December may lack on-track activity, but should still have plenty of news gifts to come

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While traditionally the quietest month in terms of actual on-track action over the course of a calendar year, December still should offer a flurry of news – at least for the next two to three weeks before the holidays.

Here’s what there still is to look forward to, or could happen this month:

NASCAR

  • Champion’s Week in Las Vegas. Frequent hilarity, Jay Mohr’s quips and feting of the new champion should be intriguing to note throughout the week.
  • Crew chief appointments. Carl Edwards going to Joe Gibbs Racing and Trevor Bayne moving up to Roush Fenway Racing have been announced, but their crew chiefs haven’t.
  • Offseason banter. Generally speaking there’s a number of interesting posts on social media NASCAR drivers will share when there’s nothing else to reveal, and with Dale Earnhardt Jr. now on Twitter, we’re almost expecting it.
  • Season reviews. There’s so many angles of the 2014 season just completed to digest, and along with my MST colleagues Jerry Bonkowski and Chris Estrada who have composed the balance of NASCAR stories throughout the year, we’ll be diving into the storylines of the year during this month. 

Formula One

  • The long-awaited, much-anticipated McLaren driver news. Today’s December 1, which means some combination of Fernando Alonso, Kevin Magnussen, Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne is imminent.
  • Button’s departure? If McLaren drops Button, as is possible, his next move could be announced not long after (the FIA WEC would seem to be the odds-on favorite).
  • Official regulation changes. The engine freeze debate has been a talking point, as has the expected dropping of double points and standing restarts for 2015. These and other regulatory matters should be settled following the outcome of this week’s World Motor Sport Council meeting in Doha, Qatar on December 3.

IndyCar

  • Testing! It may only be for a couple days this month, but December 16 will see at least a couple teams and drivers testing. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will have James Hinchcliffe in his first run for the team and 2012 GP2 champion Davide Valsecchi in his first run in an IndyCar.
  • Perhaps one or two more driver/team announcements. It’s doubtful too many deals will get sorted before the holidays. But it’s possible Chip Ganassi Racing could announce its full lineup or Schmidt, Andretti or KV could announce another driver. I’m not expecting to get too much, though.
  • Borg-Warner Trophy new face unveil. Set for this Wednesday, December 3, Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay’s face will be revealed on the Borg-Warner. It’s usually one of the bigger offseason stories in IndyCar, and a popular occasion for the driver to see his likeness on one of sport’s most iconic trophies.
  • Race control news? IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, Derrick Walker, has said in recent interviews that a pool of stewards is the likely operational focus for race control. There may not be a singularly named person, per se, to replace the departed Beaux Barfield, but there could be news on who’s in the pool this month. 

Sports cars

  • Manufacturer announcements. Audi and Toyota are yet to reveal their lineups for the full FIA WEC in 2015, and Nissan is yet to reveal its official launch date for its new LMP1 challenger, other than noting in a statement released to the media it will be after the New Year. Any tease of an announcement – or announce date – will be newsworthy.
  • Any North American announcements. With the Roar Before the 24 and Rolex 24 imminent in January for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, there’s bound to be a rush of team and/or driver announcements for that series. You could hear of a few for the sprint-focused Pirelli World Challenge, as well.

Elsewhere

  • The Race of Champions runs December 13-14, so that brings racing stars from the world together in Barbados.
  • FIA Formula E is still in the midst of its first season, and will race Round 3 in Uruguay on December 13. With all other domestic and international championships wrapped for the year, FE could have the world’s eyes on it in a couple weeks.
  • NHRA traditionally will have a few pieces of news over the next month and if they’re seriously newsworthy, we’ll hit them here on MST.
  • Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit just hosted the Grand Prix to cap off the F1 season, but will also host the Ferrari Challenge World Final later this week (Dec. 4-6) and the Gulf 12 Hour sports car race of GT3 cars (Dec. 11-13) a week later.
  • The Australian V8 Supercars finale (Sydney) and 25 Hours of Thunderhill go off this weekend.
  • Undoubtedly there will be something else I’m forgetting or that will pop up sometime in these next 31 days. Ideally, something positive and not something as tough to have to follow as Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident some 12 months ago.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)