s a good chance we’ll hear the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge calendars. Road America in August has been the place where the calendar’s come out each of the last two years.
And INDYCAR is shooting to have its 2017 and perhaps 2018 (yes, seriously) calendars out in August. Whether that’s before Road America, where it announced its INDYCAR return last year, or after when the racing season pauses for a couple weeks, remains to be seen.
There’s already a number of dates that have been released for IMSA and IndyCar. Here’s what we know, below:
St. Petersburg, March 9-12, 2017
Long Beach, April 7-9, 2017
Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 11-13, 2017
Indianapolis 500, May 28, 2017
Detroit, June 2-4, 2017
Road America, June 25, 2017
Iowa, July 8-9, 2017
Toronto, July 13-16, 2017
Phoenix and Barber would figure to be set for April returns but it was forecast earlier this year by AZCentral.com that Phoenix, which ran April 2 this year, could move to the end of the month owing to the fact the NCAA Men’s Final Four is in Phoenix the weekend of April 1-2 with the semifinal games on Saturday, April 1. If it moves to the end of the month, that could shift Barber forward to the start of the month.
Texas Motor Speedway’s race would figure to be back to its June date. Mid-Ohio and Sonoma have been on World Challenge schedules so if we get a World Challenge schedule this weekend, perhaps we’ll see those dates.
The leftovers from 2016 then would be Pocono and Watkins Glen, which are on year-to-year contracts. Watkins Glen was added this year as an eleventh hour replacement for Boston, and it was thanks to some tireless and quick work by INDYCAR’s Jay Frye and Watkins Glen president Michael Printup – and their staffs – that they’ve got it done.
The benchmark for North American sports car racing teams this century, arguably, has been Corvette Racing.
And on Saturday, the Corvette Racing team hit the century-win landmark.
A 1-2 finish led by longtime Corvette Racing stalwart Oliver Gavin, the winningest driver in Corvette Racing history, and newish recruit Tommy Milner, now in his sixth season of the team, occurred during the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock.
“It is pretty amazing to get the 100th,” Gavin said. “We have had some great wins this year. When you look at Daytona, that was phenomenal; Sebring too. Our Le Mans win last year. But to get the 100th is pretty special. I have to thank the team and everybody involved. I have had a few of the wins with the team, but I have to say this is a pretty special one. To fight off the No. 67 car and having our teammates on the podium. It is pretty special for everyone at Corvette Racing!”
“I feel very lucky to say I was in the car that got the 100th win for this team, but you think about all the people that have worked on this team; all of the drivers; the crew, the marketing and PR people, everybody that have contributed to this, I just feel fortunate to be a part of that. It is good to get that monkey off of our back. It was a small monkey, but it was lingering,” Milner added.
The pair of Corvette C7.Rs have soldiered on despite being hampered by certain Balance of Performance adjustments – most noticeably at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans – and returned to the top step of the podium on Saturday following great drives from all four of the team’s drivers. Besides Gavin and Milner up front in the No. 4 car, the “King of Spain” Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen also scythed through the field to end second in the sister No. 3 car.
Corvette Racing first and foremost is a team though, and while it’s program manager Doug Fehan who has always been front-and-center for the Pratt & Miller outfit, the team’s crew is a huge reason why it has achieved the success it has since 1999.
“If you’re going to win your 100th race, you may as well do it with a 1-2 finish,” Fehan said after the race on Saturday.
“We never diminish the input the engineers have in giving the team great Corvettes, and the crew today just had absolutely terrific pit stops. But today, this one goes to the drivers. On this race track and in these conditions, those guys brought it home. I’m tipping my hat to the drivers today.”
Added Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, “Achieving 100 victories is a tremendous accomplishment for Corvette Racing. It’s a testament to the dedication of all the crew members, engineers, drivers and our engine team members over the past 17 years. We certainly couldn’t have achieved this milestone without the support of our partners at Pratt & Miller, Mobil 1 and Michelin. Everyone with Corvette Racing operates as one team and embodies the competitive spirit of Chevrolet. We’re happy to share this success with our passionate Corvette owners and supporters.”
From a team release, here’s the breakdown of wins:
The Corvette Racing team made its first start Jan. 31, 1999 at Daytona. Since that time, the program has claimed championships and victories on endurance racing’s most prominent stages:
Ten manufacturer and team championships in the American Le Mans Series, plus nine driver titles
Eight class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Three wins in the Rolex 24 including an overall victory in 2001
Ten class wins at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring
Corvette Racing also claimed endurance racing’s Triple Crown in 2015 with wins at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. It was the first team in 15 years to accomplish the feat.
The tally of Corvette Racing victories spans a number of different series. In addition to its record at Le Mans, Corvette Racing has nine wins in the WeatherTech (formerly TUDOR) SportsCar Championship, 82 in the American Le Mans Series (a record for entrants) and one in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.
Here’s a recap video and congratulatory message from Corvette Racing’s longtime tire technical partner, Michelin:
“We are pleased that since Corvette Racing switched to Michelin for the 2004 racing season, the last 75 wins have been with us,” said Ken Payne, technical director motorsports, Michelin North America.
“We want to congratulate our friends at Chevrolet, GM Motorsports, Pratt & Miller, and the entire Corvette Racing teams and drivers on this milestone win.”
Here’s a congratulatory message from longtime oil partner Mobil 1:
British circuit Snetterton has renamed one of its corners in honor of Justin Wilson.
Wilson was killed last August after being struck by debris in a Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono, sustaining severe head injuries.
The British driver spent much of his junior career racing at tracks around the UK, including Snetterton.
Wilson won the inaugural Formula Palmer Audi title back in 1998, a series run by Snetterton owner and ex-Formula 1 driver Jonathan Palmer, the track being part of his MotorSport Vision group.
Palmer worked with Wilson to help him get onto the F1 grid, and the two maintained a close friendship.
On Monday, officials at Snetterton announced that the Montreal hairpin has now been renamed the Wilson hairpin. A special corner board will be placed on the run towards the Wilson hairpin featuring his name and his iconic helmet design.
“Justin Wilson, the champion of my inaugural Formula Palmer Audi championship, thoroughly deserved the support which that success brought him, and it was enormously satisfying to watch him make the best possible use of every opportunity he had through to F1 and IndyCar racing,” Palmer said.
“But not only was Justin an outstanding racing driver, he was also the epitome of a true sportsman, earning universal respect and admiration.
“He leaves a lasting legacy that we will cherish and perpetuate, with the naming of Wilson corner at Snetterton an important part of that.”
Justin’s younger brother, Stefan, who raced at this year’s Indianapolis 500, added: “This is such an incredible gesture by MSV and I know Justin would be very honoured and humbled to learn that he has a corner here at Snetterton named after him.
“Snetterton has a special place in our memories as our dad raced here back in the 1960s and he would tell us stories of racing down the old Norwich straight. Plus, Justin and I raced here many times in our own careers.”
The first event to take place at Snetterton using the Wilson hairpin will be this weekend’s British Touring Car Championship round. All three races will take place on Sunday – what would have been Wilson’s 38th birthday.
Tony George’s new title was made public during Sunday’s Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 (for all intents and purposes, the Brickyard 400) before he gave the command to start engines.
That title is Chairman of the Board of Hulman & Co., which is the parent company of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He replaces Mari Hulman George, his mother, in the role. He’d been voted out of his leadership positions in 2009 before rejoining the board in 2013.
The change actually occurred in March, but wasn’t made public until Sunday – as ESPN.com’s John Oreovicz writes, it actually took a bit of attention off a less than scintillating Brickyard 400 on track.
NBCSN contributor Robin Miller spoke to Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Co., in a RACER.com post to explain what Tony George’s role will be.
“This has no effect on management, policies or strategies. The board has worked hard the past two years to have a clear strategy and that isn’t changing,” Miles told Miller, who also confirmed Mari Hulman George’s new designation of Chairman Emeritus.
Tony George has remained an ever-present presence in North American open-wheel racing for most of the last 25 years.
His dissatisfaction over the direction CART was going led, eventually, to the creation of the Indy Racing League (now IndyCar) in 1994 before its race debut in 1996. That 1994 year was the same year that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (then Winston Cup) ran its first Brickyard 400.
While IndyCar has spent the 20 years since the fractious IRL/CART split recovering (a long-form chronicle of May 26, 1996 is linked here) and is on better ground now than it was several years ago, George’s contributions and enhancements to both IMS and racing safety in general cannot be overlooked.
His work to get the first SAFER barrier installed at IMS would eventually lead that to becoming the industry standard on ovals nationwide.
George was also a team owner with Vision Racing (ran through 2009), and has remained a semi-visible presence with stepson Ed Carpenter Racing since that team first took the grid in 2012.