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.”

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

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