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NASCAR Nationwide Series 2013 Season Review

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On one hand, the NASCAR Nationwide Series served its purpose with young drivers like 2013 champion Austin Dillon and 21-year-old Kyle Larson doing well this past year and now preparing to move up to Sprint Cup in 2014.

But on the other hand, Sprint Cup regulars continued to dominate, with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski alone winning a combined 19 of 33 races as part of their teams’ battle for the owner’s championship. And one could argue that duel took some heat from Dillon’s tight race for the driver’s title with fellow NNS regular Sam Hornish Jr.

As a result, the season had a bit of the “same ol’, same ol'” feel even though the aforementioned Dillon, Larson and Hornish, along with others such as Regan Smith, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney, did their best to keep things interesting.

Dillon’s championship came despite him not being able to win, making him the first NASCAR national series champion to earn a title without a victory. Nonetheless, he was able to make dogged consistency (13 Top-5s, 22 Top-10s, and just one DNF) work for him. Some can argue that it was unspectacular, but no one can say it wasn’t effective.

As for Hornish, he came up just three points shy of what would have been a breakthrough championship for him. The former IndyCar champion has impressed many people in his bid to maintain a place in stock car racing, and it’s been reported that he has options for next season. But a title could’ve made his off-season job hunting much easier.

Both drivers, however, found themselves at times having to conduct their championship runs almost in secret. That was because JGR’s No. 54 Toyota and Penske’s No. 22 Ford – the two teams involved in the aforementioned race for the owner’s title – were the class of the field in 2013.

The contrast was noticeable between the two sides. Busch won all 12 of the No. 54 team’s victories in 2013, while the No. 22 had four different drivers take it to Victory Lane: Keselowski (six wins), Joey Logano (three), Allmendinger (two), and Blaney (one).

In the end, the team effort won out. A sixth-place finish from Logano in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was enough for the Penske No. 22 to win the owner’s battle by a single point over the JGR No. 54 and Busch, which finished third that day.

Meanwhile, Kyle Larson completed a solid first year of Nationwide racing to claim Rookie of the Year honors. Larson went winless, but notched 9 Top-5s and 17 Top-10s.

His ROTY award also marked a milestone for NASCAR’s sometimes-maligned “Drive for Diversity” program as Larson became the first of the program’s graduates to earn ROTY honors in a national series.

It was as good an ending to the year as Larson could’ve hoped for after how ugly it started for him – and many others.

In one of the most violent accidents in NNS history, last-lap contact between Smith and Keselowski coming to the checkered flag at Daytona triggered a horrendous crash that had Larson get airborne and then slam into the catch fence – the impact launching chunks of debris into the frontstretch grandstands.

More than 30 fans were injured, with many of them requiring hospitalization. Thankfully, all involved survived a situation that could’ve ended up much worse.

Other memorable moments included:

  • Allmendinger’s revival: Roger Penske gave him another chance and the ‘Dinger did well with it, earning two wins on the road courses at Road America and Mid-Ohio. Not long after, the former Champ Car star had his ticket back to Cup in hand with a full-time drive at JTG Daugherty.
  • BK1000: Winning a series’ 1,000th race is obviously a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing, so Keselowski should have fond memories whenever he sees his trophy from Richmond this past fall. Not that it didn’t come without controversy; runner-up Brian Scott maintained that Keselowski jumped the final restart with six laps to go. Replays appeared to back Scott’s argument, but NASCAR didn’t make a call on Keselowski.
  • Blaney’s upset: 19-year-old Ryan Blaney couldn’t have a celebratory shot of Kentucky bourbon following his first career NNS win in September at Kentucky Speedway. But we figure he didn’t mind that much. A string of late accidents kept setting up Blaney to lose the race on restarts, but the son of NASCAR/sprint car veteran Dave Blaney maintained his poise and was able to outlast Dillon in the final laps.
  • Could we speed this up?: A multi-car crash with 17 laps to go in the Homestead finale somehow led to a 12-lap caution period that saw numerous restarts called off as workers tried to clean up the mess. NASCAR’s refusal to throw the red flag was a surprise, and it didn’t help Hornish, who had only five laps to work with when the green flag did come out. Hornish finished eighth, four spots ahead of Dillon, but he was still three points shy of the NNS crown.

Entry lists revealed for MRTI Spring Training in Miami

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Kyle Kaiser in Miami, 2015. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The first real good, if not final, looks at the season to come in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires come with next week’s Spring Training, which sees four total days of action at the Homestead-Miami Speedway for all three rungs of the ladder.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will run February 27 on Homestead-Miami’s 1.5-mile oval and March 2 on the 2.21-mile road course. Meanwhile the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series will run solely on the road course over two back-to-back days, February 28 and March 1.

Indy Lights’ field seems closest to being finalized from this group, while Pro Mazda and USF2000 still have some gaps to fill.

In one other bit, Mazda will announce the teams of competition for its Soul Red-liveried drivers this year, all of whom won Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarships for their next step up this year. That’s why Aaron Telitz (Indy Lights), Anthony Martin (Pro Mazda) and Oliver Askew (USF2000) teams are listed as TBAs.

Anyway, quick notes:

Indy Lights (14 cars

All drivers on the Indy Lights entry list have been officially announced, and as noted, Telitz’s team is the only significant TBA of note. Car numbers are revealed for Zachary Claman De Melo and Matheus Leist at Carlin of 13 and 26 respectively, with the known in advance.

In terms of team breakdown, it’s four each at Carlin and Andretti Autosport (with Colton Herta’s No. 98 car an Andretti Steinbrenner Racing entry), Juncos Racing and Belardi Auto Racing each with two official cars and Team Pelfrey the lone one-car entry.

Of the 14 drivers, the field is split exactly in half between seven veterans and seven rookies.

Questions from here are whether one or two more cars not at this test will join the grid at St. Petersburg and push the number back up. Since the debut of the Dallara IL-15 Mazda in 2015, the St. Pete weekend has had 13 cars in 2015 and 16 cars last year, with this one falling in the middle.

Pro Mazda (6 cars)

In what’s very much a survive-and-advance season for Pro Mazda in the final year with its existing car, a small batch of cars come from Team Pelfrey, World Speed Motorsports and the team TBA for Anthony Martin for this test.

Within a 20-to-30-plus, multiple-class series of racing, six cars for one class wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But six on their own for an independent series is certainly an issue. The number simply has to grow by St. Petersburg to at least eight at a bare minimum, the low-water mark last year, with 10 a significant step forward at this rate (the series had 12 cars at St. Petersburg last year).

USF2000 (22 cars)

Quite by contrast, the new Tatuus USF-17 premieres in USF2000 with 22 cars at this test and the potential of more cars by St. Petersburg (the series had 26 starters last year with two additional withdrawals).

Six returning drivers join 12 rookies and four TBAs on this list, all split among 10 teams. Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay, initially announced as driving for Benik in 2017, is listed in a third Newman Wachs Racing entry for this test.

Juan Pablo Montoya samples Risi Ferrari in Sebring IMSA test

during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.
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One of the best drivers of his generation, Juan Pablo Montoya’s recent run of sampling a diverse amount of machinery continues with his testing debut in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at this week’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship test at Sebring International Raceway.

Initially reported by Sportscar365, Montoya received the guest drive opportunity from an old colleague of his when he raced F3000. Team manager Dave “Beaky” Sims planned to put Montoya in for a few laps this afternoon to give him his first proper running in a GTE-spec car.

Montoya, a race winner in Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and past CART and F3000 champion prior to that, got into the low 2:00 range in his handful of laps before turning the car back to Toni Vilander, who will share the car for the March 18 race with Giancarlo Fisichella and James Calado. Times are unofficial because this is a series test.

Montoya’s race plans this year are thus far limited to the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in a fifth Team Penske IndyCar. He won the individual portion of the Race of Champions in Miami last month. He’s been linked to the rumored (by RACER.com and others), if not yet official, Penske Daytona Prototype international (DPi) effort.

A couple social posts from the Colombian’s run are below, including from Vilander, IMSA Radio pit reporter Shea Adam and IMSA timing & scoring provider Al Kamel Systems. More info from this week’s test will follow soon.

@Regrann from @imsa_racing – Juan Pablo Montoya turns a few laps in @risicomp's 488. – #regrann

A post shared by Risi Competizione (@risicomp) on

MRTI: Recent February USF2000, Pro Mazda signings roundup

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Pabst confirmed a USF2000 driver. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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As the new season for the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires continues to draw near, there’s been a few announcements in both the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda ranks to go along with those that have come from the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series.

A quick note first: the expected team announcements for Mazda scholarship drivers Anthony Martin (Pro Mazda) and Oliver Askew (USF2000) will come from Mazda directly, so while those two drivers will be racing they’ve been not formally announced as yet.

Anyway, here’s what’s come down in the last couple weeks:

USF2000

  • Luke Gabin joins the list of those back for a third season in USF2000, and will join fellow third-year driver Parker Thompson at Michael Duncalfe’s Exclusive Autosport. Gabin was one of the more exciting drivers to watch last year and scored his first few podiums, extracting the maximum from a tight budget at JAY Motorsports. The Australian will be in the No. 91 Tatuus USF-17. The full release is linked here.
  • Kart racer Rick Donison of India is Cape Motorsports’ first confirmed driver for the season and will be in the team’s No. 2 car. His initial background is in karting prior to his car debut in both Formula BMW India and UAS F4 races. The full release is linked here.
  • A couple weeks ago, Pabst Racing announced their second driver for 2017 with Brazilian Lucas Kohl back for a second season. Kohl raced last year with John Cummiskey Racing; JCR is yet to announce a driver for 2017. The full release is linked here.
  • Menards made a big splash into IndyCar upon its return to the series last year with Simon Pagenaud at Team Penske. The Midwest retailer will now adorn Chandler Horton’s No. 20 RJB Motorsports entry in USF2000.
  • Gabin’s announcement makes 13 car/driver/team combinations confirmed thus far in the series. More are expected given the number of car orders and teams which have yet to fill out one or more seats from here.

Pro Mazda

  • FatBoy Racing! joined Leading Edge GP as the second new team to announce its intentions of entering Pro Mazda this season. Drivers Brendan Puterbach and Charles Finelli raced sporadically in the USF2000 National class last year.

MRTI

Next week’s test at Homestead-Miami Speedway has this schedule:

  • February 27: Indy Lights oval testing
  • February 28, March 1: USF2000, Pro Mazda road course testing
  • March 2: Indy Lights road course testing

F1 Paddock Pass: McLaren MCL32 Honda Launch (VIDEO)

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The week of Formula 1 car launches continue with two more today, the Ferrari SF70H online and later, the McLaren MCL32 Honda in Woking, in the U.K.

The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass continues along with it, with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales making the trip to the McLaren Technology Center (MTC) for today’s McLaren launch of the new orange-and-black liveried car.

Hopes are high that the Honda-powered McLaren will be more than just troubling the midfield this year, and instead making that next leap back into the upper crust of Formula 1, where both McLaren and Honda have so much history together.

Those tasked with that goal include American Zak Brown, the team’s new executive director, drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, and a host of others including but not limited to Jonathan Neale and Eric Boullier of McLaren, and Yusuke Hasegawa of Honda.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Stay tuned for more on NBCSports.com in the buildup to testing next week in Barcelona. A recap of the launches held this weekend will come next week, to link up with the start of testing on February 27 at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona.