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

NBCSN to begin coverage of 2017 American Flat Track season on July 3

American Flat Track/Andrea Wilson
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NBCSN will begin its coverage of the 2017 American Flat Track season this coming Monday (July 3) with a presentation of the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Below is the full release detailing TV coverage and times for the 18 races to be shown on NBCSN in the coming months.

STAMFORD, Conn. – June 28, 2017 – NBCSN begins its coverage of the 2017 American Flat Track season next Monday, July 3, at 11 p.m. ET, with a presentation of the season-opening Harley-Davidson DAYTONA TT event at iconic Daytona International Speedway.

Now in the midst of its 64th consecutive season, American Flat Track is the most historic form of American motorcycle racing and 2017 marks the dawning of a new golden era for the sport. The series boasts two diverse and highly-competitive classes and is headlined by powerful, twin-cylinder motorcycles in the AFT Twins class, with spirited single-cylinder machines battling it out in AFT Singles.

Play-by-play announcer Jason Weigandt will handle play-by-play duties for the season, alongside veteran Superbike racer and multi-time American Flat Track race winner Larry Pegram and pit reporter Heather DeBeaux.

In addition to the 18 primetime premieres, NBCSN will present weekday encore telecasts of each one-hour show. NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs – will provide streaming coverage alongside NBCSN’s premiere telecasts. FansChoice.tv, a cornerstone of American Flat Track’s digital strategy, will continue provide live streaming coverage for every round of the 2017 season.

Below is the full telecast schedule on NBCSN for the 2017 American Flat Track season:

Date Location Network Time (ET)
Mon., July 3 Daytona International Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Mon., July 10 Dixie Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Mon., July 17 Charlotte Motor Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., July 27 Turf Paradise NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 3 Cal Expo Fairgrounds NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 10 Illinois State Fairgrounds NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 17 The Red Mile NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 24 Remington Park NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 31 Allen County Fairgrounds NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 7 Rolling Wheels Raceway Park NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 7 Calistoga Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., September 14 Buffalo Chip NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 14 Black Hills Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., September 21 Peoria Motorcycle Club NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 21 Illinois State Fairgrounds NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., September 28 Williams Grove Speedway NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 28 Texas Motor Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., October 12 Perris Auto Speedway NBCSN 10 p.m.

Pirelli announces tire picks for Italian GP at Monza

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Pirelli has announced its Formula 1 tire picks for the Italian Grand Prix weekend at Monza in September, mirroring its selection from 2016.

As is standard for all F1 races, Pirelli will take three compounds to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, favoring a mid-range selection of super-softs, softs and mediums for all drivers to use.

The Italian company took the same compounds to its home race in 2016, which was completed on a mix of one- and two-stop strategies by teams.

Given the more conservative nature of Pirelli’s 2017 compounds, it is likely that most will be able to get home on one stop in September despite the high-speed nature of the Monza circuit.

Drivers will be required to complete the final stage of qualifying on the super-soft compound, as well as save at least one set of either mediums or softs to use in the race.

Graphic courtesy of Pirelli

The Italian Grand Prix takes place on September 3, 2017.

IMSA news roundup: Watkins Glen

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship resumes action this weekend with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, its sixth event of 2017 and Round 3 of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

Leading into the race, a handful of recent news stories have added intrigue to the already noteworthy event, and a couple could play prominent roles as the weekend progresses.

Ed Brown to Retire from Prototype Driving With an Eye on GT3

Ed Brown, co-founder of Tequila Patrón ESM and President and CEO of Patrón Spirits International, will step out of the No. 22 Nissan Onroak DPi after the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, citing ongoing business commitments.

“I have been racing for 14 years. I have had a ball, but given the tremendous growth of Patrón, it’s more important than ever that I more fully commit my attention to the global business opportunity,” Brown said of his decision. “The plan was always to retire from prototype racing at some point, and now seemed like the right time.”

Brown’s racing career began to take off in 2007. Scott Sharp, then a driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series with sponsorship from Patrón Tequila, surprised Brown that year with a Tequila Patrón ESM branded car and a trip to a four day racing school. Only two weeks afterward, Brown was in Cleveland competing in his first race.

He contested the Patrón GT3 Challenge by Yokohama in 2009 before advancing to the American Le Mans Series GT class the following year, piloting a Ferrari Italia F433. In 2014, Brown celebrated his first overall win, with co-driver Johannes van Overbeek, with the team now fielding an HPD ARX-03b in the Prototype class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The 2016 season perhaps brought Brown the most success he’s had as a driver, with overall wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Scott Sharp, team co-owner and driver of the No. 2 entry with Ryan Dalziel, expressed much gratitude toward Brown for his influence on the team. “It has been an amazing experience over the last 13 years,” said Sharp. “I watched a guy, who had never driven anything, push himself, become immersed in the sport, develop into a top driver, and help score some big wins! Ed has equally been instrumental off the track proving key direction and foresight for us as a team and myself as a friend.”

Pipo Derani, who helped Tequila Patrón ESM score the aforementioned Daytona and Sebring triumphs, will return to the team following Watkins Glen to partner van Overbeek for the remainder of the season.

However, it should be noted that, while Brown is stepping out of Prototype competition, his driving career is far from finished, as he’ll be testing several GT3 manufacturers going forward with an eye toward fielding a GT3 car in 2018. Further, Brown’s retirement from prototype racing will not impact the team’s plans in IMSA, in which it is committed to run through 2018.

“No doubt, I’ll be there to cheer on Tequila Patrón ESM at the races,” Brown finished. “Johannes and Pipo will make a great combination, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they will accomplish in the remaining races.”

The Glen Sees Patriotic Liveries Spread Through the Field

Because the six-hour endurance race takes place near the Fourth of July, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen will see no shortage of patriotic liveries, and a handful posted images of their liveries ahead of the event.

A sampling of the special liveries can be seen below, with Michael Shank Racing and 3GT Racing spotlighted. A spotter guide for the weekend can be seen here.

 

Motul Named Official Motor Oil of Watkins Glen International

Earlier this year, Watkins Glen entered into a new partnership with Motul and named the producer of high-performance motor oils and industrial lubricants as the official motor oil of the 2.454-mile road course.

The multi-year agreement will feature on-site presence from Motul as well as signage and ticket allotments.

“The quality of Motul products has been relied upon by those in the motorsports world for over 160 years,” said Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup. “We are thrilled to align ourselves with such a recognizable and trusted brand and look forward to working closely with them as part of our family.”

Guillaume Pailleret, President of Motul North America, echoed Printup’s enthusiasm. “We are honored to see Motul associated with The Glen, terrain of so many legendary battles on a race track. We are also very excited about that partnership with Watkins Glen for it proves our commitment to the US East Coast where our brand is making a strong push this year, both with Automotive and Powersport lubricants.”

Qualifying for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen will begin at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday July 1, with the race beginning Sunday July 2 at 10:00 a.m.

 

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Button calls for F1 to ‘move on’, hand Vettel no further punishment

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Recent Formula 1 driver Jenson Button believes the sport should “move on” from Sebastian Vettel’s clash with Lewis Hamilton in Baku and hand the Ferrari driver no further punishment for his sideway swipe.

Vettel drove towards Hamilton under the safety car in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, resulting in a 10-second stop/go penalty during the race for dangerous driving, the harshest available penalty bar exclusion.

The FIA confirmed on Wednesday that it would be re-examining the incident to see if any further action is warranted, with Hamilton telling NBCSN after the race in Baku that it would set a dangerous precedent if more was not done to punish Vettel.

Taking to Twitter on Thursday, Button – who spent 17 seasons racing full-time in F1 and most recently made a one-off return in Monaco with McLaren – offered his view of the situation, saying that the sport’s bosses should move on and not give Vettel any further punishment.