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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

Davidson would not turn down Jaguar Formula E drive

Anthony Davidson (GBR) 
Toyota Hybrid Racing
World Endurance Championship. 6 Hours of Bahrain. 18th-21st  November 2015. Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain.
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SPA – Anthony Davidson is open to a move into Formula E with Jaguar upon its entry to the championship later this year, but is yet to receive a serious offer from the British manufacturer.

Jaguar confirmed at the end of last year that it would be entering Formula E from the 2016-2017 season, and is expected to be competitive from the very beginning thanks to its relationship with championship battery supplier Williams.

As a result, the Jaguar seats are among the most coveted for the new season, leading to speculation that 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship winner and Toyota racer Davidson could become the latest driver to combine endurance racing duties with Formula E.

Davidson confirmed to NBC Sports that he’d be interested in doing so, but said he is yet to receive a serious approach.

“If I was approached seriously and wasn’t messed about by having to do a driver shoot-out or anything ridiculous like that, then maybe I would,” Davidson said.

“So far I haven’t had a serious approach. I would be up for it. I’m always up for racing in different cars, especially to drive a single-seater again would be nice, but it’s not high on my priority list at the moment.”

When asked by NBC Sports if a move to Jaguar would be of interest, Davidson confirmed that preliminary talks had been held but nothing had been firmed up.

“I got in touch, we were in touch. We had a chat and that’s about all that came from it,” Davidson said.

“I wouldn’t turn down an offer, let’s put it that way. But I’m not going to break a leg falling over myself to get into one.

“I’m 37 years old now. If I can’t sell myself now then there’s no point.

“If people don’t know what I’m capable of then that’s their loss.”

Verstappen never saw a reason to leave Red Bull setup

MILTON KEYNES, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Red Bull Racing arrives at the Red Bull Racing Factory on May 5, 2016 at the Red Bull Racing Factory, Milton Keynes, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen says that he did not consider leaving the Red Bull setup for a rival before being promoted to the energy drink giant’s senior Formula 1 team.

Red Bull announced on Thursday that it would be swapping Verstappen, previously of Toro Rosso, with Daniil Kvyat in a bid to ease the pressure on the Russian following a disastrous Russian Grand Prix.

Verstappen has made a significant impact on F1 since making his debut with Toro Rosso last year at the age of 17, leading to speculation about a possible move away.

However, the Dutchman said that he never considered leaving Red Bull as he feels happy within its racing programme.

“To be honest, I was always very happy at Red Bull,” Verstappen said.

“I never saw reason to change and of course with this opportunity there is no reason to change so I’m happy to be here.

“It’s a great honor and it’s a top team and that’s where every driver wants to drive I think. I can’t wait to get started.”

Verstappen paid his first visit to Red Bull’s factory in Milton Keynes, England on Thursday to meet his new team, but says he has no expectations for the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix.

“I go there with no expectations to be honest,” Verstappen said.

“I just want to adapt to the car, understand it better and better every session and like I said before, study the data and see what my teammate is doing because the most important thing is to score points.

“Of course I’m driving for a top team now, but in the end you always try to do your best which is what I always try to do. For me, I don’t feel more pressure.”

Porsche sweeps to one-two in Spa WEC qualifying

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber
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SPA – After seeing its streak of pole positions in the FIA World Endurance Championship end at Silverstone, Porsche bounced back in style by sweeping to an impressive one-two finish in qualifying for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

Porsche debuted its low downforce aero kit in Spa on Friday to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, and it proved to be potent from the outset as the no. 1 car shared by Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard set the pace in qualifying.

Under unusually sunny skies at Spa, Hartley set the early pace despite reporting a clutch issue before Bernhard went faster still on his run, resulting in a two-lap average for the car of 1:55.793.

Porsche’s Silverstone-winning no. 2 car followed in P2 with Marc Lieb and Neel Jani sharing driving duties, albeit seven-tenths of a second down.

The battle for P3 between Toyota and Audi appears to be closer than ever at Spa, with just three-tenths of a second separating all four cars. Traffic for the Audis allowed the Toyotas to edge ahead, with the no. 6 car finishing third ahead of Audi’s no. 8. Toyota’s no. 5 followed in P5 ahead of the sister no. 7 Audi.

In LMP2, G-Drive Racing secured class pole thanks to Roman Rusinov and Rene Rast as their two-lap average was half a second clear of the field. The no. 36 Signatech Alpine team followed in P2, while Manor enjoyed a strong showing to get its cars third and fifth on the grid, with the Jota Sport-run no. 38 Gibson car splitting them.

GTE Pro’s qualifying saw the new Ferrari 488 GTEs excel once again as AF Corse stormed to a one-two in class with the no. 71 of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon taking pole. The duo claimed victory at Silverstone in their first race together, and managed to edge out the sister no. 51 Ferrari by three-tenths of a second in the first qualifying session.

Aston Martin Racing finished as the best of the rest with its no. 97 Vantage V8 slotting into P3 ahead of the two Ford GTs in fourth and fifth, both seven-tenths down on the pole time. Porsche struggled once again as the no. 77 911 RSR ailed to P7 in class, 2.3 seconds off the pace.

AMR made up for its GTE Pro qualifying defeat in GTE Am as the no. 98 car took pole by 1.8 seconds in the hands of Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana. AF Corse followed in a distant second place, while the Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR followed in third.

The 6 Hours of Spa kicks off at 2:30pm local time (8:30am ET) on Sunday.

For full results from Spa qualifying, click here.

Webber: Red Bull decision to drop Kvyat ‘harsh’ but not surprising

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16:  Mark Webber of Australia and Porsche Team 919 Hybrid talks to the media during previews the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Silverstone race at the Silverstone Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
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SPA – Ex-Formula 1 driver Mark Webber believes that Red Bull’s decision to drop Daniil Kvyat in favor of Max Verstappen is “harsh” but has been brewing for some time.

On Thursday, Red Bull announced that Verstappen would be moving up from junior team Toro Rosso to take Kvyat’s seat from the Spanish Grand Prix, with the Russian moving in the opposite direction.

Webber enjoyed a turbulent spell with Red Bull in F1 between 2007 and 2013, enjoying a particularly frosty relationship with team advisor Helmut Marko who was instrumental in the decision to promote Verstappen to the senior outfit.

Speaking at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps ahead of this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship race, Porsche driver Webber said he was not surprised by the call.

“It was probably on the cards even before Russia, so in a way you probably feel there was something brewing,” Webber said when asked about the decision by NBC Sports.

“They’ve done it. And let’s see if Max can break Red Bull records again. He’s got no choice [to be ready]. He has to be ready.

“[Kvyat has] had a year and 30% there in terms of time. They don’t believe that he’s done enough. In their eyes he hasn’t done enough and they see that one other guy is doing enough.

“Normally you wait until the end of the year but obviously you know that doesn’t happen sometimes, particularly with Red Bull. They change it whenever they feel – bang.

“Helmut just wants performance. He wants to put the fastest guys in the best scenario as quick as possible.

“People just say that the mistakes that Dany made, it was off the back of that, but obviously it was probably accumulating to a point where they were not overly happy with his performance in the build-up.”

Webber said that he felt it was harsh on Kvyat, but believes that part of the move was a ploy by Red Bull to ensure that Verstappen is tied down to them for longer and prevent rivals from signing him for the 2017 season.

“Yeah, I feel it’s harsh but it’s a big business and things move fast and I think also again getting ahead of the ’17 market a bit, making sure everything’s ready,” Webber said.

“It’ll be a complete non-topic in six months as usual in F1, even three months. Everyone moves on.

“In Formula 1 you have nowhere to hide.”