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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

Oddsmaker picks Will Power to win 100th Indianapolis 500

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Will Power is the man to beat in Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

So says online site Bovada.lv.

The online casino and odds-setting site has made Power an 11/2 favorite to win the milestone edition of the 500.

Power, who will start from the outside of Row 2 (sixth position) in Sunday’s race will be making his ninth start in the 500. He finished a career-best second place in last year’s race, runner-up to Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.

Montoya is tied with yet another Team Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud, with the second-best odds to win the 500 at 6/1. Pagenaud has been on a tear of late, having won the last three IndyCar races leading up to the 500: Long Beach, Birmingham and the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Helio Castroneves, who is seeking a fourth Indy 500 victory – which would tie him with AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for most in the history of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing – is tied with defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon with the fourth-best odds to win Sunday at 13/2 each.

Pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe has the seventh-best odds to win at 12/1.

Here’s the overall odds for each driver in the 33-driver field for the Indy 500:

Driver – Odds to Win

Will Power                          11/2
Juan Pablo Montoya          6/1
Simon Pagenaud                 6/1
Helio Castroneves             13/2
Scott Dixon                         13/2
Tony Kanaan                        9/1
James Hinchcliffe              12/1
Josef Newgarden                14/1
Sebastien Bourdais             16/1
Ryan Hunter-Reay             20/1
Townsend Bell                     22/1
Marco Andretti                    25/1
Graham Rahal                     25/1
JR Hildebrand                    33/1
Takuma Sato                       33/1
Mikhail Aleshin                  40/1
Charlie Kimball                  40/1
Carlos Munoz                     40/1
Ed Carpenter                      50/1
Oriol Servia                         50/1
Max Chilton                        66/1
Sage Karam                        66/1
Alex Tagliani                      66/1
Conor Daly                         75/1
Jack Hawksworth             75/1
Alexander Rossi                75/1
Stefan Wilson                    75/1
Matthew Brabham         100/1
Gabby Chaves                  100/1
Bryan Clauson                 100/1
Buddy Lazier                    100/1
Spencer Pigot                   100/1
Pippa Mann                      150/1

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Hawksworth’s luck goes from bad to worse leading into Indy 500

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Photo: IndyCar
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After a rough start to the 2016 season, Jack Hawksworth was hoping for some good luck and better performances when he got to Indianapolis earlier this month.

Unfortunately, it’s been more of the same.

Entering the Indianapolis 500, the Bradford, England native sits 20th in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with just 60 points, a whopping 182-point deficit behind points leader Simon Pagenaud.

Hawksworth’s best finish to date in the first five races of 2016 has been 11th in the season-opening event at St. Petersburg.

Since then, it has all been downhill, as he’s finished 19th (Phoenix), 21st (Long Beach), 19th again (Birmingham) and then a 20th place finish (in a 25-driver field) two weeks ago in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – despite qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six for the last event.

Hawksworth continued to endure niggling engine issues during the first week of practice and qualifying for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 this Sunday.

That included qualifying a disappointing 31st in the 33-car field, his worst effort in three tries to make the Indy 500 (Hawksworth qualified 31st in 2015 but moved forward three spots as the last row changed).

Luckily for Hawksworth, only 33 cars were entered for the historic running of the 500, so he was assured a spot in the field either way.

But bad luck reared its ugly head once again in Monday’s practice session at the 2.5-mile Brickyard when Hawksworth felt the engine go in his No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda.

“We’ve had our fair share of setbacks these past two weeks (but) this is the cherry on top of the cake,” a dejected Hawksworth said. “We’ll obviously have to change the engine.

“I was pretty happy with the car today. Now we need to get miles on the new engine on Carb Day. That’s important to break it in before Sunday. Then we reset and go to the Indy 500.”

Given all the bad luck Hawksworth has endured, there is one bright spot: the only direction he can go from here is up.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Andersen working to ensure value for MRTI schedule selections

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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One of the key goals for Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions, which runs and operates the Mazda Road to Indy, is to ensure when a race is added or dropped to the schedule, it’s done with the right business reasons in mind.

Looking first at the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the schedule grew from 16 to a planned 18 races for the 2016 season. Phoenix and Boston single races were added with Road America also added as a doubleheader; Long Beach and Milwaukee fell off compared to 2015.

However, in looking at three of those events – Long Beach, Phoenix, and Boston – things have quickly evolved just in the opening months of the year.

Phoenix ran at an admittedly odd 1:30 p.m. MT and local start time, nearly five full hours ahead of the Verizon IndyCar Series race with nothing on-track in-between.

Long Beach’s absence made for a topic of discussion in the paddock.

Perhaps in an unfortunate coincidence, the magnitude of North America’s marquee street race was put into direct comparison to the challenge of launching a first-year street race, when Boston’s cancellation came out late last week.

It’s with that as context that we sought out some insight from Andersen about how the schedule came together – why Phoenix and Boston were the new adds and why Long Beach was dropped.

First up, looking at Phoenix, Andersen was equally as perplexed by the mid-afternoon start time as many were, this writer included.

“We tried to move our race slot, and IndyCar did as well. That was a track decision,” Andersen told NBC Sports.

“I believe it had to do with the concert in-between and maybe they didn’t want to have anything going on to detract from the concert. That will be a topic to discuss for next year.”

Andersen noted Phoenix International Speedway track president Bryan Sperber was influential in getting the track back on the calendar to some acclaim, but prefers a closer gap to the Indycar race in 2017.

“That event, I didn’t actually make our deal with the track – that was done by INDYCAR directly,” he said. “The track was very good to us, and Bryan Sperber was super nice, but next year we’ve got to try be closer to IndyCar.

“Bryan didn’t explain the time slot directly to me, but Phoenix was apparently pretty inflexible on what is was going to be. As that was a co-promoted event between Phoenix and INDYCAR, we and INDYCAR didn’t have the same situation that normally exists.”

Shifting to Long Beach, the vibe was weird with Indy Lights not on the schedule. Indy Lights had run at Long Beach in its earlier iteration from 1989 through 2001, and again in the reincarnated version from 2009 to 2015.

It’s understood that Andersen would have needed to pay a considerable amount in order to remain on the Long Beach weekend bill for 2016, and with that in mind, Andersen was conscientious that teams couldn’t afford the extra hit in budget that would come along with it.

“We absolutely wanted to go back to Long Beach,” Andersen explained. “When I took the series over, Long Beach was part of the INDYCAR sanction, and when INDYCAR renewed their agreement, Lights wasn’t included.

“INDYCAR basically said to me, ‘what do you want to do?’ and I replied ‘We want to go there, but if you can’t make that happen, you can’t make it happen’. Then Long Beach came to me and said ‘we’d be glad to have you back, and this is the number.’

“I’m able to commit to spending a stipulated amount on suites, hospitality, signage, and ticket buys, but this was a straight fee, and I just don’t have the budget for that. I would have had to add significant cost to every car for their entry fees.”

So why add Phoenix, Road America and (in theory) Boston, then?

“We were disappointed in losing Long Beach, but delighted that we could add Road America, Phoenix and Boston – and now, Watkins Glen.”

The Boston fallout meant there was a temporary drop off to 17 Indy Lights races, but with Watkins Glen being added it’s back to 18.

Fortunately, the Boston cancellation didn’t affect the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires or Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda schedules.

To get all three series on the same weekend, Andersen and series partners often are willing to commit a certain amount in purchases from the promoter to showcase the entire Mazda Road to Indy.

“Certain tracks, we are able to commit our partners to spend a certain amount of money,” he said. “Here (Barber), for instance, I have agreed to spend a certain amount of money to have all three of my series on this venue, and to cover that, Allied Building products stepped up, Cooper stepped up, and Mazda stepped up.”

May is both busy and important for the Mazda Road to Indy from both a current schedule and future planning standpoint.

The new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, which will premiere in USF2000 next season, will be revealed later this week at IMS – at 9 a.m. ET on Carb Day.

Meanwhile on-track this month, there’s been the usual six races at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend – arguably the standout weekend for the full Mazda Road to Indy of the season.

Then you get to Friday, May 27 – which is going to be “Fully Jam-Packed Friday” for the Mazda Road to Indy – with Indy Lights’ Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its usual Carb Day slot and then Pro Mazda and USF2000 having their third time and date in as many years at Lucas Oil Raceway in nearby Clermont.

The race was the “Night Before the 500” for years and ran late Saturday night, but shifted last year to an early afternoon race during the day. Now, it’ll be a Friday night affair, the “Carb Night Classic”.

And with other race events ongoing in the area, it might be a tough draw at the series’ shortest track. That being said, Andersen is bullish the Friday night opportunity might work better than what’s been done in the past.

“Last year, (USAC) realized they were losing a lot of teams to the Little 500 so they decided to go to a daytime race on Saturday instead of a nighttime race so that teams could exit Lucas Oil Raceway and run to Anderson, Indiana and do the Little 500,” Andersen explained. “That sort of worked, they had a little bit better car count then the year before

“So, this year they’ve decided that we are going to move it to Friday night, because I guess the Hulman 100 moved to Thursday night, so there’s no real conflicts with Friday night.

“I’m actually happy with that because Saturday, Legends Day at the Speedway, is an off day for us. It’s a little busy for us with Carb Day being Friday, but it works because we do Carb Day with the Indy Lights and then we go over to Lucas Oil Raceway and we run a traditional nighttime race there. I think it will work.”

Scheduling is one of the areas that Andersen can control, and doing so to make things as cost effective as possible for all three rungs on the ladder is key to success.

As Andersen made the important note, he’s in this for passion and to help promote the next generation of open-wheel talent – not to make money on this personally.

PWC weekend wrap: Long leads winners at CTMP

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Photo: Wright Motorsports
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This past weekend, the Pirelli World Challenge headed north to Canada at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – the track formerly known as Mosport – for an incredibly busy weekend featuring no less than eight races among the full complement of seven classes, plus the debut of the new Sprint-X series.

There wasn’t much in the way of passing though in the GT ranks, following the round of Balance of Performance adjustments determined prior to the weekend. In race one, each of the top 12 starters finished in the top 12, with only minor changes. Race two was similar, with the order shifted only by a first green flag lap accident on a damp track.

Nonetheless, in his first weekend with a new team, albeit one he’s worked with in other categories, Patrick Long dominated proceedings in his No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Long swept the pair of GT races and for good measure, so did his teammate, Michael Schein, in his No. 16 Wright Porsche in the GTA ranks.

“It was an iconic weekend from Wright Motorsports,” Long said. “They hit the ground running. We were able to put together a strong car for qualifying, and we continued to dial the car in all weekend.

“They were two very different races. The first one was a hot and long race where we had to manage traffic.

“On Sunday half of the track was wet, and it was a cut-throat sprint. The top three cars traded qualifying laps during the course of the race. We had the car to beat, and it was a storybook debut for us. John Wright and Bob Viglione [engineer] put their heads down and turned out two terrific cars for Michael and I.”

Saturday’s race one saw Andrew Palmer in the No. 87 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 and Ryan Eversley in the No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT complete the podium.

On Sunday, James Davison finished second on the road in the No. 33 Always Evolving Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, following a determined and aggressive start to get himself into podium position, past Eversley and the two Bentleys of Palmer and Adderly Fong. Unfortunately the maneuver would halt Eversley’s momentum, knocking him back into Fong, who proceeded to pitch the Acura into a spin that caused a heavy accident. Per a Nissan release, Davison was later assessed a post-race penalty for the incident, although the team has appealed the decision from PWC officials.

With Davison demoted to 11th for the time being, it promoted Palmer back to second and Kyle Marcelli up to third in the No. 2 CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra, thus securing his first podium of the year and in World Challenge.

Schein, as noted, won both GTA races – thus halting Martin Fuentes’ season-long win-streak of the first seven races – while Alec Udell and local driver Chris Green split the GT Cup wins.

Lawson Aschenbach took his No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R to the win in the first of two GTS races on Saturday, but contact between he and Brett Sandberg’s No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4 on Sunday at the first turn and first lap opened the door for Max Riddle to score a win on home soil on Sunday in his No. 07 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4.

There were four additional races on the weekend, including the debut of the new Sprint-X championship, which premiered to mixed reviews.

All classes except the Sprint-X ranks head to Lime Rock Park this weekend for track activity on Friday and Saturday.

RESULTS

GT

  • Race 1: 1. 58-Patrick Long (Porsche), 2. 87-Andrew Palmer (Bentley), 3. 43-Ryan Eversley (Acura), Pole. 58-Long
  • Race 2: 1. 58-Long, 2. 87-Palmer, 3. 2-Kyle Marcelli (Audi), Pole. 58-Long

GTA

  • Race 1: 1. 16-Michael Schein (Porsche), 2. 07-Martin Fuentes (Ferrari), 3. 96-Bret Curtis (BMW)
  • Race 2: 1. 16-Schein, 2. 07-Fuentes, 3. 66-Frankie Montecalvo (Mercedes)

GTC (all Porsche Cup)

  • Race 1: 1. 17-Alec Udell (GMG), 2. 20-Sloan Urry (TruSpeed), 3. 00-Corey Fergus (MP), Pole. 09-Chris Green (Pfaff)
  • Race 2: 1. 09-Green, 2. 17-Udell, 3-20-Urry, Pole. 09-Green

GTS

  • Race 1: 1. 10-Lawson Aschenbach (Chevrolet), 2. 13-Brett Sandberg (KTM), 3. 07-Max Riddle (Aston Martin), Pole. 10-Aschenbach
  • Race 2: 1. 07-Riddle, 2. 19-Parker Chase (Ginetta), 3. 14-Nate Stacy (Ford), Pole. 13-Sandberg

TC

  • Race 1: 1. 91-Nick Wittmer (Honda), 2. 26-Toby Grahovec (BMW), 3. 4-Dennis Hanratty (Lotus), Pole. 33-Adam Poland (Mazda)
  • Race 2: 1. 26-Grahovec, 2. 91-Wittmer, 3. 54-Patrick Gallagher (Mazda), Pole. 33-Poland

TCA

  • Race 1: 1. 70-Elivan Goulart (Mazda), 2. 74-Matthew Fassnacht (Mazda), 3. 49-Joey Bickers (Mazda), Pole. 70-Goulart
  • Race 2: 1. 70-Goulart, 2. 49-Bickers, 3. 73-Daniel Moen (Mazda) Pole. 49-Bickers

TCB

  • Race 1: 1. 14-Henry Morse (Mazda), 2. 94-Tom O’Gorman (Honda), 3. 65-Will Rodgers (Mazda), Pole. 65-Rodgers
  • Race 2: 3. 65-Rodgers, 2. 94-O’Gorman, 3. 25-P.J. Groenke (Chevrolet), Pole. 65-Rodgers

Sprint-X

  • Race 1: GT: 1. 46-Mills/Wittmer (BMW), 2. 69-von Moltke/Ostella (Audi), 3. 14-Holden/Braun (Porsche); GTS: 07-Wilson/Riddle (Aston Martin), 2. 09-DeBoer/Alexandridis (Aston Martin), 3. 45-Beaufait/Vance (SIN)
  • Race 2: GT: 1. 46-Mills/Wittmer (BMW), 2. 14-Holden/Braun (Porsche), 3. 69-von Moltke/Ostella (Audi); GTS: 07-Wilson/Riddle (Aston Martin), 2. 09-DeBoer/Alexandridis (Aston Martin), 3. 45-Beaufait/Vance (SIN)