(AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Should NASCAR allow rain-shortened finishes in Chase?

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In light of Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway – which was actually rescheduled from Saturday night’s rain-out – what happens if NASCAR is faced with a similar situation at one or more races in the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup?

Given how important the Chase for the Sprint Cup is, particularly this season with the expanded and revamped format and the three rounds of eliminations within it, I believe NASCAR has an obligation to run all 10 Chase races at their fully scheduled length – even if weather is an issue.

In other words, there should be no rain-shortened events in the Chase, even if it means coming back a day or even two later.

The reason is fairly straightforward:

NASCAR could afford to cut short the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona because it was one of just 26 regular season races and there was limited impact that it would have on the upcoming Chase.

Now had that race been IN the Chase, it’s a whole different story.

While NASCAR obviously runs races for fans both attending at-track and watching on TV, who are the races REALLY for in the whole big scheme of things?

With all due respect to fans, the Chase is entertainment for them, but the end result is not. Rather, the races — not to mention the resulting prize money — are for the racers, the drivers who are fighting for the championship.

And it’s my opinion that if NASCAR is going to spend millions of dollars on the revised Chase, it must run all laps of all races in it.

Even if it means finishing a race on Monday or even Tuesday.

Think about this very possible scenario: What if we get to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season finale and it rains? I’ve been at Homestead when it has rained in the past and some might strong storms can come blowing in off the ocean literally a burnout away.

What if NASCAR gets the final race underway, only to have it interrupted by rain? And what if the rain doesn’t end – or show any chance of ending – until well after midnight?

Will the race resume in the wee hours of the morning?

Unlikely.

First off, the TV ratings would be about equal to those of a late-night infomercial, which won’t benefit anyone.

Second, does NASCAR really want all that noise emanating from a speedway when there are hundreds of homes with a few thousand people trying to sleep within a half-mile of HMS?

Or what if the rain-interrupted race stops after the halfway point, say 140 of the scheduled 267 laps. Given that this year’s Chase finale features a four-driver, winner-take-all to determine the champion, does NASCAR do what it did at Daytona and award the title to the driver who was furthest ahead when the rain interrupted things?

That type of action would all but destroy all the goodwill and anticipation NASCAR has built up to this point about the most radical changes to the Chase format since it debuted in 2004.

Sure, we all want to see a race completed on time and on the day it was originally scheduled. But if you cut short a race or let fans or TV dictate how things should end up, NASCAR would do a huge disservice not only to itself but everyone else — including the fans and TV viewers.

Do you see the conundrum NASCAR is facing?

That’s why there’s no other way to determine a true champion than to run all laps in all 10 Chase races, even if it means coming back a day or two later to wrap things up if weather prohibits the race from being finished on it’s originally scheduled date.

Even if a number of fans are unable to stay an extra day to watch the finished product (due to work, school, etc.) at the track, NASCAR owes it to those same fans that their favorite driver – provided he’s still in contention in the Chase – has a chance to go all the way and be crowned series champion.

Even if those same fans aren’t present in-person or in front of the TV to watch the race and cheer their favorite driver on..

Anything less and the championship will be cheapened greatly, not just for fans but more so drivers and the integrity of the sport – and that’s the last thing NASCAR wants to do in such a pivotal year with such a pivotal format revision.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Marcus Ericsson excited about Pascal Wehrlein’s arrival at Sauber for 2017

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 02: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track ahead of Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 2, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Marcus Ericsson is relishing the opportunity to work with Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber through the 2017 Formula 1 season, saying he rates the German driver highly.

Wehrlein made his F1 debut in 2016 with Manor, scoring just the second top-10 finish in the team’s history at the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes junior was announced as a Sauber driver for 2017 on Monday, replacing Felipe Nasr after the Brazilian lost his financial backing.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Ericsson spoke warmly of Wehrlein’s arrival, believing that they will forge a strong partnership that will help Sauber to develop.

“I think it’s great news for me and Sauber. Pascal is a very fast and respected driver with a great CV,” Ericsson said.

“I think we can really push each other and the team forward, so I am looking forward to a great season.

“I honestly rate [Wehrlein] highly. He’s won the DTM championship and been part of the Mercedes family for a long time, so they seem to believe a lot in him.

“Of course my aim is to beat him – what else? – and I expect it to be a tough fight. But that’s exactly what I need in order to perform at my best.”

Sauber was at risk of collapsing at midway through the 2016 season, having struggled financially for some time before being taken over by Longbow Finance during the summer.

The team subsequently went on a recruitment drive, bringing in a number of management and engineering staff, with Ericsson noticing a difference.

“It definitely takes time, but I think it’s clear that if you look at the second half of last season we really made some big progress,” Ericsson said.

“And the aim is, of course, to continue that way in 2017. We’ve had some great people decide to join the team in the last couple of months and that also makes a difference.

“So all in all it feels like we’re moving in the right way. And with two young and hungry drivers in the cockpits we should be on a good run.”

VIDEO: Valtteri Bottas’ first day as a Mercedes F1 driver

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Following Valtteri Bottas’ official unveiling as a Mercedes driver on Monday, the team wasted little time in showing the Finn the ropes at its base in Brackley, England.

Bottas was released from his contract by Williams so he could join Mercedes for 2017, replacing world champion Nico Rosberg following the German’s shock decision to retire from F1.

Bottas was announced as Mercedes’ new driver on Monday, completing the puzzle for the 2017 driver market and putting an end to six weeks of speculation.

In the above video released by Mercedes, Bottas gets to grips with life at Brackley after signing his new contract with team chief Toto Wolff and meeting his new team members for the first time.

In related news, Mercedes announced on Friday that it had struck an agreement with the Wihuri Group, a Finnish conglomerate that has previously sponsored Bottas.

Wihuri’s branding will appear on the Mercedes drivers’ racesuits and helmets, as well as on the team’s trackside uniform.

“We are delighted to welcome Wihuri to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport family today,” Wolff said.

“As a respected brand both in Finland and globally, Wihuri will be a valuable addition to our team and we look forward to working with them and helping to expand their Formula One experience.

“This year will be a new challenge for our team, with a new driver line-up, including our new Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of course, and new regulations.

“I am sure it going to be a very exciting year to be involved with our team and the sport of Formula 1.”

Yamaha, Ducati enjoy launches ahead of new MotoGP season

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MotoGP heavyweights Yamaha and Ducati geared up for the new season of motorcycle racing’s premier championship with launches this week.

Yamaha and Ducati both enter 2017 with a new line-up following Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to move from the former to the latter, acting as one of a number of shake-ups in the rider market.

Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo replaces Andrea Iannone at Ducati, who sought refuge at Suzuki after a seat was freed up by Maverick Viñales following his move to Yamaha in replace of – the man who started the merry-go-round all – Lorenzo.

Yamaha was the first to take the covers off its new bike at a launch in Madrid on Thursday, with Viñales being joined by nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi for the unveiling of the YZR-M1.

The new bike features a darker blue as its main livery color, as well as greater presence for title sponsor Movistar.

“I had the first test in Valencia after the race, but particularly after we moved to Sepang and we could have more kilometers and [do] more work on the new bike,” Rossi said.

“We discovered a very good potential. It looks like we can be stronger. For sure now it’s important to work in the three tests before the first race, and try to arrive ready in Qatar. But the first impression is very good.”

Ducati followed suit earlier today by unveiling its new livery for 2017, with Lorenzo making one of his first official appearances in the team’s colors following the expiration of his Yamaha contract on December 31.

The team presented its 2016 bike, the Desmosedici GP16, in ’17 colors, as well as removing the controversial – and now banned – winglets from its model.

The new MotoGP season begins in Qatar on March 26, with pre-season testing set to start at the end of January in Malaysia.

Neuville leads Ogier midway through Monte Carlo Rally

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
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MONACO (AP) Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took a 45-second lead Friday over defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier midway through the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

Overnight leader Neuville won three of Friday’s six special stages, while Ogier struggled early on before pegging Neuville back by winning the last two. Ott Tanak of Estonia is third.

Four-time champion Ogier is now driving for Ford M-Sport after switching from Volkswagen last month. The Frenchman was eight seconds behind Neuville’s Hyundai overnight and quickly under pressure.

Tanak, who also drives for M-Sport, won Friday’s first special stage – the third of 17 overall – ahead of Neuville, with Ogier in ninth.

Difficult morning conditions saw snow and sheet ice on the roads. With all the top drivers fitting studded winter tires, Ogier still went off into a ditch.

“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned,” Ogier said. “I slipped into the ditch and became stuck.”

Neuville won the next three specials – with Ogier second on 4 and 5 – but Ogier finally found his best form to trim back the deficit from 1:12 to 45 seconds. He also overtook Tanak, who is a fraction of a second behind Ogier.

Conditions were slushy in the afternoon as the icy roads began melting.

“For me this was more tricky than this morning and difficult to know what rhythm to go,” Neuville said.

A spectator was killed on Thursday night after being hit by a car during the first stage.

Organizers said the spectator was struck by a car driven by New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon during the first of two night stages.

That stage was canceled but the second went ahead, with Neuville beating Ogier.

There are six specials Saturday with the race concluding Sunday lunchtime.

Last year, Ogier won by nearly two minutes ahead of then-teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway.

Ogier announced last month that he was going to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. A fifth title would move him into outright second place on the all-time list behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won nine straight titles.

The 33-year-old Ogier, who has won 38 career races, is tied with Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen – who won four straight – and Juha Kankkunen.

The next event in the 13-race season is in Sweden in three weeks.