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


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

Alonso: Tough year with McLaren “necessary”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Fernando Alonso believes that his tough 2015 Formula 1 campaign with McLaren was a “necessary” stage within his racing career.

Alonso left Ferrari at the end of 2014 after five seasons with the Italian marque to rejoin McLaren ahead of its new partnership with Japanese manufacturer Honda.

McLaren-Honda enjoyed immense success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but 2015 has proven to be a stark juxtaposition thanks to numerous problems with the power unit.

The issues have limited Alonso to just two top-ten finishes in 2015, yielding 11 points to leave him a lowly 17th in the drivers’ championships.

However, the Spaniard was upbeat when reflecting on the season in spite of McLaren’s troubles, believing it to be an important stepping stone.

“Well, tough year, obviously difficult and struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us,” Alonso conceded.

“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, some new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.

“After one difficult season, as I said, I learn so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture into the team.

“I still remain very positive. I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one that, as I said, has been difficult in terms of results.”

Looking ahead to 2016, Alonso expects McLaren to make progress and move up the grid, but is unsure whether it will make enough of a leap forward to challenge for race wins once again.

“At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year,” Alonso said.

“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong, we think, and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.

“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories of just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula One.

“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”

Dennis would not tolerate Hamilton’s behavior at McLaren

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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McLaren CEO Ron Dennis would not tolerate Lewis Hamilton’s behavior if he was still racing for the team, saying that he looks at his former driver with “mixed emotions”.

Hamilton was first signed by McLaren at the age of 13, and would go on to make his Formula 1 debut with the team in 2007 before winning his first world championship the following year.

The Briton walked away from McLaren at the end of 2012 to join Mercedes in a move that former team principal Martin Whitmarsh called “a mistake” at the time.

However, Hamilton has since gone on to enjoy unprecedented success with Mercedes, winning the world championship in 2014 and 2015 to firmly establish himself as one of F1’s all-time greats.

Hamilton has also enjoyed a celebrity status he lacked before, gracing red carpets all over the world and enjoying a party lifestyle that recently left him feeling a bit “run down”.

Speaking to British newspaper The Guardian, Dennis said that Hamilton’s currently lifestyle and behavior would not be tolerated if he were still with McLaren.

“If he was at McLaren he wouldn’t be behaving the way he is because he wouldn’t be allowed to,” Dennis said. “He’s shaking off some chains he didn’t want to have.

“I look at him with mixed emotions. I don’t approve of everything he does or says, but nevertheless, great athletes are great because of the sacrifices they have to make.

“And sometimes sacrifices are in a very formative part of their childhood. They don’t always emerge with the all the right social process or behaviour or tendencies that you like.”

In contrast to Hamilton and Mercedes’ recent success, McLaren has entered a period of decline that will hit a new low this weekend in Abu Dhabi as it prepares to end the year last-but-one in the constructors’ championship.

McLaren has not won a race since Hamilton left, justifying his decision to walk away at the time. Not only did it allow him to shake off the chains he didn’t want, but it also paved the way for a success that he most likely would not have attained had he remained with at Woking.

Formula E unveils driverless support series ‘Roborace’

2015/2016 FIA Formula E Championship.
Putrajaya ePrix, Putrajaya, Malaysia.
Saturday 7 November 2015.
Jerome D'Ambrosio (FRA) Dragon Racing - Venturi VM200-FE-01 leads Robin Frijns (NLD), Andretti - Spark SRT_01E 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E/LAT
ref: Digital Image _G7C9287
© FIA Formula E

FIA Formula E has today announced the launch of ‘Roborace’, a driverless support series that is set to join the electric-powered championship’s roster for the 2016-2017 season.

In partnership with Kinetik, Formula E plans for Roborace to become a competitive platform for autonomous driving solutions and technologies.

“Roborace is aimed to take place prior to each Formula E race, using the same circuits in major cities across the world,” a statement reads.

“Ten teams, each with two driverless cars, will compete in one-hour races over the full championship season. All the teams will have the same cars however will compete using real-time computing algorithms and AI technologies.

“The mission of Roborace is to demonstrate that the future of automotive and information technology is already here and can even work in extreme conditions.

“Roborace believes that there is a lot of independent talents in the world that might contribute to this initiative. That is why one of the race teams will be organised as a crowd-sourced community team open for enthusiastic software and technology experts all over the world.”

Founder of Kinetik and Roborace Denis Sverdlov believes that the championship will be the perfect platform to showcase the advancements in autonomous driving and AI technologies.

“We passionately believe that, in the future, all of the world’s vehicles will be assisted by AI and powered by electricity, thus improving the environment and road safety,” Sverdlov said.

“Roborace is a celebration of revolutionary technology and innovation that humanity has achieved in that area so far. It’s a global platform to show that robotic technologies and AI can co-exist with us in real life.

“Thus, anyone who is at the edge of this transformation now has a platform to show the advantages of their driverless solutions and this shall push the development of the technology.”

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag added: “We are very excited to be partnering with Kinetik on what is surely one of the most cutting-edge sporting events in history.

“Roborace is an open challenge to the most innovative scientific and technology-focused companies in the world. It is very exciting to create a platform for them to showcase what they are capable of and I believe there is great potential for us to unearth the next big idea through the unique crowd-sourced contest.”

Fong to test for Sauber in Abu Dhabi next week

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Thursday 26 November 2015.
Adderly Fong (HKG, Carlin) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
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Sauber has confirmed that Adderly Fong will take part in next week’s Pirelli tire test following the conclusion of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi.

Fong, 25, first tested for the team in October 2014 before taking part in practice for last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Fong has since been racing in the GP3 Series and in the GT Asia series while also working with Lotus F1 Team as part of its development programme.

On Friday, Sauber announced that Fong would be returning to one of its cars for next week’s tire test in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“I am very pleased and thankful to have another opportunity to drive for the Sauber F1 Team,” Fong said. “I will do my best to give valuable feedback. I am looking forward to it, as well as the aim of extending my superlicence after completing 300 kilometers.

“Last year it was great to have the chance to drive the Sauber C33-Ferrari during FP1 here at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Now I am curious about testing the current car.”

Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added: “We are pleased to have Adderly in the car again and to give him the opportunity to drive a current Formula One car.

“He immediately put in a solid performance in his last opportunities for us. We are confident Adderly will again put in every effort in this tire test.”