Longtime Busch Series owner Ed Whitaker passes away

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Former NASCAR Busch Series team owner Ed Whitaker passed away Friday at his home in Bristol, Va., business associate Peter Laura told the Bristol Herald Courier.

Whitaker was 76.

Whitaker was a Busch Series team owner for 20 years, from 1982 to 2002. His drivers made 246 starts, with 28 wins, 80 top-5 and 107 top-10 finishes, along with 17 poles.

Three of those wins were on his home track, Bristol Motor Speedway, which is hosting NASCAR’s Trucks, NNS and Cup series this weekend.

During his ownership tenure, Whitaker had a veritable Who’s Who collection of NASCAR drivers race for him, including providing Dale Earnhardt Jr. his first ride in the Busch Series at BMS in 1997.

Other NASCAR greats that drove for Whitaker – most while they were just beginning their careers in NASCAR’s developmental series – included 1992 Sprint Cup champion, the late Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, the late Tim Richmond, the late Davy Allison, Harry Gant and Morgan Shepherd. Gant earned 20 of Whitaker’s 28 wins as a team owner.

“He loved every driver that every got in one of his cars. They were family to him,” Whitaker’s widow, Maxine, told the Herald Courier.

Whitaker also fielded a car for six Sprint Cup (then known as Winston Cup) Series races in the late 1970s before switching to the Busch Series, the predecessor to the Nationwide Series.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Hamilton: McLaren could help create four-team F1 title fight in 2018

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team cannot afford to let up in its push to improve ahead of a fiercer fight at the front of the field in 2018 – potentially including former team McLaren.

Hamilton clinched his fourth F1 drivers’ title in Mexico at the end of October as Mercedes continued its perfect record of championships since the introduction of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014.

The team faced a stiffer challenge in 2017 thanks to a resurgent Ferrari, while Red Bull also posed a threat towards the end of the season, setting the stage for another close fight next year.

Hamilton is expecting both Ferrari and Red Bull to remain a force at the front of the pack, but also feels McLaren could join the fight after ditching Honda in favor of a Renault engine supply for 2018.

“When I’m training and preparing for a new season, I firmly believe that we can be contenders for the next championship. It may turn out to be not possible, but you have to have that mindset,” Hamilton said.

“If you go in with expectations of finishing fifth, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to gear yourself up to win.

“Next year, McLaren will have Renault engines, then we may see four teams fighting for the championship. I think Red Bull will be quicker and Ferrari for sure will be fast again.

“We can’t stand still – we have to keep moving forwards.”

Hamilton started his F1 career with McLaren back in 2007, winning his maiden world title in 2008 before leaving the team for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.