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Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta

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Boasting a rough surface and multiple grooves, the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway puts on some of the better racing among other tracks of its kind in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

This weekend, the Cup circus visits Atlanta for another critical moment in the Race to the Chase.

Barring something cataclysmic, Matt Kenseth looks like he’s set to go into the post-season, wins or no wins.

But those final three spots on the Chase Grid – currently occupied by Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, and Greg Biffle – aren’t quite spoken for with two regular season races to go.

With time running short for those on the Chase bubble, Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 should have its fair share of drama. Courtesy of NASCAR’s statistics and public relations teams, here’s everything you need to know for Round 25 of the 2014 Cup championship…

ATLANTA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 STANLEY Ford)
· One top 10
· Average finish of 20.3
· Average Running Position of 20.5, 23rd-best
· Driver Rating of 68.1, 23rd-best
· 8 Fastest Laps Run, 34th-most
· 739 Green Flag Passes, 19th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.119 mph, 23rd-fastest
· 876 Laps in the Top 15 (33.4%), 22nd-most
· 208 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), 21st-most

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ortho Fire Ant Killer Ford)
· Three top fives, nine top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 15.9
· Average Running Position of 13.7, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 91.3, 11th-best
· 237 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 993 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.998 mph, 13th-fastest
· 3,301 Laps in the Top 15 (67.3%), sixth-most
· 518 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Clint Bowyer (No. 15 SpeedDigital.com Toyota)
· Five top 10s
· Average finish of 19.8
· Average Running Position of 15.7, 16th-best
· Driver Rating of 84.8, 15th-best
· 76 Fastest Laps Run, 15th-most
· 865 Green Flag Passes, 13th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.054 mph, 11th-fastest
· 2,444 Laps in the Top 15 (57.5%), 15th-most
· 358 Quality Passes, 17th-most

Austin Dillon (No. 3 Dow Chevrolet)
· Average finish of 19.0
· Average Running Position of 20.6, 24th-best
· Driver Rating of 67.3, 24th-best
· 1 Fastest Laps Run, 44th-most
· 86 Green Flag Passes, 45th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 169.903 mph, 26th-fastest
· 1 Laps in the Top 15 (.3%), 47th-most
· 1 Quality Passes, 43rd-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)
· Eight top fives, 14 top 10s
· Average finish of 12.7
· Average Running Position of 12.8, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 96.5, fifth-best
· 190 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 1,018 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.262 mph, sixth-fastest
· 3,415 Laps in the Top 15 (69.7%), fifth-most
· 528 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet)
· Four top 10s
· Average finish of 20.0
· Average Running Position of 19.2, 22nd-best
· Driver Rating of 73.7, 22nd-best
· Series-high 1,145 Green Flag Passes
· 1,965 Laps in the Top 15 (40.1%), 18th-most
· 407 Quality Passes, 15th-most

Paul Menard (No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevrolet)
· One top five, three top 10s
· Average finish of 20.7
· Average Running Position of 23.3, 27th-best
· Driver Rating of 63.6, 26th-best
· 899 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· 827 Laps in the Top 15 (21.1%), 24th-most
· 208 Quality Passes, 21st-most

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)
· Two top fives, seven top 10s; seven poles
· Average finish of 17.7
· Average Running Position of 18.6, 20th-best
· Driver Rating of 74.1, 21st-best
· 1,077 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· 1,742 Laps in the Top 15 (35.5%), 19th-most
· 346 Quality Passes, 19th-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
· Three wins, 10 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.7
· Average Running Position of 11.4, third-best
· Driver Rating of 100.2, third-best
· 800 Green Flag Passes, 16th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.240 mph, seventh-fastest
· 3,231 Laps in the Top 15 (70.6%), seventh-most
· 490 Quality Passes, 10th-most

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
· Two top fives, four top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 20.3
· Average Running Position of 11.7, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.4, 10th-best
· 890 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.359 mph, fourth-fastest
· 3,517 Laps in the Top 15 (76.8%), fourth-most
· 559 Quality Passes, second-most

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Atlanta Motor Speedway Data
Season Race #: 25 of 36 (08-31-14)
Track Size: 1.54-miles
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 24 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 24 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 5 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 5 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 2,332 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,800 feet
Race Length: 325 laps / 500.5 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Atlanta
Jeff Gordon………………………… 105.6
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 104.8
Tony Stewart……………………….. 100.2
Carl Edwards………………………. 100.0
Matt Kenseth………………………… 96.5
Denny Hamlin……………………….. 96.2
Kurt Busch……………………………. 94.5
Kyle Busch…………………………… 94.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 93.3
Martin Truex Jr………………………. 91.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (15 total) among active drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 pole winner: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 189.688 mph, 29.227 secs., 08-30-13
2013 race winner: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 135.128 mph, (03:42:14), 08-30-13
Track qualifying record: Geoffrey Bodine, Ford, 197.478 mph, 28.074 secs., 11-15-97
Track race record: Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 159.904 mph, (03:07:48), 11-16-97

Atlanta Motor Speedway History
· Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta was on July 31, 1960, won by Fireball Roberts from the pole.
· The track was re-measured to 1.522 miles in the spring of 1970.
· It was renamed Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990.
· The track layout was reversed and the track was re-configured to 1.54 miles between the two races in 1997.

Atlanta Motor Speedway Notebook
· There have been 106 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the first race there in 1960. Until 2010 there have been two races per year except 1961, which had three. This year marks the third season with only one event.
· 544 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway; 364 in more than one.
· Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Atlanta with 65. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 40 starts, followed by Joe Nemechek with 37.
· Fireball Roberts won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Atlanta in 1960 with a speed of 133.870 mph.
· 47 drivers have Coors Light poles at Atlanta, led by Buddy Baker and Ryan Newman with seven each.
· Winning consecutive Coors Light poles has happened eight times at Atlanta, among six drivers.
· Ryan Newman holds the record for most consecutive poles at Atlanta with six; spring of 2003 through 2005.
· Youngest Atlanta pole winner: Terry Labonte (03/15/1981 – 24 years, 3 months, 27 days).
· Oldest Atlanta pole winner: Harry Gant (11/14/1993 – 53 years, 10 months, 4 days).
· 43 different NSCS drivers have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt with nine wins. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with five.
· 11 drivers have posted consecutive wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Marvin Panch (1965 sweep), Bobby Allison (1972 sweep), David Pearson (1973 sweep), Richard Petty (1974 fall, 1975 spring), Cale Yarborough (1980 fall, 1981 spring), Bill Elliott (1985 sweep; 1992 sweep), Dale Earnhardt (1989 fall, 1990 spring; 1995 fall, 1996 spring), Bobby Labonte (1997 fall, 1998 spring), Jeff Gordon (1998 fall, 1999 spring), Carl Edwards (2005 sweep), Jimmie Johnson (2007 sweep)
· Youngest Atlanta winner: Kyle Busch (03/09/2008 – 22 years, 10 months, 7 days).
· Oldest Atlanta winner: Morgan Shepherd (03/20/1993 – 51 years, 5 months, 8 days).
· The Wood Brothers have the most wins at Atlanta in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12: Cale Yarborough (three), David Pearson (three), Marvin Panch (two), Neil Bonnett (two) A.J. Foyt (one) and Morgan Shepherd (one). Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are tied for the second most wins at Atlanta with 11 each.
· Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Atlanta; led by Chevrolet with 37 victories; followed by Ford with 29. Toyota has three wins at Atlanta.
· 14 of the 106 (13.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Kasey Kahne in 2006.
· The fifth starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (15) than any other starting position at Atlanta Motor Speedway; the most recent was Jeff Gordon in 2011.
· 26 of the 106 (24.5%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from the front row: 14 from the pole and 12 from second-place.
· 60 of the 106 (56.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta have been won from a top-five starting position.
· 84 of the 106 (79.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Seven of the 106 (6.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Atlanta is 39th, by Bobby Labonte in the fall of 2001.
· No driver has swept the weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway across all three NASCAR national series. Two drivers have won in multiple NASCAR national series in the same weekend at Atlanta: Carl Edwards (2005, NSCS/NNS); (fall 2008, NSCS/NNS) and Kyle Busch (spring 2008, NSCS/NCWTS)
· Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson lead the series in runner-up finishes at Atlanta with seven each; Jeff Gordon leads all active driverswith five.
· Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Atlanta with 26; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 16.
· Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Atlanta with 33; Jeff Gordon leads all active driverswith 25.
· Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Atlanta with a 7.571.
· Tony Stewart leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at 11.654.
· Nine of the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Atlanta Motor Speedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in his first appearance (2001). Carl Edwards won in his second appearance (2005).
· Denny Hamlin competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway 12 times before winning in the spring of 2012; the longest span of any the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
· Among the 10 active NSCS Atlanta winners Denny Hamlin (12) is the only driver to have made 10 or more attempts before his first win.
· Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Atlanta without visiting Victory Lane at 37; followed by Matt Kenseth with 25.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway was the March 11, 2001 race won by Kevin Harvick over Jeff Gordon with a MOV of 0.006 second.
· There have been three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): fall of 2007 (325/329); spring of 2010 (325/341) and fall of 2012 (325/327).
· Four of the 88 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Michigan International Speedway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was the event on 6/18/2006.
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway five times; most recently the fall of 2010.
· One active driver has posted his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Terry Labonte (3/15/1981).
· Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career start at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Jeff Gordon (11/15/1992) and Martin Truex Jr. (10/31/2004).
· Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career win at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Kevin Harvick (3/11/2001) and Carl Edwards (3/20/2005).
· Cale Yarborough leads all drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Atlanta with 3,283 laps led in 47 starts. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in laps led at Atlanta with 1,297.
· Three female drivers have competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Shawna Robinson and Danica Patrick.
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NASCAR in Georgia
· There have been 165 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among 12 different tracks in Georgia.
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· 178 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Georgia; 15 have won at least once in one of NASCAR’s national series.
· 11 of the 178 have posted at least one victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
· Bill Elliott (five wins) is the only Georgia native to have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
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2016 MotoGP calendar finalized by FIM, Dorna

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 25:  The MotoGP riders start from the grid during the MotoGP race during the MotoGP Of Malaysia at Sepang Circuit on October 25, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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The calendar for the 2016 MotoGP season has been finalized by the FIM and Dorna ahead of the first race of the year in Qatar next month.

The last provisional schedule issued in November featured 18 races with just one chop-and-change as the Indianapolis Grand Prix was dropped to make way for an event in Austria.

This calendar has been given the green light by governing body FIM and commercial rights holder Dorna, finalizing the dates for the coming season.

Officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to a mutual agreement with Dorna to terminate its contract for the MotoGP race early following the last race in August.

As a result, the only American round on the MotoGP calendar is the race at the Circuit of The Americas in April.

2016 MotoGP season calendar

1. Qatar – March 20
2. Argentina – April 3
3. USA – April 10
4. Spain – April 24
5. France – May 8
6. Italy – May 22
7. Catalunya – June 5
8. Dutch TT – June 26
9. Germany – July 17
10. Austria – August 14
11. Czech Republic – August 21
12. Great Britain – September 4
13. San Marino – September 11
14. Aragon – September 25
15. Japan – October 16
16. Australia – October 23
17. Malaysia – October 30
18. Valencia – November 13

NHRA: After rough 2015, Courtney Force hopes the force is back with her in 2016

Courtney Force (Getty Images)
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It would be great to borrow a line from Star Wars and to tell NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, “May the Force be with you.”

Unfortunately for the youngest daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, the force wasn’t even close to being with her in 2015.

In 2014, Courtney was one of the most successful drivers in Funny Car. She won a career-high four wins (out of a career total of seven wins), became the winningest female in Funny Car history, and earned the 100th win by a female driver in NHRA history.

It was a dream season as Force finished a career-best fourth in the standings.

But as good as everything went in 2014, it was the complete opposite in 2015. She failed to win a race, never could mount any type of consistency, and failed to reach the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career.

Force ultimately finished a career-worst 11th in the final Funny Car standings.

Even worse, in 24 races, she was eliminated in the first round an unheard of 15 times.

Courtney Force in action (Richard Shute/Auto Imagery)
Courtney Force in action (Richard Shute/Auto Imagery)

But heading into this weekend’s season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., there’s only one direction for Force to go, and that’s up.

“Last year was definitely tough,” Force told NBCSports.com. “There’s really nothing I can point fingers at, but I definitely think it’s going to make us feel a little bit better going into this year. We’re staying positive.”

Force started off positive in Friday’s first day of qualifying, as teammate Robert Hight had the quickest run at 3.942 seconds (at 322.19 mph), while Courtney Force was second-quickest at 3.945 seconds.

 

Much like her famous father, there was a significant amount of change that occurred for the overall John Force Racing operation in 2015.

There was a manufacturer change (to Chevrolet after nearly 20 years with Ford), a primary sponsor change (to Peak AntiFreeze and Lubricants after more than 30 years with Castrol) and just a whole different mojo than she and everyone in John Force Racing had never experienced.

Not so much in 2016, Courtney Force said.

“I feel like the pressure’s off a little bit for all our teams right now,” said Force, a big fan-favorite in the NHRA world. “With Chevy coming on board, Monster, Peak Antifreeze and Lucas (Oil) as sponsors, it was huge for us.

“To have them all really behind us definitely kind of puts us back to having comfort and knowing that we have support out here.”

Now in her fifth full season in the NHRA Funny Car ranks, as well as with primary sponsor Traxxas, Force is ready to forget about 2015 and look forward to a big leap forward in 2016.

“We definitely had a little bit of a rough year last year, but there were a few things we were trying out with the car and I think it just took us a little longer to figure it all out,” she said.

Perhaps the most significant change for Force this season is having two new co-crew chiefs: Dan Hood (husband of sister and former racer Ashley Force Hood) and Ronnie Thompson, who came over from sister Brittany Force’s Top Fuel team.

“I think the two of them are going to work well together and I’m excited,” Courtney Force told MotorSportsTalk. “We brought in a couple of other new people and switched a few positions.

“We’re definitely in our routine again, and the test at Phoenix (last weekend) definitely helped. We’re really just keeping a positive attitude going into this year.”

Father John Force expects big things this season from both Courtney and Brittany.

“I want this to be a big year for my girls,” Force told MST. “I want both Courtney and Brittany to have a big year.”

While that may put extra pressure on someone, knowing it’s your father who has high expectations, Courtney looks at it a bit differently.

“I think there’s always a little bit of pressure because he is my dad, but not really so much from him, maybe just more on myself,” she said. “I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself since I started racing. I push myself hard out here because I really love being in these cars and this opportunity, I’m just trying to take full advantage of it and really show these sponsors what we’re capable of.

“After a rough year like we had last year, I’m ready to get these things turned around and get back to how we used to be. We’ve won a lot of races, we know how to win and having the support of my dad, no, he doesn’t put that pressure on me, which is nice. I’m very lucky that I get to stay on as a driver for his team. I put pressure on myself more than anything.”

If there was one key to last year’s dismal season, it was missing the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, a six-race playoff that begins after the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Heading to Indy, Courtney was still within striking distance of making the Chase, but things didn’t work out the way she hoped they would.

“It was hard, for sure, every week, we went out there,” she said. “At the start of the season, we were like, ‘No, we didn’t have it this weekend, but we’ve always got next weekend.’ The time window to get in there started to get smaller and further away.

“(Not making the Countdown) was definitely a shock. We had Indy to try to make some magic happen and it was out of our hands. We couldn’t do much about it. We went out and that was just the way it was going to be.

“We just kind of had to take it, learn from it and move on. It was definitely a bummer. Since my rookie year, I’ve been in the top 10 every year. But I think it will only make us stronger for this year, which is probably the most important thing that came out of it.”

But now Indy and the entire 2015 season is and will remain in Force’s rearview mirror. It’s full speed ahead in 2016, starting with this weekend’s 56th annual edition of the Winternationals.

“I can’t wait to get back in the swing of things at the start of the season, at my home track in Pomona,” Force said. “I think 2016 will be a great year for our Traxxas Chevy Camaro team and we are ready to make it our year.”

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Nobuharu Matsushita to remain in GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _MG_4660
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Nobuharu Matsushita will remain in the GP2 Series for the 2016 season after agreeing a new deal with defending champions ART Grand Prix.

Matsushita made his GP2 debut in 2015 with ART, racing alongside Stoffel Vandoorne who ultimately won the drivers’ title in record-breaking fashion.

Matsushita finished ninth in the final drivers’ standings with one race win to his name, and is now gunning to battle for the championship in his second year with ART.

“I would like to thank Honda and ART Grand Prix for giving me this opportunity to continue racing in GP2 Series,” Matsushita said.

“ART Grand Prix won the championships last year, and I am so honored to be part of such an amazing team again. As a member of HFDP, Honda Formula Dream Project, aiming to be the top-world-class driver, I will give my best to win the drivers and the team championship in my second GP2 season.”

Matsushita will race alongside Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin at ART in 2016, with the Russian driver moving from Rapax for his sophomore year in the series.

“I am truly delighted to start our third year of partnership together with Honda with this reinforcement of our collaboration,” ART team boss Sebastien Philippe said.

“Nobuharu will partner Sergey Sirotkin in the GP2 Series. He had an incredible year in 2015 when he did not know Europe or the championship, the team and the car, but nevertheless he secured one win, several podiums and made massive improvements all year long.

“As a driver and on a personal level, we have no doubt at all that he has all the assets needed to fight for the title in 2016.”

NHRA: Lots of change heading into this weekend’s season-opening Winternationals

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Last season, the National Hot Rod Association adopted a “#BaptismByNitro” theme to attract new fans and attention to the sport.

But as it kicks off the new season with this weekend’s Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California,  if the NHRA were to come up with a new theme song for 2016, it’d likely be the old Scorpions ballad “Winds Of Change.”

Change – and positive change at that – seems to be all around in the wind for the NHRA, including:

* Peter Clifford begins his first full season as NHRA president (he replaced the retired Tom Compton last June). Clifford has made a number of dynamic hires in an effort to improve the sanctioning body’s reach and attractiveness to fans.

* The NHRA has embarked upon one of its most ambitious marketing and communications initiatives ever to increase fan attention and attendance at events, including the hiring of veteran motorsports reporter Terry Blount late last season as new vice president of communications.

* Another significant hire is Emmy award-winning Ken Adelson as vice president of broadcasting and digital content to supercharge the NHRA’s TV and digital sides.

* Fox Sports and Fox Sports 1 has become the official TV partner of the sport, with plans to televise live the majority of the 24 races this season, including expected three-hour presentations of final eliminations on Sundays. In addition, former Funny Car champ Tony Pedregon embarks upon a new career as a NHRA TV analyst.

* New rules in Pro Stock, including the long-awaited implementation of electronic fuel injection and the removal of long-standing monster hood scoops, should inject life into a class that had grown somewhat stagnant to fans in recent years.

* After becoming the first back-to-back female champion in any NHRA pro categories, Pro Stock queen Erica Enders goes for three straight titles this season.

* Fan favorite and five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlan returns to the sport on a full-time basis after racing part-time last season.

* After enduring what he called his “worst season in 25 years” in 2015, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force is bound and determined to earn title No. 17 in 2016. The ageless Force (66 years old) told MotorSportsTalk that he feels as invigorated as he’s ever been and looks forward to significantly improve from last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish.

* In addition, Force will have long-time crew chief Austin Coil “helping out” in an unofficial capacity for Force’s Funny Car, as well as those of son-in-law and John Force Racing team president Robert Hight and Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney.

* John Force Racing also scored another coup in the offseason by hiring 11-time Top Fuel champion team owner/crew chief Alan Johnson as a consultant to oversee the Top Fuel efforts of driver Brittany Force. Judging by some of the runs Force had during last weekend’s preseason testing for nitro cars at Phoenix, not only does she seem likely to earn her first career win, she also is an early possible contender for the championship.

* Defending pro class champions are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

And those changes are just for starters. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that the NHRA is poised for increased growth and notoriety in 2016.

While the sanctioning body still has not capitulated to what many fans want – the return of full quarter-mile drag strip racing for Top Fuel and Funny Car competition (the standard remains 1,000 feet for 2016) – the changes that have already occurred for this season definitely hold a lot of promise.

Yes, the winds of change are swirling within the NHRA.

And if Clifford and the rest of the sanctioning body officials have their way and many of the changes prove successful, by season’s end the NHRA may be signing another Scorpions song that deals with wind: “Rock Me Like a Hurricane.”

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