NASCAR: What to expect for Edwards, Bayne, Hornish with 2015 changes

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The transition from 2013 into 2014 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series saw a bevy of drivers heading to new teams. The number is much smaller heading into 2015, but no less notable. Here’s an outlook on who’s going where in driver or team changes: 

Carl Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing

How it happened: The summer’s worst kept secret was that Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing were headed for a separation after more than a decade together. Much the same as some other veterans of late, 2014 champion Kevin Harvick, runner-up Ryan Newman and 2013 runner-up Matt Kenseth among them, Edwards is at the point of his career where a change of scenery will likely serve him well.

What to look for in 2015: On the whole, Toyotas seemed to struggle for power this year a year after they had the power, but not the reliability. Edwards should get on well with JGR eventually, but I’d see this shaping up as more a Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas-type situation at least initially. The team’s expanding from three to four cars, and it takes time for all the new pieces to gel. Edwards will work with crew chief Darian Grubb, who has most recently worked with Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart. You could foresee at least a win or two, but more than that with a serious championship challenge would seem a surprise.

source: Getty Images
Bayne in the 6. Photo: Getty Images

Trevor Bayne to Roush Fenway Racing

How it happened: Bayne signed with RFR full-time on the Saturday before the Coca-Cola 600 in May, which also served as the unofficial confirmation of Edwards’ departure at year’s end. The iconic RFR No. 6 returns and will take on the No. 99 owner points from this year. Bayne has been part-time in Sprint Cup for the better part of five seasons and was always going to move up to full-time; it was just a matter of when.

What to look for in 2015: At present, Bayne’s the only full-time rookie-of-the-year candidate, so while ROY is a realistic and expected goal it’s not going to be the only thing he’s after. There’s a lot for Bayne to prove at the Sprint Cup level. He’s rarely run that well in the non-restrictor plate races, and the RFR performance across the board this year left much to be desired. Without the steady hand of crew chief Jimmy Fennig to guide him – Fennig heads into deserved semi-retirement – Bayne will have a new voice atop the pit box guiding him throughout his first full year. He also has the problem of expectations. Kyle Larson raised the bar for rookies in 2014 and although Larson didn’t make the Chase, he did lay down the gauntlet in terms of top-10s and near-wins. Realistically, you’d like to see Bayne end the season top-20 in points, bank a handful of top-fives and anywhere from about seven to 10 top-10s.

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Hornish back full-time. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Hornish Jr. to Richard Petty Motorsports

How it happened: Marcos Ambrose’s return to Australia created the vacancy, and Hornish was the perfect fit for the Sammy Johns-led team at Richard Petty Motorsports. Hornish has starred in the Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series the last three years with wins in each season, and was desperately unlucky to miss out on the 2013 title. While Ambrose was a road course star who had occasional oval highlights, notably on short tracks, Hornish should be an overall upgrade in a well-deserved second full-time Cup chance.

What to look for in 2015: Richard Petty Motorsports almost usurped Roush Fenway Racing as second-best team in the Ford stable behind Team Penske this season, and the addition of Hornish alongside Aric Almirola for 2015 should further the team’s growth. He’s been able to spend time in the shop to learn and begin to mesh with the organization. He’s found his rhythm and comfort zone in stock cars after an extended learning process, but he’s also developed and honed the skills that he showcased in his IndyCar heydays. He should work well with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. Considering Almirola won a race and made the Chase this year, it wouldn’t surprise to see Hornish achieve the same feat, and became the latest first-time Cup winner. That’s a realistic expectation, with anything beyond that a bonus.

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.