Dale Jr.: Horsepower drop “coming whether you like it or not”

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NASCAR CEO Brian France has revealed that engine modifications – including a reduction in horsepower – could be coming to the Sprint Cup Series sometime within the next two seasons.

Naturally, that’s led to questions about what impacts those modifications would have on NASCAR’s racing product, which in recent years has been superb in some places (road courses, short ovals) and sometimes suspect in others (intermediate-sized ovals).

Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes that such changes won’t make the racing less competitive as he feels that “the racing is competitive, any way you slice it.”

However, he’s hopeful that a particular path will be taken by the sanctioning body.

“When you can go to a smaller engine, you preserve some throttle response,” Earnhardt said today at Texas Motor Speedway. “You preserve some reaction in the gas pedal and give the driver a few more tools to be able to use out on the race track when he is driving his race car.

“When you take and put a [restrictor] plate on those cars, you take tons of throttle response out of the car and setting up a pass, particularly on a track that is worn out like this, is a little more challenging with a plate rather than an open engine that is smaller.”

As far as the possible HP drop goes, Earnhardt likened the situation to the recent Sprint Cup return of the No. 3, which his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove to six of his seven overall Sprint Cup titles.

Richard Childress’ revival of the famous number for rookie driver Austin Dillon was met with loud resistance in some quarters of the NASCAR fan base – but as the season has wore on, the controversy has ebbed for the most part.

Earnhardt believes such would be the case as well with the HP drop if it comes to pass.

“I think the reduction in power is coming whether you like it or not,” he said. “I chose as an individual to get on the side of being productive in that discussion instead of saying ‘We don’t need to do it’ and trying to fight it – let’s try to make sure when it does happen, we do it the right way and give ourselves something to grow into and something to engineers and something that is productive for many years to come.

“…You can have both sides arguing against and for, for however long you want, but it’s going to happen so we might as well start thinking about how we want it to happen and trying to have those discussions on making sure we make the best choice we can make for the sport.”

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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