Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray

Crossroads for Burton, Labonte, as a new wave of NASCAR talent due to arrive

3 Comments

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte are more than likely in their last years as full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. It’s somewhat sad, but also fairly predictable.

Burton announced his departure earlier this week from Richard Childress’ No. 31 Chevrolet at the end of the year at age 46. Labonte, 49, has had his consecutive starts streak snapped earlier this year, has missed a race due to injury and will be replaced full-time in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Toyota by AJ Allmendinger in 2014.

It’s likely the beginning of another sea change in NASCAR where the veterans who’ve raced in Cup since the ‘90s get phased out and a fresh batch come in.

The last one really came in about a decade ago, starting in 2004 and going through 2006. There, within those three years, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd began to wind down their careers from full-time to partial schedules. Martin, of course, remains as fit as ever as a part-timer and Terry Labonte still runs a handful of restrictor plate races, but the other four’s driving days are over.

In those years, a new crop of drivers including Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. have all emerged as race winners and consistent Chase qualifiers, although none yet has a Cup championship. They also all entered at a point when sponsorship levels were at its highest, and allowed them to make the jump from the Nationwide and Truck ranks.

Starting this year in 2013, and for the next I would say two or three years, you’ll begin to see a drawdown of some the drivers who entered in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, and a new emergence of drivers.

Burton said earlier this week the series needs “new blood,” desperately.

“Oh, my God, yes,” was Burton’s response when asked whether the sport will be in good hands with the next new wave. “One of the things that the lack of sponsorship has created through these economic issues is opportunities for young drivers. We’re on the beginning edge of seeing a lot of new drivers coming into this sport.  I’m, you know, I know nobody believes this when I say it, because I’m 46 years old and I’m one of those guys that everybody wants my seat, but it’s time.

“It’s time for us to have some new drivers come in.  We really haven’t had a lot of new drivers coming into the Cup series or even into the Nationwide or Trucks.  You look around and you see, obviously, the name that’s everybody knows, the Dillons, and the obvious ones, Blaney and Morrisons, Jeb and Larson.  Everybody knows those.”

Burton says the expectations have changed for new drivers too, not only in terms of their on-track goals but their off-track marketing prowess.

“When I came in, the goal was to win Rookie of the Year, which was a big deal because the class I came in with Rookie of the Year, if you go back and look at who that was, that was an unbelievable class, and to finish 20th in the points. That was our goal.  I get the feeling that when these kids come in today, it’s like we’ve got to make the Chase, you know?  And it’s just a different expectation.  Sometimes we put too much on them.  We need to let them grow.  We need to let them make mistakes without so much pressure.  But it’s just so hard because everybody wants to be successful.”

The lack of available opportunities for youngsters coming up the last few years have made for a, with due respect to these winners, lackluster streak of official NASCAR Cup Rookies-of-the-Year. The last three winners are Stephen Leicht, Andy Lally and Kevin Conway, none of whom races in Cup full-time anymore. Lally, though, has returned to sports car racing where he is a star with privateer Porsche teams Dempsey and Magnus Racing.

But now, with the official arrival of Kyle Larson, the likely arrival of Austin Dillon, and others including but not limited to Parker Kligerman, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., waiting in the wings between Nationwide, Trucks and regional NASCAR series, a new wave of drivers is coming. It will be fascinating to watch how things evolve.

Max Verstappen wins two awards at FIA Prize Giving in Vienna

30573014653_6f08f4b552_k
© FIA
2 Comments

Max Verstappen capped off a remarkable 2016 Formula 1 season by winning two awards at the FIA Prize Giving in Vienna, Austria on Friday.

Verstappen, 19, became the youngest grand prix winner in F1 history at the Spanish Grand Prix in May, taking victory on his Red Bull debut after being promoted from Toro Rosso four races into the year.

The Dutchman ended the 2016 season fifth in the drivers’ championship, and also won the Driver of the Day award more times than anyone else.

Verstappen featured on the shortlist for both FIA Personality of the Year and FIA Action of the Year, having won both awards at the gala in 2015, and walked away with the silverware once again.

Verstappen was voted as the FIA Personality of the Year by permanent FIA-accredited journalists for the second year running, fending off competition from Mark Webber, Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton.

His wet-weather overtaking masterclass in Brazil saw Verstappen win the FIA Action of the Year, with his stunning overtake on Nico Rosberg being the sole nomination from F1.

The gala saw the FIA champions for 2016 be officially crowned, including Rosberg, who was given the F1 World Championship trophy just hours after announcing his retirement from racing.

Jackie Stewart calls Rosberg’s F1 retirement ‘wonderful’

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 17:  Former driver Sir Jackie Stewart walks in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2015 in Singapore.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
1 Comment

Three-time Formula 1 World Champion Jackie Stewart has praised Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, calling the news “wonderful”.

Rosberg announced on Friday that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden F1 world title in Abu Dhabi.

The news has sent shockwaves through F1, with the general response being one of respect for the German’s decision.

Rosberg becomes just the fourth driver in F1 history to formally retire as champion, following in the footsteps of Mike Hawthorn, Alain Prost and Stewart.

Stewart won his third and final F1 title in 1973, but decided many months before his title success that he would call time on his career; Rosberg only made a final decision the day after his championship win.

“I was surprised when I heard the news, but I thought it was wonderful,” Stewart told Motor Sport Magazine.

“My first reaction was that it is not always possible to stop when at the top, but he has managed to do it.

“My decision was very different to Nico’s and came in very different circumstances. Motor racing is a lot less dangerous today than it was when I was making my decision.

“But I was burned out and exhausted with the travel and the racing.”

Stewart believes that the grind of the internal battles at Mercedes, particularly with teammate Lewis Hamilton, may have influenced Rosberg’s decision to call it quits.

“We don’t know what was going on this season but on the inside it could not have been enjoyable,” Stewart said.

“Now that he has won the World Championship he must have thought ‘do I need the aggro anymore?’; ‘Is it worthwhile going on?’

“He is good looking, well presented highly intelligent and a nice guy. There certainly won’t be a lack of commercial opportunities for him.”

Andretti Autosport closing on four cars for Indy Lights

04cj9049-l
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

The departure of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports from the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires grid doesn’t necessarily mean a departure of cars from the grid, if those cars wind up elsewhere.

At least one more figures to land with Andretti Autosport, with the team closing on running four cars next season.

The team confirmed Nico Jamin earlier this week, in addition to the previously confirmed Dalton Kellett. Ryan Norman has tested for Andretti this offseason and figures to be added, while a fourth car would be a wild card.

“He went really well. He’s the real deal,” team principal Michael Andretti told NBC Sports about Jamin. “He’s serious about it. His approach is very professional. He’ll be really quick.

“We’re excited to have him, Dalton, and then we have a couple other deals trying to get finalized. We’d fully expect to be a four-car team. We bought a lot of stuff from (Schmidt).”

While Andretti is doing his part to help the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder with a four-car effort, and with Belardi Auto Racing and Juncos Racing poised to be bigger teams in 2017 than they were in 2016, he did note the concern over the series’ costs of operating.

For several years, Andretti Autosport ran a team in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy. However, first the team’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, then Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, programs were discontinued. The Dallara IL-15 Mazda, introduced prior to 2015, has witnessed an escalation in costs compared to the older Dallara that came into the series at its inception in 2002.

“That’s the problem; this new car made the same mistakes IndyCar did,” Andretti said. “It’s costing a good $200,000 more than what it used to, and it’s a big number. That’s been a big problem.

“That’s why they’re struggling, because it’s expensive with the (U.S.) dollar being so strong. Europeans aren’t necessarily looking because of the strength of the dollar. Personally, I feel the new car was a bit of mistake the way they went about it.”

Andretti Autosport had Kellett, Dean Stoneman and Shelby Blackstock this year in Indy Lights. Blackstock shifted to Belardi Auto Racing, while Stoneman is unsure of what he’ll be doing next season. The Englishman won twice, both on the road course and oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rosberg would have continued in F1 had he lost title to Hamilton

31011645160_8d6b53f810_k
© FIA
2 Comments

Nico Rosberg says he would have continued racing in Formula 1 had he lost the drivers’ championship to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton last weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 World Championship by five points ahead of Hamilton before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from racing five days later.

The news sent shockwaves through F1, but Rosberg was content with fulfilling his childhood dream and winning the World Championship, reasoning his retirement.

“When I was six years old and started out, the dream was very clear: it’s becoming Formula 1 World Champion,” Rosberg said after receiving the championship trophy at the FIA gala in Vienna on Friday.

“That’s what I pursued all along, and it’s mission accomplished for me. I’ve done it. It’s my dream come true.

“Now on to other things, family first now, in the winter gonna love that, and let’s see what the future holds. Just following my heart.”

Rosberg revealed that he would have continued in F1 had he lost out to Hamilton in the race for the championship, with his Mercedes contract running to the end of the 2018 season.

“No I never give up. So if I would have come second, I would have gone for another year for sure, next year, definitely,” Rosberg said.

“I knew when I won [I would retire], but I wasn’t sure yet if I had the courage. But here I am now, and I’m very happy.”