NASCAR’s Stefanyshyn: New rules package is not the “final solution”

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In a teleconference that took place shortly after NASCAR released its 2014 Sprint Cup rules package, the series’ vice president of innovation and racing development, Gene Stefanyshyn, stressed that it was just step one in a process of improving the racing with the Generation 6 cars.

With the 2014 season set to unofficially kick off early next month with the Preseason Thunder test sessions at Daytona, Stefanyshyn said that NASCAR was limited by timing in regards to how many changes it felt it could pull off with the package. As a result, he said that “it shouldn’t be construed that [the package] is the final solution.”

“The amount of flexibility we had given timing was not as great as we have say working on [2015], we’ve got a whole year ahead of us,” he said. “So this is really the first installment in a journey towards a continual improvement process in regards to our race product.”

Stefanyshyn explained tweaks to the chassis set-up for the 2014 season that eliminates light springs used to bring the car to inspection height and how heavier springs in the front end will keep teams from having to load the entire car on its suspension. He hopes that these changes will provide a more stable car for drivers in the middle of traffic.

He also took reporters through the elimination of the pre and post-race front height rules. Cars will remain on blocks during the inspection process but when those get off the blocks, teams will then change the car to what he called “race attitude.”

“If they want to drop the front end of the car down to half an inch, they’re able to do that,” he said. “If they want to drop it to 1.5 inches, they’re able to do that. So we’re actually letting them put the car in more of a race position.

“Because what happens when the car is sitting there statically at 4.25 inches, as soon as it gets on the track, the downforce on that car drives the front end down towards the track anyway. But then what happens is that front end tends to bounce and load and unload, and this is how you get some of the instability.”

Downforce should be increased with the implementation of a bigger radiator pan and rear spoiler, the latter of which will have its top two inches in clear Lexan for visibility purposes. Speed should also go up thanks to the changes, so the RPMs will be brought down slightly to a planned maximum range of 9,300 to 9,400 – which according to Stefanyshyn should end up as a cut between four and six percent.

Interesting to note is the lack of a tapered spacer on the 2014 rules package, which would have resulted in lower horsepower on the Cup cars. Stefanyshyn said the option is still on the table for 2015, but that the aforementioned timing issues played a role in them deciding not to use it now.

“We’d like to be able to do perhaps three things at once, and we think we can come up with a more robust solution that can serve us better in the longer run,” he said. “So this is something I think we are going to definitely look at for ’15.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).