(Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Ben Rhodes, 17-year-old phenom, could tie Ricky Craven’s five-race K&N win streak record Friday at Loudon

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One of the records ESPN analyst and former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven takes pride in owning could wind up being tied Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The Maine native will be on hand as 17-year-old racing phenom Ben Rhodes attempts to tie Craven’s nearly quarter-century old series record of five straight wins in the K&N East Series in the East Granite 100.

“I do think it’s impressive, certainly more impressive what Ben is doing than what I did back then,” Craven said during a Wednesday morning NASCAR teleconference. “I think it’s mostly because he’s 17 years old, and I think it deserves a lot of attention. It’s what separates him from the crowd.”

Craven won five in a row on the K&N Series during the 1991 season.

Ironically, Craven and Rhodes will meet for the first time before the race, but Craven is already wishing Rhodes well in Friday’s race.

“I’m very enthusiastic,” Craven said. “I’ll go out of my way to find him this weekend and shake hands and wish him luck, as I’m really pulling for him to not only tie the record but exceed it.

“(Holding the record for) 23 years is a long time. I never really thought at the time that winning four or five in a row was important, and I think even if this happens that Ben would probably reiterate that. As a competitor, it’s just about winning and it’s about winning a championship.”

While the two haven’t met yet, Craven has been keeping up on Rhodes’ career from a distance.

“I’ve spent some time trying to better know Ben as a race car driver, and I’m really impressed,” Craven said. “He has all the tools, the ingredients, obviously a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of talent. But the people that I’ve asked say that he races like a 17 year old but he has the sense of a 37 year old, and I think that’s a magical combination.”

Rhodes is a native of Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to going for five wins in a row, he’ll also be going for his sixth win overall in just 10 races thus far this season on the K&N Pro Series East schedule.

The five wins came at Greenville (S.C.), and the last four on the schedule at Iowa, Winston-Salem (N.C.), Pensacola (Fla.) and Hampton (Va.).

He also finished second at Richmond, third at Bristol (Tenn.) and fourth at New Smyrna (Fla.).

He’s failed to finish inside the top-five just once thus far (15th at Daytona) and also has two poles.

He’s the latest young hot shoe in a series that has seen quite a few current Sprint Car drivers essentially start their own racing careers, including Austin Dillon, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson.

“You know, it’s strange, I don’t wake up every day thinking I’m old, but watching you and seeing what you are accomplishing at such an early age, I have kids older than you, Ben, so I guess it puts everything in perspective,” Craven said. “But no, I sincerely — I want to see you tie this weekend, and I really think you’ve got a great shot, not only because of all the things that have happened recently and the momentum that goes with that, but New Hampshire is a good track in terms of if you have a fast car and you have a real good feel for the car that day, it’s big enough that you can maneuver around other drivers.  So I think it’s a good place to get that fifth in a row.”

Rhodes has obviously caught the attention of a number of individuals, not just fans and media, but team owners as well. He’s already had two starts this season in the Camping World Truck Series (eighth at Martinsville, crashed and finished 22nd at Dover).

There’s already talk about him possibly even going up to the Nationwide Series. But of course that requires sponsorship, a good team and the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

“If funding wasn’t an issue, I would like to go to Nationwide,” Rhodes said. “I think it would be an easier jump from the K&N cars to Nationwide and an easier jump from Nationwide to Sprint Cup.

“But that’s looking pretty far ahead, and I think that would be much easier because of the aero package and everything that makes it up. I know those trucks with the huge side force that they have, it would make it hard learning those things and then trying to jump in the Nationwide car.

“It obviously works and it’s a very good learning curve and definitely a good stepping-stone, but if I could just get in that and learn from the get-go, I think that would be good. It would knock out some of the learning curve, I think, going from the trucks to the Nationwide, and I think sponsors and funding is a little bit better for Nationwide Series.”

Rhodes is part of the NASCAR Next driver development program – and it’s an understatement to say his development has been like the way he drives a race car: f-a-s-t.

“The success has been great,” Rhodes said. “We’ve already been trying to focus on some plans for next year and trying to get stuff together. But as you know and everybody knows in racing, it’s a difficult sport. A lot of stuff can be done at last minute and get it all together, so we’re still figuring out our plans, but it’s definitely been helping. It’s definitely been opening up some doors and bringing some attention to us. I’ve felt like we’ve had this in us all the time, it’s just finally coming together.”

To be compared to someone like Craven “gives me a lot of confidence,” Rhodes said. “Just to be able to talk to people that have been around the sport for a long time, and they obviously know way more than I do, and just to try to tap into that knowledge and hear what they have to say is always great.

“You know, I’m hearing what (Craven) says, and it gives me a big boost of confidence. Going into these races, it’s funny how I can relate to what he’s saying from way back then to what I’m feeling now. He’s talking about not throwing down and focusing on that championship, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m not really looking at each race. Winning each race is great, but our focus is the next one. I don’t even look back. You come in every day and you see the trophy is there anyway, but you look at them, admire them for a second, good job, pat on the back, and we’re right back to work ready to win the next one.

“I’m seeing a lot of similarities, and it’s cool to see that, and it definitely gives me a boost of confidence being in the same conversation as him and hearing what he has to say.”

Added Craven, “What Ben has accomplished already at such an early age, it doesn’t happen by mistake, so it speaks to his talent and it speaks to his focus. When you look at the young drivers in the series that have rolled out of it very quickly, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson, the latest example, and even if you take it a step further and look at the prospects of the sport, Chase Elliott, who graduates, has success, I think that benefits into that mold. Again, I’ve not watched him race. The numbers don’t lie.  They are very impressive. And listening to him, he just seems like he’s ahead of his years.”

As the teleconference ended, Craven had one last bit of encouragement to Rhodes: “I look forward to seeing you and look forward to pulling for you. You’ve given me a reason to watch the race. Have a great weekend.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Relive championship battle tonight at 7 pm ET on NBCSN — IndyCar Chronicles: Simon Pagenaud

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If you want to relive the excitement of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship battle between Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, make sure to tune in tonight at 7 p.m. ET to IndyCar Chronicles on NBCSN.

“IndyCar Chronicles: Simon Pagenaud” is the final episode of this year’s show and features interviews with the two Team Penske teammates as they break down before, during and after the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Pagenaud dominated the season, winning five of the series’ 16 races, and put a bow on his first-ever IndyCar championship by winning the season finale at the picturesque road course north of San Francisco.

Power, who was seeking his second IndyCar championship (in three seasons), missed the first race of the season due to a health issue, but still bounced back to win four races in the season and was Pagenaud’s primary challenger heading to Sonoma.

Unfortunately for Power, a mechanical issue that his car suffered in the race paved the way for Pagenaud to win both the event and the championship.

Check out the video above for a two-minute preview of tonight’s show.

Previous editions of IndyCar Chronicles can also be viewed on YouTube.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Simon Pagenaud had The Force with him in winning IndyCar championship

The Force was definitely with Simon Pagenaud when he won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship on Sept. 18.
(Getty Images)
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So, Simon Pagenaud DID have an extra advantage when he won his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship on Sept. 18.

Pagenaud had The Force with him – no, we’re not talking about NHRA legend John Force – but rather The Force from Star Wars.

Our friends at IndyCar.com revealed in a story Wednesday that Pagenaud was part of a Verizon-sponsored advertisement for the popular “The Star Wars Show” on YouTube.

Show hosts Andi Gutierrez and Peter Townley tried to draw a connection between IndyCar racing and the popular Star Wars movie franchise.

“Star Wars is all about things going fast, spaceships (and) pod racers,” Townley said.

Added Gutierrez, “Right, it’s a natural connection.”

They interviewed Pagenaud at Sonoma Raceway, where the French driver would go on to win the championship later that weekend.

“I love this racetrack because it’s very difficult to get right,” Pagenaud said. “It’s quite slippery. You might experience up to 4Gs. Unleash the beast inside of you – and use The Force.”

See, we told you Pagenaud had an extra advantage.

It’s not surprising that Sonoma Raceway caught the attention of the show, given that George Lucas’ famed Skywalker Ranch is only about 20 miles from the racetrack.

Speaking of which, in one of the strangest Star Wars trivia contests we’ve ever heard of, both Townley and Gutierrez were peppered with questions about the film series while they “toured” the 2.385-mile racetrack at speeds of around 110 mph.

In addition to giving the answers, there was quite a bit of screaming from the hosts during the ride, with IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves and Indy Lights pilot Zach Veach serving as chauffeurs in the two-seat INDYCAR Experience car.

Who knows, maybe the next Star Wars film may include Indy cars in it instead of pod racers or TIE fighters. And instead of a lightsaber, maybe they could use the buttons on an IndyCar steering wheel to shoot all the menaces of The Empire.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

New York, Montreal switch dates on revised Formula E calendar

Formula E New York Press Conference Event.
New York, New York, USA.
Tuesday 20 September 2016.
Photo:  / FE
ref: Digital Image _L5R5688
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The planned Formula E races in New York City and Montreal have swapped dates on a revised calendar for the all-electric series’ third season issued by the FIA on Wednesday.

On the first calendar issued by Formula E over the London ePrix weekend in July, Montreal was slated for July 15-16 with New York set on July 29-30.

The New York race was officially launched last week, but no date was set amid ongoing discussions regarding its best placement.

Following a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council this week, a revised calendar for season three has been revealed with New York moving to the July 15-16 weekend.

Montreal now becomes the season finale on July 29-30, with both races remaining double headers and subject to the track being homologated.

The calendar also sees the removal of the two ‘TBA’ rounds, understood to be Singapore and London, leaving a 12-race calendar set for season three.

The new campaign starts in Hong Kong on October 9.

2016/17 Formula E calendar

1. Hong Kong – October 9
2. Marrakesh – November 12
3. Buenos Aires – February 18
4. Mexico City – April 1
5. Monaco – May 13
6. Paris – May 20
7. Berlin – June 10
8. Brussels – July 1
9. New York – July 15
10. New York – July 16
11. Montreal – July 29
12. Montreal – July 30

FIA confirms new wet start procedure for Formula 1 in 2017

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29:  The safety car drives ahead of the field including Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and  Red Bull Racing, Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari  during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The FIA has confirmed a new wet start procedure for Formula 1 from the 2017 season, as approved by the World Motor Sport Council at its meeting this week.

Following criticism of races starting behind the safety car in heavy rain that denied fans the chance to see a proper standing start, the FIA will tweak the sporting regulations accordingly.

“A new procedure regarding wet weather starts was accepted,” a statement from the FIA reads.

“From 2017, if a safety car is deemed to be required for the beginning of a race due to wet weather, a normal standing start will occur once the track is deemed safe to race.

“The process will see the safety car return to the pit lane and the cars assemble on the grid for the start.”

The change will be in force from next year’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 26, as confirmed on the provisional calendar also announced by the FIA on Wednesday.

Other changes approved by the WMSC at its meeting include a relaxing of the ban on helmet designs, an end to stockpiling of power unit components and a standard issue of tires for the early part of the season.

“Drivers must continue to present their helmets in substantially the same livery at every event of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship for easy recognition of the driver in the car,” the FIA statement reads.

“However a driver will now be allowed one event (such as a home race) for a special livery (at the driver’s choice). Drivers will also be allowed to change their helmet liveries if changing teams during the season.

“During any single event, if a driver introduces more than one of a power unit element that is subject to penalty, only the last element fitted may be used at subsequent events without further penalty. This is to prevent the stockpiling of spare power unit elements.

“For the first five events of the 2017 Championship season only, the normal team selection procedure for tires will not be used as the deadline occurs before pre-season testing.

“For these events the supplier will allocate two sets of the hardest compound specification, four sets of the medium compound specification and seven sets of the softest compound specification to each driver.”

You can read the full statement from the FIA here.