Minimal changes for 2014 Sprint Cup schedule

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Outside of a couple of already announced changes, next year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will look very much like this year’s docket.

Darlington Speedway and Kansas Speedway have swapped dates for their spring events, with “The Lady In Black” moving from its Mother’s Day weekend spot to Sat., April 12 and Kansas moving to Sat., May 10. Both events will be night races.

Also, Texas Motor Speedway’s spring race has moved from its normal Saturday night running to the afternoon of Sunday, Apr. 6 in order to avoid a conflict with the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, which will play on Saturday and Monday in nearby Arlington, Texas.

Additionally, NASCAR has also announced that its new Air Titan track drying system – which reduces drying time in the event of rainfall – will be available at every Sprint Cup race weekend in 2014.

“Having the Air Titan at each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend allows us to meet a very important goal set by our Chairman and CEO, Brian France: To drastically decrease track-drying time to the best of our ability and ensure our fans in the stands and those watching on TV get to see each race on its scheduled day,” said NASCAR senior VP of racing operations Steve O’Donnell in a statement.

Here’s how next year’s schedule will shake out:

2/15 – Daytona International Speedway (Sprint Unlimited)
2/16 – Daytona International Speedway (Daytona 500 Qualifying)
2/20 – Daytona International Speedway (Duels)
2/23 – Daytona 500
3/2 – Phoenix International Raceway
3/9 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway
3/16 – Bristol Motor Speedway
3/23 – Auto Club Speedway
3/30 – Martinsville Speedway
4/6 – Texas Motor Speedway
4/12 – Darlington Raceway
4/26 – Richmond International Raceway
5/4 – Talladega Superspeedway
5/10 – Kansas Speedway
5/17 – Charlotte Motor Speedway (NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race)
5/25 – Charlotte Motor Speedway
6/1 – Dover International Speedway
6/8 – Pocono Raceway
6/15 – Michigan International Speedway
6/22 – Sonoma Raceway
6/28 – Kentucky Speedway
7/5 – Daytona International Speedway
7/13 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway
7/27 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway
8/3 – Pocono Raceway
8/10 – Watkins Glen International
8/17 – Michigan International Speedway
8/23 – Bristol Motor Speedway
8/31 – Atlanta Motor Speedway
9/6 – Richmond International Raceway

CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP
9/14 – Chicagoland Speedway
9/21 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway
9/28 – Dover International Speedway
10/5 – Kansas Speedway
10/11 – Charlotte Motor Speedway
10/19 – Talladega Superspeedway
10/26 – Martinsville Speedway
11/2 – Texas Motor Speedway
11/9 – Phoenix International Raceway
11/16 – Homestead-Miami Speedway

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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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.”

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