This offseason, F1 and NASCAR are doing what’s needed to stay in the news

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Formula One and NASCAR didn’t get to be where they are today by standing still. Key moves, acquisitions and decisions have helped move each major motorsports organization to the top of the respective motorsport heaps over several decades.

Even now, as both stand on the precipice of controversial potential new changes, they have already succeeded in one area: getting people talking about them.

F1 is set for a radically different 2014. The raft of sweeping new regulations, with V6 power units, adjusted car designs and permanent driver numbers are set to transition the sport from its last era that ended in the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix. Even now, the upcoming Bernie Ecclestone bribery trial may have ramifications from a leadership standpoint for the sport down the road.

But one idea that has already been outlined and elicited a visceral, negative reaction from fans, observers and media members is that of double points for the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In brief, it seems an answer to a question no-one asked and doesn’t solve some of the major issues facing the sport, namely high, unsustainable costs that are affecting most of the grid. It also creates the slippery slope of making a single Grand Prix more valuable, points-wise, than any other.

NASCAR seems to be heading down a similar, treacherous road with possible eliminations in the Chase, which itself was already a creation for the prior system that existed until 2003. No formal announcement has been made, but a change could be announced later this month after the Charlotte Observer broke the news last night.

These points changes could be overreactions to dominant forces, test balloons to gauge fan interest/disinterest, or simply the steps of sanctioning bodies working to keep themselves in the news during a slow period in the racing calendar.

There isn’t much to talk about with neither series having raced yet – NASCAR has only had a few days of testing at Daytona and F1’s first test isn’t until January 28 at Jerez, Spain – so these are ways for the series to stay in the news without referring to the competition aspect of their sports.

Meanwhile, IndyCar could potentially take a page from this. It’s had great competition on track each of the first two years since the Dallara DW12 package was introduced with engine competition back from Honda and Chevrolet. This past year had 10 race winners, 20 different podium finishers and the championship was decided at the last race on its pure, season-long points system between two or more drivers for the eighth consecutive season (dating to 2006).

But, I’ll use a quote from a piece I read earlier this week from ESPN.com’s John Oreovicz, regarding IndyCar’s biggest news story at the moment:

“The fact that the biggest story the series has to trumpet is Tony Kanaan receiving his trophy for a race he won seven months ago speaks volumes about the predicament Indy car racing finds itself in,” Oreovicz wrote of TK receiving his Baby Borg, with one also awarded as a surprise to son Leo.

Getting people talking – for positive or negative reasons – is key to success in a crowded sports and entertainment landscape. Particularly so during your series’ respective offseason. It’s why we’ve had so much from the merged TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and new FIA Formula E to recap this offseason as well.

Stagnation and complacency, on the other hand, fails to keep the news cycle moving.

F1 and NASCAR may not be right with their potential points alterations, but they are getting necessary ink and web space utilized regarding the ideas. The intrigue of what comes next with the decisions only serves to move the story along further.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.