Schrader set for likely last NASCAR Cup start in Homestead

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We touched on Mark Martin’s possible last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start yesterday. There’s a good chance Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will also be Ken Schrader’s last. The Fenton, Mo. native will make his tenth start of 2013 in Frank Stoddard’s No. 32 Fas Lane Racing Ford, and the 763rd of his 30-plus year Cup career.

Like Martin, Schrader has also reduced his Cup slate to a part-time schedule over the last decade or so. Schrader’s four years older – 58 – but no less motivated to stop racing anything else, almost anywhere around the country.

Schrader might be the closest thing to a modern day Dick Trickle, who the NASCAR community mourned earlier this year. Schrader has made a living with his own team racing on dirt, with sporadic Camping World Truck Series starts along the way. It’s hard to count the number of dirt and short track victories Schrader has achieved, and it’s very likely he’ll continue in this capacity for years to come.

In NASCAR’s top level, Schrader won four times, and had eight top-10 finishes in the championship (best of fourth in 1994). It’s easy to forget now in the age of corporate-influenced superstars, but Schrader was one of the founding members of Hendrick Motorsports’ driving lineup, known as much for his quick wit and sense of humor that made him a fan favorite.

Case in point: when he and a then-24-year-old Jeff Gordon collided at Talladega in 1995, and Schrader flipped, Gordon was near inconsolable. But Schrader laughed it off after emerging unscathed.

Still, Schrader could be serious, sensitive and introspective when the situation required. It still has to haunt him – as it does much of NASCAR nation – that Schrader’s car was the one Dale Earnhardt collided with at the 2001 Daytona 500. Schrader went over to check on Earnhardt’s condition but immediately called for further medical assistance when he saw the window net didn’t come down on its own.

Schrader took a hard line look at the safety of NASCAR as it was and where it needed to go to improve; the awful nature of that day has propelled the sanctioning body to make the safety enhancements it has over the last dozen years.

On track, even this year, Schrader’s still remained competitive. He captured the pole position for the inaugural NASCAR Truck race on dirt at Eldora in July and has occasionally punched above his car’s weight with Stoddard’s operation. Schrader has a best finish of 27th at Bristol in the fall, which is decent enough given the machinery, if far from a great result overall.

Personally, I’ll always have the memory of a flight to Charlotte in 2001, and seeing Schrader riding in coach only a few rows ahead of me. He was all too happy to chat about racing for a few minutes and sign an autograph. It made an indelible impact on a kid, especially as most of today’s NASCAR stars take private jets to tracks and stay in their motorhomes once they arrive at the track.

Perhaps his Cup career never reached the stratospheric heights of some of his Hendrick teammates, but that doesn’t mean Schrader will leave with any regrets. He’s won races, cracked jokes, delivered insightful TV analysis, and made fans based on his friendly, good-natured disposition all along the way.

And I’m pretty damn sure this is not going to be the last time Schrader puts on his helmet and tightens the belts. Just head to your nearest dirt or short track, and there’s a good chance he’ll be there.

As nature intended.

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTLM

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne continues the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. At nine entries, it is the smallest of the three classes entered in this weekend’s Rolex 24 and down from last year’s 11 entries, but past events indicate it may be the event’s most competitive class.

The 2017 Rolex 24 saw four different marques from four different teams battling for the GTLM win late in the race, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing taking the win with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais. And in 2016, Corvette Racing saw its No. 3 and 4 entries duel to the checkered flag, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler victorious in the No. 4 machine.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GTLM class.

Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
No. 3 (Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller)
No. 4 (Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler)

Outlook: Corvette Racing has been a perennial powerhouse in GT racing over the entirety of the 21st century, and that isn’t something that’s likely to change. Coming off their 13th championship last year – Garcia and Magnussen took home last year’s GTLM driver’s crown – Corvette Racing now hunts for its fourth Rolex 24 triumph.

With an unchanged package that is proven to be both fast and reliable, Corvette Racing looks set to again feature prominently in the GTLM battle. Barring problems, both cars should be battling up front for the win.

BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M8 GTLM
No. 24 (Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus)
No. 25 (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi, Bill Auberlen, Philipp Eng)

Outlook: Of all the GTLM entries, BMW Team RLL sees by far the most change to its program. Out is the M6 GTLM and in is the brand new M8 GTLM. Jesse Krohn, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Connor De Phillippi are all new drivers to the team, while veteran Bill Auberlen will only contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018.

At the Roar Before the 24, the program appeared to lack speed. Sunday qualifying, to decide pit stall and garage selection, saw the No. 25 qualify the better of the two BMWs, but one second slower than the next quickest car – the BMW set a 1:45.056 for seventh in GTLM, behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which set a 1:44.037.

It remains to be seen if there is more speed in the BMW machines, but they remain the most unproven of the GTLM entries. A victory seems out of reach at the moment, but that could change if the package improves.

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
No. 62 (Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Davide Rigon)

Outlook: Risi Competizione came excruciatingly close to winning last year’s Rolex, but a late-race battle between James Calado and Dirk Mueller, of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, saw Mueller come out on top, while Calado was shuffled back to third by the time the checkered flag fell.

They did not win an event last year, but this is a team that knows how to win big races – they have previously won the Motul Petit Le Mans – and should once again prove to be a major player in the GTLM battle.

The only major change comes in their driver lineup, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and David Rigon joining the lineup and Giancarlo Fisichella departing. But, with Calado and Toni Vilander returning to anchor the driving team, this change is not expected to slow the team down. Expect them to battle at the front all race long.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
No. 66 (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais)
No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon)

Outlook: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing returns to the Rolex 24 as defending race winners – Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais delivered the victory in 2017. Further, they return with the same driver lineups and car they used. In short, every indication is that they enter this year’s event as favorites to repeat.

The Roar Before the 24 gave further evidence of this. Both of the cars were among the quickest in every session at the Roar, and Sunday qualifying saw its No. 66 end up at the top of the board, with the No. 67 in third.

The GTLM field is strong all the way around, but this team is likely the favorite entering the event.

Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR

No. 911 (Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki)
No. 912 (Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni)

Outlook: Porsche GT Team brings with it a star-studded driver lineup that features former class winners of the Rolex 24, former overall winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a ton of all-around talent.

The team finished a close second at last year’s Rolex 24, with the No. 911 entry, behind the race-winning Ford from Chip Ganassi’s stable. Later that year, they visited victory lane – Porsche finished 1-2 at Lime Rock Park, with the No. 911 taking the victory – proving that the mid-engine 911 RSR is more than up to the task and gives the team everything they need to be contenders.

Porsche will have a fight on their hands, but this is a team that expects to compete for a victory, and they did win this event in 2014. They round out a titanic GTLM grid and should be a fixture throughout the day.

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