What we’re thankful for in the motorsports world, 2014

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First off, a Happy Thanksgiving from us to you here at MotorSportsTalk.

We’re thankful, most of all, for your watching of the first season of NASCAR AMERICA on NBCSN, the home of open-wheel racing with Formula One and IndyCar on NBC, CNBC and NBCSN, and your readership and support of MST throughout our second season.

As to the rest of what we’re thankful for? See below.

NASCAR

  • We’re thankful for an entertaining, dramatic, at-times controversial but ultimately successful first year of NASCAR’s new Chase, where Kevin Harvick emerged as a long overdue, deserved first-time champion over Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
  • We’re thankful Logano blossomed into the potential megastar Mark Martin and others pegged him to be years ago, and for he and Brad Keselowski delivering Team Penske’s most successful season in terms of race wins.
  • We’re thankful for all the emotion that boiled over surrounding Keselowski this year. Did we know Matt Kenseth had that in him at Charlotte? Or that Brad and Jeff Gordon would be in a dust-up, semi-triggered by Harvick at Texas? No, but we were talking about it for days afterwards.
  • We’re thankful for Dale Earnhardt Jr., in so many ways. We’re thankful for his incredible excitement and emotion after he won the Daytona 500 and his first race ever at Martinsville. We’re thankful he and crew chief Steve Letarte had such a successful final season working together before Letarte joins NBC’s broadcast team. Most of all, we’re thankful Dale Jr. joined Twitter.
  • We’re thankful Gordon had one of his best seasons in years, with four wins and what, in any other year, could have been a championship-winning season. Such was the format structure that Gordon didn’t make it to Homestead with a shot, but at 43, he remained one of NASCAR’s best.
  • We’re thankful for the emerging glut of mega talented young stars, such as Sprint Cup rookie-of-the-year Kyle Larson, Nationwide champ Chase Elliott, Truck stars Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr., and so many more who will feature prominently in NASCAR’s future.
  • And honestly, we’re thankful Jimmie Johnson didn’t win another title (how many more superlatives can we come up with for “six-time?”) and that Ryan Newman didn’t win the title without winning a race (NASCAR likely dodged a bullet there).
source: Getty Images
Hamilton and Rosberg staged a classic. Photo: Getty Images

Formula One

  • We’re thankful Mercedes AMG Petronas, on the strength of an all-conquering W05 chassis, allowed drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to race tooth-and-nail all year for the World Championship. Lewis prevailed, Nico was a close second, and both had everything to be proud of in a year where they delivered Mercedes’ first Constructor’s World Championship.
  • We’re thankful for the emergence of Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas.
  • We’re thankful for Williams’ resurgence in 2014.
  • We’re thankful for Fernando Alonso continuing to outperform his machinery (and Ferrari teammate), even if this year, that wasn’t as noticeable given the lack of wins or podiums.
  • We’re thankful Jenson Button has remained all class until the end, if this was in fact his final season in F1.
  • Most of all, we’re thankful we’re not writing about losing Michael Schumacher and/or Jules Bianchi after their respective devastating accidents in the last 12 months. We continue to wish the best for both the seven-time World Champ and the rising French star in their recoveries.
source: Getty Images
Power and Penske crew on top at last. Photo: Getty Images

IndyCar

ELSEWHERE

  • Although the tragedy involving Kevin Ward Jr.’s death after being struck by Tony Stewart’s car was the racing story of the year, there didn’t seem to be as high a volume and frequency of fatality stories this year compared to 2013, so we can be thankful for that.
  • We’re thankful for Erica Enders-Stevens’ emergence as Pro Stock champion in NHRA after a long career of trying.
  • We’re thankful to have witnessed Tom Kristensen’s racing career. “Mr. Le Mans” hangs up his helmet after nine 24 Hours of Le Mans wins, six 12 Hours of Sebring wins and the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship after this weekend’s season finale in Brazil.
  • We’re thankful that at long last, Indy Lights has a new car to look forward to. Interest is up and many seats remain to be filled as that series looks for a rebirth in 2015, but has more buzz entering the offseason for the first time in years.

Timekeepers: What winning a watch at Daytona means to a driver

Courtesy of IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Some gift them to family and friends. Some keep them for their children. Some put them in safekeeping.

Others wear them as a daily reminder of perhaps their greatest accomplishment in auto racing.

It’s the steel and yellow gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona (with a white dial) that has become synonymous with victory in the 24-hour race that opens the IMSA season.

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“Daytona is about one thing and one thing only: It’s just the watch,” said Bryan Sellers, the 2018 GTD Series champion who still is seeking his first Rolex 24 at Daytona victory after 13 starts. “You grow up in sports car racing knowing that is the one trophy you have to win before you walk away. You want to wear that watch to Daytona the next year, so that everyone knows you won it, or you want to wear it to the year-end banquet so people know you have won one.

Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Scott Dixon with their watches after their 2015 Rolex 24 win (Jerry Markland/Getty Images).

“That is a race that when you win it, your name is forever etched in history. There is something special about it. Everybody wants the watch. That’s all that matters.”

Since 1992, every driver on a class-winning team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (and the race’s grand marshal) has received the watch, whose retail price starts at more than $10,000. Last year, there were 16 watches awarded to the winners at Daytona International Speedway.

Every winner has a story of what the watch means, and every driver still trying to win their first has a story of what they’d do with it.

Here’s a sampling of what the watch means to those racing in the 58th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


A.J. Allmendinger (2012 Daytona Prototype overall winner): “Yeah, I always bring it with me to the Rolex as a good luck charm to show me like, ‘Hey, we’ve gotten one before, we can still go do this again.’ For the most part, I don’t wear it, I keep it in a drawer that I know where it is at all times. If I’m feeling a little down on myself about my driving at times, I may have put it back on just to show like ‘Hey, you can get it one when it’s time,’ but I don’t wear it a lot, I wear it on special occasions and always bring it out just to show that you know it’s inspiration. I’d like another one for my other arm. Technically, I have to get another one for my dad because I promised him the first one and once I won it I was like, ‘No, sorry Dad, this one’s mine,’ but it’s there. It’ll always be in a drawer for sure.”

Townsend Bell (2014 GTD): “We lost the race in 2014 on a penalty, and the penalty was reversed two hours after the race. So we won the race and I won a watch. And then four years later, my watch was stolen when my house was burglarized. So just for one watch and one win, I’ve had a roller coaster ride of emotions just to this point, and I really look at it like I’m level set back to nothing, and I’ve got to go earn and win one again and having lost one through theft it makes me just as hungry as ever to go make it happen. … When I first won the watch, I brought it home to California, and I remember showing it to my oldest son Jackson at the time, and it’s one of the few things I’ve done in racing where he’s looked at something or held something, and I can tell he was proud and thought it was pretty cool. As a dad, that’s a great feeling.”

Andy Lally (2001Rolex SRPII, 2009-2011-2012 Rolex GT, 2016 GTD): “I actually have eight because I got three championships and back then they used to give you one for the championship. The first one is here and the other seven are gifted to people that have helped me out through the years. I gave my mom, my dad, my stepdad, my little sister, Mike Johnson, who was the car owner and the guy that put me in my first Daytona that helped me win the first one. My old soccer coach and the first guy to sponsor me in a car. He pulled me out of go karts and put me in my first race car. Those people have my other seven watches. I want to win more to give back. I love that moment because I give it to people who appreciate what this race is about and appreciate the Rolex brand and appreciate what that means, what that signifies, what that Rolex Daytona is and it’s special to me and I know it’s special to them.”

Joao Barbosa (2010 Daytona Prototype overall, 2014 Prototype overall, 2018 Prototype overall): “I’m planning to donate a couple of them when my kids grow up and probably when they have their own kids so it goes by generations. I have two kids so someday they will have their own kids, and it might be a good gift to give them when they get to that point.”

Renger van der Zande (2019 DPI overall): “I have a son, he’s 1 year and 2 months. So, if he behaves for 18 years and he’s responsible, he might get a Rolex from me. So I’ll keep it safe for then.”

Jeff Gordon, Ricky Taylor, Max Angelelli, and Jordan Taylor, show off their Rolex watches in victory lane after winning the 24 Hours at Daytona in 2017 (Brian Cleary/Getty Images).

Ricky Taylor (2017 Prototype overall): “So when I won the Rolex in 2017, I never took it out of the box. I would leave it in the box and I would eat breakfast with it every day, I’d look at it, and it didn’t seem real. So I’d look at it and it would be there, we’d eat breakfast together, and then I’d put it away. That went on for about two, three weeks, and then my dad told me that we had a sponsor dinner, and everyone was wearing their watches, so I had to wear it. So, besides that one time that I wore it to the sponsor dinner, it’s never come out of the box. It hides in my office, and I want it just to stay exactly how it was the day that we won.”

Oliver Gavin (2016 GTLM): “My Rolex is now at home in a safe. I’ve gotten it out of the box once and showed my family. It was kind of like, ‘OK, I’m going to put this away for safekeeping. It’s now still there, in the safe. I’ve got relics from the Sebring 12 Hours in 2013. I want one more, then I’ve got one for all my children. That’s my goal.”

Ryan Briscoe (2015 GTLM, 2018 GTLM): “The first one was absolutely mine and I don’t wear a watch much, I’ve got a beautiful watch box at home. My dad gave me this rotating watch box so it keeps it going and so forth. My second one, I wanted to give to my wife. I had it sized for her. It’s a gold one with a white face and really looks good. So on special occasions, we will put our Daytonas on and go out.”

Sebastien Bourdais, Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa celebrate with their watches after the 2014 Rolex 24 (courtesy of IMSA).

Patrick Pilet (2014 GTLM): “My wife she told me if I win a second one, she wants to get it so now I have a lot of pressure. I’m always proud to wear the watch and to show what is on the back of the watch with the Rolex winner is something really unique.”

Nick Tandy (2014 GTLM): “The watch is a trophy you can’t buy. You have to win it. It’s obviously symbolic of the race. A bit like the trophies at Le Mans. You can only get these particular trophies at Le Mans. So, if in years to come in time you can look back and show your grandchildren this particular trophy that happens to be a Rolex, and you can say you had to win this, no one can go out there and buy these sort of things- it’s something you have to work for.”

Kamui Kobayashi (2019 DPI overall): “I would not mind having a second one (laughs). This is why you always want to win these big races. The challenge of this big race, everyone wants this big watch. The watch is a special present. Everyone says it looks cool, but when you turn it around and it says Daytona winner, that is something even more special. To look at that, it is just crazy.”

Colin Braun (2014 Prototype challenge winner): “I have two of them. They’re both in my safe at home. I won them, and I just felt like, ‘Man, these are so special to me.’ I want to be able to take them out, look at them and put them back in my safe. I feel like if I wore them, I’d worry about scratching them, losing them. They’re just so special. When I won a second one, I would wear that watch because it would kind of be an everyday watch. I sort of fell back on that and said, ‘Man, this is special, too. I’m putting this in the safe.’ I don’t want anything to happen to it so if we can win a third here I’ll say that I’ll wear it, and hopefully, I really do.”

Simon Pagenaud (2019 Indianapolis 500 winner; winless in five Rolex 24 starts): “Racing is also about the trophies and the jewelry that you get. I think it’s ends up being what you’ve done in your career and when you look at your rings and your watches and your trophies that you’ve won throughout the years, you remember racing moments, passing, actions at the race track, drama and you’ve got all these memories going through your mind. To me, it’s everything. It’s what my life is — its racing–  so obviously if I could get the watch that would be a very special gift.”

Alexander Rossi (2016 Indianapolis 500 winner; winless in two Rolex 24 starts): “I have (an Indy 500 ring), a watch would be great. I don’t know if there’s a race that gives out a necklace if you win but if there is, that would probably be the next on my list.”

Helio Castroneves (three-time Indianapolis 500 winner; winless in four Rolex 24 starts): “I think the jewelry combination would be perfect. Ring (from the Indy 500) and watch together. It would just complete one of the goals that I want. You’re talking about Daytona 24 Hours, and the Rolex would be an incredible asset to have right here (points at wrist).”

Courtesy of IMSA