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A.J. Foyt Enterprises confirms its switched-up 2017 lineup

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A.J. Foyt Enterprises has made one of its biggest lineup shifts in its recent history, confirming on Tuesday a youth-oriented lineup of Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly starting with the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Munoz and Daly only have a combined four full-time seasons complete between them. Munoz (2013) and Daly (2013, 2015) also had partial seasons before advancing into IndyCar full-time.

Both drivers switch to Foyt for 2017 from their previous teams. Munoz spent the last three full seasons with Andretti Autosport, winning IndyCar rookie-of-the-year honors in 2014 and having also finished second at the Indianapolis 500 in both 2013 and 2016. Daly finally made it into a full-time ride with Dale Coyne Racing last year after a roller coaster ride to get there, but with the team moving in a different direction to secure Sebastien Bourdais and ultimately Ed Jones in the second car, he had to look for another opportunity.

These two replace Takuma Sato, who’s been with Foyt the last four seasons and is bound for Andretti Autosport, and Jack Hawksworth, who leaves after two seasons for a new Lexus factory ride with the 3GT Racing team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Daly’s number, what would have been 41, switches to 4 while Munoz takes over the flagship No. 14 car. Daly’s car will be based in Speedway, Ind. with Munoz’s No. 14 car still in Texas.

Per the release, the move to Indianapolis of the No. 4 team marks the first time that AJ Foyt Racing will base a team there after Foyt purchased the property on Main Street in October, 2014.

Another first for the team is carrying the number 4 on a full-time entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The number 4 has significance for Foyt as he became the first four-time winner of the Indy 500, but it also holds significance for Daly, whose step-father (and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President) Doug Boles was a founding partner and co-owner of Panther Racing which fielded the No. 4 car. Boles served as chief operating officer from 1997 to 2006.

As the team’s engine contract is not yet finalized, Chevrolet was not named in the release, but the team is expected to switch from Honda to Chevrolet. No engineers were named either.

ABC Supply Co., however, has extended its contract with the team for another two years.

“It’s been a busy off season, which to me is a great thing,” team president Larry Foyt said in the release. “There are many moving parts as we grow and continue to strengthen our weaknesses as a team. It’s wonderful to continue our relationship with ABC Supply and adding two young and fast drivers is exciting for our program.

“I can’t remember a time when the Verizon IndyCar Series has been this competitive from top to bottom, so we know we have to work around the clock this winter to meet our goals before the season starts. We’ve had a great deal of changes in a short amount of time, but the team is committed and the group as a whole is moving in the same direction. I’m looking for this positive momentum to translate to on-track results.”

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”