American football season is officially over with the Seattle Seahawks’ smackdown of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII last night.
Which means that next up in the sporting calendar is the start of two racing seasons, NASCAR’s and the NHRA’s.
Daytona Speedweeks and the Circle K Pomona Winternationals are February’s racing highlights, although testing for other series is still ongoing this month.
Here’s what’s on tap for the racing month of February (see January’s “on tap” here):
- Daytona Speedweeks: From Feb. 14 through Feb. 23, 10 days of practice, qualifying and racing culminating with the Daytona 500 on the 23rd. NASCAR’s Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, the ARCA opener and the preseason Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel Sprint Cup events will take place. For the Daytona 500, there will be several new team/driver combination debuts, and also the much-heralded return of the No. 3 to a Sprint Cup race with rookie Austin Dillon.
- NHRA’s West Coast doubleheader: The traditional first two weekends of the drag racing season commence at Pomona (Feb. 6-9) and Phoenix (Feb. 21-23). At the season opener, Courtney Force seeks to defend her Funny Car race win and father John begins another season long title defense. It’s a big year for JFR as a whole; the team enters its last year with Fords and Castrol, two flagship brands associated with the Force family for nearly 30 years.
- F1’s Bahrain testing double: There wasn’t a ton of running for the contingent of Formula One teams at their first test in Jerez last week; teams spent time sorting out some initial mechanical issues with their new chassis and new powerplants. Heavier running should occur at both February tests in Bahrain; the first is from Feb. 19-22, with the second Feb. 27-March 2. Lotus, which missed the Jerez test, is the only team yet to run its new chassis.
- More IndyCar testing: A mix of Florida and California tests for the IndyCar Series are on tap. Additionally, the series will hold its preseason Media Day in Orlando on Feb. 18. The series still has a handful of full-season seats to fill as we enter the final two months before its season opener in St. Petersburg at the end of March – there was little movement on the driver front in January.
- Winter Series: There’s two “winter series” of note. The new four-race Florida Winter Series runs from Feb. 3-5 at Palm Beach, Feb. 12-14 and Feb. 17-19 at Homestead. Meanwhile the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship takes place for all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. Doubleheader Pro Mazda races and tripleheader USF2000 races will occur Feb. 21-22 at NOLA Motorsports Park and Feb. 25-26 at Barber Motorsports Park, respectively; Indy Lights will have testing all four days as well.
- Elsewhere: The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship tests at Sebring Feb. 20-21, in what will be another test of Balance of Performance for DP and P2 cars … FIA World Rally Championship has its second event of the season this weekend, Rally Sweden in the snow Feb. 5-8 … one endurance race of note is on tap, with the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race for production and GT cars Feb. 7-9 … we figure there will be more Pirelli World Challenge team and driver announcements across its field.
MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.
Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda
- 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish
Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.
His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.
But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.
With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.
Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.
Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.
“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.
“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”
Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.