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Nationwide departure should spur a rethink for NASCAR’s “AAA” series


NASCAR’s “AAA” series will have a fresh title sponsor for 2015. And wouldn’t it be a perfect time for the series to make a few other changes as a result?

This is purely hypothetical, but thinking ahead, a rebranding effort of what is now the Nationwide Series that focuses primarily on its series regulars and limits the frequency of Sprint Cup Series stars participating would be an excellent, forward-thinking move.

NASCAR has a bevy of stars in its pipeline, in Nationwide, Camping World Trucks and regional series, but Nationwide is the biggest offender when it comes to burying its own stars beneath the Cup drivers.

Case in point: only six of 26 Nationwide races this year have been won by non-Cup regulars. Regan Smith and AJ Allmendinger have a pair of wins apiece and Sam Hornish Jr. and Trevor Bayne have solitary triumphs. Meanwhile Kyle Busch, who isn’t eligible to score Nationwide points, scored his series-high 10th win of the year last Saturday at Chicago.

Only Hornish and Smith have a realistic shot at this year’s title of that batch, and they have a combined three wins in 26 races – on a purely statistical level, that’s not exactly championship material.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has won back-to-back Nationwide titles and moved up to Sprint Cup for his rookie season in 2013, which is how it should work in theory. But when you consider the previous five champions from 2010 and back – Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick – are all Cup regulars, you know there’s a problem.

If it’s possible, NASCAR needs to think about expanding its rule where drivers can only score points in one title and put a cap on number of Nationwide races the Cup regulars can run. Perhaps exploring alternative venues where Nationwide can be standout events is another option. Some of the recent Nationwide circuit additions – Montreal, Road America, Mid-Ohio and Iowa to name a few – have produced some of the more exciting races in recent memory, particularly because they haven’t featured many Cup regulars.

Or, here’s another crazy but potentially cool idea, as suggested by Dan Patrick Show producer Paul Pabst (the DP Show airs on NBCSN and Audience Channel 239 on DirecTV): have Nationwide adopt a soccer element where the bottom three full-season drivers in Cup are relegated to Nationwide, and the top three Nationwide drivers promoted.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping Nationwide on the Cup undercard at perhaps one third to one half of Cup weekends. But allowing Nationwide, under its new title sponsor, to forge its own identity away from the Cup regulars, and away from the Cup circuit, could be better for the series’ growth and visibility as a whole.

Here are your Russian Grand Prix air times on NBCSN, Live Extra

Photo: NBC
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The Russian Grand Prix airs this weekend on NBCSN, marking the second time for Formula 1 to hit the streets of Sochi after its debut at the new track last year.

Here’s your TV times breakdown:


Formula One returns to Sochi for its second race in Russia in as many years, following the first running of the Russian Grand Prix in a century last year. Mercedes enjoyed success at last year’s Russian GP, as Lewis Hamilton led Mercedes to a 1-2 finish and the team clinched its first-ever constructors’ championship. Mercedes is on the brink of winning its second straight constructors’ championship, and needs to outscore Ferrari by just three points this weekend in Sochi to secure the title.

Hamilton dominated the most recent race on the F1 calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix on Sept. 27, as he led all 53 laps to claim his eighth win of the 2015 campaign. Hamilton leads teammate Nico Rosberg by 48 points with just five races remaining in the season.

Live coverage from the Sochi Autodrom begins Friday morning with Practice 1 at 3 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra, followed by Practice 2 at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN. Live Extra will stream Practice 3 on Saturday at 5 a.m. ET, prior to live qualifying at 8 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Live Russian Grand Prix coverage begins Sunday at 6:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN, followed by F1 Extra at 9 a.m. ET. NBCSN will air an encore presentation of the Russian Grand Prix at noon ET on Sunday.

Lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey will call the Russian Grand Prix, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driverDavid Hobbs, and analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett. F1 insider Will Buxton will serve as the team’s on-site reporter from the Sochi Autodrom. Alex Jacques will call the GP2 race in Sochi airing Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

F1 Motorsports Coverage This Week on NBCSN & NBC Sports Live Extra (subject to change):

Date Program Time (ET) Network
Fri., October 9 F1 Russian Grand Prix – Practice 1 3 a.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
F1 Russian Grand Prix – Practice 2 7 a.m. NBCSN
/DRIVE on NBC Sports 8:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sat., October 10 F1 Russian Grand Prix – Practice 3 5 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Russia Grand Prix – Qualifying 8 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., October 11 F1 Russian Grand Prix 6:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Extra 9 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Russia Grand Prix (Encore) 12 p.m. NBCSN
GP2 – Russia* 10:30 p.m. NBCSN

Rosberg: F1 title race is not over yet

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on September 27, 2015 in Suzuka, Japan.
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Nico Rosberg is refusing to back down in the fight for the 2015 Formula 1 drivers’ championship despite trailing Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by 48 points with five races remaining.

F1 arrives in Sochi this weekend for the Russian Grand Prix, and Rosberg knows that failing to score any points would leave Hamilton just one victory away from a third world title.

Rosberg has failed to put up the same kind of fight to his teammate this year as he did in 2014 when the championship was only decided at the final race in Abu Dhabi.

However, he is refusing to back down and write off his title hopes yet, despite not having won a race since June.

“Once I got back from Japan, I was able to focus on the positive elements from my weekend in Suzuka: pole position, the on-track pass on [Valtteri] Bottas and then having the speed to undercut [Sebastian] Vettel’s Ferrari at the second pit-stop,” Rosberg said, reflecting on his fightback to second place at Suzuka two weeks ago.

“I’m not backing down in my fight for the championship and gaining those positions back fair and square showed that. We have five races to go and, although the championship gap to Lewis is quite big, in my mind it’s definitely not over yet.

“The way the whole team has performed this year – from the factories to the garage – has been just incredible and I have the car I need to get back to the top step.”

Sochi was the site of Mercedes’ first constructors’ championship victory in 2014, and Rosberg is hoping to aid its bid to clinch a second title on Sunday.

“I really enjoyed our first trip to Russia last year and it was an awesome weekend for the team – one that I will always remember after seeing all the hard work they’ve put in during my time here,” Rosberg said.

“So, I’m aiming to put all those tools they’ve given me to good use and bring home a top result.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra this weekend.