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NBC and NASCAR made memories in last stint, with new ones to come

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MotorSportsTalk’s two U.S.-based writers, Tony DiZinno and Chris Estrada, take a look back on NBC’s last stint featuring NASCAR Sprint Cup races from 1999 through 2006. In both instances, these were formative years of their racing fandom.

Tony DiZinno:

For 2013, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network became your official home of open-wheel racing with the acquisition of Formula One to go along with IndyCar coverage.

Now, we can amend that to say, it’s your official home of almost all racing.

In 2015, NASCAR will be back on NBC. The re-acquisition of North America’s number one form of motorsports brings together all three major motorsports championships under one roof. And it has the potential to reignite memories from NBC’s last stint with NASCAR, from 1999 through 2006.

Besides his role on NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams is one of NASCAR’s most dedicated fans. He opened the coverage at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1999, a race won by a then-unheralded rookie out of Indiana named Tony Stewart.

In 2001, we were treated to one of NASCAR’s most emotional victories, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag at the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway – the first Cup race at the track since he lost his father in that year’s Daytona 500.

The 2004 season featured two dramatic moments to open and close the year on NBC. Earnhardt Jr. took his first, and thus far only, Daytona 500 win on February 15, six years to the day after Dale Sr. won his only ‘500. It was also the first high-definition race aired in Cup history.

To finish off the season, Kurt Busch edged Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin to capture the first title in the Chase for the Nextel Cup era. Busch beat Johnson by eight points after a thrilling battle at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, in a race won by Greg Biffle.

All the moments were captured by an announce team that included Allen Bestwick, and later Bill Weber, calling every lap. But it was the late Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach Jr. who did it for me. “BP” and Wally’s banter was a nice counter-balance to the lap-by-lap coverage, and their analysis added valuable insights for viewers.

Having started watching racing in the late 1990s, I’d seen “BP” on the old ESPN Wide World of Sports coverage and when he joined the NBC crew when they took over the coverage, I was thrilled. It’s a shame he won’t be around for this newest incarnation, but I’m optimistic we’ll see a number of familiar faces returning to the broadcasts.

Chris Estrada:

For myself, the return of NASCAR to NBC is almost like going back in time to my formative years as a motorsports fan. I’ve learned to follow the series from a proper, objective standpoint in recent years, but when NBC had the rights from 1999-2006, I was still at the point where I had my favorites.

Above all of them was Dale Earnhardt – the Intimidator, the Man in Black, the man that got me hooked on this sport. I was 14 years old when we lost him in the 2001 Daytona 500, and I was crushed. So when the series returned to Daytona that summer, I (along with many others, I’m sure) was pulling so badly for his son.

I will never forget that race and the call from NBC’s Allen Bestwick that brought him home: “It’s going to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.! Using lessons learned from his father to go from sixth to first and score the victory in the Pepsi 400!” And then, the late, great and dearly missed Benny Parsons, chiming in with what we were all thinking: “Yes! Yes!”

That, along with seeing Earnhardt Jr. and then-teammate Michael Waltrip (who finished second that night) embrace afterwards on top of the latter’s car, was cathartic for me and the rest of the sport’s faithful. Junior had delivered one of the sport’s greatest wins, and Waltrip, who had won the aforementioned ‘500’ that February, got to have the celebration he richly deserved.

We all know life goes on through good times and bad times, but we needed to see that affirmed before our eyes. And it was. That wasn’t the only memorable moment we saw during NASCAR’s recent run on NBC, of course (see my colleague’s thoughts above). But it’s probably the one most fans remember fondly.

I’m willing to bet we’ll see a few more of them upon NASCAR’s return to NBC in a year and a half.

Renault crew fights, extinguishes Magnussen fire at Malaysia (VIDEO)

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There must be something about the Enstone team and scary pit fires, because Kevin Magnussen had his near-Jos Verstappen at Hockenheim 1994 moment during this morning’s first free practice from the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The young Dane pitted his Renault RS16 just eight minutes into the session because it all went wrong from there. Smoke and flames emanated from out of the roll hoop and in the engine bay, and Magnussen frantically jumped out of the car from there.

He was OK, but in the subsequent minutes that followed, the car lit up several more times as it burned off fuel. The Renault Sport F1 Team crew then took to fighting and fanning the flames with fire extinguishers, and managed to douse it and put it out, in a valiant effort.

The car was wheeled back into the garage and Magnussen, most importantly, was unharmed.

The fire caused a 19-minute delay to the session.

Verstappen’s raging inferno came during a pit stop in the 1994 German Grand Prix, when the team now known as Renault was known as Benetton.

Tweets from the team are below and the video is above. FP2 runs on NBCSN from 2 a.m. ET.

IMSA: Maxwell, Rabe win CTSC poles at Road Atlanta

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Scott Maxwell (No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C) and Jason Rabe (No. 31 Bodymotion Racing Porsche Cayman) have the pole positions for Friday’s Road Atlanta 150, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season finale.

Maxwell extended a pole streak in GS and has his sixth pole of the year in the car he shares with Billy Johnson, as the pair look to secure the title.

Meanwhile Rabe has his first career ST pole in the entry he shares with Devin Jones, following his fastest lap of the weekend.

Two accidents interrupted the session. A worse-looking one occurred in ST when Michael Johnson hit the concrete barrier before Turns 10 and 10A in the No. 54 JDC Motorsports BMW 228i and Jeff Mosing in the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman was also involved, but both drivers were checked and released.

Meanwhile Peter Ludwig had an off in Turn 3 in the No. 21 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport in the GS qualifying session, but had minimal damage.

Qualifying results are linked here.

Friday’s race rolls off at 12:25 p.m. ET and is the last two-hour, 30-minute race for the Continental Tire Challenge before standard races shift to two hours in 2017, with two four-hour endurance races also on the schedule.

Donny Schatz, Clauson-Marshall Racing enter 2017 Chili Bowl

CONCORD, NC - MAY 22:  Team owner Tony Stewart (R) jokes with Donny Schatz, driver of the #15 ArmorAll Chevrolet, in the team hauler prior to the World Of Outlaws - Sprint Car Series on May 22, 2009 at the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for Motorsports Management International)
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Cool story here as the legacy of Bryan Clauson will be honored with the Clauson-Marshall Racing team and seven-time and defending World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz at next year’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. Schatz will make his Chili Bowl debut.

A full release and further details are below:

Seven-time and defending World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion, Donny Schatz, announced today he will compete in the 2017 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing (CMR). Schatz will be making his Chili Bowl debut and the entry is the first for the multicar CMR team in the 31st running of the event held Jan. 9 to 14 at the River Spirit Expo Center.

“I’m looking forward to having the chance to compete in next year’s Chili Bowl and drive for Clauson-Marshall Racing,” Schatz said. “We’ve been thinking about doing this for quite a while. It all came together earlier this year when Tony (Stewart) and I were talking about the Chili Bowl and what it’s like to be part of it. With how things worked out with my Australia schedule in January, the opportunity to get to Tulsa this time became an option and everything fell into place. I was looking forward to working with and learning from Bryan. He set the standard pretty high there and we’re going to do everything we can to continue adding to that legacy. I’ve been fortunate to compete in some of the biggest dirt track events in the world during my career and I’m excited to add the Chili Bowl to the list.”

Schatz, a teammate with the late Bryan Clauson at Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) for five seasons from 2010 to 2014, is looking forward to making his Chili Bowl debut in January with the CMR team. Both won championships for TSR and their similar driving style and respect for other competitors, along with a clean racing history, helped forge a bond between to the two.

As Clauson made his way into Winged Sprint car competition, Schatz served as a role model both on and off the track. Clauson was a student of whatever motorsports discipline he participated in and, when transitioning to Winged Sprint car competition, he felt that Schatz was the only driver to learn from. There wasn’t a driver Clauson respected more than Schatz, and he was his first choice when putting together a team.

After the 2016 Chili Bowl, Clauson and his father Tim discussed bringing a “Dream Team” to the 2017 event. The idea was to bring a team of drivers who were at the top of their game, not only competitively in their respective series but also professionally. The duo wanted to bring a team that was a threat to win every night of the Chili Bowl and carry themselves as professionals outside the car, as well. The Clauson family felt Schatz fit the bill and was thrilled its 2017 team would include the reigning WoO Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion.

“Before Bryan passed, we had confirmed that Donny (Schatz) was going to be part of our 2017 Chili Bowl team,” Tim Clauson said. “He (Bryan) was pretty excited to get to work with a driver like Donny and share his Midget car racing expertise. Being able to announce Donny as our first driver for the 2017 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is both humbling and exciting for the Clauson-Marshall Racing team, and we know Bryan is thrilled that we’re able to do so.”

More information regarding Schatz’s 2017 Chili Bowl entry with Clauson-Marshall Racing will be announced in the coming months.

Schatz is in the midst of his 20th season of WoO competition and is chasing his eighth championship. With nine of 83 events remaining, his 23 victories are among 55 top-five finishes and 70 top-10s. He leads the WoO Craftsman Sprint Car Series standings with 10,317 points, with a 284-point lead over second place.

IMSA: Shank tops both Thursday afternoon practice sessions

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Olivier Pla and Ozz Negri split being the fastest driver, but both share the same fastest car, the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda, after the first two of three practice sessions for this weekend’s Petit Le Mans, the season finale of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaign.

Pla topped the morning session with a best time of 1:14.157 around the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course, while Negri went quicker in the warmer afternoon conditions at 1:13.923.

“I can’t say enough about my Michael Shank Racing team, the crew, my engineer Dale (Wise), Gary (Karamikian) at Honda HPD, they’ve all been working flat out. I’m giddy about having this group of people including Olivier Pla on this team. We like the same thing in the car. Anything he asks for with the set up works for me, and whatever I ask for works for him. It’s just a great thing. We are here for one objective which is to be up front and win this race,” Negri told IMSA Radio.

The No. 60 Shank Ligier Honda is not in the championship battle in Prototype. Among the three title contenders, the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (Dane Cameron, Eric Curran and Simon Pagenaud) ended ahead of the sister No. 5 car (Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque) in both sessions. The No. 31 was third, the No. 5 fourth in the morning and then fourth and fifth, respectively in the afternoon.

In both instances, they trailed at least one of the two Mazda Prototypes.

Renger van der Zande (morning, No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09) and Johnny Mowlem (afternoon, No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09) were the two PC session leaders. Van der Zande’s time of 1:16.235 was best of the day to this point.

In the GT ranks, the guest entry from Scuderia Corsa was fastest. Daniel Serra, who won the pole position back at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca earlier this year, had the best GT Le Mans time of the day in the afternoon in the No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE at 1:18.354. Antonio Garcia topped morning practice in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R at 1:18.840.

The Porsche 911 GT3 R led both sessions in GT Daytona. Alex Riberas topped the first session in the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:21.788 before Jorg Bergmeister was quicker in the afternoon at 1:21.340 in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Session results are below. Night practice is scheduled from 7:30 to 9 p.m. ET and local time.

PRACTICE 1
PRACTICE 2