Oral-B USA 500 - Practice

NASCAR: Ty Dillon ready to make Sprint Cup debut on Sunday

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Ty Dillon’s trying to track down Chase Elliott and Regan Smith in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. But this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, that won’t be his only job.

In addition to running tonight’s NNS race at AMS, Dillon will also make his Sprint Cup debut Sunday night in the No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport – which has a partnership with his team in the NNS, Richard Childress Racing.

Yesterday, Dillon qualified 29th for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500. Running with the big dogs is clearly special for Dillon, who dubbed it “a huge moment for me and my career.”

But he doesn’t think that the Cup drive will detract from his NNS focus.

“I think it’s only going to be a positive for my Nationwide program to be in the Cup race this year,” said Dillon, a former winner at AMS in the Camping World Truck Series (2012). “It will slow everything down for me. I hadn’t been here in two years, and the last time I was here, I won.

“I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grip on this race track. The way our Nationwide team is performing right now, I think we have a great opportunity of winning a race and really piling on some points for this championship.”

As for how AMS became the site for his first Cup race, Dillon said that he and grandfather/boss Richard Childress got together at the beginning of the year and picked ‘four or five tracks” where they felt confident about him running well.

“[Atlanta] was one of the tracks on the list,” Dillon said. “We didn’t really talk about it very much during most of the season, and then things kind of came together. Here recently, we got the sponsorship to make things happen.”

Dillon also said that depending on sponsorship, he was hopeful to get a few more Cup starts this year.

“I know we were already planning on hopefully doing some stuff next year,” he said. “This year is kind of an open book…I think it’s wherever my grandfather feels like he can throw me in and we will have a great opportunity.”

But while his future Cup plans remain to be determined, Dillon knows what he has to do on the Nationwide side of things: Shrink the points gap between himself and the two JR Motorsports drivers, Elliott and Smith.

Two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, a power steering problem relegated Dillon to a 19th-place finish that helped increase his deficit. Dillon recovered last weekend with a fourth at Bristol, but he’s still down 30 points in the standings to Elliott.

“I think we just have to continue to run in the Top-5, and hope for some mistakes from those guys because that is what has put us behind,” Dillon said of the situation. “We were only 12 points out two weeks ago…We have been fast everywhere we just had a couple of mechanical issues.

“We are going to continue to run up front and have opportunities to win the race like we did last week at Bristol and let those guys fold.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.