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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.

Andretti Autosport closing on four cars for Indy Lights

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The departure of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports from the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires grid doesn’t necessarily mean a departure of cars from the grid, if those cars wind up elsewhere.

At least one more figures to land with Andretti Autosport, with the team closing on running four cars next season.

The team confirmed Nico Jamin earlier this week, in addition to the previously confirmed Dalton Kellett. Ryan Norman has tested for Andretti this offseason and figures to be added, while a fourth car would be a wild card.

“He went really well. He’s the real deal,” team principal Michael Andretti told NBC Sports about Jamin. “He’s serious about it. His approach is very professional. He’ll be really quick.

“We’re excited to have him, Dalton, and then we have a couple other deals trying to get finalized. We’d fully expect to be a four-car team. We bought a lot of stuff from (Schmidt).”

While Andretti is doing his part to help the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder with a four-car effort, and with Belardi Auto Racing and Juncos Racing poised to be bigger teams in 2017 than they were in 2016, he did note the concern over the series’ costs of operating.

For several years, Andretti Autosport ran a team in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy. However, first the team’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, then Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, programs were discontinued. The Dallara IL-15 Mazda, introduced prior to 2015, has witnessed an escalation in costs compared to the older Dallara that came into the series at its inception in 2002.

“That’s the problem; this new car made the same mistakes IndyCar did,” Andretti said. “It’s costing a good $200,000 more than what it used to, and it’s a big number. That’s been a big problem.

“That’s why they’re struggling, because it’s expensive with the (U.S.) dollar being so strong. Europeans aren’t necessarily looking because of the strength of the dollar. Personally, I feel the new car was a bit of mistake the way they went about it.”

Andretti Autosport had Kellett, Dean Stoneman and Shelby Blackstock this year in Indy Lights. Blackstock shifted to Belardi Auto Racing, while Stoneman is unsure of what he’ll be doing next season. The Englishman won twice, both on the road course and oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rosberg would have continued in F1 had he lost title to Hamilton

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Nico Rosberg says he would have continued racing in Formula 1 had he lost the drivers’ championship to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton last weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 World Championship by five points ahead of Hamilton before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from racing five days later.

The news sent shockwaves through F1, but Rosberg was content with fulfilling his childhood dream and winning the World Championship, reasoning his retirement.

“When I was six years old and started out, the dream was very clear: it’s becoming Formula 1 World Champion,” Rosberg said after receiving the championship trophy at the FIA gala in Vienna on Friday.

“That’s what I pursued all along, and it’s mission accomplished for me. I’ve done it. It’s my dream come true.

“Now on to other things, family first now, in the winter gonna love that, and let’s see what the future holds. Just following my heart.”

Rosberg revealed that he would have continued in F1 had he lost out to Hamilton in the race for the championship, with his Mercedes contract running to the end of the 2018 season.

“No I never give up. So if I would have come second, I would have gone for another year for sure, next year, definitely,” Rosberg said.

“I knew when I won [I would retire], but I wasn’t sure yet if I had the courage. But here I am now, and I’m very happy.”

Rosberg receives F1 World Championship trophy at FIA gala

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Nico Rosberg has officially been crowned Formula 1 World Champion after picking up the drivers’ trophy at the end-of-season FIA prize giving gala in Vienna on Friday.

Rosberg won his first world title last weekend in Abu Dhabi, edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by five points in the final standings.

Rosberg dropped a bombshell on Friday by announcing his immediate retirement from F1, just hours before the FIA gala and his coronation as champion.

“Finally I lose that little asterisk next to my name that means not sure yet, it’s finally confirmed,” Rosberg said after receiving the trophy from FIA president Jean Todt.

“Unbelievable. So proud to be here. Thank you very much to the FIA for the special video that got me crying for the 15th time in four days. It’s been a pretty intense period.

“It’s my childhood dream. Emotional for me also when I saw this trophy for the first time today, I had a look where my Dad was. For me that’s one of the most emotional things about this, I managed to achieve what he did 34 years ago. It’s very special.”

Ricciardo: Rosberg has given someone an amazing Christmas present

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Daniel Ricciardo says that Nico Rosberg has given someone “an amazing Christmas present” by announcing his shock retirement from Formula 1 and opening up a seat at Mercedes for the 2017 season.

Ahead of Friday’s FIA prize giving in Vienna, Rosberg announced his retirement from F1 with immediate effect less than a week after winning his first World Championship.

The news sent shockwaves through F1, as well as sparking speculation as to who will replace him at Mercedes, the team that has won every championship in the past three seasons.

Following the FIA gala where he received his trophy for finishing third in the drivers’ championship, Ricciardo spoke about the news in a video posted to his Instagram account.

“We had the FIA gala last night, the end of year awards. It was good, it was really beautiful, but I think the big news was Nico announcing his retirement,” Ricciardo said.

“That was pretty unexpected I guess. He’s given someone an amazing Christmas present, whoever gets that seat, I hope they appreciate what they’re getting.

“But good on him for having the nuts to say that’s enough, he achieved what he wanted. Fair play.”

👋🏼🇦🇹

A video posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on