nascar logo 2014

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

2 Comments

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

James Hinchcliffe has 11-week lead in IndyCar race at Texas

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, practices for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) James Hinchcliffe has been leading the IndyCar race at Texas for such a long time.

When the rain-interrupted race resumes on lap 72 Saturday night at the high-banked – and hopefully dry – 1 1/2-mile oval, Hinchcliffe will have led for 76 days.

“It’s better than not leading at all, that’s for sure,” Hinchcliffe said, with a chuckle. “The most important thing is that we’re still leading at the end.”

A lot has happened in the 2 1/2 months since that waterlogged June weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, including the completion of five other IndyCar Series races. Will Power won three of them, the last being 500 miles at Pocono on Monday after a one-day rain delay.

Since the Texas race was red-flagged on June 12 – and technically still is – the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup, and LeBron James led the Cavaliers to an NBA title that ended Cleveland’s 52-year major title drought.

Among other sports headlines in that span, Andy Murray and Serena Williams added Grand Slam titles by winning at Wimbledon, three major champions were crowned in golf, and Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Michael Phelps won more gold medals at the Olympics in Rio this month.

“It’s unique in that James Hinchcliffe has been leading for 2 1/2 months, and surely he’s got to go to the bathroom before we get started here,” Speedway President Eddie Gossage said with a smile.

“It’s been fun. There’s been a lot of interesting chatter on Twitter, and certainly Eddie reminding people every other day that I’m still leading,” Hinchliffe said. “Hopefully, he can be telling people every other day that we won the race.”

Hinchcliffe, the Indianapolis 500 polesitter who led 27 laps before finishing seventh there in May, hasn’t led another lap since leaving Texas.

The last time an IndyCar race started and resumed another day was at Brazil in 2011, but that was only 24 hours. After the first 14 laps and a 2 1/2-hour rain delay there, the final 41 laps were completed the next day with polesitter Power winning.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve done before as far as rainouts go,” Power said about going back to Texas, where he will resume running fourth.

Unlike the quick resumption in Brazil five years ago, IndyCar drivers are returning to Texas 11 weeks later and will have only a 10-minute practice session before starting to race again.

Only 71 of the scheduled 248 laps were completed in June , when the Firestone 600 was initially postponed from Saturday night without the cars ever making it to the starting grid. After the race started 40 minutes late Sunday and then the rain returned, the decision for an unprecedented months-long delay was made since there was more wet weather in the immediate forecast.

Heavy rain fell for several hours after the cars came off the track 54 laps shy of what was needed to make it an official race. There were indeed more downpours the following day.

Since IndyCar rules don’t allow for starting over a race that has already taken the green flag, the only choice was to resume the race from where it was stopped.

Hinchcliffe took the lead for the first time on lap 41, the last green-flag lap counted before a hard crash involving Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly, who won’t be allowed to resume this weekend. Newgarden sustained a broken collarbone and small fracture in his hand, but won a month later at Iowa.

There were 30 laps run under caution while track officials worked to repair the damaged safety barrier, and that work was still being done along the frontstretch when the rain started falling again.

“I’ll be perfect honestly, I tried to convince IndyCar to restart the race, as did several drivers, but their rulebook says what it says and I can’t fault them for that,” Gossage said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate things … who would think it’s going to rain, and rain for days and we knew we couldn’t do it.”

Fast Facts: Firestone 600 (resumption) at Texas Motor Speedway

Firestone-600_2016_med
Leave a comment

Courtesy of INDYCAR PR, here’s all you need to know ahead of this weekend’s resumption of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, the 14th of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule:

Firestone 600 (The Resumption) Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday, June 10 – Saturday, Aug. 27 (Race was scheduled for June 11, started on June 12 and was red-flagged after 71 laps. Race is scheduled to restart on Aug. 27)

Track: Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.455-mile oval in Fort Worth, Texas

Race distance: 248 laps / 360.84 miles (177 laps/257.535 miles remaining)

Firestone tire allotment: Each Entrant will be allotted one new set of tires for the mandatory install lap and practice session. Entrants will be allotted six new sets for the race.

Twitter: @TXMotorSpeedway @IndyCar, #Firestone600, #IndyCar

Event website: www.TexasMotorSpeedway.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2015 race winner: Scott Dixon (No. 9 Energizer EcoAdvanced Chevrolet)

Current race leader: James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda)

Current running order: Firestone 600 Lap 71 (PDF) Note: Cars must be in the aerodynamic configuration they were in when the race was red flagged. The only exception will be the front wing angle. Lap count will begin the first time by the start/finish line upon exiting pit lane.

2016 Verizon P1 Award winner: Carlos Munoz (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda), 48.2460 seconds, 217.137 mph (two laps)

NBCSN television broadcast: Race, 9 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 27 (live); Kevin Lee is the lead announcer for the NBCSN broadcast this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller.

Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query and Nick Yeoman are the turn announcers with Brad Gillie reporting from the pits. All Verizon IndyCar Series races as well as qualifying sessions are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209,IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. All Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions are available on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video streaming: The practice session from Texas Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET,Saturday Aug. 27) will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

INDYCAR Mobile app: Verizon Wireless puts fans around the world in the driver’s seat with its INDYCAR Mobile app. The app has been enhanced with new features to keep fans in the know of the latest race-day action. Exclusive features of the INDYCAR Mobile app for Verizon Wireless customers will stream live through the app and includes enhanced real-time leaderboard and car telemetry; the ability to follow the race in real time with the interactive 3D track; live in-car camera video streaming for select drivers during Verizon IndyCar Series races; live driver and pit crew radio transmissions during races and live Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network audio streaming during all track activities.

At-track schedule (all times local):
Saturday, Aug. 27
4:30 – 5 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
8:15 p.m. – Command to restart engines
8:16 p.m. – Firestone 600 resumes on Lap 72 (171 laps/257.535 miles remain), NBCSN (Live)

Championship facts:
•  Simon Pagenaud leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with three races to be completed for the first time in his career.
•  Simon Pagenaud leads Will Power by 20 points. Pagenaud has led the championship since the second race of the season at Phoenix. With 54 maximum points available at Texas, the points lead could change for the second time in 2015.
•  There are 15 drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship: Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin. Any driver who trails the points leader by 158 points or more following the race will be eliminated from contention.
•  Three drivers were eliminated from championship contention at Pocono on Aug. 22 – Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Conor Daly.
•  Since the first Indy car race at Texas in 1997, the winning driver has won the championship six times: Sam Hornish Jr (2001 Race 2; 2002 Race 2); Tony Kanaan (2004 Race 1), Scott Dixon (2008 and 2015) and Dario Franchitti (2011 Race 1).

Key championship point statistic: The driver who has led the championship with three races to go has failed to win the championship in five of the last six seasons. Will Power in 2014 is the exception.

Point differential: The 20 points which separate Simon Pagenaud and Will Power is the third smallest margin with three races remaining since 2010. Will Power led Helio Castroneves by four points in 2014 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points in 2012. The average deficit with three races to go since 2010 is 23.16 points.

Championship-eligible drivers’ results at Texas: Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Will Power have all won races at Texas Motor Speedway. Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan have seven podium finishes. Pagenaud’s best finish was fourth in 2014. Newgarden (who will not participate in the race’s resumption due to crash on June 12) has never finished better than eighth.

Tornado near IMS also interrupts Indy Lights road course Cooper Tire test

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17:  A general view of the Pagoda during practice for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 17, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was meant to be having a full day of Cooper Tire testing for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Zach Veach was the one undertaking the testing in a Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda.

Veach had a busy morning, noting he’d run two full race distances.

And then an afternoon interruption came in the way of a tornado near Speedway, Ind.

Testing was paused this afternoon and those on site at IMS went for cover.

A tornado struck near Kokomo Speedway this afternoon, where a celebration of life for Bryan Clauson was taking place, and leveled a Starbucks.

Here’s a number of tweets and social posts from near IMS for this tornado:

Wow…not sure it that touched down but it was darn close. #tornado #Indianapolis

A photo posted by Michael Young (@trackdude500) on

Tornado strikes just few miles from Bryan Clauson tribute

clauson tribute kokomo
(Photo courtesy of USACNation Twitter page)
Leave a comment

A celebration of the life of late Sprint car driver Bryan Clauson has been interrupted — but not impacted — by a tornado that has caused considerable damage just a few miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

The celebration of Clauson’s life brought out a packed house at Kokomo Speedway, one of Clauson’s favorite racetracks. He lived in nearby Noblesville. The celebration began shortly after 1 p.m. ET.

Kokomo Speedway, which apparently did not suffer any damage from the tornado, is located about four miles northwest of the mall.

The tornado struck near the Markland Mall, located on the east side of Kokomo at the intersection of 17th and Reed streets, causing significant damage, including the flattening of a Starbucks coffee shop that abuts the mall.

A large presence of first responders is on-scene at the mall, and there are other reports of significant property damage in other areas, particularly the east side of Kokomo.

The city of Kokomo, the 13th largest city in Indiana with a population of approximately 60,000, is about 50 miles due north of Indianapolis.

Here are some of the first reports on Twitter, including several from many of Clauson’s fellow drivers and other motorsports officials:

 

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski