With Final Four in town, Texas Motor Speedway and NASCAR turn compromise into potential

2 Comments

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage is known for being a trendsetter, a leader rather than a follower and someone who wants his racetrack ahead of all others.

However, this weekend is one of those rare times that Gossage has out of necessity adopted a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude.

With the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four games less than 30 miles away at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, it would be hard for Gossage and NASCAR to compete head-to-head with the biggest college hoops games of the year.

But by adjusting this weekend’s traditional race schedule, TMS may wind up attracting some fans in town to attend the Final Four and potentially have a strong walk-up for Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 Sprint Cup race.

Gossage has even gone so far as to advertise directly to Wisconsin, Florida, Connecticut and Kentucky fans that are in the Arlington area for the Final Four, inviting them to come over to TMS for some great racing when they’re not watching the roundballers.

Here’s how TMS has revamped its weekend schedule to accommodate the Final Four:

First, the Nationwide Series race takes place Friday night at 8:30 p.m. ET.

On Saturday, it’ll be a relatively quick day for the Sprint Cup guys, who will have Happy Hour practice from 10:30 a.m. to Noon ET, followed by Cup qualifying at 3:10 p.m. ET.

Makes sense, since the first Final Four game tips off three hours later, giving diehard sports fans the opportunity to start their day at TMS and finish it in Arlington.

Don’t be surprised if you see several Cup drivers in attendance at the game.

Although the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area was literally swamped by heavy rainstorms on Thursday, the rest of the weekend looks good for NASCAR.

The weather better cooperate, because the last thing NASCAR and Gossage likely want to do is run a rescheduled race on Monday – the same day that Final Four championship game takes place.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Schmidt Peterson confirms all-Canadian lineup of Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is going for a diet of denim, maple syrup, pace and politeness in its 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup, with an all-Canadian pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens confirmed for next season.

Hinchcliffe was known to want a driver of Wickens’ caliber alongside him in the second seat after three less-than-fruitful seasons with James Jakes (2015), Mikhail Aleshin (2016) and a combination of drivers (Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Harvey) rotated through the second car the last three years.

Recent changes have brought them to this point and now leads them to becoming full-time teammates for the first time in a decade, since the defunct country-focused A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008.

Hinchcliffe has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson after three seasons with the team. His first was shortened due to his near life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident in practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500. A rapid and welcome recovery followed throughout the second half of 2015 before his comeback to action in 2016, with an Indianapolis 500 pole and a couple near-misses on wins that followed. In 2017, he won Round 2 at Long Beach but faltered in the second half of the year through a litany of mechanical woes and bad luck.

Wickens, meanwhile, faced an uncertain future when Mercedes-Benz announced earlier this year it would withdraw from DTM at the end of 2018. One of Hinchcliffe’s long-time friends, Wickens hasn’t raced full-time in North America in more than a decade since they were both in Formula Atlantic in 2007, at separate teams (Wickens at Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe at Sierra Sierra Enterprises). As he pursued his Formula 1 dream and had a wealth of success in the junior series, he never got a proper shot, and has since gone onto several successful years with Mercedes in DTM.

A ride-swap between the two of them came together earlier this year where Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring’s short course, while Hinchcliffe then flew to Italy to sample Wickens’ Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM after the St. Petersburg season opener. Hinchcliffe ended 13th in points in IndyCar, Wickens ninth in DTM this year, both with one win each during the year. Wickens also had a Friday to sample the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Road America this year, but had to relinquish the seat once Aleshin returned from a visa issue.

“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” said Hinchcliffe.

“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.

“I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the SPM organization, from having Robbie here to the team’s new partnership with Honda and the 2018 aero kit; I just can’t wait to get back on track and bring some good results home for the Arrow Electronics crew.”

Wickens added: “This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me.

“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about.

“I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”