Ford EcoBoost 400

NASCAR immortality now in reach for Jimmie Johnson

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Jimmie Johnson couldn’t be blamed for wanting to truly savor his sixth Sprint Cup championship on Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He wanted to enjoy it for what it was, and not simply as another stepping stone toward seven-time Cup champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

But he also seemed to know that the debate of ‘greatest NASCAR driver ever’ that has centered for several decades around The King and The Intimidator will intensify further now that he’s made his way into it.

“I have six, and we will see if I get seven,” he said after winning Title No. 6 by 19 points over Matt Kenseth via a ninth-place finish in the season-ending Ford Ecoboost 400.

“Time will tell. I think we need to save the argument until I hang up the helmet – then it’s worth the argument. If people want to argue and fight about it right now, then they can. But let’s wait until I hang up the helmet before we start thinking about this.”

Those words will surely not be heeded by the sport’s diehards, who now must consider Johnson among the greatest stock car drivers of all time.

He continues to thrive in one of, if not the most competitive age in NASCAR history – constantly setting the bar higher and higher. And this dominance seems to have no end in sight.

Johnson would appear to have at least a good decade still ahead of him in the cockpit and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, led by crew chief extraordinaire Chad Knaus, remains the model of consistency even as its core has changed considerably.

“We’ve taken a group of new individuals, new engineers, mechanics, pit crew members; they’ve all evolved into a pretty spectacular team,” Knaus said. “I don’t think we’re even close to the potential of the team yet. That’s exciting for me.”

How heart-breaking, soul-crushing, and utterly deflating must those words mean to those forced to battle Johnson every week – not to mention those NASCAR fans who feel Johnson is simply benefiting from being part of the best team in the garage?

For his part, Knaus credited team owner Rick Hendrick for giving Johnson and the team all the resources they need to contend at every race. But that doesn’t take away from Johnson’s pure talent.

“He can do things with a race car that most mortals can’t,” Knaus said. “He’s very into what it is we’re doing. He’s very studious, very intuitive of what’s happening around him, what’s going on when we’re testing or racing. He feeds us great information.

“He’s pretty spectacular. I mean, he really, really is.”

Indeed, he is. But how much more spectacular can he become? Let’s face facts: From this point forward, Johnson will be expected to eclipse both Petty and Earnhardt.

The pieces appear to be in place for an assault on the record books – a driver who is physically and mentally on top, a crew chief that pays a tremendous level of attention to the details, and a team that will only grow stronger over time.

All of them bonded by the hunger to win.

“I think we just are very competitive,” said Hendrick, now an 11-time Sprint Cup owner’s champion. “When we show up, we want to do the best we can.  Everybody in every department, they push each other to go to the next level.”

That’s where the No. 48 went in the Chase. Going into the post-season, Johnson suffered four consecutive finishes outside the Top 25 – 40th at Michigan, 36th at Bristol, 28th at Atlanta, and 40th in the regular season finale at Richmond.

But in the final 10 races, Johnson scored two wins, seven Top-5s and nine Top-10s. The average finish? 5.1.

“I can look back on a few tracks and think we could have had a few more points, but it really was a strong 10 weeks,” Johnson said of finishing the season with a flourish. “Last year, we had eight great weeks, didn’t come up with it. [This year,] Matt had nine.

“You have to have 10 great weeks to be the champion and we got it done this year.”

“We got it done this year.”

How many times do you think we’ll hear Johnson say that again before his career ends and, according to him, it’ll be time to have the argument over who is the greatest NASCAR driver ever? By then, there could be no argument at all.

Richard, Dale…You have company coming.

F1 Paddock Pass: Force India VJM10 Launch (VIDEO)

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In the second edition of this week’s F1 on NBC Sports original digital series Paddock Pass, the Sahara Force India team reveals the VJM10 at the Silverstone Circuit in England, not far from the team’s headquarters.

Force India’s steady climb up the ladder has seen them rise to fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, achieved last year.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton checks in with drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, the latter of whom shifts to Force India after an impressive half season with Manor last year.

“It just looks amazing. It’s the first time I’ve been so excited looking at the car,” Perez told Buxton. “We have to adapt to a new driving style and see how physically demanding it is. It will be a big challenge for us.”

Otmar Szafnauer, COO of Sahara Force India, also offered his thoughts and expectations:

“The only way to hope to keep (the momentum) was to develop the 2017 car early. We don’t have the resources for parallel development,” Szafnauer told Buxton.

Stay tuned to the end of the video for a potential nugget about the testing lineup.

A link to Renault’s Paddock Pass from yesterday is here.

Further preseason content will come this week and into next on NBCSports.com.

New Sauber C36 chassis hits the track (VIDEO)

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Although Formula 1 testing doesn’t begin until Monday, several teams have filming days in advance at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona to gather preliminary material ahead of the new year.

The first up of those is Sauber F1 Team, which premiered its new C36 chassis on Monday and has now hit the Barcelona track for filming sessions. The Ferrari-powered car is the 25th in Sauber’s F1 history.

Marcus Ericsson took the initial shakedown with Pascal Wehrlein sidelined owing to his injuries sustained at the Race of Champions. Antonio Giovinazzi is set to fill in at the first test.

Sauber’s released a quick video of the test on its social channels and website, and is linked above.

Williams confirms running order for Barcelona tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 25:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives during day four of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 25, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Williams Martini Racing has confirmed who’s running when ahead of the two Barcelona tests, starting next week.

At the first test, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll will alternate days, with Massa running days one and three and Stroll getting in for days two and four.

The second test will see the Canadian in the first two days before the Brazilian takes over the last two.

Stroll’s had testing in older Williams chassis, but this will mark his first running in the new FW40 chassis. Williams released renderings of the chassis last week.

Williams Martini Racing – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Felipe Massa
February 28 – Lance Stroll
March 1 – Felipe Massa
March 2 – Lance Stroll

Test 2
March 7 – Lance Stroll
March 8 – Lance Stroll
March 9 – Felipe Massa
March 10 – Felipe Massa

KV Racing’s auction set for March 27

NEWTON, IA - JULY 11: Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the #11 Mistic KVSH Racing Dallara Chevrolet, leads Sebastian Saavedra, driver of the #17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers KV AFS Racing Dallara Chevrolet, during practice for the Iowa Corn Indy 300 at Iowa Speedway on July 11, 2014 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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The remaining assets from KV Racing Technology will be auctioned off on March 27 in a live and online auction put on by Key Auctioneers in Indianapolis.

Much of KV’s inventory has been sold to new Verizon IndyCar Series entrant Juncos Racing, which formally announced its arrival into the series on Tuesday. That includes three chassis, two full sets of pit equipment and one transporter, among other items per Trackside Online.

What’s left for KV of current equipment includes one of the Dallara DW12 chassis – it appears to be the chassis used by Stefan Wilson in last year’s Indianapolis 500 – dampers, drives, gears, lay shafts and more.

There’s also a bit of rolling stock, hospitality and other memorabilia available.

A full page of what’s available is linked here.

KV Racing was born out of the assets of the former PacWest Racing team (PWR Championship Racing in its final year of 2002), and launched as PK Racing in 2003.

Despite going through myriad name changes in the 14 years since, KV was still a fun part of the IndyCar fabric and thanks to Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser, a staple in the paddock. They never fully evolved into a championship-contending team but were an Indianapolis 500-winning entry.

With their demise, it left Dale Coyne Racing as the last of the Champ Car racing teams that switched over to IndyCar in 2008 still standing. But Juncos’ arrival as the ninth team gives new life to a new breed of team owners coming into the series and hopefully opens the door for more from here.

In the meantime, if you’re in Indianapolis and have the means or desire to get a piece of the KV history, March 27 represents that chance.