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NASCAR makes key changes to penalty/appeals structure; fans to soon get rule books

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When Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour about all the changes the Sprint Cup Series will see this year, particularly in qualifying and the format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Junior joked that maybe NASCAR shouldn’t stop there and should change everything in the sport.

NASCAR must have been listening, as the sanctioning body on Tuesday announced even more changes – this time to rules about inspections and the appeals process for penalties that are handed out.

And after countless requests from fans over the years, it appears a true NASCAR rule book will soon be available for fans to finally get their hands on and peruse through.

NASCAR is changing what has heretofore been called its penalty structure to what will now be known as a deterrent system.

“The new deterrent system is going to provide a clear path for our competitors to fully understand the boundaries while shoring up some gray areas which may have been in existence, again, all in an effort to be as transparent as possible,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations.

“We’ve also moved to a more transparent appeals procedure with updated rules and hearings which we believe will benefit everyone involved,” O’Donnell added. “The rule book will now clearly define the appeal procedure. We believed that we’ve had one of the best processes in sports to settle disputes, but also wanted to modernize our procedures and continue to provide as much transparency, fairness and impartiality as possible.”

The most significant change announced Tuesday is the penalty structure, officially known as the “Deterrence System.” It will have six escalating tiers, from the first level, known as P1 (least significant penalties, including the most minor infractions that will likely result in things such as warnings), through P6 (most significant, involves major infractions that include hefty fines, points reductions and suspensions).

“It’s never our intent to penalize, but in order to keep the playing field fair for everyone, we recognize that strong rules need to be in place,” O’Donnell said. “We certainly believe we’ve done a good job governing the sport in the past but always believe we can get better and benefit everyone involved, especially as we went out and talked to the industry.

“NASCAR’s Deterrence System is designed to help maintain the integrity and competitive balance of our sport while sending a clear message that rules violations will not be tolerated. This is a more transparent and effective model that specifically spells out that ‘X’ infraction equals ‘X’ penalty for technical infractions.

“At the same time, we believe the Appeals process allows a fair opportunity for our NASCAR Members to be heard, and have penalty disputes resolved by an impartial, relevant group of people with the ability to handle the complexities inherent in any appeal. This system has been tailored specifically to fit the needs of our sport.”

The least restrictive penalty level, P1, will include punishment such as last choice in pit selection process, temporary suspension of annual hard card credential for team members, track time deductions in practice/qualifying and even so-called “community service.”

Although NASCAR reserves the right to do so, there will typically not be any points deductions or fines issued with a P1 violation.

The harshest penalty level, P6, will include the loss of 150 points (owner and driver), fines between $150,000 and $200,000, crew chief is suspended for six races and probation periods lasting either six months or until the end of the season, depending upon when the penalty is incurred in the course of the season.

“When you look at a P6 range, and that being the highest level, those are the ones that will be more significant, and they are the engines, engine compression ratio, additives like nitrous oxide or things that are for performance,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition and Racing Development.

“We believe the new system is easily understood and specifically lays out exactly what disciplinary action will be taken depending upon the type of technical infraction,” Pemberton said. “More importantly, we believe we have strengthened our system to ensure even more competitive racing.

“At the highest three levels of the system, if a rules infraction is discovered in post-race inspection, one or more additional penalty elements are added on top of the standard prescribed penalty. Repeat offenses by the same team are addressed as a recurrence multiplier. For example, if a Penalty 4 is assessed and then a second Penalty 4 or higher occurs the same season, the subsequent penalty is increased by 50 percent above the normal standard.

“The new deterrent system also includes a more detailed explanation of suspensions.  Behavioral infractions are still handled on a case-by-case basis and are not built into this particular system.”

A three-individual appeals board will remain in place but with a new name, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel. In addition, a new position of Final Appeals Officer is being added, a role that will be filled by Bryan Moss, former president of Gulfstream Aerospace. Moss will, in effect, replace NASCAR National Commissioner John Middlebrook.

Also, O’Donnell added that George Silverman will remain as appeals officer, but will not be present during deliberations on whether to sustain or overturn penalties handed out by NASCAR.

“Revamping the governance model is something we’ve looked at now over the last 18 months,” O’Donnell said, “and we felt the timing was right to put these practices in place.”

The first phase of appeal hearings will take a more pronounced look of proceedings typically seen in courts of law, followed by the penalized individual or team presenting what essentially is their defense.

“The first level will be before a three-member appeals panel that will now be called the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, and during that stage NASCAR will have the burden of showing that a penalty violation has occurred,” O’Donnell said. “And on the second and final level, only a NASCAR member is allowed to appeal, and the burden will then shift to the team in showing the final appeals officer that the panel decision was incorrect.”

One thing that will not change is even if a race-winning team is found guilty of one or more serious P6 violations, it will not have the win taken away from it – at least for the immediate future.

“You know, it’s always an age-old question, why you don’t take away the win?” Pemberton said. “The timing right now is we’re going to move forward like we have over the 65 years and we will address things on a year-to-year basis and see where it takes us.”

And while it was somewhat downplayed in Tuesday’s teleconference, Pemberton and O’Donnell both said the NASCAR rules book will soon be available for fans – although they did not give a timeline.

“I think it should be easier for them, and it’s like anything; I don’t understand all the rules of hockey even though I watch the game,” Pemberton said. “Everybody seeks a different level, and we’ve got avid fans that want to know every paragraph, every sentence, every comma and every period that they can, and then there’s others that just want a high-level look at things.

“I think once they get to see this in print and the system out here and the penalties, they’ll have a better understanding. You know, this is the first year that we’ve done this, and I’m sure as we move forward in years to come, there will be some things that we add and delete off of this.”

The new rules will apply to all three of NASCAR’s national series, Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Truck Series.

“The penalty system will work the same,” Pemberton said. “The only difference will be the points will be the same, and the difference is we will step the monetary values down to these penalties in accordance with the three different series, obviously the Sprint Cup being the most and then Nationwide and then the Truck Series.”

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

Pigot confident heading to Mid-Ohio as rookie season rolls on

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(Photo courtesy Ed Carpenter Racing)
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Since joining Ed Carpenter Racing after the Indianapolis 500, rookie Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot admittedly has had some ups and downs.

Much like the up-and-down natural terrain of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which hosts Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (2 p.m. ET on CNBC), in fact.

Pigot has made four starts for ECR, finishing 17th and 18th in the two races at Belle Isle, along with a disappointing 19th place showing in the most recent race at Toronto.

But in-between, Pigot earned a season- and career-best ninth-place finish at Road America, which followed a test there earlier in June.

He’ll be hoping for a similar if not better result at Mid-Ohio this weekend, since he also tested there last week as part of an IndyCar team test.

Plus, Pigot, who has competed in seven of the first 11 races this season (the first three were with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and both races at Indianapolis), has another ace up his sleeve, as well.

It was in back-to-back races on the same weekend at Mid-Ohio last year that he finished eighth and third, respectively, which played a big part in propelling him to victories in the final two races of the season that ultimately earned him the Indy Lights championship.

I’m very excited for the race this weekend at Mid-Ohio,” Pigot said in a media release. “We had a productive test (there) last week.

“It felt like the car is made for tracks like this. It was amazing to feel the cornering speeds the car is capable of. I think we will be able to build on what we learned and hopefully turn it into a strong weekend.”

This will mark the first time since Pigot took over the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Detroit he’s been in for consecutive weekends.

With Carpenter still behind the wheel on ovals, he’ll drive at Pocono and the conclusion of the suspended race at Texas, while Pigot will handle driving chores in the final two races of 2016, both road courses, at Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma.

That could help build continuity for both drivers in the final races of the season.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

PWC: Mid-Ohio set to be another pivotal weekend for title battles

Bowmanville, Ontario - May 19, 2016:  The g  teams take to the track on Pirelli tires during the Pirelli World Challenge at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Presented by Audi at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
With EFFORT/Dalziel out, Long is Porsche's best hope to extend Mid-Ohio win streak. Photo: PWC
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At a racetrack where the seismic forces of a title battle have swung in the past, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could be poised to provide another pivotal weekend for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge title races.

The series’ marquee GT class is a two or potentially four-driver race. Alvaro Parente, one of three K-PAX Racing drivers in the Flying Lizard Motorsports’ supported McLaren 650S GT3s, leads the standings with 1143 points to Patrick Long’s 1095 in his Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Porsche has dominated Mid-Ohio in the past with Ryan Dalziel, who’s swept each of the last two years for EFFORT Racing and has a four-race win streak.

But Long or his former EFFORT teammate Michael Lewis (Calvert Dynamics) will look to continue the manufacturer’s run of form at the sinewy 2.258-mile road course.

Cadillac Racing also looks to get back in the title fight, with Michael Cooper and Johnny O’Connell at 1025 and 957 points, respectively. If either Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R sweeps the weekend, they’ll undoubtedly move forward in the title battle.

The one question I have beyond points is whether anyone will be able to not sweep, in what’s been a year of sweeps.

The last race weekend World Challenge did not have a sweep in the GT class was Barber Motorsports Park back in April. Long (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), Parente (Lime Rock Park) and Ryan Eversley (RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT, Road America) have each gone two-for-two at the respective last three weekends.

For the sake of variety and spicing things up, it’d be nice to see two winners in a weekend. But as noted above, that hasn’t happened at Mid-Ohio since 2011! Alex Figge (K-PAX Racing Volvo S60) and O’Connell (then a Cadillac CTS-V.R) split in 2011.

Before Dalziel swept the last two years, Figge and Randy Pobst swept in 2013 and 2012 in the Volvos.

It’s not just GT where the sweeps have been coming at Mid-Ohio, but also in GTS. Lawson Aschenbach pulled it off in 2014 in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, a year after winning the second race in 2013. Then Cooper won the first 2015 race, to make it four races in a row for the No. 10/1 Blackdog Camaro.

Aschenbach actually trails the GTS points leader, Brett Sandberg in his No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, by 35 points (995-960). Series rookie Parker Chase in his Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4 is third in points with 917, and fellow teenager Nate Stacy in his Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 fourth on 863 points.

Martin Fuentes enters with a commanding lead in GTA (Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia) while Alec Udell (GMG) has a 38-point lead on Sloan Urry (TruSpeed) in GT Cup.

World Challenge races Friday and Saturday (GTS) and Saturday and Sunday (GT/GTA/GT Cup).

Cooper Tires named presenting sponsor for Mazda Road to Indy

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Cooper Tires has been named the presenting sponsor for the Mazda Road to Indy, in full.

See the release, below:

As the Official Tire of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires plays a key role in developing the next generation of open-wheel talent beyond providing high quality, dependable performance tires. Today, Cooper Tires increases its support by becoming the presenting sponsor of the highly acclaimed driver development ladder which will now be known as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

“It is really an understatement to say that Cooper Tires is a great partner of our three series,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires, and his team are always looking for ways to improve our platform, be it from a competition standpoint to marketing and activation and driver development. Cooper and Mazda have a long relationship which extends outside of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 to other series. It is fitting and appropriate that we now even more so acknowledge their efforts and partnership as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.”

Cooper Tires has a formidable presence at every event on the racing calendar from its marketing activation unit, which also introduces fans to drivers via hosted Q&A sessions, to the funds distributed in Cooper Tires Pole Award presentations across the three series – funding that will increase in 2017 – to the popular Road to Indy TV App Powered by Cooper Tires, which provides live streaming, Timing and Scoring and more. Most recently, Cooper Tires was a track sponsor for the Toronto rounds featuring doubleheader races for all three series in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The MRTI Hashtag Program launched by Cooper Tires in 2014 and expanded to include full support from Mazda Motorsports in 2015, encourages and rewards drivers and teams who utilize the #MRTI and #TeamCooperTire hashtags in their social messaging on Twitter and Instagram. The contest periods feature unique challenges which allow drivers to win race tires along with other prizes such as merchandise from Mazda and race/hospitality tickets that they can give away to their fans. The hashtags also provide fans with an easy way to follow drivers in the series.

“Our level of commitment to the premier open-wheel development series is more than just as a sponsor; it is a commitment as a partner,” stated Pantani. “The Mazda Road to Indy, now presented by Cooper Tires, is integral to the development of young drivers aspiring to become IndyCar drivers. Extending its commitment to provide proven race tires on the track, Cooper Tires develops young driver’s needs on and off the track. This is where the #MRTI excels above all other series. Cooper Tire is proud to partner with Andersen Promotions and Mazda to make excellence happen.”

Cooper Tires in also a key partner in the scholarships that allow a driver to progress to the next step on the ladder. In 2016, more than $2.3 million in season-ending prizes and awards are on offer.

“This is great news for the Mazda Road to Indy,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “It means a lot to have Cooper Tires alongside us in the entire program. We share similar goals and are committed to building and improving the best open-wheel ladder in the world, and this serves as another sign of continued stability and growth.”

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will be in full swing this week at Mid-Ohio with seven races comprising the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, the Royal Purple Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio and the Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Cooper Tires will be rolling out collectible driver “baseball” cards which will be given away free to fans.

Nürburgring: Hosting German GP must be ‘economically justifiable’

NUERBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing lead the field early in the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 7, 2013 in Nuerburg, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The Nürburgring remains keen to play host to Formula 1 again in the future, but says that holding the German Grand Prix must be “economically justifiable”.

The German Grand Prix returns this weekend at Hockenheim after a one-year absence from the calendar when talks to hold the race at the Nürburgring in 2015 broke down.

The two tracks have alternated hosting the race since 2008, the deal ensuring that neither made a loss for two consecutive years.

F1 last visited the Nürburgring in 2013 when Sebastian Vettel claimed his first German Grand Prix win for Red Bull.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said last December that he doubted the Nürburgring would host the race in 2017 due to the track’s financial uncertainty.

Although the Nürburgring does want to welcome F1 again in the future, it will only do so relying a deal is financially viable.

“Our position remains unchanged and we would like to organize the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring again,” a spokesperson from the track told NBC Sports.

“However, the business environment has to be economically justifiable.

“We will not afford Formula One at all costs.”

The Nürburgring played host to the FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend, welcoming a bumper crowd of 58,000 on race day.

An announcement was made mid-race confirming the date for the 2017 6 Hours of Nürburgring as July 16.

However, Montreal is due to host its first Formula E race the same weekend, with a number of the series’ drivers also racing in the WEC.

“The date has been requested by FIA WEC, we have confirmed this date and we agreed to the request of FIA WEC to release the date on Sunday,” the spokesperson said.

“From our point of view this date is 100 per cent fixed.”