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.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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