After talking about the big stories and ranking our Top 10 drivers from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, my colleague Tony DiZinno and I are now going to start taking a look back on how each of the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders fared this past year.
Now comes our fifth-place driver in the championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr…
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2013 Stats: Fifth Place, No Wins, 10 Top-5s, 22 Top-10s, 342 Laps Led
Average Start: 13.9
Average Finish: 12.6
Estrada Says: Earnhardt would’ve preferred something else besides a goose-egg in the win column, but with five runner-up finishes (three of which came in the Chase), it’s definitely not like he wasn’t trying. All in all, he made a nice jump in performance and had the best year in his current tenure with Hendrick Motorsports. His 10 Top-5s equaled his output from 2012 and his 22 Top-10 finishes marked a career-best total there. And you have to remember how good he was in the post-season following his blown engine at Chicagoland. Getting regular season victories will be critical in battling the likes of Johnson and Kenseth next fall, but Earnhardt can be proud of his effort this year.
DiZinno Says: At this point in his career, Junior essentially “is what he is.” Seasons like 2001, where he won three races or 2004, when he won a career-high six, are long gone and exceptions rather than the norm. It’s taken two years for the No. 88 team to turn its consistency around and while that is something to appreciate, it’s still not good enough to satisfy the legion of “Junior nation” desperate for that elusive first championship (although, it is still good to net Most Popular Driver awards…). The good news is you know what you’ll get from him, and it will usually end up in the top 10; the bad news is that it’s just not as good as Jimmie Johnson. Several races where Johnson just flat beat him – second at both the Daytona 500 and Dover – were as much of psychological beatdowns as on-track defeats. Junior needs a spark to raise the team to a level of his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammates, otherwise he’ll continue in this mold for the rest of his career.
Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.
He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.
Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.
However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.
“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”
The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.
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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.
And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.
The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.
However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.
“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.
“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”
The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.
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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.
Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.
The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.
Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.
“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.
“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”
The British Grand Prix weekend will expand to a four-day schedule next month as Formula 2 and GP3 practice running gets shifted to Thursday.
On-track running for all Formula 1 events traditionally takes place across three days – Friday to Sunday, bar Monaco, where practice is on Thursday – with support events following a similar format.
Silverstone has confirmed its schedule of events for the British Grand Prix weekend, with F2 and GP3 practice slated for Thursday July 13.
F2 practice will run from 15:30 to 16:15 local time at Silverstone on the Thursday, followed by GP3 running from 16:45 to 17:30.
Both support series will hit the track again on Friday for their respective qualifying sessions, taking place after F1’s second practice in the afternoon.
The remainder of the race weekend will go ahead as usual for F2 and GP3, having one race each on both Saturday and Sunday.
The F1 schedule for the weekend remains unchanged, with FP1 and FP2 on Friday, FP3 and qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday.
Both Renault and Williams will take part in special show-runs during the grand prix weekend as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.
You can see the full British Grand Prix schedule here.