NASCAR holds closed-door meeting; officiating revisions made for tomorrow’s Chase opener

17 Comments

NASCAR, along with drivers, team owners, and assorted team personnel, held a mandatory closed-door meeting inside the garages this afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway. According to multiple Twitter reports from Chicagoland, security guards were posted outside to prevent fan and media access.

But afterwards, three of NASCAR’s top executives – CEO Brian France, president Mike Helton (both pictured, yesterday), and vice president of competition Robin Pemberton – did visit with the press to discuss the meeting. Additionally, NASCAR announced a series of officiating revisions, which will take effect tomorrow for the Chase-opening GEICO 400.

Those provisions will primarily impact the spotters. The spotters’ stand will now be spotters-only, with one for each team. Each spotter will be equipped with two analog radios, scanners and FanViews, but will not be permitted to use digital radios. Also, a video camera will now be installed to monitor activity in that area.

Going back to the meeting, France said it was meant to define what NASCAR expected of its teams going forward after last Saturday’s controversial finish to the Chase-deciding race at Richmond International Raceway.

“Those expectations are that a driver and team give 100 percent effort – their best effort – to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can,” France said. “We issued a variety of things, some clarifications and some adjustments, to our ability to officiate that.

“We addressed team rules, and as I said, a variety of other things all designed to do what our fans expect and that means that their driver and their team give 100 percent to finish as high up in a given race as possible.”

Helton then said that a new rule will go out to the teams in a technical bulletin later this afternoon:

“It reads: ‘NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving the best possible finishing position in an event. Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event, or encourages, persuades, or induces others to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event, will be subject to a penalty from NASCAR.

“Such penalties may include, but are not limited to, disqualification and/or loss of finishing points, and/or fines, and/or loss of points, and/or suspension, and/or probation to any and all members of the teams, including any beneficiaries of the prohibitive actions. ‘Artificially altered’ shall be defined as actions by any competitor that shows or suggests that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR’s sole discretion.'”

Helton would go on to reveal what he stressed as a “working list” of acceptable and unacceptable examples in regards to the new rule.

On the acceptable list were matters such as contact while racing for position, performance issues, and yielding to a faster car, while the unacceptable list had examples like offering positions in exchange for favor or material benefit, directing a driver to give up a position to benefit another driver, intentionally causing a caution, and intentionally causing a caution for the benefit of another driver.

According to Helton, the meeting was an “open dialogue” in which France addressed a “very attentive” assembled group on the character of the sport and how important it was to protect it.

The conclusion of the Richmond race has caused many media outlets to bring NASCAR’s credibility into question. When asked about the topic, France indicated that it was important that NASCAR get back to what it does best.

“It’s like anything else – circumstances happen that are unhelpful in the credibility category,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. And you go back to what you’re about and what we’re about is the best racing in the world with the best drivers giving 100 percent of their ability.

“And to the extent that we got off of that for any reason, then it’s our job to have the rules of the road – the rules of the race – such that it achieves that every day. If it’s not this, it might be something else. You just deal with it, we’ve dealt with it as best we can, and we move on.”

In the last week, NASCAR has delivered major penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing for their role in manipulating the finish last Saturday night and has twice altered its post-season field.

Martin Truex Jr. was taken out of the Chase thanks to those penalties, with Ryan Newman moving into his spot as the second Wild Card. But yesterday, citing in France’s words, “an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances” at Richmond, NASCAR announced that Jeff Gordon would go into the post-season as the Chase’s 13th driver.

Friday’s decision has been met with mixed reactions from fans and media, with Truex himself declaring that the situation was unfair but that he was powerless to do anything about it.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

Follow @KyleMLavigne