New challenge awaits Rolex Series at Kansas Speedway

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With championship battles continuing to evolve in both classes, the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series has entered America’s Heartland for a Saturday night race on Kansas Speedway’s new “roval.”

Kansas now boasts a 2.37-mile road circuit that combines a six-turn infield set-up and a sizable portion of the familiar 1.5-mile oval that hosts NASCAR Sprint Cup action twice a year.

It’s the third new venue of 2013 for the Rolex Series, which has already made debuts at Circuit of the Americas (Austin, Tex.) and Road Atlanta (Braselton, Ga.).

After suffering a mechanical failure at Road America last weekend, the No. 2 Starworks BMW/Riley team of Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel saw their lead in the Daytona Prototype championship chopped to just four points over the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing duo of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.

Action Express Racing’s Christian Fittipaldi (-7 points) and Joao Barbosa (-9 points) are also within single digits of Popow and Dalziel with three races left in the season.

The Rolex Series’ Grand Touring championship is proving every bit as exciting as well. Consistent results toward the front have allowed the winless No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche team of Andy Lally and John Potter to keep hold of the top spot in the class.

But their lead is still just a slim seven markers over John Edwards and Robin Liddell in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro. Alessandro Balzan (-11 points), in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458, is also in on the chase as well.

According to the Associated Press, track officials are hopeful for a turnout of around 15,000 to 20,000 for Saturday night’s 2-hour, 45-minute race. A decent crowd can only help Kansas in its efforts to be included on next year’s inaugural schedule for the new United SportsCar Racing.

“They have to make some decisions for 2014 that are some tough decisions,” Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren told the AP’s Dave Skretta.

“As they try to figure out how they want to grow the series – what they want to do to bring [GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series] together – we just don’t know where we fit in that picture.”

Earlier tonight, Memo Rojas stuck the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing BMW/Riley on the DP pole for Saturday after notching a lap of 1 minute, 9.883 seconds. In GT, IndyCar veteran Alex Tagliani wheeled the No. 61 R. Ferri/AIM Motorsports Ferrari 458 to the pole with a time of 1 minute, 14.956 seconds.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.