Tony Stewart

With big year coming, Stewart-Haas Racing reorganizes

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As Stewart-Haas Racing prepares to expand to a four-car lineup for next year’s Sprint Cup campaign, the team has announced a series of organizational changes to its competition department – chief among them being the hiring of former Michael Waltrip Racing crew chief Chad Johnston to fill the same role for its recuperating driver/co-owner, Tony Stewart.

Johnston completed his tenure at MWR in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Like his driver, Martin Truex Jr., he too was told by MWR that he was free to look for new employment after the team announced it would drop to two full-time cars in 2014 following the loss of sponsor NAPA; Truex is moving on to Furniture Row Racing to drive its No. 78 car.

Stewart and Johnston worked together briefly back in 2004-2005 at Morgan-Dollar Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series. At that time, Stewart raced a handful of CWTS events for the team, with Johnston serving as race engineer.

Additionally, Daniel Knost will make his debut as a crew chief next season for Kurt Busch’s No. 41 squad after serving as race engineer for the No. 39 of now-departed Ryan Newman. Before going to the No. 39, Knost – who has been with SHR since 2008 – was race engineer for Danica Patrick in an eight-race stretch during the 2012 season.

Other major notes from SHR’s reorganization:

  • Rodney Childers, who joined SHR last month, will be crew chief for the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick. He most recently was crew chief for the No. 55 MWR team of Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.
  • Tony Gibson will remain crew chief for Patrick on the No. 10 car.
  • Greg Zipadelli has been promoted to the role of vice president of competition, where he’ll manage all four Cup squads.
  • Matt Borland has been named vice president of engineering and will oversee the team’s technical side, as well as various research and development projects. A team release also notes that he’ll shift from being an active crew chief “to that of a mentor, specifically in regard to the crew chief position on the No. 41 Haas Automation team of driver Kurt Busch” – namely, Knost.

In a statement, Stewart said that with the changes, the team is set to transform seamlessly into a bigger operation.

“Obviously, there is a lot of change happening for 2014 as we grow to four teams and bring in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch,” he said. “But with our new management structure and the crew chiefs we have in place, we’re well positioned to handle whatever challenges come our way.

“Collectively, we have the experience and wherewithal necessary for each of our teams to perform at the highest level possible.”

Mercedes set to clinch F1 constructors’ championship in Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 08:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP speaks with members of the media in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 8, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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For the second year in a row, Mercedes is poised to wrap up the Formula 1 constructors’ championship in Sochi at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.

Mercedes won its first F1 teams’ title in Russia last year, having returned to the sport as a works constructor in 2010. When it last enjoyed such status in the 1950s, there was no championship for the teams.

Just as it did in 2014, Mercedes has dominated proceedings in F1 this season, winning all but three races and sweeping to eight one-two finishes to leave drivers Lewis Hamilton (pictured) and Nico Rosberg battling for the drivers’ title for the second straight year.

Now, Mercedes seeks the knock-out blow in the constructors’ title race by officially wrapping it up in Sochi this weekend.

To do so, the team must simply outscore rivals Ferrari by three points this weekend. The lead currently stands at 169 points, with 215 still on offer. After Sochi, there will be 172 remaining.

“We return to Russia with positive memories from last season, when the team sealed the first constructors’ title for Mercedes-Benz with a one-two finish,” team boss Toto Wolff said.

“A repeat performance in Sochi would be fantastic and this is absolutely the target – but we are under no illusions that it will come easy. The job is not done yet.”

The tire allocation for this weekend’s race could pose problems to Mercedes just as it did in Singapore, potentially allowing Ferrari to spoil the party and delay the victory celebrations at Brackley.

However, if the form book is to be trusted, Sochi could be playing host to another Mercedes party on Sunday night with a second world title in the bag for the Silver Arrows.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the driver-by-driver recaps following the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, with a look at Charlie Kimball, who finished 12th this year.

Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 14th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 6th, 1 Podium, 4 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 16.3 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 12th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 3 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 21 Laps Led, 13.3 Avg. Start, 13.1 Avg. Finish

“Super Chuck” – as NBCSN’s Townsend Bell has called him in the past – had another typically “Super Chuck” season. He produced some dizzying heights, made a few mistakes, and posted a lot of consistent runs in the middle that ultimately netted him 12th in points for the season.

We wrote last year that one of the areas where Kimball most needed to improve was his qualifying, and a three-spot year-to-year gain from 16.3 to 13.3 delivered that improvement. Problem was, in a Chevrolet top-heavy grid, Kimball might have been qualifying better, but he was qualifying behind at least seven or eight more fancied Chevrolet runners. In a Honda, you worry if Kimball’s grid positions this year would have dipped into the low teens or high 20s, rather than only just missing advancing into Q2 as was often the case.

While Barber and Mid-Ohio had served as his standout races in the past, the undoubted highlight of Kimball’s 2015 season was his quiet early – then dynamic late – drive to third in the Indianapolis 500. It was a performance that was particularly impressive given he was up against past series champions Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Scott Dixon, who were all vying for the win. Another podium at Sonoma was his first on a road or street course since Detroit race two in 2014, and put him third in points in the two double points races for the year.

But mistakes occurred all too regularly in the 14 standard points events, where he ranked 14th among all drivers. Contacting Dixon in Detroit, surviving a nightmare weekend in Iowa with multiple incidents, and coming together with Graham Rahal in St. Petersburg – even though Rahal was assessed a penalty for avoidable contact – were all moments he’d like to have back.

Kimball’s five years into his IndyCar career and there’s enough evidence to suggest now his breakout 2013 season was an outlier, not the norm. But seasons like 2014 and 2015 prove he still has plenty in hand to cut it at this level, and together with his entire Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team, an overall asset to the sport.