NASCAR: Ron Fellows a no-go for both Sonoma and JR Motorsports Nationwide

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Sports car racing legend and one of Canada’s most recognizable drivers, Ron Fellows, has long been regarded as one of the best – if not the best – of the NASCAR “road race ringers.”

But unfortunately, barring any last-minute adjustments, we won’t be seeing the 54-year-old Fellows at either Sonoma Raceway (NASCAR Sprint Cup) or Road America (NASCAR Nationwide Series) this weekend.

On the Cup side, Fellows’ place in the No. 33 Circle Sport Racing Chevrolet that he had last year will be taken by Alex Kennedy. Meanwhile, his JR Motorsports Nationwide deal is a no-go for 2014 because of a sponsor conflict.

“I’m heavily involved with Canadian Tire, and JRM has NAPA this year (for Chase Elliott, who, incidentally, won the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last year), so it doesn’t work,” Fellows told MotorSportsTalk at Le Mans this week. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.”

He has three top-five and five top-10 finishes in 25 career Cup starts; he also has four Nationwide Series wins in 25 starts. He didn’t start a Cup race in 2012 but started at least one every year from 1998 through 2011; he’s also raced in the Nationwide Series at least once per year every year since 2005.

Fellows still remains heavily involved with Corvette Racing as a brand ambassador, having been an integral part of the team’s success at Le Mans and in North American sports car racing for a decade.

He’s also part of the ownership group at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, outside Toronto. Fellows, Carlo Fidani and Al Boughton took over the track a couple years ago.

Preparations are well underway for CTMP’s IMSA (July 10-13) and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (August 29-31) race weekends.

Fellows now has shifted from the driver side to the promoter side rather well.

“A lot of it is working with sponsors, and trying to enhance their experience,” Fellows explained. “As a race fan and as a kid, you’re always searching for where you want to watch and what’s important to be able to see. There are some things we’ve done have been done to improve viewing areas. Now having the outfield side of Turn 1 for corporate hosting available too has enhanced the overall experience.”

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.