(Photo: AP/Terry Renna)

Critics show little class in second-guessing those chosen for NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015

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It wasn’t more than a few minutes after the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 was announced Wednesday before critics started questioning the six individuals chosen for induction.

On a day that should be joyous for the inductees and the sport as a whole, honoring five men and one woman who did or meant so much for the sport, several callous and narrow-minded individuals had to go and spoil it.

Frankly, some of the tweets I read or emails I received were downright ugly – and so undeserving to those who were honored Wednesday.

Several pointed towards Wendell Scott being inducted solely based upon his race.

Others complained about Fred Lorenzen, who has put on a valiant battle with dementia for the last several years but is still with us, but supposedly didn’t have the statistics to warrant HoF induction.

Others questioned why two of the sport’s pioneers – namely 84-year-old Rex White and Joe Weatherly – were chosen.

I even saw a few tweets that Bill Elliott, who was a near-unanimous (87 percent) selection by the HoF voting panel, should have been passed by.

Come on, people, your cynicism and downright prejudice are an embarrassment to NASCAR fans everywhere. You should be ashamed of yourself. How can you call yourself a real and true NASCAR fan? At a time when the sport and its fans should be rejoicing the induction of five more-than-worthy inductees, an extremely small minority of so-called “fans” take it upon themselves to tell the 50-plus-member voting panel that they got it wrong.

That’s right, fans – and I use that word very loosely – think they know the sport and the accomplishments of those chosen Wednesday better than members of the voting panel who probably have a collective tenure of well over 1,000 years in the sport between themselves.

Every one of the five drivers, plus the late wife of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was more than deserving of selection because each marked a key point in time or accomplishment in the sport’s lengthy and colorful history.

If Wendell Scott was chosen because of his race, so what? Scott was a trailblazer, a pioneer and someone that was a hero to many people, particularly African-American fans and other minorities. No one should have had to endure some of the terrible things he had to during his career simply because of the color of his skin.

And yet the critics and those opposed to Scott’s honor have the audacity to say with a straight face that he doesn’t deserve induction simply because he was different than you or me?

And the 77-year-old Lorenzen, who I interviewed late last year (he has days of great clarity and lucidity still), was arguably one of the most brilliant minds of his era when it came to promoting and building the NASCAR brand. Not to mention that he was a winning driver.

Yet you critics can capriciously say he doesn’t deserve induction, even though he’s still alive and with us and will be able to share in one of the greatest moments of his life despite the condition he’s battled in recent years?

Again, shame on you. Obviously you don’t understand what a Hall of Fame is for and about, nor do you understand why certain individuals are chosen.

Being picked for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is not about who won the most races or who won the most championships. It’s not about who had the best overall stats, whatsoever.

Rather, it’s about unique individuals who despite oftentimes long odds managed to persevere and succeed. It’s about individuals whose contributions helped shape the sport and made it what it is today.

Rex White and Joe Weatherly easily fall into the pioneer category for the sport. If they never raced in NASCAR, the sport may never have gained some of the popularity it did while they were behind the wheel.

Ditto for Lorenzen. His nickname of “Hollywood” told the tale of a flashy driver, one of NASCAR’s first real and true stars, a guy with the good looks of a Hollywood leading man. But Fast Freddy was also someone who had a huge fan base at his zenith, only to walk away from the sport at the all-too-young age of 33 so he could devote his life to his family.

Who knows how many championships and additional wins Lorenzen would have earned in his career if he would have raced another 10 years?

But because he had his priorities – family first, faith second and racing third – he didn’t want to make his late wife an early widow or have his kids grow up without a father. That is the ultimate sacrifice any father and husband can make.

And how can someone criticize the selection of Bill Elliott? NASCAR’s most popular driver for 15 straight seasons, a former champion and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. His spirit, competitiveness, positive outlook and being one of the best that’s ever been behind the wheel more than qualify him for induction.

Hopefully, the new inductees, their families and/or survivors will take the criticism of the honor that was bestowed upon them Wednesday with a grain of salt. No one will ever make everyone happy all of the time.

So to Bill, Rex and Fred, who are still with us, as well as the survivors of Joe, Wendell and Annie B, congratulations on the well-deserved honors. NASCAR today would not be as rich in spirit, color and popularity if it wasn’t for all of your individual and collective efforts.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for all that you did to make the sport a better place for drivers, crew chiefs, team owners, crew members, the media and fans.

And as for the critics who think they know the sport better and feel they can speak better as to who does or doesn’t deserve induction into the Hall of Fame:

With your narrow-mindedness and the short-sighted way you look at things, you may say you are a fan, but in reality, you don’t deserve to call yourself that because criticizing six individuals on perhaps the greatest day of their lives – to be recognized for all the good things they did for the sport – is not what real and true fans do.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Ferrari confirms departure of technical director James Allison

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 05:  James Allison, Chassis Technical Director of Ferrari speaks on his phone in the paddock after qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 5, 2015 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Scuderia Ferrari has confirmed that Formula 1 technical director James Allison has left the team after three years at Maranello.

Allison has held roles in F1 since 1991, including multiple spells at Enstone with Benetton, Renault and Lotus, as well as a first stint with Ferrari from 2000 to 2005.

Allison returned to Ferrari in 2013, tasked with helping to turn around the Scuderia’s fortunes after a difficult spell.

Although Ferrari claimed three victories with Sebastian Vettel in 2015, it has been over 10 months since the last as Mercedes has continued to dominate proceedings.

After weeks of speculation about Allison’s future, Ferrari issued a statement on Wednesday morning confirming his departure in a mutual decision.

“During the years I spent at Ferrari, at two different stages and covering different roles, I could get to know and appreciate the value of the team and of the people, women and men, which are part of it,” Allison said.

“I want to thank them all for the great professional and human experience we shared. I wish everybody a happy future with lots of success.”

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene added: “The team would like to thank James for his commitment and sacrifice during the time spent together, and wishes him success and serenity for his future endeavors.”

Ferrari confirmed that Mattia Binotto will move into the role of chief technical officer.

Will third time be the charm for Newgarden at Mid-Ohio?

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(Photo courtesy Ed Carpenter Racing)
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Josef Newgarden has gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in the last two Verizon IndyCar Series races.

The 25-year-old Hendersonville, Tennessee native roared to his first win of the season at Iowa Speedway in dominating fashion (led 282 of 300 laps), only to crash and finish last in the next race on the schedule, at Toronto nearly two weeks ago.

That was a rough pill for Newgarden to swallow, as he wound up dropping from second to fifth in the series standings, as well.

He’s looking for a big rebound in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

In a sense, Mid-Ohio owes Newgarden a turn of good luck. In last year’s race there, Newgarden was on pace and strategy for a likely podium finish.

However, a late caution wrecked that gameplan and Newgarden finished 13th.

In 2014, he started on the front row and was in the lead when he ran over an air hose on the final pit stop, drawing a drive-through penalty and a disappointing 12th place outing.

Now it’s back to Mid-Ohio and payback time for the driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevy Dallara. And if Newgarden does well, he’ll have J.R. Hldebrand to once again thanks for being his lucky charm.

Let’s explain: Hildebrand tested for Newgarden at Road America, and the latter finished eighth.

Hildebrand tested for Newgarden again at Iowa, and the latter wound up winning.

Guess what? Hildebrand once again tested last week for Newgarden at Mid-Ohio with fellow Ed Carpenter Racing teammate Spencer Pigot.

Will that pattern of success continue Sunday? Newgarden certainly hopes so. While he’s fallen to fifth in the standings, he’s only 14 points out of third place.

In the bigger picture, Newgarden is 88 points behind series leader Simon Pagenaud with five races remaining.

“I can’t wait to get back to Mid-Ohio,” Newgarden said in a team media release. “It’s a great road course track, one of the best we have in North America.

“I’m excited to get back in the car and see what we can do points-wise. We’ve had good cars around Mid-Ohio the past couple of years, it’s a really good shot for the team to get a win there. I feel confident that we’ll have a good effort with the whole Fuzzy’s Vodka crew and we should be able to move up the board a little bit after the weekend and see where we’re at in the points heading into Pocono. I’m ready to get back in the car after a weekend off.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Fast Facts: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

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Courtesy of INDYCAR PR, here’s all you need to know ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, the 12th of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule:


The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday, July 29 – Sunday, July 31

Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course in Lexington, Ohio

Race distance: 90 laps / 203.22 miles

Entry List: The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (pdf)

Push-to-pass parameters: 10 activations for 20 seconds each

Firestone tire allotment: Eight sets primary, three sets alternate

Twitter: @Mid_Ohio @IndyCar, #Honda200, #IndyCar

Event website: www.midohio.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2015 race winner: Graham Rahal (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda)

2015 Verizon P1 Award winner: Scott Dixon (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet), 1:04.5814, 125.869 mph

Qualifying record: Scott Dixon, 1:04.5814, 125.869 mph, Aug. 1, 2015

NBCSN television broadcasts: Practice, 2 p.m. ET Friday, July 29 (live); Qualifying, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, July 30 (live); Race, 2 p.m. ET Sunday, July 31, CNBC (live); 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday, July 31, NBCSN (re-air); Brian Till is the lead announcer for the NBCSN broadcasts this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller.

Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query and Nick Yeoman are the turn announcers with Dave Furst, Rob Howden and Michael Young reporting from the pits. All Verizon IndyCar Series races as well as qualifying sessions are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.comindycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. All Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions are available on IndyCar.com,indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video streaming: All practice sessions for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season not covered by television will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

INDYCAR Mobile app: Verizon Wireless puts fans around the world in the driver’s seat with its INDYCAR Mobile app. The app has been enhanced with new features to keep fans in the know of the latest race-day action. Exclusive features of the INDYCAR Mobile app for Verizon Wireless customers will stream live through the app and includes enhanced real-time leaderboard and car telemetry; the ability to follow the race in real time with the interactive 3D track; live in-car camera video streaming for select drivers during Verizon IndyCar Series races; live driver and pit crew radio transmissions during races and live Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network audio streaming during all track activities.

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, July 29
10 – 11:15 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 – 3:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, NBCSN (Live)

Saturday, July 30
9:45 – 10:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (Live)

Sunday, July 31
10:15 – 10:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
1:58 p.m. – Driver Introductions
2:38 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
2:45 p.m. – The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (90 laps/203.22 miles), CNBC (Live); re-air at5:30 on NBCSN

Race notes:

  • There have been seven different winners in the 11 previous Verizon IndyCar Series completed races in 2016: Juan Pablo Montoya (Streets of St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Phoenix International Raceway), Simon Pagenaud (Streets of Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park and Grand Prix of Indianapolis), Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500), Sebastien Bourdais (Raceway at Belle Isle-1), Will Power (Raceway at Belle Isle-2, Road America and Toronto) and Josef Newgarden (Iowa Speedway). Dixon’s win at Phoenix onApril 2 tied him for fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with Al Unser at 39. He is the active leader in wins. Bourdais’ win at Belle Isle on June 4 tied him with Bobby Unser for sixth on the all-time list with 35 wins. Power’s win at Toronto on July 17 gave him sole possession of 13th all-time with 28.• The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be the 32nd Indy car race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Graham Rahal won the race in 2015. Johnny Rutherford won the first Indy car race at Mid-Ohio in 1980.• The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be the ninth race on a road/street course in 2016. The first eight races were won by Juan Pablo Montoya (St. Petersburg), Simon Pagenaud (Long Beach, Barber and Grand Prix of Indianapolis), Sebastien Bourdais (Belle Isle-1) and Will Power (Belle Isle-2, Road America and Toronto).

    • Scott Dixon is the winningest Indy car driver at Mid-Ohio with five victories (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014). Emerson Fittipaldi won at Mid-Ohio three times, while Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Teo Fabi, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi have all won at Mid-Ohio twice. Past winners Dixon, Castroneves (2000 and 2001), Montoya (1999), Charlie Kimball (2013) and Graham Rahal (2015) are entered this year.

    • There have been five different pole winners since Helio Castroneves won back-to-back poles in 2007-08. Other Mid-Ohio pole winners entered in this year’s race are: Will Power (2010 and 2012), Scott Dixon (2011 and 2015), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2013) and Sebastien Bourdais (2014).

    • Ten drivers have won the race from the pole – Mario Andretti (1984), Bobby Rahal (1985), Roberto Guerrero (1987), Teo Fabi (1989), Michael Andretti (1990 and 1991), Al Unser Jr. (1994), Alex Zanardi (1996), Patrick Carpentier (2002), Paul Tracy (2003) and Scott Dixon (2011).

    • At least 17 drivers entered in the event have competed in past Indy car races at Mid-Ohio. Tony Kanaan (14) has the most starts at Mid-Ohio among the entered drivers. Twelve of those drivers have led laps at the track (Scott Dixon 223, Helio Castroneves 147, Will Power 87, Juan Pablo Montoya 49, Charlie Kimball 46, Sebastien Bourdais 38, Ryan Hunter-Reay 33, James Hinchcliffe 30, Graham Rahal 23, Simon Pagenaud 14, Kanaan 13 and Josef Newgarden 5).

    • Chip Ganassi Racing has won 10 times at Mid-Ohio, including six of the last seven races at the track. Ganassi’s winning drivers are: Alex Zanardi (1996-97), Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Scott Dixon (2007, 2009, 2011-12 and 2014), Dario Franchitti (2010) and Charlie Kimball (2013).

    • Team Penske has seven wins at the track: Emerson Fittipaldi (1992-93), Al Unser Jr. (1994-95), Helio Castroneves (2000-01) and Ryan Briscoe (2008).

    • Scott Dixon has finished in the top five in nine of his 11 races at Mid-Ohio, including five wins between 2007 and 2014… Will Power has finished in the top five in four of his seven starts at Mid-Ohio…Simon Pagenaud has finished on the podium three times in his previous five starts. Sebastien Bourdais has three top-five finishes in six starts.

    • Four rookies – Max Chilton, Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi – are expected to compete. Rossi leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 89 points over Daly, with Chilton 127 points behind.

    • Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 261st consecutive race this weekend, which would extend his Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Teammate Scott Dixon has made 202 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the third-longest streak in Indy car racing.

    • Helio Castroneves will attempt to make his 323rd career Indy car start, which ranks fourth on the all-time list. Tony Kanaan will attempt to make his 322nd Indy car start, which is fifth all-time.

    • The 2016 season is the second in which aerodynamic bodywork component kits are used. The aero kits, produced by engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda for their respective supplied teams, are the latest technical innovation to enhance on-track performance through competitive aerodynamic development. Each manufacturer produces two kits for teams – one for short ovals/road courses/street courses and another for superspeedway ovals – but within each kit, teams have multiple component options available.

    • The second season of aero kit competition complements the fifth year of engine manufacturer competition between Chevrolet and Honda with their 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines. It will be another season testing speed and durability to determine the manufacturer champion.

Pigot confident heading to Mid-Ohio as rookie season rolls on

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(Photo courtesy Ed Carpenter Racing)
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Since joining Ed Carpenter Racing after the Indianapolis 500, rookie Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot admittedly has had some ups and downs.

Much like the up-and-down natural terrain of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which hosts Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (2 p.m. ET on CNBC), in fact.

Pigot has made four starts for ECR, finishing 17th and 18th in the two races at Belle Isle, along with a disappointing 19th place showing in the most recent race at Toronto.

But in-between, Pigot earned a season- and career-best ninth-place finish at Road America, which followed a test there earlier in June.

He’ll be hoping for a similar if not better result at Mid-Ohio this weekend, since he also tested there last week as part of an IndyCar team test.

Plus, Pigot, who has competed in seven of the first 11 races this season (the first three were with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and both races at Indianapolis), has another ace up his sleeve, as well.

It was in back-to-back races on the same weekend at Mid-Ohio last year that he finished eighth and third, respectively, which played a big part in propelling him to victories in the final two races of the season that ultimately earned him the Indy Lights championship.

I’m very excited for the race this weekend at Mid-Ohio,” Pigot said in a media release. “We had a productive test (there) last week.

“It felt like the car is made for tracks like this. It was amazing to feel the cornering speeds the car is capable of. I think we will be able to build on what we learned and hopefully turn it into a strong weekend.”

This will mark the first time since Pigot took over the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Detroit he’s been in for consecutive weekends.

With Carpenter still behind the wheel on ovals, he’ll drive at Pocono and the conclusion of the suspended race at Texas, while Pigot will handle driving chores in the final two races of 2016, both road courses, at Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma.

That could help build continuity for both drivers in the final races of the season.

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