Ford EcoBoost 400 - Qualifying

Earnhardt not going “What if?” over Chase-opening engine failure

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Seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. once again battle for a win in tonight’s Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, you couldn’t help but wonder what might have been if he hadn’t had his engine blow up in a smoky display in the September Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

Perhaps the majority of Junior Nation felt that way at some point as well. Earnhardt suffered a 35th-place result in the Windy City thanks to that motor, but in the final nine races, Earnhardt went: Sixth, second, eighth, 15th, second, eighth, second, fourth, and finally, third tonight in South Florida.

But while Earnhardt, in his words, “would just love to go to another race next week,” he believes the Chicagoland episode probably didn’t have much of an impact on his championship hopes.

“We didn’t win enough races in the regular season,” he said. “We didn’t win any. That was the difference. When we started the Chase, we were already in the hole a little bit to Matt. It’s too competitive. Just like the end of this race, the reason why I couldn’t get Matt is because he’s running second. The guy in second, the guy in first, they’re not going to be easy to pass.

“We just got behind in the regular season not winning enough, not doing enough to get bonus points. Those guys did. Those points are so important. If you put a good 10 races together, add them bonus points on top of it – man, you’re going to be hard to beat.”

Nonetheless, Earnhardt put together his best stretch of the season when it counted, and it paid off with a fifth-place finish in the Sprint Cup standings – his best season-ending ranking in the last seven seasons.

When asked what made the difference for him, crew chief Steve Letarte and the entire No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports squad in these final 10 races, Earnhardt insisted that he’s “asked everybody on the team at least once or twice what we’re doing different.”

According to NASCAR’s most popular driver, he was met with the response that they weren’t doing anything different.

“I really don’t know why,” he said. “I have the same feeling, like our cars are way faster. We have been more competitive…I just think the 88 team has really stepped it up. But each year, we’ve gotten better.

“When we first started working together – it’s easy to forget about all this, but when me and Steve started working together, we were working our guts out to finish in the Top 10. Each year, it’s kind of gotten easier to run a little better.”

And that should make Junior Nation eye the 2014 season with anticipation that their man will be able to fight for a championship.

Status targets 2016 GP2 title after GP3 exit

2015 GP2 Series Round 8.
Autodromo di Monza, Italy.
Sunday 6 September 2015.
Marlon Stockinger (PHL, Status Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C2088
© GP2 Series
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Status Grand Prix has set its sights on winning the 2016 GP2 Series championship following its decision to close down its GP3 team at the end of the current season.

Earlier this week, GP3 issued a statement confirming its team roster for the next three seasons that featured new entries from DAMS and Virtuosi Racing.

However, both Carlin and Status did not appear on the list, signalling that both had opted to leave GP3 at the end of 2015.

Status first entered GP3 back in 2010, but only set up a GP2 team in 2015 after taking over the old Caterham Racing operation.

This will now become the main focus for the Irish outfit, though, as explained by team boss Teddy Yip Jr. earlier this week.

“Status Grand Prix has not renewed entry into the GP3 Series from 2016 onwards in order to maximize focus on our GP2 campaign,” Yip said.

“Having finished second in the team championship in the inaugural GP3 Series, we have enjoyed six successful years in the category collecting nine race wins, 26 podium finishes and vying for numerous team and driver titles.

“We are very proud to have given opportunities and achieved success with drivers such as Robert Wickens, Antonio Felix da Costa, Alexander Sims and our current GP2 race winner, Richie Stanaway.

“We now look forward to finishing the 2015 GP2 and GP3 seasons on a high before mounting a robust GP2 title campaign in 2016.”

Both GP2 and GP3 return from a one-month break next weekend in support of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix.

Hakkinen: Verstappen is already “a real pro”

during a media interview at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the 2015 Laureus World Sports Awards on April 15, 2015 in Shanghai, China.
© Getty Images
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Two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen has heaped praise upon Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen, supporting his decision to ignore team orders during last month’s Singapore Grand Prix.

Verstappen only turned 18 on Wednesday, but has already made a big impression on the F1 world during his first 14 races with his aggressive driving style and mature approach to racing.

In Singapore, Verstappen was told by Toro Rosso to let faster teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. go past, but refused to give up his position and eventually beat the Spaniard to finish eighth.

Writing in his Hermes blog, Hakkinen backed Verstappen’s decision to stay ahead and praised the Dutchman for his performances so far this season.

“A driver must be alert and keep track of what is happening around him at all times,” Hakkinen wrote. “That’s what Verstappen is. He does not simply let anyone pass if it’s not for the world championship, but only a few championship points.

“Verstappen is 18 years old, but the guy’s already a real pro. Young people are developing incredibly fast nowadays, and by that I don’t mean just drivers.”

Despite having more than half a season of F1 racing under his belt, Verstappen only gained his road driver’s license on his 18th birthday, having previously been under the age limit to drive a regular car in public.