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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

Oriol Servia will race Indy 500 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 07: Oriol Servia of Spain , driver of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet, during qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 7, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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BROWNSBURG, Ind. (AP) Oriol Servia will race in Indianapolis 500 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with the possibility of adding more races during the 2017 season.

The 2017 Indy 500 will be Servia’s ninth in the showcase race and fourth with RLL (2009, 2014, 2015). His best finish overall was fourth in 2012 with Dreyer & Reinbold and his best start was third in 2011 with Newman/Haas Racing.

Team co-owner Bobby Rahal praised Servia’s experience as well as his ability to be part of “a one-car team fighting the multi-car teams.”

The Spaniard has made 195 starts in CART, Champ Car and the IndyCar Series since his rookie season in 2000. His Indy car highlights include one win (Montreal 2005) and one pole (Australia 2005) as well as 101 top-10 finishes.

FIA reveals provisional 2017 Formula 1 entry list

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The FIA has released the provisional 2017 entry list, which has the four TBAs (as expected) and also confirms the race numbers for rookies Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll.

The big question mark that of course remains is who will replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas, and if any of the current drivers from other teams move into the TBA spot on the grid.

Vandoorne has selected the No. 2 for his driving career in F1 with McLaren Honda. Like Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, who debuted on F1 entry lists with numbers in the 40s when they were reserver drivers (Rossi was nominated with No. 42 for the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix; Stevens with No. 46 at Caterham for the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before moving to Nos. 53 and 28 with Manor in 2015 for their first seasons), Vandoorne’s one-off number of 47 this year at the Bahrain Grand Prix will not be retained as his permanent number.

Stroll will be No. 18, thus making only a one number differential from Felipe Massa’s No. 19, at Williams Martini Racing.

Interestingly, Scuderia Toro Rosso does not have its engine name confirmed on the entry list. The team ran year-old Ferraris this season but is set to switch to Renault power units next year. It just remains to be seen what they’ll be called.

The full entry list as published by the FIA is below:

Car N°

Driver’s Name

Company Name

Team Name

Name of the Chassis

Name of the Engine

8

Romain GROSJEAN

HAAS FORMULA LLC

HAAS F1 TEAM

HAAS

FERRARI

20

Kevin MAGNUSSEN

HAAS FORMULA LLC

HAAS F1 TEAM

HAAS

FERRARI

 27

Nicolas HULKENBERG

RENAULT SPORT RACING LTD

RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM

RENAULT

RENAULT

30

Jolyon PALMER

RENAULT SPORT RACING LTD

RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM

RENAULT

RENAULT

14

Fernando ALONSO

MCLAREN RACING LIMITED

MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM

MCLAREN

HONDA

2

Stoffel VANDOORNE

MCLAREN RACING LIMITED

MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM

MCLAREN

HONDA

TBC

TBC

MANOR GRAND PRIX RACING LIMITED

MANOR RACING MRT

MRT

MERCEDES

TBC

TBC

MANOR GRAND PRIX RACING LIMITED

MANOR RACING MRT

MRT

MERCEDES

44

Lewis HAMILTON

MERCEDES-BENZ GRAND PRIX LIMITED

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

MERCEDES

MERCEDES

TBC

TBC

MERCEDES-BENZ GRAND PRIX LIMITED

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

MERCEDES

MERCEDES

3

Daniel RICCIARDO

RED BULL RACING LIMITED

RED BULL RACING

RED BULL RACING

TAG HEUER

33

Max VERSTAPPEN

RED BULL RACING LIMITED

RED BULL RACING

RED BULL RACING

TAG HEUER

11

Sergio PEREZ MENDOZA

FORCE INDIA FORMULA 1 TEAM LIMITED

SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM

FORCE INDIA

MERCEDES

 31

Esteban OCON

FORCE INDIA FORMULA 1 TEAM LIMITED

SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM

FORCE INDIA

MERCEDES

9

Marcus ERICSSON

SAUBER MOTORSPORT AG

SAUBER F1 TEAM

SAUBER

FERRARI

TBC

TBC

SAUBER MOTORSPORT AG

SAUBER F1 TEAM

SAUBER

FERRARI

5

Sebastian VETTEL

FERRARI SPA

SCUDERIA FERRARI

FERRARI

FERRARI

7

Kimi RAIKKONEN

FERRARI SPA

SCUDERIA FERRARI

FERRARI

FERRARI

55

Carlos SAINZ Jr

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO SPA

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

TBC

26

Daniil KVYAT

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO SPA

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

TBC

77

Valtteri BOTTAS

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING LIMITED

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

WILLIAMS

MERCEDES

18

Lance STROLL

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING LIMITED

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

WILLIAMS

MERCEDES

 

IndyCar notes: Ganassi driver to be named; RLL adds engineering ace

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 12:  Graham Rahal, driver of the #15 Mi-Jack/RLL Honda, races Max Chilton of Great Britian, driver of the #8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways)
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Pair of quick Verizon IndyCar Series nuggets:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing Teams will announce its fourth driver for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season on Wednesday. The leading odds are on Max Chilton returning for a sophomore season; Chilton posted on Instagram on Tuesday that he was headed to America, and that with Ganassi testing on Friday in Sebring, he’d be a logical fit. But it’s not necessarily a guarantee. Unlike most of the official driver announcements this offseason, this one isn’t yet a slam dunk.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has added another engineering ace to its staff, hiring Tom German, formerly of Andretti Autosport. German has been named as engineering consultant in a multi-year deal. RLL’s engineering strength with Eddie Jones, Mike Talbott and Martin Pare have helped raise the team’s game in the last two years, and German, who was Alexander Rossi’s race engineer last year and also worked with Team Penske, will only add to that roster. “We are very pleased to welcome Tom to our team.” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. “His record speaks volumes and I have no doubt having Tom work in conjunction with Eddie Jones, Martin Pare, Mike Talbott and Alex Farina will generate much success for all of our drivers, now and in the future.”

Ahead of #DWR2, check out Jeff Braun’s house (VIDEO)

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There will be more to come very likely later this week regarding the launch of Dinner with Racers season two, as supported by Continental Tire and Acura.

The popular podcast hosted by sports car veteran driver Ryan Eversley, a factory driver for Acura Motorsports’ NSX GT3 program with RealTime Racing in Pirelli World Challenge, and veteran behind-the-scenes PR/video/marketing maven Sean Heckman had 28 episodes in its first season and should have a similar number for season two.

Two of the more popular episodes from Season 1 involved veteran engineer Jeff Braun, father of Colin and Travis Braun. The elder Braun hosted the guys at his family’s house in Ovalo, Texas, which is about as “middle of nowhere” as it gets. Colin Braun and Jon Bennett will share the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R next season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Jeff Braun’s racing stories were one episode, while a special breakout episode was dedicated to Level 5 Motorsports, and remains one of the most popular downloaded episodes from the season. Both are linked below.

But in the above video, you can get a tour of the Braun household. We leave it to Jeff, Sean and Ryan to do the rest.