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NASCAR must make sure new 16-driver Chase sticks

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Change is a constant force in our lives that we cannot escape. But while change can be positive, it can also be negative – especially if they come one after the other.

Many citizens of NASCAR Nation argue that such has been the case regarding the sanctioning body’s willingness to continually tinker with its decade-old Chase format, which emerged in 2004 to redefine the way a champion is crowned in the top-tier Sprint Cup series.

The Chase has taken various forms since its original incarnation, which had the Top 10 drivers in the championship (and anyone else within 400 points of the leader) going into the 10-race post-season. But then came the tweaks – an expansion to 12 drivers in 2007 (with the 400-point bit dropped), followed by an overhauled points system and the addition of two “wild cards” in 2011.

Now, yet another change has arrived. As first reported by the Charlotte Observer earlier this month, the Chase has now officially expanded once more to a 16-driver field and will feature eliminations after every three races in the playoff to set up a four-driver, winner-take-all battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway for stock car racing’s biggest prize.

Depending on your viewpoint, NASCAR CEO Brian France is either to be commended on his persistence in creating a “Game 7”-style playoff environment like those of other sports, or vilified for craving it so much that he’s forgotten that NASCAR simply isn’t like any of the other sports.

We see France’s thought process and I would think that we all understand it.

The last thing he wants is to produce a boring product, especially with NBC Sports coming in to join Fox as the sport’s broadcasters in 2015. Then there’s the fact that the core NASCAR fan is getting up there in age – the sport itself may be at the start of a youth revolution (hello, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon; goodbye, Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte), but that’s not showing up in the grandstands or in the TV demos.

Naturally, France wants to change that with a show that cannot be ignored.

The sport’s purists can complain until they are blue in the face, but society demands to be entertained (and considering that we’ve fueled the rise of the likes of Jersey Shore, the Kardashians and Justin Bieber, we don’t care how). If France believes this new format can entertain more people and help NASCAR enjoy another mainstream run like the one it had in the early to mid-2000s, then more power to him.

But at the same time, he and his colleagues need to put the hammers away in the toolbox and let the changes stick. This format needs to be in place for more than just a few years, because while change can be good, there are advantages when it comes to long-lasting continuity.

Too many changes can make the sport look desperate, as if it’s looking for the magic bullet that instantly brings back the days when NASCAR was part of the “Big Four” of American sports and drivers like Jeff Gordon were hosting Saturday Night Live.

You’d hope NASCAR would know there is no such thing as a magic bullet after seeing the much-hyped Danica Patrick struggle in her rookie Cup season last year or seeing the IndyCar Series continue to suffer with a miniscule national presence after American open-wheel racing united again in 2008.

Furthermore, too many changes agitate the loyal fans that have stuck around for decades and have remained loyal as their sport has evolved into a national phenomenon. There’s the balancing act of this change: Gaining as many new fans as possible without finally driving that longtime base away for good.

NASCAR shouldn’t be attacked for wanting to be more relevant. But it needs to understand that this new format has to be given time to make an impact and that it must resist the impulse to tweak it again in the near-future.

Red Bull GRC: Second New River race officially cancelled

Deegan's rattled Ford. Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
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The second of two planned races at Red Bull Global Rallycross’ trip to MCAS New River was scrubbed on site due to heavy rain, lightning and unsafe track conditions.

And while the possibility existed Red Bull GRC could have gone with some sort of makeup round, in the end, the decision was made to cancel the race outright.

Here’s the official statement from Red Bull GRC:

“After the suspension of 2016 Championship Round 7 at Marine Corps Air Station New River due to severe weather, Red Bull Global Rallycross officials have announced the cancellation of the round in its entirety. Round 7 cannot be resumed due to the inability to replicate the race circumstances and facility at which it was originally contested. No points will be awarded for Round 7 and no make-up event will be scheduled.”

The series resumes this weekend at Washington, D.C. for the original Round 8, which will air LIVE, Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

Scott Speed won the lone race at New River as it turned out, and has now vaulted himself closer to Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammate Tanner Foust in the championship.

A number of 2017 race schedules are already coming into focus

LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 18:  The Porsche Team 919 Hybrid of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb leads the field at the start of the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 18, 2016 in Le Mans, France.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
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As the summer of 2016 rolls into the final days of July and the beginning of August – a month in which several key non-NASCAR forms of motorsport, F1, IndyCar and Red Bull GRC go on extended breaks before the end of the month – it’s worth noting that many series already have a lot of ducks in a row for their 2017 schedules.

Let’s start first with the full 2016-2017 or 2017 schedules that have already been released, the FIA Formula E Championship and NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series calendars:

We’re then hearing of a couple other schedules which could be coming out in the next few weeks.

We hear the Pirelli World Challenge schedule might come out this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which would make sense because Mid-Ohio is traditionally the event where series stakeholders get a lay of the land on how the year’s gone and what’s to come for the following year.

Similarly next week at Road America, there’s a good chance we’ll hear the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge calendars. Road America in August has been the place where the calendar’s come out each of the last two years.

And INDYCAR is shooting to have its 2017 and perhaps 2018 (yes, seriously) calendars out in August. Whether that’s before Road America, where it announced its INDYCAR return last year, or after when the racing season pauses for a couple weeks, remains to be seen.

There’s already a number of dates that have been released for IMSA and IndyCar. Here’s what we know, below:

INDYCAR

  • St. Petersburg, March 9-12, 2017
  • Long Beach, April 7-9, 2017
  • Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 11-13, 2017
  • Indianapolis 500, May 28, 2017
  • Detroit, June 2-4, 2017
  • Road America, June 25, 2017
  • Iowa, July 8-9, 2017
  • Toronto, July 13-16, 2017

Phoenix and Barber would figure to be set for April returns but it was forecast earlier this year by AZCentral.com that Phoenix, which ran April 2 this year, could move to the end of the month owing to the fact the NCAA Men’s Final Four is in Phoenix the weekend of April 1-2 with the semifinal games on Saturday, April 1. If it moves to the end of the month, that could shift Barber forward to the start of the month.

Texas Motor Speedway’s race would figure to be back to its June date. Mid-Ohio and Sonoma have been on World Challenge schedules so if we get a World Challenge schedule this weekend, perhaps we’ll see those dates.

The leftovers from 2016 then would be Pocono and Watkins Glen, which are on year-to-year contracts. Watkins Glen was added this year as an eleventh hour replacement for Boston, and it was thanks to some tireless and quick work by INDYCAR’s Jay Frye and Watkins Glen president Michael Printup – and their staffs – that they’ve got it done.

Gateway Motorsports Park has expressed interest in hosting an IndyCar race and there was also talk about Surfers’ Paradise late last month.

IMSA

  • Rolex 24 at Daytona, January 28-29, 2017
  • Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, March 15-18, 2017

Add Long Beach and Detroit’s dates from INDYCAR to that.

FIA WEC

  • Silverstone, April 14-16, 2017
  • Spa, May 6, 2017 (provisional)
  • Le Mans Test Day, June 4, 2017
  • Le Mans, June 17-18, 2017
  • Nürburgring, July 14-16, 2017

As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith noted yesterday, the Nürburgring round would clash with the Montreal FIA Formula E round on July 15-16, which makes it a likelihood at least one of the events would move.

The second of four FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting of 2016 was held last month and usually at the third meeting, if not sooner, a number of draft calendars are released.

These are several pieces to the puzzle then, ahead of that next meeting.

Corvette Racing’s 100 wins have spanned 16 years, multiple eras

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The benchmark for North American sports car racing teams this century, arguably, has been Corvette Racing.

And on Saturday, the Corvette Racing team hit the century-win landmark.

A 1-2 finish led by longtime Corvette Racing stalwart Oliver Gavin, the winningest driver in Corvette Racing history, and newish recruit Tommy Milner, now in his sixth season of the team, occurred during the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock.

“It is pretty amazing to get the 100th,” Gavin said. “We have had some great wins this year.  When you look at Daytona, that was phenomenal; Sebring too. Our Le Mans win last year. But to get the 100th is pretty special. I have to thank the team and everybody involved.  I have had a few of the wins with the team, but I have to say this is a pretty special one. To fight off the No. 67 car and having our teammates on the podium. It is pretty special for everyone at Corvette Racing!”

“I feel very lucky to say I was in the car that got the 100th win for this team, but you think about all the people that have worked on this team; all of the drivers; the crew, the marketing and PR people, everybody that have contributed to this, I just feel fortunate to be a part of that. It is good to get that monkey off of our back. It was a small monkey, but it was lingering,” Milner added.

The pair of Corvette C7.Rs have soldiered on despite being hampered by certain Balance of Performance adjustments – most noticeably at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans – and returned to the top step of the podium on Saturday following great drives from all four of the team’s drivers. Besides Gavin and Milner up front in the No. 4 car, the “King of Spain” Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen also scythed through the field to end second in the sister No. 3 car.

Corvette Racing first and foremost is a team though, and while it’s program manager Doug Fehan who has always been front-and-center for the Pratt & Miller outfit, the team’s crew is a huge reason why it has achieved the success it has since 1999.

“If you’re going to win your 100th race, you may as well do it with a 1-2 finish,” Fehan said after the race on Saturday.

“We never diminish the input the engineers have in giving the team great Corvettes, and the crew today just had  absolutely terrific pit stops. But today, this one goes to the drivers. On this race track and in these conditions, those guys brought it home. I’m tipping my hat to the drivers today.”

Added Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, “Achieving 100 victories is a tremendous accomplishment for Corvette Racing. It’s a testament to the dedication of all the crew members, engineers, drivers and our engine team members over the past 17 years. We certainly couldn’t have achieved this milestone without the support of our partners at Pratt & Miller, Mobil 1 and Michelin. Everyone with Corvette Racing operates as one team and embodies the competitive spirit of Chevrolet. We’re happy to share this success with our passionate Corvette owners and supporters.”

Here’s a great salute from the FIA World Endurance Championship paddock, from DailySportsCar editor Graham Goodwin.

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From a team release, here’s the breakdown of wins:

The Corvette Racing team made its first start Jan. 31, 1999 at Daytona. Since that time, the program has claimed championships and victories on endurance racing’s most prominent stages:

  • Ten manufacturer and team championships in the American Le Mans Series, plus nine driver titles
  • Eight class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
  • Three wins in the Rolex 24 including an overall victory in 2001
  • Ten class wins at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring

Corvette Racing also claimed endurance racing’s Triple Crown in 2015 with wins at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. It was the first team in 15 years to accomplish the feat.

The tally of Corvette Racing victories spans a number of different series. In addition to its record at Le Mans, Corvette Racing has nine wins in the WeatherTech (formerly TUDOR) SportsCar Championship, 82 in the American Le Mans Series (a record for entrants) and one in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.

Here’s a recap video and congratulatory message from Corvette Racing’s longtime tire technical partner, Michelin:

“We are pleased that since Corvette Racing switched to Michelin for the 2004 racing season, the last 75 wins have been with us,” said Ken Payne, technical director motorsports, Michelin North America.

“We want to congratulate our friends at Chevrolet, GM Motorsports, Pratt & Miller, and the entire Corvette Racing teams and drivers on this milestone win.”

Here’s a congratulatory message from longtime oil partner Mobil 1:

And here’s a list of all the past wins, via Autoweek.

The driver breakdown of past winners, by number of wins, is as follows:

  • Oliver Gavin (47; 2002-3, 2003-2, 2004-5, 2005-7, 2006-5, 2007-9, 2008-3, 2009-1, 2010-1, 2011-1, 2012-4, 2013-2, 2015-1, 2016-3)
  • Johnny O’Connell (41; 2001-7, 2002-8, 2003-3, 2004-5, 2005-3, 2006-1, 2007-3, 2008-8, 2009-3)
  • Olivier Beretta (31; 2004-5, 2005-7, 2006-5, 2007-9, 2008-3, 2009-1, 2011-1)
  • Ron Fellows (30; 2000-1, 2001-7, 2002-8, 2003-3, 2004-5, 2005-3, 2006-1, 2008-2)
  • Jan Magnussen (30; 2004-2, 2005-2, 2006-2, 2007-3, 2008-8, 2009-3, 2010-1, 2011-1, 2013-3, 2014-3, 2015-2)
  • Antonio Garcia (11; 2009-2, 2011-1, 2013-3, 2014-3, 2015-2)
  • Tommy Milner (11; 2011-1, 2012-4, 2013-2, 2015-1, 2016-3)
  • Kelly Collins (6; 2000-1, 2001-1, 2002-2, 2003, 2)
  • Andy Pilgrim (5; 2000-2, 2001-1, 2002-2)
  • Franck Freon (4; 2000-1, 2001-2, 2003-1)
  • Max Papis (3; 2004-1, 2007-2)
  • Ryan Briscoe (2; 2015)
  • Marcel Fassler (2; 2016)
  • Chris Kniefel (1; 2001)
  • Scott Pruett (1; 2001)
  • Emmanuel Collard (1; 2010)
  • Richard Westbrook (1; 2013)
  • Jordan Taylor (1; 2015)

Justin Wilson honored with corner name at Snetterton

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British circuit Snetterton has renamed one of its corners in honor of Justin Wilson.

Wilson was killed last August after being struck by debris in a Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono, sustaining severe head injuries.

The British driver spent much of his junior career racing at tracks around the UK, including Snetterton.

Wilson won the inaugural Formula Palmer Audi title back in 1998, a series run by Snetterton owner and ex-Formula 1 driver Jonathan Palmer, the track being part of his MotorSport Vision group.

Palmer worked with Wilson to help him get onto the F1 grid, and the two maintained a close friendship.

On Monday, officials at Snetterton announced that the Montreal hairpin has now been renamed the Wilson hairpin. A special corner board will be placed on the run towards the Wilson hairpin featuring his name and his iconic helmet design.

“Justin Wilson, the champion of my inaugural Formula Palmer Audi championship, thoroughly deserved the support which that success brought him, and it was enormously satisfying to watch him make the best possible use of every opportunity he had through to F1 and IndyCar racing,” Palmer said.

“But not only was Justin an outstanding racing driver, he was also the epitome of a true sportsman, earning universal respect and admiration.

“He leaves a lasting legacy that we will cherish and perpetuate, with the naming of Wilson corner at Snetterton an important part of that.”

Justin’s younger brother, Stefan, who raced at this year’s Indianapolis 500, added: “This is such an incredible gesture by MSV and I know Justin would be very honoured and humbled to learn that he has a corner here at Snetterton named after him.

“Snetterton has a special place in our memories as our dad raced here back in the 1960s and he would tell us stories of racing down the old Norwich straight. Plus, Justin and I raced here many times in our own careers.”

The first event to take place at Snetterton using the Wilson hairpin will be this weekend’s British Touring Car Championship round. All three races will take place on Sunday – what would have been Wilson’s 38th birthday.