Chevy, Ford, Toyota execs talk Sprint Cup season so far

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When NASCAR created its new rules package over the off-season for the Generation 6 cars, a key goal of the project was to boost the racing product on the 1.5-mile ovals, which make up a good portion of the schedule.

So far, the Sprint Cup Series has visited one of those tracks (Las Vegas) and will reach its second 1.5-miler this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway for the Duck Commander 500. Chevrolet vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports Jim Campbell is looking forward to seeing how the racing improves there.

“I think clearly Texas will be another datapoint for that,” said Campbell, who was joined on a NASCAR teleconference today by executive counterparts Jamie Allison of Ford and David Wilson of Toyota. “We’ve just had one race under our belt. I think actually we’re heading in the right area, and the racing has been quite good.

“But with only one race at that kind of category of a track, I think Texas will be another one to look at here and see how the racing is.”

Overall, however, the three executives indicated that the new package has been a step in the right direction for the Gen-6, which made its on-track debut last season.

Wilson, the president/GM of Toyota Racing Development, went so far as to call the collaboration between the sanctioning body and its manufacturers an “unqualified success,” adding that while their work together may not always yield a home run, “we’re going to hit them more often than not.”

“Each of us continues to reap the benefits of the Generation 6 cars introduced last year,” Wilson said. “Having our respective brand identities in front of the fans and letting the fans and letting the broadcasters talk about the rivalries between Ford, Chevy and Toyota, that’s what this sport was founded upon…We’re just delighted for that result.”

In recent years, NASCAR has implemented new projects pertaining to the sport’s technology, from ethanol fuel and fuel-injection technology to the Gen-6.

Ford Racing director Allison indicated that the next step to bring the race cars closer in line to the manufacturers’ road cars could involve bringing in some of the latter group’s interior features.

However, he feels that no matter which area of the car is targeted, that free-flowing dialogue between NASCAR and the manufacturers is essential.

“As long as we continue to look at the teams and the elements that are in the automotive sector and what is making its way into production cars and then having an open conversation with the sanctioning series about what product, what categories, what elements could be timely considered – that is the process that we the manufacturers are advocating for,” he said.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.