Ford/NASCAR

Edwards, Biffle prep fans for NASCAR’s “After the Lap”

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There’s only three races remaining in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and now, only a little more than a month until all 13 competitors in the Chase for the Sprint Cup of said season let their guard down and blow off a year’s worth of steam.

The event where this happens is NASCAR’s “After the Lap,” sponsored by Ford and Coca-Cola, and it will take place at the Pearl Palms Concert Theater at the Palms Casino Hotel in Las Vegas, December 5 at 5 p.m. PT.

“That’s the event where Jeff Gordon break dances, right?” Carl Edwards quipped.

Indeed the fifth consecutive year for this event in Vegas is one of the highlights of NASCAR’s all-too-short offseason. It’s a fan-friendly event because fans can enter to win a 2014 Ford F-150 Tremor or VIP trips to next year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte or next year’s Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead. More details are available at www.NASCARAfterTheLap.com.

Edwards and Greg Biffle, Ford Racing teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, spoke in separate phone interviews about their love of fan interaction and how this event is a standout on the NASCAR calendar.

“It’s the event that always gets crazy. If I were a NASCAR fan that could go to one non-race event, it’d be this one,” Edwards said. “Everyone lets their hair down; it has a way of digressing into a full-out comedy show. And every driver leaves this event leaving and hoping what happened doesn’t end up on YouTube.

“It’s nice to have events like this, because you can relax, joke around, with your competitors all year,” he added. “You may not have spoken with them except with body language. This brings home the short track feel, socializing, hanging out.”

Biffle joked that his recent confrontation with Jimmie Johnson juuuust might be discussed at this year’s After the Lap.

“I’m sure we’ll be talking about our Martinsville incident,” he said. “Aside of that it gives us a chance to reflect on season, make jokes, and interact with each other.”

Edwards has made the fans a major part of his victory celebrations, with back flips off his car at each win, as well as a trip into the grandstands to celebrate with them.

“The back flip always makes me a little nervous,” he said. “But the neatest bit is going up in the grandstands, high-fiving people, as that’s probably the most fun fan interaction that I’ve had. And that’s not just my thing – I think more drivers could do that. I stole the idea from John Cena, the professional wrestler. It’s really cool to be there with the fans at the moment.”

Biffle had more to add on the truck, which he saw briefly on display at Michigan International Speedway earlier this year. Biffle won the June MIS race and the truck was displayed in August.

“It’s really exciting and fulfilling to hand the keys over to someone with no idea they’ll win the vehicle,” he said. “I didn’t get a lot of time to spend with it at the track, but I’ll be going to the SEMA show next week. I will get a great opportunity to get inside it and see it there, and the person that wins it, it’s a special piece.”

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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