Newman and Dillon. Photo: Getty Images

Ryan Newman ready to emerge from cocoon and fly in 2014

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Caterpillar is one of the preeminent names in heavy machinery and equipment. But caterpillar can also mean an insect that goes through a catharsis and emerges a beautiful butterfly, ready to fly and begin a new life in a whole new world.

Both versions of Caterpillar/caterpillar apply to Ryan Newman.

First, he’s driving the primarily Caterpillar-sponsored No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing this season in the Sprint Cup Series.

At the same time, after being released by Stewart-Haas Racing last season under the pretense that there wasn’t enough sponsorship available to field his car – only to have Kurt Busch sign roughly a week or so later to essentially take Newman’s spot – Newman has emerged from his post-SHR cocoon ready to write a new chapter of his career with RCR.

One that potentially could finally reward him with what he’s chased for more than a decade: the Sprint Cup championship.

Given the way he was let go at SHR, you’d think Newman would have some lingering resentment at how the whole situation went down. But in a recent interview, Newman was anything but bitter.

“I have nothing to prove this year from any other year in my entire career, other than the fact of what I want to do and achieving my goals and winning the Chase,” Newman told MotorSportsTalk. “There’s nothing I need or have to prove to anybody else other than myself.

“It’s all over (his tenure at SHR). It’s more important not to burn a bridge behind you.”

Stewart-Haas’s loss is definitely RCR’s gain. Newman has replaced Jeff Burton, who has shifted to a part-time role with Michael Waltrip Racing this season in preparation for a new career as a TV analyst next season on NASCAR on NBC telecasts.

Not only has Newman quickly became acclimated to his new surroundings, in what could be a prelude of things to come, his new team has done a heck of a lot better thus far in Speedweeks than his old team.

New teammate Austin Dillon is on the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500, while Newman and fellow teammates Paul Menard and Brian Scott were part of an RCR onslaught that recorded four of the 12 fastest speeds during this past Sunday’s pole qualifying.

And don’t think Newman doesn’t have thoughts of winning the Great American Race for the second time in his career on Sunday.

“We have everything that we need at RCR to be successful,” Newman said. “The biggest and best resource you can have is people, and Richard has put together a great group of people and I have a great crew chief in Luke (Lambert).

“I’m excited about it, about the way the cars drive, with some of the new rules on height and suspension, it kind of opens up a little bit of old school/new school stuff that we can work on and kind of tie things together.”

In a sense, Newman’s move to RCR is completing some unfinished business. Before he agreed to join fellow Hoosier Tony Stewart at the rechristened Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, Newman was courted heavily by Childress in 2008 to join his team, as well.

SHR ultimately won out in the battle for Newman’s services, but he never forgot the impression he got of Childress’ overall organization, to the point that Newman told himself if he ever had a chance to go to RCR again in his career, he’d definitely pursue it.

So in a roundabout way, Newman has SHR – particularly team majority owner Carl Haas, who chose Busch over Newman – to thank for changing his fortunes for what he believes will definitely be for the better in 2014 and beyond.

“The biggest thing is they’re in control of their own destiny,” Newman said of RCR. “They build their own engines, chassis and bodies, they have a great group of people. I had experienced a little bit about what they had to offer five years before, so I still kind of had that taste in my mouth of what the potential was.

“Albeit, things didn’t work out for us back in 2008 for the 2009 season, but in my additional experiences with Stewart-Haas Racing, I know the importance about being in control of your own destiny.”

So with SHR now nothing more than a distant memory, and no lingering bitterness at how it all went down, it’s everything’s positive and full steam ahead for Newman and RCR from here on out.

“Change is good,” Newman said. “We saw last year, especially with Matt Kenseth’s move, that moving a driver into an existing team still gives him a great opportunity.

“That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen every time or every season or with every driver, but that was a good example at least to say that yes, it can be done. I look forward to all of this year.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Nobuharu Matsushita to remain in GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _MG_4660
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Nobuharu Matsushita will remain in the GP2 Series for the 2016 season after agreeing a new deal with defending champions ART Grand Prix.

Matsushita made his GP2 debut in 2015 with ART, racing alongside Stoffel Vandoorne who ultimately won the drivers’ title in record-breaking fashion.

Matsushita finished ninth in the final drivers’ standings with one race win to his name, and is now gunning to battle for the championship in his second year with ART.

“I would like to thank Honda and ART Grand Prix for giving me this opportunity to continue racing in GP2 Series,” Matsushita said.

“ART Grand Prix won the championships last year, and I am so honored to be part of such an amazing team again. As a member of HFDP, Honda Formula Dream Project, aiming to be the top-world-class driver, I will give my best to win the drivers and the team championship in my second GP2 season.”

Matsushita will race alongside Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin at ART in 2016, with the Russian driver moving from Rapax for his sophomore year in the series.

“I am truly delighted to start our third year of partnership together with Honda with this reinforcement of our collaboration,” ART team boss Sebastien Philippe said.

“Nobuharu will partner Sergey Sirotkin in the GP2 Series. He had an incredible year in 2015 when he did not know Europe or the championship, the team and the car, but nevertheless he secured one win, several podiums and made massive improvements all year long.

“As a driver and on a personal level, we have no doubt at all that he has all the assets needed to fight for the title in 2016.”

NHRA: Lots of change heading into this weekend’s season-opening Winternationals

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Last season, the National Hot Rod Association adopted a “#BaptismByNitro” theme to attract new fans and attention to the sport.

But as it kicks off the new season with this weekend’s Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California,  if the NHRA were to come up with a new theme song for 2016, it’d likely be the old Scorpions ballad “Winds Of Change.”

Change – and positive change at that – seems to be all around in the wind for the NHRA, including:

* Peter Clifford begins his first full season as NHRA president (he replaced the retired Tom Compton last June). Clifford has made a number of dynamic hires in an effort to improve the sanctioning body’s reach and attractiveness to fans.

* The NHRA has embarked upon one of its most ambitious marketing and communications initiatives ever to increase fan attention and attendance at events, including the hiring of veteran motorsports reporter Terry Blount late last season as new vice president of communications.

* Another significant hire is Emmy award-winning Ken Adelson as vice president of broadcasting and digital content to supercharge the NHRA’s TV and digital sides.

* Fox Sports and Fox Sports 1 has become the official TV partner of the sport, with plans to televise live the majority of the 24 races this season, including expected three-hour presentations of final eliminations on Sundays. In addition, former Funny Car champ Tony Pedregon embarks upon a new career as a NHRA TV analyst.

* New rules in Pro Stock, including the long-awaited implementation of electronic fuel injection and the removal of long-standing monster hood scoops, should inject life into a class that had grown somewhat stagnant to fans in recent years.

* After becoming the first back-to-back female champion in any NHRA pro categories, Pro Stock queen Erica Enders goes for three straight titles this season.

* Fan favorite and five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlan returns to the sport on a full-time basis after racing part-time last season.

* After enduring what he called his “worst season in 25 years” in 2015, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force is bound and determined to earn title No. 17 in 2016. The ageless Force (66 years old) told MotorSportsTalk that he feels as invigorated as he’s ever been and looks forward to significantly improve from last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish.

* In addition, Force will have long-time crew chief Austin Coil “helping out” in an unofficial capacity for Force’s Funny Car, as well as those of son-in-law and John Force Racing team president Robert Hight and Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney.

* John Force Racing also scored another coup in the offseason by hiring 11-time Top Fuel champion team owner/crew chief Alan Johnson as a consultant to oversee the Top Fuel efforts of driver Brittany Force. Judging by some of the runs Force had during last weekend’s preseason testing for nitro cars at Phoenix, not only does she seem likely to earn her first career win, she also is an early possible contender for the championship.

* Defending pro class champions are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

And those changes are just for starters. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that the NHRA is poised for increased growth and notoriety in 2016.

While the sanctioning body still has not capitulated to what many fans want – the return of full quarter-mile drag strip racing for Top Fuel and Funny Car competition (the standard remains 1,000 feet for 2016) – the changes that have already occurred for this season definitely hold a lot of promise.

Yes, the winds of change are swirling within the NHRA.

And if Clifford and the rest of the sanctioning body officials have their way and many of the changes prove successful, by season’s end the NHRA may be signing another Scorpions song that deals with wind: “Rock Me Like a Hurricane.”

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Helmut Marko: Modern-day F1 drivers are overpaid

xxxx during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.
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Red Bull Racing team advisor Helmut Marko believes that modern-day Formula 1 drivers are overpaid due to the reduced risk and easier driving conditions they experience.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel are two of the highest-paid drivers on the grid in 2016, earning upwards of $30 million per year from their teams.

However, Marko believes that drivers in F1 are overpaid as there is now a reduced risk of suffering a fatal accident, and that with the cars being easier to drive, their worth has decreased.

“Basically, the drivers of today are definitely overpaid for two reasons,” Marko told Sport Bild in Germany.

“Firstly, there is only a small risk that serious accidents can result in injury or even be fatal.

“Secondly, young top talent like [Max] Verstappen or [Pascal] Wehrlein can take the modern car and straight away easily do 100 laps without tiring.

“Previously you had even a Vettel have to take breaks because he was not used to the high centrifugal forces. This means that the cars are easier to drive. The drivers must do less.”

Wolff: Wehrlein, Ocon deserve Formula 1 roles

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 23:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during Formula One testing at the Red Bull Ring on June 23, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images)
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Mercedes AMG Petronas team boss Toto Wolff believes that junior talents Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon have both earned their roles in Formula 1 for the 2016 season “on merit”.

Wehrlein will make his grand prix debut in 2016 with Manor Racing after winning the DTM title for Mercedes last year, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the series.

Ocon has been loaned to Renault Sport F1 Racing for its comeback season, and will work as the team’s reserve driver following his GP3 title success last year.

Wolff feels that both drivers deserve their chance in F1 this year, and also said that Mercedes will look to expand its junior program across the course of the season.

“We’re delighted that Pascal and Esteban will tackle a fresh set of challenges in 2016,” Wolff said. “Our aim is to build their experience in the best possible environment and, following positive discussions with our counterparts at Manor and Renault, it became clear that their respective Formula 1 programmes presented ideal opportunities to achieve that.

“It is very pleasing to see young drivers earning their spot in Formula 1 on merit and to see that talent is being rewarded by the system. Pascal and Esteban have proven themselves to be amongst the top young drivers out there – and both come into 2016 as champions of their respective series.

“But they still have plenty to learn and they will be staying humble, with their feet on the ground. This is an important year for them and we will be following their progress with great interest, while also looking to expand our junior program.

“Mercedes-Benz has a strong tradition of developing young racing talent and our eyes are very much open to other promising prospects for the future.”