When Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his engine blow up on him during the Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway in September, the focus for himself and his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team shifted from battling for a championship to gunning for race wins after coming up empty in the regular season.
Since that time, things have come around nicely for NASCAR’s most popular driver. While he hasn’t been able to get that elusive win, Earnhardt was able to log his third runner-up finish in the last six races (along with his sixth Top-10 finish in the last seven) at today’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“The Chicago deal is regrettable – we’d love to go back and do that over again,” Earnhardt said in post-race. “But as soon as that happened, we really changed our approach and it was more about trying to win a race. Winning a race would really lift all the team’s spirits.
“You work all season long not to go winless and not to getting to Victory Lane. So I know how much the guys want the win on the team. So that’s what we’re working for now.”
Earnhardt credited today’s result to his team’s test late last month as Texas, as well as the adjustments made during the race by crew chief Steve Letarte. Additionally, Earnhardt noted that track conditions toward the end of the race were similar to what he and HMS had encountered during the test.
Still, neither he nor anybody else could mount a challenge to race winner and new Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson.
“We gambled a little bit in the late stages of this race short-pitting and getting a lot of track position, and we had a fast enough car to keep it, but the 48 [Johnson] was in another class and nobody had anything for him,” Earnhardt admitted.
“He was just super good all through practice and in the race. I think about that a little bit. But there isn’t much you can do about it. I’ve got two races to go and we’d love to get a win in one of them and continue to have a good run here in the Chase.”
2015 GP3 Series champion Esteban Ocon will race in the DTM championship this year with Mercedes in tandem with a reserve role in Formula 1 at Renault.
Ocon joined Mercedes’ junior program in the spring of 2015 before becoming a fully-fledged member at the end of the year just days before his GP3 title success.
The Frenchman was known to be considering a move into either DTM or GP2 for 2016, but will now replace F1-bound Pascal Wehrlein at Mercedes’ factory team for the new DTM campaign.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be part of such a professional and strong racing series,” Ocon said.
“I’m very pleased to be driving for Mercedes-Benz. It’s the best team in the DTM and I’m very grateful for this fantastic opportunity.
“Mercedes is the most successful manufacturer in DTM history. You can only achieve that with real passion and hard work, and those are characteristics that we share. After driving in free practice during the final race weekend of the 2015 season at Hockenheim, I can’t wait to start a DTM race.
“I obviously have a lot to learn, but my goal – and that of everyone in the team – is to fight for wins as soon as possible.”
Trident has completed its line-up for the 2016 GP2 Series season by signing Indonesian driver Philo Paz Armand.
Armand has previously raced in a number of European Formula Renault 2.0 championships, and most recently took part in half of last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 rounds, scoring one point.
Armand will now step up to GP2 for the 2016 season, racing alongside 2015 GP3 runner-up Luca Ghiotto at Trident.
“We are very excited to start this collaboration with Philo and we are confident he will express all his talent thanks to the team’s help,” Trident team manager Giacomo Ricci said.
The grid for GP2’s support series, GP3, is also beginning to come together for the new season following the announcements of Tatiana Calderon and Honda junior Nirei Fukuzumi.
Calderon moves into GP3 from FIA F3 and will race for Carlin, while Fukuzumi joins ART Grand Prix, continuing the French squad’s association with Honda.
Fiat-Chrysler CEO and Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne believes that Italian car manufacturer Alfa Romeo must consider entering Formula 1 with a team in the near future.
Alfa Romeo last raced as a constructor in F1 between 1979 and 1985, but has enjoyed no involvement within the series since 1988 when it supplied engines to the Osella team.
Marchionne believes that a return to F1 would be an effective way for Alfa Romeo to grow as a brand and gain more public awareness.
“In order to restore their name, they must consider returning to Formula 1,” Marchionne told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Alfa Romeo are capable of making their own chassis, just like they are capable of making their own engine,” he added, before conceding that it could enjoy an engine supply from Ferrari should it wish to enter F1.
Marchionne believes that adding more manufacturers to the F1 grid is key to safeguarding the long-term future of the series.
“In the end this sport must be saved,” Marchionne said.
“The important thing is to make other car manufacturers enter grand prix racing.”
Romain Grosjean has revealed his new-look helmet design ahead of his first Formula 1 season with Haas in 2016.
NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas won the race to get an F1 team on the grid back in 2014, and has spent the past 18 months meticulously planning its arrival in the sport.
Haas F1 Team’s full debut is now just five weeks away, with the first on-track test of its new car coming on February 22 in Barcelona.
Grosjean walked away from Lotus at the end of last year to join Haas for the new season, where he will race alongside former Ferrari reserve Esteban Gutierrez.
In a post on his Twitter account on Saturday, Grosjean unveiled his new helmet design for the 2016 season, featuring plenty of Haas signage.
Grosjean also revealed earlier this week that he would be racing with a tribute to Jules Bianchi on his helmet, who died at the age of 25 last July.