What might the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule look like?


When NASCAR chairman Brian France said recently that he expected only minor changes to the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule, fans and media immediately began speculating on what those tweaks might be.

There may not be wholesale changes, based upon what France said, but next year’s Cup slate will look at least a little different. Based upon various sources and things we’ve heard and/or read, we’re going to chime in with our ideas and why we think that way. Granted, this is all speculation, but there’s a good likelihood of at least some of these guesses happening.

First off, we expect Darlington to become the second race of the season, one week after the season-opening Daytona 500. We’ve heard a number of rumors on this and, frankly, it makes sense.

Darlington’s weather in late February is typically in the 60s, sometimes in the 70s. While we would prefer to see The Lady In Black go back to her long-traditional Labor Day weekend slot, or even the Mother’s Day weekend slot, we think this could be a good place on the schedule for the Track Too Tough to Tame.

If that happens, look for the next several races to be pushed back at least a week, which should be a big boon weather-wise for places like Bristol and Texas, that often are affected by cold temperatures and inclement weather early in the season.

And, if Darlington does take Phoenix’ usual spot as the No. 2 race of the season, we’ve heard a couple of different angles about what happens to the early season race in the Valley of the Sun.

The first rumor we heard was that Phoenix will follow Darlington, essentially being pushed back a week, and then have Las Vegas follow the next week, as has been the case for the last several years.

If that happens, we’d likely see Bristol pushed back to the last week of March, Fontana to the first weekend of April and Texas pushed back to the second weekend of April.

Here’s what we think the early season schedule may look like: Daytona, Darlington, Las Vegas, Bristol, Fontana, Phoenix, Martinsville and Texas, taking us into the middle of April, before the first of three scheduled off-weekends would occur.

There’s also a slight variable that could happen: Daytona, Darlington, Las Vegas, Fontana, Bristol, Martinsville, Phoenix and Texas or Texas and then Phoenix.

To cluster Las Vegas and Fontana, and then Phoenix and Texas (or vice-versa) would make a great deal of sense geographically and expense-wise for teams.

As for the rest of the season, rumors have flown for the last several years that the Brickyard 400 would become the kickoff race to the Chase for the Sprint Cup in September, and that Chicagoland would move from its current spot as Chase opener to a mid-to-late July Saturday night race, essentially flip-flopping dates with Indy.

Could those rumors finally come true in 2015?

We’ll find out when NASCAR officially releases the schedule, expected to occur sometime in late September. Again, everything is speculation at this point, but it should be interesting to see which guesses and rumors actually prove to be true in the long run.

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Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.