Cheez-It 355 - Practice

End of multiple eras tonight at Homestead-Miami

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As noted earlier this week by my colleague, Tony DiZinno, there were multiple drivers in today’s Ford Ecoboost 400 that are set to jump to new squads in 2014 or may have just put the final period on their Sprint Cup careers a few hours ago.

We’ve already talked tonight about Kevin Harvick (who is leaving Richard Childress Racing and going to Stewart-Haas Racing), so let’s take a look at how the rest of these particular competitors fared at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the 2013 season finale.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex (pictured) completed his run with Michael Waltrip Racing nicely, posting a solid fourth-place finish and bringing a tough autumn for himself to a nice conclusion. Furniture Row Racing and its No. 78 car now beckon for the New Jersey native, but he made sure to thank his MWR team for supporting him over the last four seasons.

“I just can’t thank all these guys enough – [team owners] Michael [Waltrip] and Rob [Kauffman] and [sponsor] NAPA and Toyota and everybody that has made it possible the last four years to have such a good time…,” he said. “All the things we did together were special. [I’m] going to miss these guys and hopefully see them around a lot next year.”

Ryan Newman

Chase contender Newman finished 17th in his final effort for Stewart-Haas Racing before he takes over the No. 31 at Richard Childress Racing next year. He led the three-car SHR contingent at Homestead this evening in an altogether quiet effort.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya, a Miami-area resident, finished off his seven-year stay in Sprint Cup with an 18th-place performance on his home track that wasn’t anything particularly special. But there won’t be much time to ponder the end of his stock car career (for now), as he’ll be preparing for his IndyCar homecoming with Team Penske.

His future boss, Penske Racing’s Tim Cindric, has given Montoya a helpful reminder this evening:

Mark Martin

Time will tell if Sunday was truly the end for Martin, who has not dropped the R-word – retirement – but is not planning to compete next season. The Arkansas native, who has won 40 Sprint Cup races since his Cup career began all the way back in 1981, finished 19th for Stewart-Haas at Homestead.

Beloved just about universally by fellow racers and fans alike, Martin – the greatest driver to never win a Cup championship – will be missed. On Twitter this evening, he saluted those that have followed him over the years:

Kurt Busch

Busch helped the single-car Furniture Row team become a key player in the sport after making the Chase this year. In return, the team gave Busch a chance to rehabilitate his career.

So while Busch finished a sub-par 21st in his final race with FRR before he goes to Stewart-Haas, “the Outlaw” said he would cherish his time with the Denver-based squad.

“They gave everything they had to give and you can’t ask for anything more,” he said. “I made a lot of friends with this Furniture Row team and will always look back at this season with a special fondness.”

Jeff Burton

Burton, who has yet to announce his 2014 plans, finished 23rd in his last run with the No. 31 RCR Chevy. Reading the tea leaves, you’d think Burton will be back next year in a part-time capacity. The question is: Where?

Ken Schrader

Short-track legend Schrader capped off his Cup career with a 34th-place finish tonight.The 58-year-old had been a part-timer for several seasons. Final stat line in Cup: 4 wins, 64 Top-5s, 184 Top-10s in 763 starts.

Dave Blaney

With Michael Annett set to replace him in the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing machine, Blaney has indicated that he may spend 2014 doing more sprint car racing while pulling for his son, Ryan, as he rises up the NASCAR ranks. Blaney finished 38th.

Rosberg wary of engine power deficit in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a tough weekend in Abu Dhabi due to a deficit in engine power caused by the high mileage on his current unit.

Rosberg and the Mercedes team have managed to avoid any engine-related grid penalties in 2015 by keeping within the limit of four power units per season.

By doing so, Mercedes has been forced into extending the milage of its engines, with a failure for Rosberg at the Italian Grand Prix in September having a knock-on effect at the end of the season.

Rosberg therefore arrives in Abu Dhabi with an engine down on power that makes him wary of his chances despite leading practice on Friday.

“It’s been a good start here in Abu Dhabi, but it will be a tough weekend for me as I have quite a high mileage engine in my car,” Rosberg said.

“After the Monza problem, we have had to stretch the engine life more than we had planned over the 19 races, so I definitely have a small lack of power on the straights and therefore need to make up extra time in the corners.

“It will be a big battle with Lewis here. He didn’t really bring together his quick laps, so it will be even closer tomorrow I’m sure. I’m looking forward to it and I definitely want to win this race and give the boys in the garage a reason to celebrate at the end of the season.”

On the other side of the Mercedes garage, world champion Lewis Hamilton was left unhappy with Mercedes’ long-run pace in practice, believing that there is ground to be made up.

“The long run pace doesn’t feel quite as strong so that’s something I need to work on,” Hamilton said. “I’ll probably make some more tweaks tonight and hopefully tomorrow it will be better.

“It’s very hard to overtake here, so of course it’s better to be up on pole. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win from further back.”

Renault: Lotus announcement “very likely” next week

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has said that the French manufacturer expects to make an announcement regarding its pending takeover of Lotus next week.

Renault has been engaged in negotiations with Lotus over a takeover of the team for many months, and signed a letter of intent back in September confirming its plans to revive a works F1 operation at Enstone.

Although a deal is still yet to be formally agreed and announced, Renault employees have already started working at Lotus to lay the foundations for 2016.

It was speculated that Renault may announce its takeover of Lotus during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but Abiteboul confirmed on Friday that nothing would be made official at Yas Marina.

The Frenchman remained coy when asked what exactly Renault’s involvement in F1 would entail in 2016, saying: “I’m afraid I can’t answer to that question. I would like to be in a position to be able to answer to that questions, but I am not today.”

Despite there being no announcement in Abu Dhabi, Abiteboul said that he envisages one being made next week following the conclusion of the 2015 season.

“What I can say is that there will be no announcement regarding Renault’s future – short-term or middle-term future – over the weekend, but there will be an announcement, very likely, in the course of next week,” he said.

“We have always said that we would like to do that after the season. The season is ending on Sunday, around the start of December and that is what we will do stick to that plan, which is to make an announcement then.”

Abiteboul said that every effort was being made to finalize the deal with Lotus, but he is excited about the prospect of Renault returning to F1 with a works team for the first time since 2010.

“It’s fair to say that there is a process going on since the signing of the letter of interest on the 28th of September, there is a process involving a lot of people,” Abiteboul said.

“I think 50 people have been working night and day on the realisation of a possible acquisition of a majority stake in Lotus. It’s just a project, It’s been a proper rollercoaster, very exciting.”

Vettel, Raikkonen take on world’s fastest rollercoaster in Abu Dhabi (VIDEO)

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both live life at high-speed racing in Formula 1, but how would they get on when faced with the fastest rollercoaster in the world?

To celebrate the fifth birthday of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Vettel and Raikkonen took on the Formula Rossa rollercoaster alongside reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez and other members of the Ferrari team.

Raikkonen is known for being the ‘Iceman’ and showing little emotion, and this was true even at the fastest points of the rollercoaster ride as he kept a straight face while Vettel raised his arms and whooped with excitement.

Never change, Kimi…

Alonso: Tough year with McLaren “necessary”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Fernando Alonso believes that his tough 2015 Formula 1 campaign with McLaren was a “necessary” stage within his racing career.

Alonso left Ferrari at the end of 2014 after five seasons with the Italian marque to rejoin McLaren ahead of its new partnership with Japanese manufacturer Honda.

McLaren-Honda enjoyed immense success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but 2015 has proven to be a stark juxtaposition thanks to numerous problems with the power unit.

The issues have limited Alonso to just two top-ten finishes in 2015, yielding 11 points to leave him a lowly 17th in the drivers’ championships.

However, the Spaniard was upbeat when reflecting on the season in spite of McLaren’s troubles, believing it to be an important stepping stone.

“Well, tough year, obviously difficult and struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us,” Alonso conceded.

“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, some new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.

“After one difficult season, as I said, I learn so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture into the team.

“I still remain very positive. I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one that, as I said, has been difficult in terms of results.”

Looking ahead to 2016, Alonso expects McLaren to make progress and move up the grid, but is unsure whether it will make enough of a leap forward to challenge for race wins once again.

“At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year,” Alonso said.

“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong, we think, and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.

“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories of just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula One.

“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”