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Like a good stew, 2015 Sprint Cup schedule and new Chase format need time to simmer for best taste

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The long-awaited release of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule was much less of the surprise many expected.

Instead of wholesale changes, we got only a few tweaks – a bit of shuffling around, as well as other traditional race dates being pushed back a week or two.

But for the most part, instead of a completely radical change of tracks and locales for both the overall season and – in particular, the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup – we got more of the same.

And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

NASCAR did what it felt it had to do, and by early measure, appears to have hit at least a triple, if not a full-fledged home run.

Sure, change is oftentimes a good thing. To shake things up and to throw out some old and bring in some new is one of the best ways to not only attract new fans, but also bring back old and former fans.

But at the same time, making change just for change sake – especially at such a crucial time in where the sport is today – would not be prudent.

Let me explain.

It’s no secret that NASCAR has experienced significant drops in at-track attendance and TV ratings for the better part of the last six-plus years.

There’s no question times have been tough for the sport and many, if not most, of its teams. Many have had to weather the most challenging economic climate they ever have. Some have even had to fold or merge with other operations because they simply could not continue racing.

That’s understandable.

But when NASCAR makes changes, it does so after extensive research and thought. Change is not made with a knee-jerk reaction or willy-nilly.

Think of the time and effort that has gone into things such as the initial Car of Tomorrow, followed by the Generation 6 car that is in use today.

NASCAR didn’t make those changes overnight. Rather, a combination of research, development, conferring with manufacturers, team owners, crew chiefs, drivers and even sponsors all take place before major changes occur.

In the case of both the COT and Gen 6, those developments were both two-plus years in the making before they actually made their debut in the sport.

Which leads us to this year’s upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup and Tuesday’s release of the 2015 schedule.

NASCAR as a sanctioning body, starting from the top with chairman/CEO Brian France, president Mike Helton and all other major officials, spent close to a year trying to come up with a way to liven up the Chase.

While NASCAR’s marquee event had become more popular as time proceeded over the first 10 years of its existence, to many there was still an intangible missing that prevented it from realizing all the potential that France, Helton and the rest of NASCAR officials had envisioned and hoped for.

As a result, yet another change in the Chase for 2014, the most significant and largest-scale change in the playoffs’ 10-year existence. Instead of 12 drivers, we will have 16. Instead of a playoff system based upon points, we’ll have three elimination rounds that will result in a one-race, four-driver, winner-take-all shootout in the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway in mid-November.

With so much on the line that the new format will be a success and will hopefully be that missing intangible that will attract more fans both in-person and in front of a TV set, it would be ludicrous for NASCAR to radically alter the schedule for 2015 without seeing how the full 2014 schedule – particularly the newly revised Chase – plays out.

Sure, many of us heard all kinds of schedule rumors over the last few months. Some were mild, like what came to be with Darlington moving back to its former Labor Day date. Or pushing the spring race at Bristol back two weeks due to often unpredictable weather in March.

Those made sense to do.

Other rumors we heard were radical, such as the Brickyard 400 starting the Chase next season, that a road course (at a track perhaps other than Sonoma or Watkins Glen) would be inserted into the playoffs, and that some tracks that currently have Chase races would not have them when the 2015 schedule came out.

Of course, that did not happen.

That doesn’t mean more changes will eventually come to the Chase makeup, but at this time, NASCAR has to look at the new format as a chef would look at a stew: you have to let it simmer for a while before you start adding ingredients or taking other ingredients out.

I still believe we’ll see the Chase schedule changed in the future, with different venues than what we currently have, perhaps after a two- or three-year period to allow for evaluation on what changes, if necessary, will be prudent.

But until then, NASCAR owes it to itself and its fans, and its fans owe it to the sport to see how the new format and the new schedule mesh.

And that will only come with time.

For now, I’ll give NASCAR the benefit of the doubt. To once again use the analogy of the chef and stew, NASCAR shook things up not on a massive scale, but just enough to give the overall season and the Chase a bit more flavor.

How it tastes – and whether it needs even more flavor – will be up to the fans.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Saturday at Mid-Ohio: Roll out the MRTI, PWC races

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Jamin dominated Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Because it’s 7:30 p.m. ET and change, here’s some quick recaps of the rest of the day’s activity from the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course..

FULL RECAPS

MAZDA ROAD TO INDY 

  • Santiago Urrutia cleaned up and dominated the first of two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races. My colleague Luke Smith wrote that report and it’s linked above.
  • There were a double dip of Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races, and neither winner came from Team Pelfrey. Instead, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Nico Jamin swept both races. The first was less than scintillating with Jamin beating points leader Aaron Telitz (Pelfrey) and Will Owen (Juncos Racing). But the second was fascinating with rain interspersed and a heck of a lot of passes – Owen and Telitz proving aggressive when they needed to be, primarily. But up front Jamin held on for the second win of the day. Telitz holds a 14-point lead over O’Ward (345-331) heading to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Sept. 9-11, for the tripleheader season finale weekend.
  • The second of three Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda races also took place today and for the second time in as many days, it was Australian Anthony Martin who won it for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, thus making it Cape’s first Pro Mazda/USF2000 double win day of the season. Martin took the win over teammate Parker Thompson and ArmsUp Motorsports’ Victor Franzoni, and extended his points lead in the process.

PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE

  • The pair of K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3s took a 1-2 finish in World Challenge GT with Alvaro Parente winning his fifth race of the year (Long Beach, Barber race one, both Lime Rock Park races). Parente got around teammate and polesitter Austin Cindric, the 17-year-old, early and won by 1.009 seconds. Parente drives the yellow and black No. 9 car with Cindric in the blue and black No. 6 car. Bryan Heitkotter (No. 05 Always Evolving Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3) finished third for his first podium since Circuit of The Americas back in March; he also finished third overall as a GTA class competitor at Mid-Ohio, race two, last year. Jon Fogarty (GAINSCO McLaren) and Ryan Eversley (RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT) had a great, clean scrap for fourth, Fogarty taking it. There was contact affecting a number of others; Patrick Long (No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R) received a drive-through penalty for hitting the third K-PAX McLaren of Colin Thompson. Meanwhile others who failed to finish included James Davison (Nissan), Spencer Pumpelly (RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT), Kyle Marcelli (CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra) and Adderly Fong (Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3). Fong failed to start, Davison got hit on the opening lap, Pumpelly also got hit and it broke the right rear, and Marcelli later had contact. Michael Schein (GTA) and Alec Udell (GT Cup) won their classes.
  • Lawson Aschenbach won again at Mid-Ohio in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS, beating Nate Stacy (Ford Mustang Boss 302) and Brett Sandberg (KTM X-BOW GT4).

On tap for Sunday: USF2000 race three, Indy Lights race two and PWC GT/GTA/GT Cup race two.

Urrutia takes dominant victory in Mid-Ohio Indy Lights opener

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© Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Santiago Urrutia picked up his third victory of the 2016 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season with a dominant display on Saturday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Urrutia entered the Mid-Ohio weekend trailing championship leader Ed Jones by 24 points, but managed to cut the gap back down to single figures with a peerless display.

Urrutia started the race second alongside pole-sitter Felix Serralles, but a cleaner getaway from the rolling start allowed the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver to pull into the lead at the first corner.

It proved to be a lead that Urrutia would never relinquish as he worked the gap open across the rest of the race, going unchallenged en route to his third win of the season. His final advantage was 6.4 seconds.

“I’m very happy. The guys did a great job on the car,” Urrutia told IndyCar Radio after the race.

“The car was awesome, put the car on pole position for both races. It’s pretty good for the championship for me, so I’m pretty happy.”

Serralles duked for position with Andre Negrao and Dean Stoneman on the first lap, slipping behind both into fourth through Thunder Valley. Zach Veach also managed to dip past the Puerto Rican for P4 on the first lap, leaving Serralles with a mountain to climb.

Veach soaked up the pressure from Serralles before ultimately dropping back into fifth place on lap nine, his rival easing clear as he chased down Stoneman ahead.

For the final 15 laps of the race, the gap between Stoneman and Serralles rarely exceeded a second. However, the British Andretti Autosport driver managed to keep cool and retain the final podium position behind Negrao, who endured a lonely race to second to complete a one-two finish for SPM.

Veach finished fifth ahead of Jones, whose championship lead was reduced to just seven points as Urrutia also recorded the fastest lap and led the most laps, chalking up two bonus points in the process.

Zachary Claman de Melo managed to emerge victorious from a thrilling battle with Shelby Blackstock for P7, both surviving contact in the closing stages. Kyle Kaiser followed in P9 ahead of Garett Grist and Dalton Kellett, with Neil Alberico propping up the running order in P13.

Dixon to start 11th at Mid-Ohio after miscommunication (VIDEO)

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – After dominating most of this weekend at the Honda Indy 200, Scott Dixon will only start Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, CNBC) from 11th place on the grid following an odd and abnormal strategic mistake, and a miscommunication.

The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, who led both first and third practice, was told his time from earlier in Q2 would be enough to transfer into the Firestone Fast Six.

But that’s not quite what happened. Dixon’s generally luckless season rolled on and he will start 11th; the only upside, perhaps, is he started double that – 22nd and last – and won this race two years ago courtesy of a strategic masterstroke from Ganassi managing director Mike Hull.

“We made it on track on the new set of tires, but we waved it off,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “The team felt we’d be safe. I think it’d get faster, the rain was lightening, and they didn’t hear me. Times picked up drastically.

“The Target car has been fast all weekend. Bit of a miscommunication there. Kind of like how our season has been going.

“We’ve been hoping for (luck) for three or four races. It is what it is. We’ve put ourselves in quite a big hole, there.”

Dixon enters the weekend 83 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud, who scored the pole position on Saturday to add insult to injury for Dixon and gain another point.

Red Bull GRC: Speed dominates in Washington, D.C.

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Photo: Red Bull Content Pool
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Scott Speed has his second consecutive win in Red Bull Global Rallycross, Saturday at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., after also winning the most recent race at MCAS New River.

The defending series champion has also closed on his Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammate, Tanner Foust, who finished third in Saturday’s race.

Speed, in the No. 41 entry, got the strong launch off the line and proceeded to lead away from Bryan Herta Rallysport driver Patrik Sandell, who debuted a new Cuttwood livery on his No. 18 Ford Fiesta ST this weekend.

Meanwhile Chip Ganassi Rallycross driver Brian Deegan was third in his No. 38 NOS Energy Drink Ford Fiesta ST, ahead of Speed’s teammate Foust in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle.

Foust would later get around Deegan for third but neither of them had anything for the top two drivers.

While Speed dominated, Sandell’s Washington D.C. hot streak continued and he had his third podium of the season (second at Phoenix Round 1, won Dallas Round 3).

Meanwhile a flat right rear demoted Honda Red Bull Olbsergs MSE driver Sebastian Eriksson down to P10.

The finishing order? Speed, Sandell, Foust, Deegan and the second OMSE driver, Joni Wiman.

Steve Arpin (Ganassi) was sixth – a tied season worst result – ahead of SH Rallycross/DRR returning driver Nelson Piquet Jr.

In GRC Lites, Cabot Bigham withstood a heavy challenge from defending series champion Oliver Eriksson to take his first career Lites victory. Bigham, who raced in front of numerous friends and family members that live in the DC area, also extended his championship lead in the process with only four races remaining.

Full Supercar results from Red Bull Global Rallycross Washington DC are as follows:

  1. Scott Speed, #41 Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle
  2. Patrik Sandell, #18 Bryan Herta Rallysport Ford Fiesta ST
  3. Tanner Foust, #34 Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle
  4. Brian Deegan, #38 Loenbro Chip Ganassi Racing Ford Fiesta ST
  5. Joni Wiman, #31 Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Civic Coupe
  6. Steve Arpin, #00 Loenbro Chip Ganassi Racing Ford Fiesta ST
  7. Nelson Piquet Jr., #07 SH Rallycross/DRR Ford Fiesta ST
  8. Austin Dyne, #14 AD Racing Ford Fiesta ST
  9. Bucky Lasek, #81 Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STI
  10. Sebastian Eriksson, #93 Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Civic Coupe
  11. Sverre Isachsen, #11 Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STI

The Red Bull Global Rallycross season will resume on August 27-28 at Bader Field in Atlantic City with Round 9 of the 2016 championship. Tickets remain on sale at redbullglobalrallycross.com/tickets. The race will be shown on Sunday, August 28 at 3PM ET on NBC and 3:30PM ET on Red Bull TV.