Good idea or bad idea: A road course race in NASCAR’s Chase

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This weekend marks the end of the 10th year for the Chase playoff format in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. For some, it’s important since it puts NASCAR more in line with other professional sports in having a post-season. For others, it’s a gimmick that has been around for far too long.

But I believe that both sides of the argument can agree that the schedule of tracks that make up the Chase could use a scramble. For the last three seasons, the 10 Chase facilities have remained the same: Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.

Five of them are 1.5-mile ovals, and all but Talladega and Martinsville fall within that “intermediate” label of tracks between one and two miles in length. One could argue that since the majority of the Cup schedule consists of those “intermediate” tracks, the championship should largely play out on those tracks.

But with the racing product at those ovals still not all that special – even with the onset of the Generation 6 cars – it may be time to shake up the final 10-race stretch of the season. Kevin Harvick appeared to think that way on Thursday at Homestead-Miami, before Championship Weekend got rolling.

“I like the format,” he said. “[But the] things I don’t like about it are the same racetracks year after year. I think it would help our schedule, it would help some of the racetracks, help build some excitement around some different racetracks.

“I think there needs to be a road course in it. I think there definitely needs to be some things mixed up in it. I think the format is great, but I think the tracks need to change on a yearly basis.”

Harvick didn’t elaborate further on whether he thought a few or all of the Chase tracks needed to be swapped annually. That may or may not be too big a task for NASCAR to do every year.

But a road course race? “Happy” may be really on to something. Road races, along with short track events, have hosted some of the better racing in Sprint Cup over the last few years if we’re being honest.

I’m also tempted to say that a Chase road race ought to replace Talladega, which often comes down to plain old luck instead of pure driver skill – something I’d prefer to see in determining a champion. But NASCAR benefits too much from having Dega’s particular brands of danger and excitement in its playoff run.

Still, if NASCAR indeed decides to carry out big changes to its schedule in 2015, I think they’d be wise to put a road race somewhere in its post-season and add a new wrinkle.

But that’s just my opinion. I’d like to hear yours. Feel free to sound off in the comments below, just keep ’em clean.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.