UPDATED: Daniel Knost will be Danica Patrick’s crew chief in 2015


UPDATED (4:30 p.m. ET): Multiple reports have now confirmed that Daniel Knost, Danica Patrick’s ‘interim’ crew chief for the final three races of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, will be her full-time crew chief in 2015.

Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News and Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network are relaying word from Stewart-Haas Racing that Knost’s interim tag has indeed been shed.

Late last year, SHR opted to swap crew chiefs for Patrick and fellow driver Kurt Busch. Patrick’s former CC, Tony Gibson, was announced as Busch’s CC for 2015, but Busch’s former CC, Knost, was instead dubbed as an interim CC for Patrick that could be pushed to a full-time role.

Prior to today, SHR had not confirmed if Knost would be the full-time crew chief for Patrick and her No. 10 GoDaddy-backed team.

But Patrick’s comments on the subject before last night’s GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Alabama (where she took part in the coin toss and presented the trophy to the winning Toledo Rockets) appeared to signal that Knost would get the nod.

“I think something new is both scary but also exciting,” she said to AL.com’s Tommy Hicks. “Until you go there, you don’t know how great it could be. We [she and Knost] worked together a little bit at the end of last season. I think that was a really good thing to do in preparation for 2015.

“Everybody at Stewart-Haas has been working very hard to make sure that every team is as good from top to bottom as possible, and we’ll probably have some changes for next year within the team, but it’s like I said, you never know what you can have until you dare to try something different.

“Daniel is a very smart guy and I’m excited to see what we can do.”

Following SHR’s swap, Patrick finished 36th at Texas, 22nd at Phoenix, and 18th at Homestead to close out 2014 with Knost as her CC. As for Busch, he finished eighth, seventh, and 11th in those same events with Gibson.

Knost made the jump from engineer to crew chief last season with Busch on the No. 41 team, and the two scored a Chase berth-clinching victory in the spring at Martinsville.

But consistent results for the pair were largely missing, with occasional Top-5 runs breaking up stretches of mediocre finishes. Busch was then knocked out of the Chase in the opening Challenger Round.

In the lead-up to Knost joining the No. 10 team as interim CC, Patrick noted that his engineering-based background may end up fitting well with her.

“…He’s definitely like the kind of engineers – in fact, in IndyCar, it was called an engineer instead of a crew chief – that I was used to dealing with,” she said in late October. “We’ve gotten along anyway whether he’s been on my car or not. I’m definitely open-minded and looking forward to the opportunity to see how it will go with him.”

Now, that opportunity will indeed continue into the upcoming season.

NHRA to expand field sizes for 2020 Countdown playoffs

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Field sizes for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs could substantially increase for the upcoming 2020 season, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

The previous standard to qualify for the playoffs was the top 10 ranked drivers following the last regular season race before the Countdown begins, the U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis. That standard remains in place.

Now, in light of Wednesday’s announcement, additional drivers in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car “Nitro” classes will be eligible for the six-race Countdown playoffs if they compete in all 18 regular season events and run a minimum of two qualifying sessions at each of those 18 events.

Given that most of the 18 NHRA regular season events have as many as four qualifying sessions, the new expanded field could potentially add several Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to the Countdown field. For example, if there are 16 full-time teams that compete in all 18 regular season races for the upcoming season, all 16 teams will likely qualify for the playoffs.

If those additional drivers meet the new standard, their point standings will also be reset after the U.S. Nationals, as has always been the case for the top 10 Countdown qualifiers.

Changes will also take place in Countdown qualifying for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which have smaller season schedules than their counterparts in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 13-race regular season, additional Pro Stock drivers who have competed in all 13 prior events as well as took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will be eligible for the Countdown.

Because it contests only an 18-race overall season schedule, Pro Stock’s portion of the Countdown is only five races, rather than six as in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, which has a 16-race overall season schedule, in addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 11-race regular season, riders who have competed in all 11 regular season events and took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will also be eligible for the Countdown.

As in Top Fuel and Funny Car, all Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers/riders that qualify for the Countdown after the U.S. Nationals will have their points reset.

Speaking of points being reset, the NHRA also announced that heading into the Countdown, Top Fuel and Funny Car will see first and second place be separated by 20 points, while each subsequent position will be separated by a 10-point differential.

In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, first and second place heading into the Countdown will be separated by 20 points, while second through fifth place will be separated by 10 points and all positions below fifth place will be separated by five points.

And has been the case in the past, all drivers/riders that reach the Auto Club Finals season-ending race will earn points-and-a-half for qualifying and each round run.

According to a NHRA media release, “NHRA officials made this change in order to better reward driver endurance and encourage participation in regular season events.”

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