NASCAR-Chase Changes Auto Racing

Breaking down Sunday’s pole qualifying for the Daytona 500

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In storybook fashion, Austin Dillon on Sunday afternoon drove the legendary No. 3 to the pole position for next Sunday’s 56th running of the Daytona 500.

It was the first time any driver has attempted to qualify the No. 3 since the late Dale Earnhardt did so in 2001, just days before he was tragically killed in a last-lap crash in the 500.

Without question, Dillon putting what many fans still to this day consider as Earnhardt’s car at the front of the field, and to take the green flag for next Sunday’s running of the Great American Race, will bring a big boost to NASCAR’s popularity — and will likely help deliver more ticket sales and higher TV ratings for the season opener.

Dillon was the only driver to exceed 196 mph, with a top qualifying run of 196.019 mph at 45.914 seconds.

Almost as surprising was Martin Truex Jr.’s impressive run to earn the outside pole for the 500. Truex was next fastest at 195.852 mph at 45.953 seconds.

That in itself is a great accomplishment, but it’s magnified by the fact that Truex is driving for a single-car operation, Furniture Row Racing. FRR made history last season when then-driver Kurt Busch made it the first single-car team to ever qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“Front row is what we’re here for today,” Truex said. “Obviously, we can’t say enough about this team. What a great job. I think we’ve got about six miles on this car. One run yesterday, no testing down here, just an amazing job by everybody on the team.

“Obviously, I’m a pretty lucky guy to get to hold the wheel.”

Luck may have played a part in his run, but Truex had help. The same motors that powered Dillon to the pole and three other Richard Childress Racing drivers, also powered Truex’s car – putting five ECR-powered cars in the top 12 fastest rides.

After Dillon and Truex were three other RCR drivers, fifth-fastest Ryan Newman (195.707), 10th-fastest Paul Menard (194.919) and 12th-fastest Brian Scott (194.776).

Only Dillon and Truex have their qualifying spots locked in for the 500. The remainder of the 43-car field will solidify its qualifying spots on the starting grid in Thursday’s Budweiser Twin 150 Duels.

Let’s look at some of the other top storylines that emerged from Sunday’s activities:

* Ford power is back – well, at least in its qualifying efforts. Greg Biffle looked like he might sit on the outside pole until Truex knocked him off. But still, The Biff had a stout run of 195.818 mph. Right behind him at fourth-fastest was Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards (195.712). Brad Keselowski’s Team Penske entry was sixth-fastest (195.296), and ninth-fastest Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (195.004) made it four Fords in the top 10. All told, Ford-powered cars clocked in seven of the 15th-fastest runs of the day, while Chevrolets had the other eight-fast speeds.

* What happened to Toyota? After Denny Hamlin won Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, you’d have thought Toyota drivers would have strong runs in Sunday’s pole qualifying. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as the fastest Toyota driver was last season’s Sprint Cup championship runner-up, Matt Kenseth, who clocked in 17th-fastest at 194.574 mph. Clint Bowyer, who made the day’s final qualifying attempt, was 20th-fastest (194.523). Kyle Busch, who stirred controversy before his run by wondering if there was a conspiracy theory to put both Dillon’s and Dale Earnhardt’s cars on the front row (Earnhardt ultimately was seventh-fastest), was only 21st fastest (194.502). Hamlin, meanwhile, was 22nd-fastest (194.477).

* Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus struggled all day. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed to get through two pre-qualifying tech inspections. The first time, the car was too wide by 1/10,000ths of an inch, and its side skirts were just under 1/64th of an inch too long. Once those problems were corrected, the car was brought back for inspection, only to be sent back again when it wound up being 1 ½ pounds lighter than minimal requirements. Knaus and crew eventually got everything up to par, but Johnson – the defending Daytona 500 winner – couldn’t muster more than a 14th-fastest speed of 194.637 mph.

* What happened to Stewart-Haas Racing? You’ll have to go pretty far down on the speed charts to find an SHR driver. Kevin Harvick paced his four teammates at 23rd-fastest (194.422), Danica Patrick was 25th-fastest (194.380), Kurt Busch was 28th-fastest (194.078) and team leader Tony Stewart was 35th-fastest (193.365). Could the motor failures that Stewart and Patrick suffered during practice Saturday have left the team gun-shy in its qualifying runs?

* Dave Blaney was supposed to make a qualifying effort but never reached the grid.

* Ageless Morgan Shepherd (okay, he’s 72) was slowest on the qualifying grid with a 48th-fastest speed (189.542).

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Alex Lynn joins DS Virgin in Formula E as reserve driver

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Recent GP2 race winner and Williams Formula 1 test driver Alex Lynn has joined Formula E outfit DS Virgin Racing in a reserve role.

Lynn, 23, won the GP3 title back in 2014 before spending two years in GP2, balancing his racing commitments with a test/development position at Williams.

Lynn announced in the summer that he would be exiting GP2 after 2016, and angled for a drive with Jaguar’s factory Formula E operation ahead of its on-track debut in October.

Despite testing for Jaguar at Donington Park, Lynn missed out on the seats to Adam Carroll and Mitch Evans, prompting the Briton to look elsewhere for a drive.

On Monday, DS Virgin Racing announced that Lynn would be joining as its new reserve and test driver on a multi-year deal.

“Formula E is arguably the most competitive motor racing championship in the world, with the highest caliber of drivers,” Lynn said.

“As a driver I want to be competing in the top series, which is why I’ve been trying so hard to get into Formula E, and DS Virgin was my first choice. So I’m delighted to have signed a multi-year deal with DS Virgin Racing.”

Lynn’s arrival comes at a time when DS Virgin Racing is braced to possibly lose both of its drivers for at least one event in 2017, owing to clashes with the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Sam Bird raced for Ferrari’s factory GT team in the GTE Pro class of the WEC last year, and could be forced to miss the New York Formula E race due to a clash with the 6 Hours of Nurburgring.

Jose Maria Lopez is yet to enter the WEC, but is widely expected to be signed to a factory Toyota seat in the LMP1 class for 2017, putting the Argentine in a similar quandary.

The Mexico ePrix also clashes with the pre-season WEC test at Monza on April 1, but it is thought that drivers with clashes would split their duties between the two series – and two continents – over two days.

Berlin Formula E race set to change location after city senate vote

BERIN, GERMANY - MAY 21:  In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01 and Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 lead at the start of the race during the Berlin Formula E race on May 21, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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Berlin’s Formula E race is set to change venue ahead of its third edition in June after the city senate voted against keeping it in a downtown location.

Berlin featured on the first Formula E calendar back in 2015, hosting a race around the site of the disused Tempelhof Airport.

When the site was turned into a refugee camp following the migrant crisis that hit Europe last year, an alternative location was found in the city center.

A circuit was constructed in downtown Berlin around Strausberger Platz and using Karl-Marx-Allee, with the race and location proving popular for the Formula E fraternity.

However, the race caused disruption for local residents, prompting city officials to vote against the event staying in the same location for its third edition on June 10.

“We are in constant dialogue and cooperating with local authorities to determine the final location of the race and are thankful for the continued interest and support shown from the mayor to host a race in the city of Berlin,” a spokesman from Formula E told NBC Sports.

This is not the first time that Formula E has been forced to change the location of a race due to local pressure, with the London ePrix dropping off the calendar at the end of season two after multiple court battles to keep the event at Battersea Park.

AP Interview: Formula One’s new owners plan U.S. street race

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Formula One’s new owners plan to add a street race in the United States in an attempt to improve a sport which they feel stagnated under Bernie Ecclestone’s control.

Chase Carey, who ended Ecclestone’s four-decade reign as F1’s chief executive, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the sport will no longer be run as a “one-man show.”

Carey, though, will be as dogged as the 86-year-old Ecclestone in negotiations with circuits, insisting that less-lucrative races in heartlands like Britain will have to prove they can become more profitable rather than being allowed to renegotiate hosting fees.

International sports and entertainment firm Liberty Media, which is controlled by 75-year-old tycoon John Malone, completed its takeover of F1 on Monday from investment fund CVC Capital Partners.

Driving growth in the United States is seen as a priority for Liberty, which also owns baseball’s Atlanta Braves and has investments in cable TV companies. F1 currently only makes one stop during the season in the United Sates – to Austin, Texas – but adding a street race is high on Liberty’s agenda.

“We would like to add a destination race in the U.S. in a location like New York, L.A., Miami, Las Vegas,” Carey said in a telephone interview. “We think we can create something that will be a really special event. Obviously the U.S. is all upsides for us. We haven’t invested in the way we need to build the U.S. market.”

The sport has remained stuck in the past, making “events feel a little tired,” while the modern media landscape was not grasped by Ecclestone, according to Carey.

“Bernie really ran a one-man show,” Carey said. “I don’t plan to run a one-man show.”

Although Ecclestone remains on board as an honorary chairman and will be an F1 adviser, power clearly now rests with Carey, who is a veteran Fox executive.

“The last half dozen years I think the business has not reached its potential,” Carey said. “With all the things you need to do to be competitive in an increasingly fragmented online world, you need an organization doing many things at the same time.”

Ecclestone was criticized for overlooking historic popular race venues to move into new, wealthier markets including Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Azerbaijan, which held its first race last year. The German Grand Prix has been dropped from the 2017 calendar because of Hockenheim’s financial difficulties, while the British race at Silverstone is at risk because of hosting costs.

“Western Europe is important for us and to some degree we have to engage to make those races bigger and better than they are while respecting their heritage,” Carey said, while ruling out cut-price deals to keep historic races.

“We are willing to invest in the sport but we are the new guys so everyone wants to come in and figure it’s a chance to renegotiate. So I don’t think that’s the right mindset. We think these races (in places like Britain and Germany) should be bigger and more profitable and we are willing to work with promoters to figure out how to achieve that. That’s our goal.”

The takeover, which gives F1 an enterprise value of $8 billion and an equity value of $4.4 billion, comes as the series is poised for a shakeup.

Changes such as wider tires, car design, louder engines, and more overtaking opportunities are set to make F1 more exciting in a bid to win back a large chunk of unhappy fans amid flagging attendances at some races.

“We can certainly do things to make the race day more engaging, more exciting – make the race itself more exciting,” Carey said. “I have gone around and talked to lot of people and hear many of the same things about predictability, rules too complicated, engineers overtaking drivers, the engines could be faster, louder, cheaper.

“And so there are a number of things we can do to improve the race, the race day.”

Such as tapping into the “excitement and buzz” found at the NFL’s showpiece game and turning races into week-long festivals in host cities.

“What I would like to have is 21 Super Bowls,” Carey said. “Priority 1 is to make the races bigger and better. We have some great races like Singapore, Mexico and Abu Dhabi but we have to make all the races have an energy and excitement that really makes them unique events.”

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

FIA welcomes Liberty Media’s arrival

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
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The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has approved Liberty Media Corporation’s acquisition of Formula 1 in its first formal comments after the change.

In a statement released Tuesday, the FIA and its president, Jean Todt, sought to thank Bernie Ecclestone for his governance over his 40-year rein at the head of the sport.

Meanwhile there was also a small word of welcoming to the new group, led by F1’s new chairman/CEO, Chase Carey.

The full statement is below:

The world governing body of motor sport, the FIA wishes to thank the outgoing CEO of the Formula One Group, Bernie Ecclestone for more than 40 years of dedication to the FIA Formula One World Championship and as a member of both the F1 Commission and World Motor Sport Council.

The FIA was responsible for creating Formula One when it established the first regulations for the category in 1946.

The Federation remains committed to regulating the FIA Formula One World Championship fairly, safely, and in the best interests of the sport – as it has strived to do since its inception 67 years ago.

The FIA President, Jean Todt, congratulated the new owners of the Formula One Group, Liberty Media Corporation.

“As Formula One’s governing body, the FIA would like to welcome the new CEO, Chase Carey and his entire team to the Championship.

“The whole FIA organization is looking forward to working closely together, with the common goal of improving and growing the sport further with the support of the highly recognized skills of Liberty Media Corporation in the media and sport domains.”