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How to solve the problem of Sprint Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide Series

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As it typically does every season, the debate about whether or not Sprint Cup drivers should race in the Nationwide Series has once again heated up in recent weeks.

While racing against NASCAR’s best is definitely beneficial for up-and-coming NNS drivers seeking to learn and improve upon their natural talent, there’s no question that Sprint Cup drivers have a field day when they race in NASCAR’s junior league.

Consider these stats: In the first five Nationwide races this season, four have been won by Sprint Cup drivers, the lone race won by a full-time NNS driver was Regan Smith’s win in the season-opener at Daytona last month.

That quartet of NNS wins by Cup drivers includes Saturday’s winner at Fontana, Kyle Larson, who even though he earned his first NNS triumph, is still a full-time Cup driver this season.

Let’s extrapolate things even more.

Of last season’s 33 Nationwide races, just five were won by true full-time NNS drivers, and two others were won by essentially an NNS ringer (now full-time Cup driver), AJ Allmendinger.

Sam Hornish Jr. won early last season at Las Vegas, Smith won last spring at Talladega and Michigan, Trevor Bayne won last spring at Iowa, and Ryan Blaney won late last summer at Kentucky.

And for the record, Allmendinger won both his races on road courses at Road America and Mid-Ohio, the only two NNS events he competed in all season.

Take away Allmendinger’s two wins, and that means full-time Nationwide drivers won just 15 percent of the 33 races on the 2013 schedule.

That’s not even one-fifth of the schedule.

NASCAR is in a Catch-22 situation because track owners and race promoters need Sprint Cup drivers to run in Nationwide races to put more fans in the stands.

Many fans will come on Saturday’s to see their favorite Cup driver race in the NNS because it usually takes less of a bite price-wise from their wallet than a Sunday Cup ticket.

There have been countless ideas floated over the years on how to minimize the number of Cup drivers in.

Some are better than others, but no one has ever hit upon the best solution for a compromise to a very vexing problem.

I’ve been giving this problem a great deal of thought over the last couple of weeks and think I may have hit upon a possibility that may just fly.

It’s actually a pretty simple idea, combining fans’ desire to still want – and get – to see their Cup favorites, while also enhancing NNS drivers’ chances of wins and getting more deserved notoriety for themselves and the series.

Here’s my suggestion:

First, there are 23 tracks that host NNS races. Ten of those tracks host two races each season, most in conjunction with a Sprint Cup race weekend.

This part is easy: allow Cup drivers to only drive in the first race at a particular track that hosts two per year, and not in the second race later in the season. Even better, cut off Cup drivers from competing in NNS races after the midpoint of the Nationwide’s 33-race season, effectively capping Cup drivers to participate in a maximum of 17 NNS events each year.

Sure, fans want to see their favorite Cup drivers compete in NNS races. But if fans know they’ll only be able to see “their driver” only once per year at a race in the first half of the season, it shouldn’t be overly hard for those same fans to adjust their schedules and still satisfy their need for speed.

Which dovetails nicely into the next part of my plan to fix the Cup/NNS dilemma.

Create an eight-race format (the last eight races of the season) for the NNS that mirrors the Chase for the Sprint Cup, with only Nationwide drivers eligible to compete in those events.

At the same time, allow the top 15 or even 20 NNS drivers after the second Richmond race (which is also the cut off to determine the Cup series’ Chase) to contend for the championship after resetting the points prior to the start of the NNS “Chase.”

The first race of a hypothetical eight-race Nationwide Chase could be on the same weekend as the start of Sprint Cup’s Chase at Chicagoland Speedway (there are only eight races remaining on the NNS schedule by the time the series returns to Chicagoland for the second time in the season).

Both series would be able to dovetail off each other, bringing even greater overall attention to all of NASCAR.

Admittedly, five of the 10 tracks that hold Cup Chase races also host two NNS races per season – Chicagoland, Dover, Charlotte, Texas, Phoenix.

But my proposal would give more meaning – and increased attention – to NNS drivers to truly win their own series’ championship while not having to share attention – and more importantly, wins – with Sprint Cup interlopers.

And it’s a heck of a lot better than the potential alternative – not being able to see their favorite Cup driver in ANY Nationwide race, if NASCAR were to ban such.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Manor WEC program launched

Photo: Manor
Photo: Manor
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One of the intriguing elements to come out of yesterday’s entry list reveal for the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans was the confirmation of Manor in LMP2.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth hinted something new was up not long after the final Grand Prix of the season, when the pair took their bows from what had been the Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That “something” was revealed on Friday as an Oreca 05 Nissan in the stacked LMP2 class – a 10-car class – with Tor Graves, a past Manor driver, confirmed as the first new driver for the effort.

“We are delighted to be joining the World Endurance Championship. It is a fantastic series that visits iconic tracks all over the world. The level of competition is very high and we are really looking forward to racing again,” Booth said.

“The LMP2 class is specifically designed for teams independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers which places the focus firmly on how the team performs.

“I can’t wait to see the car running now. We have lots to do but we have a great team of people to get it all done.”

The team might be out before the Prologue test at Paul Ricard end of March, but it’s likely that test will mark the team’s first significant running. It should have its driver lineup settled by then, as well.

Lowdon, who’s been bit by the sports car racing bug, expanded on the announcement.

“It’s really great to be racing again and the FIA World Endurance Championship provides a fantastic challenge for us,” he said

“Preseason testing starts soon and there is a lot to do but we have never been afraid of a bit of hard work.

“There is a real buzz within the team at the moment, we have enjoyed great support from the fans over the last few months and we are very keen for them to get fully involved in what we are doing. We all have a great passion for motorsport and we are keen to share that passion.”

‘Very possible’ Frijns will make IndyCar debut with Andretti

PUNTA DEL ESTE, URUGUAY - DECEMBER 19:  In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Robin Frijns (NLD), Andretti - Spark SRT_01E during the Julius Baer Punta del Este Formula E race at Playa Brava Beach street circuit on December 19, 2015 in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. (Photo by Adam Warner/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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BUENOS AIRES – Michael Andretti has said that it is “possible” Formula E driver Robin Frijns will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport in 2016.

Frijns enjoyed a successful junior career in Europe, beating Jules Bianchi to the Formula Renault 3.5 title in 2012, but was never able to make the step up to Formula 1.

Frijns joined Andretti’s Formula E team for the 2015-2016 season, and scored its first podium of the campaign in Putrajaya.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk in Buenos Aires, Andretti confirmed that the team was still considering its options for a fourth car in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“Right now we’re still a three car team. There are still a couple of irons in the fire for the fourth car,” Andretti said.

“We also have a couple of irons in the fire for the fourth car for maybe doing certain races, not the whole season. So we’re still trying.”

When asked if either of his Formula E drivers could possible fill this seat, Andretti said that it was possible Frijns could step up for a few races.

“It’s very possible that he could, one or two races, but we’ll see,” Andretti said. “It’s possible, yeah.”

When asked by MotorSportsTalk if an opportunity to race in IndyCar with Andretti was on the cards, Frijns remained coy, saying: “That’s not a question I have to answer.”

However, he did admit that he would jump at the chance to do race if offered: “Oh yeah definitely!”

Honda has hinted it could supply a 12th engine at multiple races this year, not necessarily for the same team. Spencer Pigot is already confirmed to a three-race program with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and the month of May.

Sam Bird flies to maiden Formula E pole in Buenos Aires

FIA Formula E Championship 2015/16.
Beijing ePrix, Beijing, China.
Race.
Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01 
Beijing, China, Asia.
Saturday 24 October 2015
Photo: Adam Warner / LAT / FE
ref: Digital Image _A8C5210
© Formula E
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird stormed to his first pole position in Formula E in qualifying for the Buenos Aires ePrix on Saturday at Puerto Madero.

Bird had finished fourth in the initial qualifying standings, securing himself a place in the Super Pole shootout alongside Stephane Sarrazin, Nicolas Prost, Mike Conway and Antonio Felix da Costa.

Despite expressing concerns about the extra weight of the DS Virgin Racing car earlier in the weekend, Bird squeezed every tenth out of it to post a fastest time of 1:09.420 and shoot to the top of the timesheets.

Neither da Costa or Sarrazin were able to better Bird’s time despite beating him in the first stage of qualifying and heading out on track after him, handing the Briton his first pole in Formula E.

Prost led Renault e.dams’ charge by qualifying second as teammate and championship leader Sebastien Buemi spun on his fast lap, leaving him at the very back of the grid for the race in Buenos Aires.

Despite running with a season one car, da Costa managed to qualify an excellent third ahead of the Venturi duo of Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway – the latter reaching the Super Pole shootout on debut.

Robin Frijns was unfortunate not to make the top five, finishing sixth ahead of championship contender Lucas di Grassi. The ABT Schaeffler driver will be disappointed not to have qualified higher, but still has a golden opportunity to capitalize on Buemi’s mistake.

Daniel Abt will start the race alongside his teammate on the grid after qualifying eighth ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr. and Jerome d’Ambrosio. Oliver Turvey and Loic Duval follow their teammates in 11th and 12th.

Nick Heidfeld qualified 13th on his return from injury ahead of Simona de Silvestro, while Jean-Eric Vergne completed – in his words “mission impossible” – to get out on track and finish 15th after his health scare this morning.

Bruno Senna and Salvador Duran both shunted their cars on their quick laps, leaving them 16th and 17th respectively ahead only of Buemi in the e.dams.

Buemi streets ahead in second Buenos Aires FE practice

2015 Formula E  Buenos Aires e-Prix, Argentina
Friday 5 February 2016.
Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 & Nicolas Prost (FRA), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E/LAT
ref: Digital Image _SBL9537
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BUENOS AIRES – Sebastien Buemi lived up to his billing as championship favorite by storming to the top of the timesheets in second practice for the Buenos Aires ePrix.

Buemi was unable to complete a full power 200kW lap in FP1 on Saturday, limiting him to just fifth place in the final standings.

However, the Swiss driver rallied in FP2 and utilized all of the power in his Renault e.dams to produce as fastest lap time of 1:08.771, leaving him over half a second clear at the top of the timesheets.

“Yeah I think it was a good session for me because I was able to exerpience wht the 200kw lap can do,” Buemi said after the session.

“It’s not too bad but the track is very ricky. There’s a lot of sand still on the track. Otherwise it’s quite fun to drive the track.”

Buemi was followed home by title rival Lucas di Grassi, but the ABT Schaeffler driver was unable to match the pace laid down at the very top.

Nicolas Prost will be looking to get into the fight for the race win with teammate Buemi this weekend, having finished third in FP2, just 0.001 seconds shy of di Grassi.

Sam Bird continued DS Virgin Racing’s strong start to the weekend by finishing fourth, but the involvement of teammate Jean-Eric Vergne remains unclear. The Frenchman was ruled out by the team, only to turn up at the track and claim he is fit to race. However, he took no part in practice.