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Breaking down the new changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In one of the biggest changes of his 11-year administration, NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France on Thursday announced a new format to the Chase for the Sprint Cup designed to further emphasize winning and enhance fan excitement – and potentially create a vibe that sells more tickets and increases TV ratings in the process.

The new format “is as simple as it gets,” France said during a roughly 20-minute presentation to the press on the final day of the NASCAR Media Tour at the Charlotte Convention Center.

“We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, puts a premium on winning races and concludes with a best-of-the-best, first-to-the-finish-line showdown race – all of which is exactly what fans want,” France said. “The new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will be thrilling, easy to understand and help drive our sport’s competition to a whole new level.”

Here’s a breakdown on how the new format shakes out:

1) The Chase field will increase in size from 12 to 16 drivers. There will no longer be two wild card entries that make the Chase.

2) A win in the first 26 races all but guarantees a driver a berth in the 10-race Chase.

3) The top 15 drivers with the most wins over the first 26 races earn an automatic berth in what is being called the NASCAR Chase Grid – provided they leave Richmond, the 26th race, in the top 30 in points and have attempted to qualify for every race up to that point on the schedule.

4) If there are 16 or more different winners in the first 26 races, the only winless driver who can earn a berth would be the points leader after Richmond. For example, if Jeff Gordon goes through the first 26 races without a win but is the points leader after Richmond, he would be the only winless driver to qualify for the Chase.

5) If there are fewer than 16 race winners in the first 26 races, the 16-driver Chase field would be filled out with winless drivers with the most points following the first 26 races.

6) The points will be reset to 2,000 after the 16-driver Chase field is finalized following the September race at Richmond.

7) In perhaps the biggest key difference of the new format, the lowest-ranked four drivers (13th through 16th place) after the first three races will be eliminated from further advancement in the Chase, leaving 12 drivers. There will be a second round of elimination of the next-lowest four drivers (9th through 12th place) after the sixth race of the Chase, and a third round of elimination of the lowest four of the eight (5th through 8th place) remaining championship-eligible drivers after the ninth race. That sets up the biggest battle of the season, a four-driver winner-take-all race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

8) The first three races of the Chase will be known as the Challenger Round (races 27-29). The fourth through sixth races of the Chase will be known as the Contender Round (races 30-32). The seventh through ninth races of the Chase will be known as the Eliminator Round (races 33-35). The final race will be known simply as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship (race 36).

9) Any driver that wins a race in the first three Chase races (the Challenger Round) automatically advances to the next round. Likewise, a driver that wins a race in the second round (Contender Round) advances to the third round, and a third-round (Eliminator Round) race winner advances to the four-driver final round (Sprint Cup Championship).

10) If one of the final four drivers wins the season finale at Homestead, he/she is the champion. Otherwise, the highest-finishing driver in the race would then win the championship. One other note about the season-ending race: there will be NO bonus points for laps led. All four drivers will start the race tied in points, with the highest finisher being crowned champion.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

Red Bull GRC: Eriksson, Wiman keen to secure Honda’s first final win

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Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross resumes this weekend at Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J. (Sunday, 3 p.m., NBC) with the longest course this season (1.102 miles), and one which could play into the hands of Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE drivers Sebastian Eriksson and Joni Wiman.

Eriksson was the top rookie in last year’s season and finished second in points; Wiman captured the 2014 series championship. But it’s been a learning year for both drivers and the Andreas Eriksson-led team this year with a brand new car.

With a longer course that features faster corners, Eriksson rates the new Honda Civic Coupe’s chances of getting its first final round win (they’ve won heats before) a bit higher.

“It should be a fast track. I like that,” Sebastian Eriksson told NBC Sports. “The engine has good power and we’ve had good starts and launches all season. Since it is a fast track, that will suit our car better. It’s a bit longer. Smaller cars do better at hairpins. But at a fast track, our car is best.”

Wiman added,  “Just looking at the track map, I can tell we are really going have a blast in the Civic this weekend. It looks long and fast and I think that bodes well for us. Sebastian [Eriksson] and I are eager to be on the top step of the podium and represent Honda, Red Bull and the entire Olsbergs MSE team.”

Eriksson expanded on how much the team has grown with Honda this year throughout this development campaign.

“The season is shorter this season than before; it started later and finishes earlier,” he said. “So for us with a brand new car, we tried to develop between races. We try to find as much as possible.

“You need to remember, the car was brand new! We started with the build very late – it was a January build for three cars. There was not a ton of testing. But we have gotten better and better. The last race was really good. We found some improvements before this time off. We hope to be competitive, and fighting for the wins.”

Eriksson also hailed BFGoodrich, which has taken over as Red Bull Global Rallycross’ tire manufacturer this year.

“The BFGs are much better. Grip-wise, it is about the same. But the Yokohamas only had one lap before falling off. Now here, it’s faster on all the laps. That makes the racing more fair. Everyone competes at the same level at the time.”

In his second year in Supercars, Eriksson’s learned a lot. He admitted he made a lot of mistakes last year and while driving better this year, hasn’t had the luck he had in his first go-around.

“I think I’ve grown a lot. I made a lot of mistakes last year. I should have been able to score more points even than I did,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of struggles this year with the car… too many DNFs in the finals, with three of them. And you lose a lot of points. All the points are in the final. In this series, you need a solid finish every race and we haven’t had that.

“Daytona was the best result-wise as you said (two third places), but in New River, we really had the pace and we had the semifinal win. Should have started from first row in the final because they canceled it because of the rain. I was positive we had the pace.

“In Washington, both Joni and second in semis. But I had the puncture. It has been a lot of bad luck. We have more speed than we have shown.”

Eriksson said growing with Honda has given him a much greater insight into their love and passion for racing. He had a chance to explore Honda Performance Development headquarters in California earlier this month.

“The thing that Honda that is so cool is it might be the only brand in the world that builds their brand and cars around racing,” he said.

“It feels almost like racing is in the first place and building cars is the second. They have a lot of tradition on both two and four wheels. IndyCar, Formula 1 and Motocross, and road racing. And now here in Red Bull GRC.

“It’s clear racing is big in the Honda family.”

Vergne fastest for Techeetah on second Formula E test day

FIA Formula E Championship 2015/16.
Beijing ePrix, Beijing, China.
Race.
Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01  
Beijing, China, Asia.
Saturday 24 October 2015
Photo: Adam Warner / LAT / FE
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Jean-Eric Vergne made the most of his first public test for the new Techeetah Formula E team by topping the timesheets at Donington Park on Wednesday.

Vergne left DS Virgin Racing at the end of season two to join Techeetah, which took over from Team Aguri after a buy-out by a Chinese investment firm.

Vergne got his first run in the Renault-powered Techeetah car on Tuesday, finishing the morning session fastest with a new Formula E lap record at Donington Park.

The Frenchman’s time of 1:29.634 saw him finish 0.085 seconds clear of recent Indy Lights driver Felix Rosenqvist at the front of the pack, with season two champion Sebastien Buemi following in third place for Renault e.dams.

Daniel Abt led the afternoon session for ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, but a flurry of late red flags meant that few drivers were able to get in a late flying lap, leaving Vergne’s morning time as the overall benchmark. Abt’s time was good enough for P4 in the final standings on Tuesday.

Sam Bird finished fourth for DS Virgin Racing ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Nico Prost, with Loic Duval following in P6 for Dragon Racing.

Jaguar Racing continued its first public testing programme with Adam Carroll once again behind the wheel, sharing duties with Mitch Evans, who is being evaluated for the second seat. Evans turned in a fastest lap of 1:31.267, edging out Carroll by one-tenth of a second.

Evans was joined in the Jaguar garage by ex-Formula 1 driver and defending WEC champion Mark Webber, who mentors the young New Zealander. Ford WEC driver Harry Tincknell will take over the reins of the second Jaguar on Thursday when the first test concludes.

Updated Firestone 600 schedule, starting grid, Lap 71 running order

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This weekend’s trip for the Verizon IndyCar Series back to Texas Motor Speedway features a bit of an oddity, as it’s a return to finish the remaining 177 laps left unfinished when the series raced in June.

Here’s a quick rundown of where we are as a result of that rain delay (initial PREVIEW and What to Watch For linked here as well).

QUALIFYING

Carlos Munoz scored his first career pole position in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. Here was the full report on that from my colleague Daniel McFadin in Texas.

Here was the starting grid, below:

FORT WORTH, Texas – Qualifying Friday for the Firestone 600 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.455-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, and speed:

1. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 217.137
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 216.901
3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 216.740
4. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 216.740
5. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 216.684
6. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 216.663
7. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 216.647
8. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 216.295
9. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 216.262
10. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 216.262
11. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 216.260
12. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 216.162
13. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 215.927
14. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 215.751
15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 215.533
16. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 215.299
17. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 215.279
18. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 215.030
19. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 214.864
20. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 214.568
21. (18) Conor Daly, Honda, 213.826
22. (19) Gabby Chaves, Honda, no speed

RACE

The first stint of the race was pretty much status quo, save for Alexander Rossi’s rear tires falling off and the Indianapolis 500 champion doing a great job of saving his car.

Then Lap 42 happened and that nasty accident between Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden, which left Newgarden with a fractured right clavicle and a small fracture on his right hand.

That led to a long caution and then when the skies opened on Lap 71, 53 laps short of the Lap 124 halfway mark (600 kilometers is a 248-lap race), the race was red flagged and we were left with the scenario we are in now. The race was rescheduled to Saturday, August 27, and it’s where the IndyCar circus is needing to travel back to Texas again.

Here’s the running order on Lap 71:

1. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda
2. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda
3. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet
5. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet
6. (19) Gabby Chaves, Honda
7. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet
8. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet
9. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda
10. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet
11. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet
12. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda
13. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda
14. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet
15. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet
16. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet
17. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1 LAP
18. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 1 LAP
19. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 1 LAP
20. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda 2 LAPS
21. (18) Conor Daly, Honda 29 LAPS
22. (21) Josef Newgarden Chevy 30 LAPS

COMPLETION PLAN

INDYCAR sent out this release on the Friday of Road America weekend, June 24, explaining the process to finish the Texas race:

INDYCAR has announced its plan for resuming the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway that was suspended June 12 after completing 71 of its scheduled 248 laps. The Verizon IndyCar Series race will be completed Aug. 27.

The No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda driven by Conor Daly and No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet driven by Josef Newgarden will not be permitted to participate in the continuation due to the extensive chassis and engine damage each sustained in a crash on Lap 42. James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is the race leader after 71 laps.

Cars continuing in the race will be permitted to use the chassis and engine of their choice for the completion day. Tire allotment and fuel quantity for the completion are yet to be determined. Pre-race aero setups from the June event will be mandatory for the August completion, though INDYCAR may make changes prior to the completion based on the weather forecast for race weekend.

The remaining 177 race laps will be run at the conclusion of the Aug. 27 schedule that includes:

  • A mandatory systems check (an out/in lap only);
  • A 25-minute practice session: Cars will be split into two groups, each group receiving 10 minutes of practice time with a five-minute break in between;
  • A driver autograph session on the track’s concourse;
  • Completion of the race in the evening.

Texas Motor Speedway will be announcing its plans for ticketing, credentialing, camping and various other fan-related and facility-based items in the coming weeks.

UPDATED SCHEDULE

Here’s what you can expect for the IndyCar day at Texas, which will honor police officers as well.

All times are CT, one hour behind ET.

10:00 Garages Open
4:30-4:35 Mandatory Installation Lap
4:35-4:45 Practice, Group 1
4:50-5:00 Practice, Group 2
5:30-6:15 Autograph Session, TMS Concourse
7:10 Push Out
7:25 Grid IndyCars in Restart Order
8:00 NBCSN TV Window Begins
8:15 Estimated Drivers Start Your Engines

Lewis Hamilton “refreshed” after summer break, heading to Spa

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 31: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win in parc ferme during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton heads into this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps both refreshed and recharged following the summer break – albeit a break which interrupted his run of four wins in a row in the month of July.

Hamilton swept into the title lead after successive wins in Austria, Britain, Hungary and Germany, and the four-for-four run of form now sees him 19 points clear of Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg heading into Spa this weekend.

As you’d expect, Hamilton went off the grid and spent a lot of time in Barbados and the Americas, but feels ready to resume his title charge this weekend. The Englishman is in search of his fourth World Championship, third in a row.

“It’s crazy how quickly this year is going by. It seems like a few weeks ago we were in Barcelona for winter testing and now we’re through the summer break, heading to Spa,” Hamilton said in the team’s race advance.

“The first half of the season was a bit of a rollercoaster, so it’s great to be in the position I’m in with more than half of the races behind us. There will be more up and downs to come, I’m sure. But the way myself and the team have performed so far gives me huge confidence.

“I’m feeling refreshed, re-energized and ready to go after a fun few weeks off, so hopefully everyone else has had a good rest too and we’ll come out fighting.”

Hamilton took pole and the win at Spa last year, marking his first Spa victory with Mercedes and second overall (McLaren in 2010).

He also has a chance to match his career-long win streak of five races in a row, achieved from the Italian through U.S. Grands Prix in 2014.

He never won more than three in a row in 2015, but this year has the four straight wins and six of the last seven dating to his surprise win in Monaco.

Additionally, he’s looking to carry the run of form for Brits in the sporting world these days.

“Spa is a great track – one that every driver enjoys. It was great to finally get back on the top step there last year, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to have another strong race this time around,” he said.

“It’s been such a proud few weeks for British sport, with the Olympics and then Cal Crutchlow becoming the first British MotoGP winner in more than 30 years. I’ll do my best to keep the flag flying this weekend. A big shout-out to the British fans heading out to this one. I’m sure they’ll be out in force as always!”