88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Team: Hendrick Motorsports Crew Chief: Steve Letarte NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Best Finish: 3rd (2003) Chase History: 7th Chase Appearance, Best finish of 5th in 2004, 2006 and 2013
Regular Season Recap: Beginning with his huge win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and his two wins at Pocono, Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has enjoyed his most successful season (and total of wins) since 2004. And there’s still 10 races remaining. Wins are great, but it’s been the consistency that has separated Junior this year from year’s past. And with the exception of just one week when he dropped to sixth, he’s fluctuated between first and fifth place in the season standings. But Junior isn’t done by any stretch. He can easily win Saturday at Richmond and perhaps grab another win or two in the Chase. Until he proves otherwise, this very well could be Earnhardt’s greatest season ever.
Jerry’s Take: An argument can be made that this has – to date – been Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best season yet in Sprint Cup racing.
Sure, he had a career-best six wins in the first year of the Chase (2004), but starting with his win in the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt has appeared more motivated to win that elusive first championship than he ever has.
He has more incentive, as well. First, this is crew chief Steve Letarte’s final season with Junior before becoming a full-time NASCAR analyst on NBC telecasts in 2015. Also, Earnhardt turns 40 next month (where has the time gone). He knows he’s already begun the downhill slide on his career.
If he’s ever to win a Sprint Cup championship, this likely will be the best opportunity he’ll ever have.
Chris’s Take: This has been building over the last year for Earnhardt, who served notice that 2014 would be a strong season for him thanks to a great 2013 Chase following his engine failure at Chicagoland.
Now, as this year’s post-season looms, he and his rabid fan base are brimming with hope that this will be the year. And why shouldn’t they be?
Junior has been in the lead pack almost all the way, and the 88 team as a whole (including outgoing crew chief Steve Letarte) is as cohesive a unit as you’ll find in the garage. I’d be surprised if these guys didn’t make it to Homestead with a chance at the Cup.
Tony’s Take: A revitalized, focused Dale Earnhardt Jr. has emerged throughout the entirety of the 2014 season and is in the best position possible to capture his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. It would be a fitting cap to a year when he and crew chief Steve Letarte are at the end of their stint together.
Problem is, lately, Junior and the No. 88 team haven’t clicked nearly as well as they did in the first half of the year. The qualifying needs to improve. Simple ninth to 12th place finishes on race day won’t get the job done. With only one top five in the last eight races, Junior has fallen behind in the Hendrick pecking order, if not the standings themselves.
He should be able to advance through the Challenger and Contender rounds easily, provided the finishes pick up. But advancing from Eliminator through to the finale at Homestead may be a greater challenge. Right now, it’s hard to see three of the four Hendrick drivers able to fight for a title at Homestead, and Junior will need to recapture that early season form if he wants to be in with a shot.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – One win, 3 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 13 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – Zero wins, 7 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 30 starts
Dover (1 mile) – One win, 6 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 29 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 2 Top-5s, 8 Top-10s in 16 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 5 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 29 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – Five wins, 10 Top-5s, 14 Top-10s in 29 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – Zero wins, 11 Top-5s, 16 Top-10s in 29 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – One win, 4 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 24 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – Two wins, 7 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 24 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – One win, 1 Top-5s, 2 Top-10s in 14 starts
James Hinchcliffe turns 30 today, which seems hard to believe for the perpetually candid, humorous, self-deprecating and fast “Mayor of Hinchtown.”
Hinchcliffe’s junior open-wheel career from karting to the Formula BMW and Star Mazda days, before three years in Atlantic (when I met him in 2007) and onto Indy Lights, eventually led to his finally making it to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2011, a year when he won rookie-of-the-year.
He took over in what had been Danica Patrick’s GoDaddy car in 2012, won his first three races in 2013, then moved on from Andretti Autosport to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at the end of 2014.
Of course, you know the story of his accident in practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500, his recovery, his comeback in late 2015 and then into 2016, then his star turn this year with pole for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and his phenomenal run on “Dancing with the Stars” this fall.
Hinchcliffe is a driver, showman, comedian, philanthropist, business owner, podcast host, burgeoning dancer, and actually pretty damn smart.
But one of his hallmarks throughout his career has been his videos. Here’s 30 of them, throughout the years, to chronicle how funny and insightful he’s been for such a long time.
PRE-INDYCAR (10: 2010 AND EARLIER)
A disclaimer first: there are more of these, which made condensing the list down to 10 a challenge.
Hinchcliffe’s Kimi Raikkonen imitation is legendary. See the roots of it from 2007, when Hinchcliffe was a sophomore in the Atlantic Championship, and Raikkonen was in his first season at Ferrari. Of course, little did we know then that Raikkonen would win that year’s World Championship, and Ferrari’s most recent.
Remember the old A1GP series? Where it was pitched as a country-versus-country winter series of open-wheel racing? Of course you don’t. And so this is why we show you Hinchcliffe, who raced for A1 Team Canada, going upside-down at a race at Eastern Creek Raceway in Sydney, Australia. He jokes he was “right-side up.” A then-unheralded German driver named Nico Hulkenberg won both races.
We all hate going to the dentist. By hate, I mean love, right? The simplicity of Hinchcliffe describing a trip to the dentist, in his office/studio/room is something we can all appreciate.
“I love fishes ’cause they’re so delicious.” Say no more.
Cooper Tires sponsored Atlantic’s pole award at this time for $1,000. Hinchcliffe then explains the travails and exploits of attempting to cash or deposit said “novelty size check.”
IndyCar merged in 2008, as Champ Car and the Indy Racing League came together. Here was Hinchcliffe’s take on it at the time.
In 2008, IndyCar merged, and Road America was not part of the merged schedule – until it returned this year in 2016. But the Atlantic Championship did race at the picturesque road course. And Hinchcliffe, then in his third season in Atlantic, went around the paddock to introduce them to the famous Road America Johnsonville brats (hat tip to my friend and colleague, IMSA PR ace Nate Siebens, who was the videographer on this one). During 2008, Hinchcliffe did a number of experiential videos in Atlantic paddocks; honorable mention goes to this luge one from Mont-Tremblant.
Hinchcliffe’s second season in Indy Lights, 2010, featured a number of funny videos. One of the more underrated ones was when Hinchcliffe, Logan Gomez and Gustavo Yacaman among others set out to paint doors for Habitat for Humanity. Hilarity ensued.
Additionally, in 2010, this one featured Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly, Sebastian Saavedra and a couple others in a famous – or infamous – road trip to Iowa.
HOW HINCH GOT GODADDY (1: 2012)
Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar career nearly stalled out after one year through no fault of his own, because the Newman/Haas Racing team he drove for ran out of sponsorship. Andretti Autosport had signed Dan Wheldon to replace Danica Patrick in 2012; however, tragically, Wheldon was killed in the 2011 season finale in Las Vegas. Hinchcliffe got the nod in the No. 27 GoDaddy Chevrolet, and naturally, the story of how he got the nod was done in classic Hinchcliffe form.
A further campaign followed of “Hinch for Homepage” to see him supplant Patrick on GoDaddy.com’s website. Hinchcliffe played tribute to Patrick when in his debut in St. Petersburg in the new car, he wore a Patrick-esque wig for driver introductions.
MORE EARLY INDYCAR (3: 2012)
One of my all-time favorite IndyCar videos. Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand were all part of IndyCar’s 2011 rookie class – arguably its strongest class in years. And, because they have similar sounding names and two of the three are from California, they attempt to explain who they are in this 2012 video.
In 2012, Hinchcliffe was a sophomore, and Josef Newgarden was a rookie. The immortal “we don’t speak of the gnomes” line from Newgarden, when Hinchcliffe toured Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s shop, was born here.
Hinchcliffe scored his first IndyCar podium at Long Beach 2012, benefiting from a late-race penalty assessed to Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, which came with a sidebar. After losing a bet to Wade Cunningham because he made the podium, Hinchcliffe’s trademark beard was shaved off.
INDYCAR WIN RECAPS (4: 2013-2015)
Hinchcliffe broke through as an IndyCar race winner in 2013, following a spirited defense against Helio Castroneves at the St. Petersburg season opener. Adding to the emotion of the moment was the fact Hinchcliffe won in the Wheldon’s adopted hometown, in what would have been Wheldon’s No. 27 GoDaddy car.
Also in 2013, Hinchcliffe delivered his most famous IndyCar win to date. His second win came at the Sao Paulo Indy 300, following a last-lap, last-turn pass of Takuma Sato to secure the victory.
Hinchcliffe’s most dominant win in his career to date came at Iowa in 2013, when he led 226 of 250 laps in a beatdown.
Rain and cautions peppered IndyCar’s lone trip to NOLA Motorsports Park in 2015. In an otherwise forgettable weekend, the strategy call from Robert Gue stood out to position Hinchcliffe for his fourth career win, first with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and most recent of his career.
Hinchcliffe’s pole run for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 is featured in the highights from INDYCAR, linked above.
OFFSEASON VIDEOS, ALMOST ALWAYS STARRING HINCH (3: 2012-2016)
One of IndyCar’s hallmarks is utilizing Hinchcliffe in its offseason arsenal of videos. See a few of them, below:
Fall 2014: Hinchcliffe signs with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and a beer ride down to the Indiana Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse happens (a certain MST writer makes a cameo here).
Early 2015: IndyCar vs. Mardi Gras
Fall 2016: IndyCar Test Drive (featuring multiple drivers)
DANCING MAN (6: 2016)
Here’s six of the best dances/moments between Hinchcliffe and professional partner Sharna Burgess on the 23rd season of “Dancing with the Stars,” where Hinchcliffe finished second to Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Laurie Hernandez.
Rumba: After this performance, judge Julianne Hough called Hinchcliffe the “best male dancer” in the show’s history.
Halloween Viennese Waltz (with interim professional partner Jenna Johnson). This one went viral.
Paso Doble Team Up where Hinchcliffe and Calvin Johnson were in the same group.
Tango: When Sharna came back after a knee injury, and was promptly blindfolded.
Trio Jive, where James, Sharna and Jenna danced together and where the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda made an appearance.
Finals: Freestyle, that is the dancing/artistic representation of closing that “blank space” to his accident in Indy.
THE MONTAGE THAT SAYS IT ALL (1: 2011-2016)
If the above clips didn’t capture everything we were trying to set out for here, we hope this one created by this YouTube user does. The respective INDYCAR 36 (2012) and IndyCar Chronicles (2015) episodes of Hinchcliffe, done by IMS Productions, are linked here.
As you can see, Hinchcliffe has been in a lot of videos over the last decade, and this post only scratches the surface of all he’s been in.
But it’s been a great 30 years – with the last 11 in particular since his debut in Atlantic in 2006 where he’s firmly been part of the open-wheel racing establishment, and the last six in IndyCar from 2011 to 2016 where he’s taken that next level.
Happy birthday, Hinch. May there be many more years to come with many more videos added along the way.
Pascal Wehrlein is the potential lynchpin in the race to replace Nico Rosberg, now fully underway after the shock news of the 2016 World Champion’s decision to retire has come down and now set in.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas reserve driver and Manor race driver from this season did a thoroughly good – if not outstanding – job in his first full season in Formula 1 and could well be the pick to replace Rosberg alongside Lewis Hamilton next season.
Wehrlein is confident in his ability and expressed his candidacy for the job while accepting rookie-of-the-year honors at last night’s Autosport Awards.
“One season in Formula 1 of course is not a lot, but I feel ready for the job,” Wehrlein said. “I feel confident enough.
“Now the decision is on the bosses. I guess Toto’s (Wolff) phone is overheating since Friday! I respect that process and that they want to go to the best option.”
Pushed a bit further, Wehrlein also offered a sneaky sense of humor in noting how much testing he’s already done on a modified chassis with Pirelli’s new-for-2017 tires.
“I’ve done the most days with 2017 tires. It’s very important to have that experience,” he laughed.
Wehrlein could well get the nod by way of his availability. However if Mercedes opts to buy out another tied-down driver’s contract, it could well end up that Wehrlein might be placed elsewhere on the grid.
Despite losing out on the Force India seat to fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon, Wehrlein’s stock has never been higher.
Norman joins the previously announced Dalton Kellett (No. 28 K-LINE Insulators, USA Mazda) and Nico Jamin (No. 27 Synova Mazda). Norman, out of Cleveland, won this year’s Atlantic Championship and will drive the No. 48 Flip Side Mazda. He’s tested for the team this winter.
“I’m very excited to join Andretti Autosport for the 2017 Indy Lights Season,” said Norman. “With their great success in IndyCar and Indy Lights, it is the perfect environment for me to learn and grow as a driver. I want to thank Michael Andretti and the rest of the team for this wonderful opportunity and I hope to bring great results to the team this coming year.”
“We have been following Ryan’s achievements in Formula Atlantic and feel he will do equally well, if not better, in Indy Lights,” J-F Thormann, President of Andretti Autosport, added. “Ryan has tested for the team several times this offseason and has impressed us with how quickly he has adapted to the car. We are looking forward to seeing what the 2017 season has in store for us and are thrilled to have three of our four Indy Lights entries announced.”
As noted by Thormann above, the team has confirmed four Indy Lights entries for 2017. From what we’ve heard, the fourth driver could well be an intriguing young American.
Cue the jokes about how Texas Motor Speedway’s new Verizon IndyCar Series race title sponsor, Rainguard Water Sealers, was a year late, as track drying delays from rain helped postpone this year’s race from June to August.
But the new title sponsor is on board for the next three years, through whatever weather exists at TMS. Which is a good thing, because it confirms both the race and the sponsor through 2019.
“We extremely pleased to have Texas Motor Speedway and ‘America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race’ serve as the initial sponsorship venture into motorsports and sports in general for Rainguard Water Sealers,” Eddie Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway president, said in a release. “We look forward to providing Rainguard with an exceptional first experience as an entitlement sponsor and help the company attain their goals through this sponsorship agreement.”
Firestone has been the race’s title sponsor of what is now the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 since 2010. Prior to that, Bombardier Learjet sponsored the race from 2005 to 2009, when Texas dropped from having two races on the annual IndyCar calendar down to one.
Rainguard was founded in 1969 as a manufacturer of architectural grade coatings used in the construction industry, and developed speciality sealer products starting in 2010.