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.

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”