Schedule stuff: IndyCar at Pocono goes to 500 miles; NASCAR Trucks release ’14 docket

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Open-wheel Triple Crown traditionalists, rejoice.

Today, Pocono Raceway announced that starting next year, their 4th of July weekend IndyCar Series event will stretch an additional 100 miles (40 laps) to become the Pocono INDYCAR 500 Fueled by Sunoco.

That means all three legs of the Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Triple Crown – Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana – will be 500-mile events (this past year’s IndyCar revival at Pocono was a 400-miler).

“I’m very excited about these changes for 2014,” Pocono president/CEO Brandon Igdalsky said in a statement. “After last year’s IndyCar Series race, droves of open-wheel fans immediately took to our social media channels, sent emails, called us to let us know they wanted more.

“The fans spoke, we listened and we made some changes. The one thing not changing next season, however, will be the ticket prices to see these great, competitive events.”

IndyCar’s return to Pocono this past July may not have been the most exciting oval race in series history, but it wasn’t a stinker, either  – and it can be argued that this race had as big an impact on the season as any other.

Scott Dixon took the checkered flag in a 1-2-3 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing, and that set him off on a three-race win streak that signaled his challenge to Helio Castroneves for the championship. Last weekend, you saw the final result.

“I think this is really exciting for Pocono, the drivers and all the Indy car fans out there,” Dixon said in his own statement. “It will certainly change the race strategy at Pocono next year, for sure. This year’s race was highly competitive and the addition of 100 miles is going to make it even better.”

As a former St. Louis area resident that got his first taste of live NASCAR racing at Gateway Motorsports Park, I happily admit that I’m pleased as punch about this next bit of news.

The egg-shaped 1.25-mile oval outside the Gateway City shall return to the NASCAR ranks next season, as the Camping World Truck Series will make a stop there as part of its 2014 schedule.

In its previous life as Dover Motorsports-owned Gateway International Raceway, the track hosted NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) and Truck Series events plus CART and the Indy Racing League on the open-wheel side.

Also coming back to the Trucks schedule is New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which will host both the Trucks and Sprint Cup for its September 2014 NASCAR weekend.

Here’s the full 22-race schedule for the Trucks in 2014:

Feb. 21 – Daytona International Speedway
March 29 – Martinsville Speedway
May 9 – Kansas Speedway
May 16 – Charlotte Motor Speedway
May 30 – Dover International Speedway
June 6 – Texas Motor Speedway
June 14 – Gateway Motorsports Park
June 26 – Kentucky Speedway
July 12 – Iowa Speedway
July 23 – Eldora Speedway
Aug. 2 – Pocono Raceway
Aug. 16 – Michigan International Speedway
Aug. 20 – Bristol Motor Speedway
Aug. 31 – Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
Sept. 12 – Chicagoland Speedway
Sept. 20 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Sept. 27 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Oct. 18 – Talladega Superspeedway
Oct. 25 – Martinsville Speedway
Oct. 31 – Texas Motor Speedway
Nov. 7 – Phoenix International Raceway
Nov. 14 – Homestead-Miami Speedway

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.