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Brian France: Changes to 2015 Sprint Cup schedule likely, season finale to stay in Homestead, Dover status a concern

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In his annual mid-season state of the sport address Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France hinted that there could be changes to the 2015 Sprint Cup season schedule.

Fox Sports announcer Chris Myers tweeted earlier in the day that rumor has it Darlington may be moved to the second date on the Cup schedule, replacing the first of two Phoenix races (which it’s assumed would then be moved to a later date).

Here’s France’s response to the possibility of schedule changes upcoming:

“Well, it’s a unique time because we’re starting with a new television partner (NBC) coming obviously next year,” France said. “There’s been some weather issues, as you well know – in the last several years at Bristol as an example – and then some other things that we would naturally look at as we go along in the schedule. And now that the Chase format is changed, there’s additional interest to move from one place to another.

“So there will be a robust discussion that will be for those reasons a more comprehensive look at what the best schedule will look like. I don’t have any of the details today.

“We’ll be releasing that (the 2015 schedule) in September, but it’s fair to say that there’s a robust discussion within the stakeholders to come up with the best schedule that we can for 2015 and beyond.”

France was asked specifically about Dover International Speedway’s future on the Sprint Cup schedule. The only track in Sprint Cup with an all-concrete racing surface, Dover has struggled with attendance in recent years — not to mention its parent company (Dover Motorsports Inc.) has sold all other tracks it once owned (including Gateway, Nashville and Memphis) — leading to rumors that one of its two annual races may be taken away.

“Well, we don’t have a timetable on that, and we don’t like to think of it that way,” France said. “We like to think that historically important events work themselves out over time, and some of that is on us, too.  I mean, we’ve got to constantly figure out how to make our racing tighter, better. I mean, that’s why I spent so much time today telling you that we are zeroed in on that.

“I think we don’t put a timeline on that.  We’re working with our track operators, the ones that have more challenges than others, and we’ll just have to work through it and try to get a good outcome.”

Also, while the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format would lend itself to moving the final race of the season — the four-car championship-deciding season finale — around to different tracks, ala the Super Bowl, France said Homestead Miami Speedway will likely remain the host of the final race for at least the next five seasons.

Bolstering that was the recent contract extension entered into by NASCAR, International Speedway Corp. and Ford to sponsor the season-ending races in Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series through at least 2019. The current contract was due to expire at the end of this season.

“I know when you talk to the Ford people and you talk to people at ISC, at Homestead, they want to do whatever makes sense for that sponsorship,” France said. “While yes, it’s Ford obviously for the finale down at Homestead, they’re partners with us in every event.  There’s nothing to preclude a directional change down the road.

“But historically we’ve liked the fact that to do it in South Florida, the weather is great that time of year obviously, it’s a good market for us, and the track, and this is an important thing, is by any definition, the best mile-and-a-half track that the drivers believe that they have — that they can really race hard and compete hard, and that matters, too, right.  It’s a very important thing.

“When you factor all those things in, we’re going to be in Homestead for the foreseeable future.”

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Shirley Muldowney surgery update: ‘Couldn’t have gone much better’

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Even though she hasn’t raced since 2003, Shirley Muldowney still has scores of fans.

And many of them, when they heard the news that she would undergo surgery today to remove her right lung due to Stage 2 lung cancer, offered prayers and well wishes on this site, as well as on social media.

Well, even though details are slim, it appears that a five-hour surgery Wednesday morning was a success for the 75-year-old, three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion and one-time AHRA champ.

Muldowney’s agent, Rob Geiger tweeted updates earlier this evening that is great news:

We plan on keeping Muldowney fans updated with more information in the coming days as she begins her recovery.

As Geiger said, “#ShirleyStrong.”

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MRTI: Freedom 100, new USF-17 launch highlight Indy oval weekend

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Mazda Road to Indy has a double dip of content this weekend with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda at the Lucas Oil Raceway short oval in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis.

Both events are on Friday; the Freedom 100 airs at noon ET and local time as part of NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage. Kevin Lee, Anders Krohn and Katie Hargitt will have the call for the Freedom.

The Freedom 100 is arguably the marquee race of the year for Indy Lights, and a good springboard to the Verizon IndyCar Series – no less than 24 of the 33 starters in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field have some degree of Mazda Road to Indy experience.

That being said, the randomness of the Freedom 100 has produced a variety of winners who haven’t exactly gone on to huge things in IndyCar.

Here’s the past winners list:

  • 2015: Jack Harvey
  • 2014: Gabby Chaves
  • 2013: Peter Dempsey
  • 2012: Esteban Guerrieri
  • 2011: Josef Newgarden
  • 2010: Wade Cunningham
  • 2009: Wade Cunningham
  • 2008: Dillon Battistini
  • 2007: Alex Lloyd
  • 2006: Wade Cunningham
  • 2005: Jaime Camara
  • 2004: Thiago Medeiros
  • 2003: Ed Carpenter

That’s three past winners in Carpenter, Newgarden and Chaves who are racing on Sunday. Harvey, Dempsey and Guerrieri have a combined zero starts; meanwhile all of Cunningham, Battistini, Camara and Medeiros had less than a season of in IndyCar.

Polesitters have been random too, with some surprises including Ethan Ringel (last year) and Ken Losch (2007) of note.

Traditionally Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has fielded strong entries at the Speedway, and that puts any of its four cars – talented sophomore RC Enerson, Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia and fellow rookies Andre Negrao and Heamin Choi into contention almost from the off. Enerson, in particular, is due his first win of the year after niggling turbo issues have hampered most of his season.

Belardi Auto Racing, given its engineering strength in depth, is also a strong contender and a winner here twice previously in dramatic fashion with Chaves and Dempsey. This year they have Zach Veach, who topped the 200-mph mark during testing on Monday, and Felix Rosenqvist, who will look for a significantly better second oval start than his first at Phoenix.

Either of Enerson and Veach would make it seven winners in eight races this year. The other six thus far are, in order, Felix Serralles, Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Urrutia and Dean Stoneman.

Kaiser expects to be better than both he and the Juncos Racing team were here last year. Another potential surprise is Neil Alberico, who was strong in testing despite a slight incident in the first session.

Choi, replacing Scott Anderson, is the only driver change among the 16 entered for the Freedom 100. It’s the biggest field for this race since 2012, when 18 cars started – only 11 have started each of the last three years.

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Rendering: Andersen Promotions

Arguably the more intriguing part of the weekend from the Pro Mazda or USF2000 perspective is the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 car, which gets unveiled Friday morning, 9 a.m., at IMS.

It’s the second new car to be unveiled at IMS in recent years, with the Dallara IL-15 Mazda having been unveiled in May 2014 ahead of its race debut for 20115.

The Pro Mazda and USF2000 races occur later in the day on Friday at IMS.

In Pro Mazda, the question is whether anyone can stop the Pato O’Ward roll of awesomeness for Team Pelfrey. The young Mexican has won five of six races to date, although teammate Aaron Telitz is a past winner at Lucas Oil Raceway in USF2000. The remaining six drivers in the field will look to end O’Ward’s run of form.

USF2000 sees its field temporarily cut in half for its lone oval race of the season, down from 27 cars entered at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend to a mere 14 cars on the 0.686-mile oval.

While Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Pabst Racing have three cars entered apiece – Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have propelled Cape to four straight wins this year -known oval setup ace John Walko will likely have Victor Franzoni’s car ready to go to contend.

Driver helmets looking very stylish for Sunday‘s Indianapolis 500

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If it’s spring and time for the Indianapolis 500, the best-dressed man and woman are sporting the newest fashions – on their heads, that is.

There’s a number of fascinating liveries on helmets for this year’s race. Some are tribute liveries, some homages to the race itself and some just switched up for the sake of it.

Here’s some of the more interesting helmets drivers will be wearing in the 100th running of the Indy 500 this Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

 

It’s a dog’s life: While ‘dad’ Simon is away, Norman Pagenaud will play

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Current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud — who comes into Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 riding a three-race winning streak — has a new addition to the family: Norman Pagenaud.

The newest Pagenaud already has his own Twitter account and while ‘dad’ was in Detroit Tuesday during the annual NASCAR cross-country media tour day, Norman REALLY got to know his new home away from home: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Check out some of Norman’s best tweets of the day, as well as a few from Simon.

Oh, and did we mention that Norman is a puppy? He’s sooooooo cute!

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