TUSC: Team Sahlen drops Prototype program for 2014; MacNeil, Keen team up at Alex Job Racing

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The new Prototype class for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship has taken a blow this weekend, as Team Sahlen has announced that it will not be running its two-car Daytona Prototype program in the TUSC’s inaugural season.

Last month, the team had said it would field the same No. 42 (pictured) and No. 43 BMW/Riley Daytona Prototypes in 2014 that they fielded in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series this past year. Wayne Nonnamaker and Dane Cameron were slated to drive the No. 42, while Joe and Will Nonnamaker were to drive the No. 43.

This past year, Wayne and Cameron logged two Top-5 finishes en route to 10th in the Rolex Series DP championship, with Cameron almost securing a win for the No. 42 at Road America before a gearbox failure knocked him out late. Joe and Will finished 16th in the standings.

“We’re still going to be racing somewhere within the IMSA family, and believe very heavily in the direction the Frances have taken the series,” Will Nonnamaker told RACER Magazine’s Marshall Pruett. “We will be back next year, and will announce those plans in the next few weeks.”

As for where the Sahlen camp will end up in 2014, that remains to be determined.

Cooper MacNeil, who enters the TUSC after winning back-to-back driving titles in the American Le Mans Series’ GTC category, will once again be behind the wheel of the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche next year. But he’ll have a new partner.

Leh Keen, the 2009 GRAND-AM Rolex Series GT champion, is now on board at AJR, replacing Jeroen Bleekemolen as MacNeil’s teammate. Keen and MacNeil worked together during the latter’s 2012 GTC title run, and together, they won three races that season (Lime Rock, Road America, Virginia).

Now, they’ll focus on becoming the first champions from the TUSC’s GT Daytona (GTD) class.

“We get along really well and he’s a damn good driver,” MacNeil said of Keen in a statement. “He helped me win my first championship in 2012 and we will try our best to do the same in 2014.

“At the same time, I’m upset to see Jeroen become my competition, because I really liked him driving with me, not against me. But I wish him the best with Viper.”

As for Keen, he’s happy to be able to continue his history with the AJR camp.

“I really have to thank [sponsor] WeatherTech and Alex for bringing me on board for the full season,” he said. “My history with Alex shows how strong our relationship is and he runs the best program out there.

“Next year will be extremely competitive, but with a car like the new 991, a team like Alex Job Racing, and with Cooper as my co-driver – we have won championships in the past and will be going for the first GTD championship ever.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes Indy 500 should never have guaranteed starting positions

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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INDIANAPOLIS – Like many viewers watching last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 “Bump Day” on NBC, former NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was captivated by the drama.

He also believes INDYCAR should not follow NASCAR’s path of “Chartered Teams” locking up positions in the major races; such as the Daytona 500. That has taken away the excitement and drama of the Daytona Duels.

“Not trying to get myself in the weeds here, but I think Indy could look at the history of NASCAR and how it has changed the excitement for some of the Duels and qualifying,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports.com. “I would not go in that direction. If I was in control of things, I would not pull those levers to have guaranteed spots. The thrill of Bump Day and the battle for the final row, increased the value of Sunday and viewership for Sunday. It taught people about other drivers and teams. We don’t learn those things if you don’t see them going through that battle and experience.

“I thought it was a tremendous win for the people that want to keep things at Indy as they are.”

Earnhardt, who is part of NBC’s crew for Sunday’s telecast of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, believes the way it all played out created a storyline that enhances the interest in the 500-Mile Race.

“I experienced the drama before with Bump Day that has happened here in this race in the past, but I thought it was symbolic with the conversation going on about guaranteed spots,” Earnhardt said. “For the folks who are the traditionalists who believe you have to earn your way in, it was a great day for those folks and their argument. Fernando Alonso and how that story played out and his reaction to not making it, I thought he handled it like the champion he is. All of that was interesting.

“The little teams beating the big teams was pretty cool. It created some really exciting stuff and did nothing but build excitement in the race.

“Even though Alonso is not in the race, I’m just as interested, or more interested, than I was before. Them not being in the race didn’t change it for me. If anything, that whole drama and how it played out made me more excited to see the event.”

Earnhardt is attending his first Indianapolis 500 in person. He will be part of NBC’s Indianapolis 500 Pre-race show along with Mike Tirico and 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick.

Earnhardt will also drive the Pace Car to lead the 33-car starting lineup to the green flag to start the 103rdIndianapolis 500. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time.