Questions to ponder as the Chase begins – finally


Clint Bowyer’s fateful spin with seven laps to go last Saturday night at Richmond began one of the most tumultuous weeks in the history of NASCAR.

And as the sanctioning body scrambled to restore credibility in the eyes of its fans – twice altering its post-season field in the span of five days – surely there was a moment where everyone involved surveyed it all and inwardly sighed.

“Sunday can’t come soon enough.”

Well, folks, Sunday is here. And so is a Chase that, before it has officially begun, is already unlike any other we’ve seen in its 10-year run as the Sprint Cup Series’ post-season system.

The first battleground: The 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway, the kind of bread-and-butter intermediate track that makes up the majority of the Chase schedule. What we see today outside the Windy City could very well show who will have the edge this fall and who’s gonna have to dig a little deeper.

As NASCAR’s big stretch run to the championship begins today, questions are plentiful about a Chase that feels very tough to predict:

    • After a stellar regular season with five victories (three of which came on those all-important 1.5-mile ovals), can top seed Matt Kenseth cap off what has been his most competitive season to date with a second Cup title – and his first in the Chase format?
    • Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 crew hit the skids heading into the Chase with four straight finishes of 28th or worse. Can one of the sport’s most dominant squads find their groove again when it counts?
    • Kyle Busch has been very strong this year, racking up both wins and consistently high results. Could he be the one that delivers the biggest push for Kenseth, his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, in the Chase? And if so, what kind of effects would it have on the JGR team as we get closer to the Homestead finale?
    • Kurt Busch has already pulled off a major feat by getting the small Furniture Row Racing team into the Chase. But while he’s got the talent and the pace to make an impact, will his pit crew ultimately help or hurt his chances?
    • The Ford camp seems to have picked up the pace, as evidenced by Carl Edwards’ victory last Saturday at Richmond. But will it be enough to enable Edwards, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano to overcome their Chevy and Toyota rivals?
    • There’s been nothing “lame duck” about Kevin Harvick’s final campaign with Richard Childress Racing, but can he get R.C. his first Cup title since 1994 (Dale Earnhardt, Sr.) before going off to Stewart-Haas Racing?
    • Prior to Richmond, Logano had been the hottest driver in the garage. But last Saturday was far from his finest hour on the track, and he’s been part of this week’s mayhem. Will that distraction help derail his drive for a title in his first Chase?
    • Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Ryan Newman have had their ups and downs this regular season, and not many are picking them as legitimate title contenders. Can they find the consistency that hasn’t always been there for them in 2013?
    • Now in the playoffs as a 13th Chaser, Jeff Gordon maintains that a fire has been lit under him and the No. 24 team. But he too has been admittedly iffy at times. That said, will he be so inspired by being in the Chase that he’ll have a proper say in its outcome?
    • Finally, there’s Bowyer, the one that started the whole firestorm but is still in the mix for a championship even after the penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing. His question is the same as Logano’s: Will the controversy prove to wear him down? Another valid query: What kind of unholy rage will the NASCAR diehards unleash if Bowyer does do well?

F1 2017 pre-season test dates confirmed

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 18:  (EDITORS NOTE: Image was created using a variable planed lens) Sparks fly as Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing overtakes Jordan King of Great Britain and Manor Racing during day two of formula one testing at Circuit de Catalunya on May 18, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has officially confirmed the dates for Formula 1’s pre-season tests in 2017.

Pre-season testing has traditionally been held in Barcelona, but a number of teams were pushing to move it to Bahrain ahead of the 2017 season.

However, after teams failed to achieve unanimity, the decision was taken to keep testing in Barcelona ahead of the 2017 season.

While the dates for pre-season testing were widely reported and known, the track has now officially confirmed when it will host running.

The first four-day test will begin on February 27 and run to March 2, before a four-day break.

The second four-day test will begin on March 7 and finish on March 10.

Testing in Barcelona will provide a first glimpse of the revised F1 cars on-track together in 2017, with the technical regulations being overhauled for the new season.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will also play host to the Spanish Grand Prix from May 12-14 2017.


1. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – February 27 – March 2
2. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – March 7-10

In-season (TBC)
1. Bahrain International Circuit – April 18-19
2. Silverstone – July 11-12

Vasseur expected more from Magnussen, Palmer in Austin

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Renault Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur says he expected better from drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer in last weekend’s United States Grand Prix as both finished outside of the top 10.

Since returning to F1 as a constructor at the beginning of 2016, Renault has struggled for form, finishing in the points on just three occasions.

Magnussen recorded the team’s best result of the season so far in May’s Russian Grand Prix, crossing the line seventh, but did not return to the top 10 until the Singapore Grand Prix in September.

Palmer has just one top-10 to his name through his rookie F1 season, finishing P10 in Malaysia.

With a handful of drivers further up the field retiring in Austin last weekend, points were within reach for Magnussen and Palmer.

Magnussen could only finish 11th at the flag, but was demoted to 12th after being penalized for passing Daniil Kvyat off-track. Palmer finished 13th.

Looking ahead to this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, Renault F1 boss Vasseur admitted he felt disappointed by the team’s display in Austin.

“We showed a decent performance but my expectations are high and I know better was possible,” Vasseur said.

“There were areas where we had issues and neither driver drove a perfect race.

“I really want to see us collectively maximizing every opportunity in every regard for the next three races.

“Next year we clearly should have a more competitive car. This year is about getting to a place where we are confident to maximize our potential.”

Both Magnussen and Palmer are currently fighting for their future, with Renault already confirming the arrival of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg for 2017.

Manor driver Esteban Ocon has been strongly linked with the second seat, meaning that both Magnussen and Palmer may be without a drive for 2017 should Renault decide on a total change of its line-up.

Ecclestone suggests ‘a bit of showbiz’ surrounding accidents in F1

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone walks on the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone suggests there should be “a bit of showbiz” surrounding accidents in the sport, as well as saying he would like to build more walls on corners to increase the risk factor for drivers.

Ecclestone, 85, raised the idea when speaking to journalists in Austin, Texas last weekend at the United States Grand Prix.

More and more circuits have ditched gravel traps on the outside of corners in favor of extended tarmac run-off areas.

Despite offering improved safety, the tarmac run-off does encourage drivers to extend the limits of the track more, leading to a possible abuse of the confines of the circuit.

Ecclestone is quoted by Reuters as calling for greater risk in F1, with reference to the improvement in safety standards through the sport’s history.

“In those days, and it can’t happen again, people would come to a race and think somebody could get killed,” Ecclestone said.

“Today they know they come to a race and nobody is going to get killed, which is good.

“I’ve been criticized probably by everybody because I wanted to build 40 cm walls around the corners. They keep saying they mustn’t go off the road; I promise they won’t.”

Ecclestone also said there should be “a bit of showbiz” surrounding accidents in F1 that would leave fans uncertain of the condition of the driver, before referring to Fernando Alonso’s high-speed crash in March’s Australian Grand Prix.

“What Fernando had in Australia… You wouldn’t think he was going to walk away,” Ecclestone said.

“What we ought to do immediately that happens is have big sheets all the way around, bring the ambulance in and take him away.

“He’s gone to the hospital and later you announce that, thank God, he’s out.

“A bit of showbiz. People like that.”

The most recent fatality in F1 was Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, who died nine months after sustaining severe head injuries in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix when he struck a recovery vehicle in torrential rain.

Tost: Kvyat deserving of Toro Rosso F1 drive for 2017

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21:  Daniil Kvyat of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Russia during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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Scuderia Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost believes that Daniil Kvyat is deserving of his drive for the 2017 Formula 1 season, after the Russian’s future was secured last weeke in Austin.

Kvyat made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso in 2013 before moving up to Red Bull’s senior team for the following season.

After a disastrous Russian Grand Prix in May that saw him crash into Sebastian Vettel twice, Kvyat was demoted from Red Bull back to Toro Rosso in a move designed to allow him to regain his form.

Kvyat endured a rough patch of form before appearing to find confidence following the summer break, leading to last Friday’s announcement that he would be remaining with Toro Rosso for the 2017 season.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Tost expressed his belief that Kvyat was deserving of his seat for 2017, as well as adding stability to the Toro Rosso operation.

“Red Bull decided to [announce in Austin] because we are convinced that Daniil is the right choice for 2017, and to end rumors and bring stability to the team for the last four races,” Tost said.

“Daniil deserves the drive next year, as he showed great performance in Singapore and was pretty competitive in Malaysia and Japan, with a car that has an engine on which development has stopped and which is short of 60 to 70 horsepower.”

Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly had been the only candidate to replace Kvyat for 2017, with Carlos Sainz Jr. also staying on with Toro Rosso in the second seat.

Toro Rosso currently sits seventh in the F1 constructors’ championship, having failed to stay ahead of McLaren due to the lack of development on its 2015-spec Ferrari engine.

Despite the circumstances that have perhaps limited the team’s potential in 2016, Tost admitted his disappointment when offering a review of Toro Rosso’s season.

“No it was not a good season for us. Absolutely not,” Tost said.

“It would be wrong for me to say that I am satisfied. P5 [in the constructors’] – then I would have gone home with a smile.”