Federated Auto Parts 400

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.

WATCH LIVE: Firestone 600 at Texas at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN

during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.
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Let’s try this again, shall we?

The Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway restarts on Lap 71 from the rain-started race back in June, and James Hinchcliffe has the lead in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

You can watch the restarted race from 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN (8 p.m. CT and local time), with the command to restart at 8:15 p.m. CT. Live streaming is also available at indystream.nbcsports.com and the NBC Sports App for participating providers.

Kevin Lee will be in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, while Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller in the pits.

Hinchcliffe leads and here’s the full restart order, below.

L71restartorder

Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon fastest in two Firestone 600 practice sessions

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Scott Dixon of New Zealand, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, practices for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Fort Worth – After a 77 day wait, the Verizon IndyCar Series was back on track at Texas Motor Speedway to get ready for tonight’s Firestone 600.

The series took part in two, 10-minute practice sessions ahead of the race’s resumption.

Marco Andretti was the fastest in the first session with a speed of 213.095 mph over teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay (210.859 mph).

The second session was was led by defending Firestone 600 winner Scott Dixon at 214.937 mph. His Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan was second quickest at 214.476 mph. Andretti had the third best speed overall.

James Hinchcliffe, who will be the race leader when it resumes, was seventh fastest overall.

The first 10-minute session had just began when the No. 14 of Takuma Sato broke loose in Turn 4 and hit the wall. Sato was able to leave the car under his own power and was later cleared to participate in the race.

Sato told the Indianapolis Star a right-front rocker broke on the car.

The No. 14 had to be towed back to the garage despite there not being any significant damage to the body of the car.

James Hinchcliffe, who will be the race leader when it resumes, was seventh fastest overall.

Speed chart

TXtimes

Manor enjoys strong Spa qualifying as Wehrlein reaches Q2

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Manor Racing enjoyed one of its strongest Formula 1 qualifying displays to date on Saturday ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix as Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon finished 16th and 18th respectively.

Wehrlein produced a particularly impressive lap in Q1 to make it through to the second stage of qualifying for the third time this season, finishing the session ninth.

After using two sets of new super-soft tires in the first stage, Wehrlein was forced to complete Q2 on a used set, meaning he lapped eight-tenths of a second slower than his original effort.

The German driver was resigned to P16 in Q2, which while bearing a tinge of disappointment was nevertheless an excellent result for the team.

“I’m very happy that we made it through to Q2, of course. Q1 was incredible for us with P9,” Wehrlein said.

“But unfortunately we had no new super-soft tyres for Q2, so it’s a bit of shame, and I had to do my lap on used tires.

“Q1 felt so good with new tires, so you can see what was possible today; that last run was not our true pace. So it was a bit of a shame, but that decision has to be made much earlier in the year.”

Teammate Ocon enjoyed his first F1 qualifying outing with Manor after replacing Rio Haryanto over the summer, and narrowly missed out on a place in Q2 after an impressive run to P18. However, he too was disappointed.

“I’ve been pretty happy with my pace generally but it’s not easy to start your F1 career more than halfway through the season,” Ocon said.

“I need more time in the car and with the super-soft tire and even managing the traffic; that’s quite a challenge too with all the cars slowing down after their laps.

“It takes more experience than I have in three practice sessions to really extract the maximum out of everything. That’s something to look forward to with each new race though, improving step by step.

“I was very quick on the soft tire, so although I’m a little disappointed today, I’m also excited about what is yet to come.”

Both Wehrlein and Ocon gain a place on the grid for Sunday’s race by virtue of Esteban Gutierrez’s grid penalty, dropping the Mexican to 18th.

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

IMSA: CJ Wilson Racing, HART Honda win crazy, wet CTSC race at VIR

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Strategic timing and masterstrokes of driving in treacherous, rainy conditions helped drive the first victories of the season for CJ Wilson Racing and HART (Honda of America Racing Team), respectively, in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS and ST classes at VIRginia International Raceway.

The No. 33 ONE Capital/Motor Oil Matters Porsche GT4 Cayman Clubsport pair of Danny Burkett and Marc Miller finally broke through for an elusive first victory, after coming up close on so many other occasions this year – notably at Watkins Glen.

Burkett, the young Canadian, made an early smart call to be first into the pits for rain tires – a key decision when a few minutes later, the skies opened and VIR turned from sunny and clear to swampy, wet and miserable, with flooding occurring a bit later.

Then when the race resumed after nearly an hour of red flag conditions, the No. 33 Porsche pitted along with fellow GS class contenders the Nos. 15 and 76 Ford Shelby GT350R-C from Multimatic Motorsports and Compass360 Racing, respectively. CJWR’s pit stops have been under the microscope this year but a flawless stop occurred there to switch from Burkett to Miller.

Miller then seized the momentum on the final restart, passing Billy Johnson (co-drove with Scott Maxwell) in the No. 15 Ford for the lead after Turns 1 and 2.

Miller held on to the finish and won by 4.509 seconds over Johnson, who did well to hold off a hard-charging Trent Hindman (Cameron Cassels co-driver) in the No. 12 Bodymotion Racing Porsche for second.

While Miller and CJWR have won in Continental Tire action before – CJWR was ST class champions a year ago – this marked both their first wins in GS, and Burkett’s first win in the series.

“Pure elation! This is awesome! It’s been such a long time coming. To finally do it… it’s almost surreal at this point. We had to come out here and do this. We had a fantastic race,” Burkett told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam.

Miller, who had a birthday on August 24, added, to IMSA Radio’s Jim Roller, “Man I just didn’t want to slide off the track. Car placement was so important. This feels so good!”

In ST, Ryan Eversley and co-driver Chad Gilsinger put on a wet-weather driving clinic in the No. 93 HART Honda Civic Si for their first win since Road America last year.

Gilsinger got out to the lead early in the race and led the majority of his stint, Eversley doing the rest once he took over in the afternoon after pit stops and driver changes were completed. Eversley, ultimately, won by 10.417 seconds over good friend Eric Foss (co-drove with Jeff Mosing) in the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman.

“I did it because my team is awesome,” Eversley told Adam. “I didn’t lose any spots in the pits. When I got in the car everything was perfect. Chad Gilsinger, you should talk to more. He made the right choice to go to rains. If he would have been finishing, he would have done the same thing. HART, Honda Racing HPD. I’m blown away.”

Said the aforementioned Gilsinger to Roller, “Usually we don’t do well here. We were hoping it would rain. The first rain isn’t what we wanted. Nobody wanted that, especially on slicks. But we fought through and got to the pits in time, and the conditions suited our car quite well.”

Despite the heavy rain, lightning in the area and wet conditions in the pits (see below), there were no major accidents of note in the two-hour, 30-minute race.

The Wilson pair’s win closes them, unofficially, to 20 points of Maxwell and Johnson for the GS points lead, while Porsche and Ford are tied for the Manufacturer’s Lead.

In ST, Spencer Pumpelly and Nick Galante still lead the points by seven in their No. 17 Rennsport One Porsche Cayman, after a 14th place finish. Defending class champions Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer finished seventh in the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 and closed that gap.

The series resumes Friday, Sept. 16, at Circuit of The Americas for the second-to-last race of the year.