NASCAR Stars On Verge Of Chase Elimination

- October 12th, 2014

It is almost a certainty that without a win next week at Talladega six time champion Jimmie Johnson, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, 2003 champion Matt Kenseth and the sport’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., will be out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Those four are set for elimination after respective finishes of 17th, 16th, 19th and 20th in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
All but Earnhardt were pretty much authors of their own demise with sub-par performances in the second race of the Chase Contender Round.
Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet looked early on to be a potential winner but a broken shifter, of all things, derailed his night.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this – big stars being dumped – when the tall foreheads at NASCAR’s headquarters dreamed up this new Chase format that starts with 16 drivers and gets whittled down by four after each three race segment leading to one final showdown of four drivers at Homestead Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.
What the Chase has done, however, is make every lap of every race count, witness the altercations on pit road post race where Keselowski lost his mind slamming his No. 2 Ford into Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Tony Steward in apparent retaliation for some bumping prior to the final restart at CMS.
Perhaps the pressure of being soundly out driven by his Team Penske garage mate Joey Logano in this Chase season is starting to get to Keselowski.
In any event it was bad form and the betting is that team owner Roger Penske – he of the starched white shirts – will have a sit down with his errant star to explain his actions were not “the Penske way”.
Hamlin chastised Keselowski, calling him “out of control” and accused him of unseemly behaviour.
“He’s desperate … he’s pissed off everyone,” Hamlin said. “Just disappointing … just acting like a dumbass instead of a champion.”
As for Keselowski he used the old school yard fight excuse for his actions.
“They hit me and I hit them back,” he said. “That isn’t the lesson you want to teach your kids. But this isn’t the schoolyard. This is serious stuff here. We’re all just trying to stand our ground.”
While Keselowski, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kenseth left Charlotte despondent, race winner Kevin Harvick was celebrating getting a free pass into the next Chase round and not having to worry what happens at Talladega – NASCAR’s most dangerous track – next Sunday afternoon.
“I won’t be anorexic and throwing up all week,” Harvick said of not having to deal with the pressure of having to win at Talladega. “This was the night that we needed to win. I don’t want to go to Talladega next week.”
What all this means is that as wild as Talladega can be, most drivers think it will be ten fold worse with so many top stars on the brink of getting shuffled out of contention for the big prize.
“You thought it was going to be wild, but now with the way it’s playing out, and especially those cars that have had bad races, it’s shaping up to be very epic,” Hamlin said. “Until the last lap, you will not know who is going to be in or out.”
The drivers who are in – Logano, who won at Kansas, and Harvick – can relax and really so can Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon who are in the top six headed to Talladega.

POWER PLAY

It is hard to believe considering the glorious history of Mercedes Benz in Formula 1 racing but Sunday’s win in the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi by Lewis Hamilton clinched the German auto giant’s very first Constructor’s title in the world’s top open wheel racing series.
And just to put a cherry on top it also finished second in the race with Nico Rosberg coming from last on the grid after a first lap mishap to follow Hamilton across the finish line.
Without Rosberg’s heroics there wasn’t much to say about the inaugural Russian F-1 outing.
Hamilton was the class of the field and was never once in even emote danger of being challenged.

FINISH LINES

NASCAR will likely issue fines on Tuesday to all involved in the Charlotte fracas but will stay away from deducting points because of the impact in might have on the new Chase system. …
Hamilton dedicated his win to Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, who is still in critical condition after last week’s carsh at Suzuka: “Without a doubt every time I got in the car this weekend, coming here and being here, I was just thinking of him and his family – and keeping him in my prayers each day.”
dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca

Hinch signs multi season deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

- October 7th, 2014

James Hinchcliffe made official on Tuesday what just about everyone knew for the past week – he will be driving the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda next season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The 27-year-old Oakville native has signed a multi-year contract with the Indianapolis based team after two seasons in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda.
In a telephone interview prior to the media presentation launching the new team Hinchcliffe said it was SPM owners Sam Schmidt’s and Rick Peterson’s dogged pursuit to get his signature on a contract that really sealed the deal.
“Ultimately Sam and Rick were highly motivated and came after me in a big way,” he said.
“Seeing that level of commitment, the way they were willing to execute it gives a driver a good feeling.
“So we were able to put it all together in something that we are all very excited about.”
Hinchcliffe said he bears no animosity to the Andretti group or its owner Michael Andretti, it was just that SPM was willing to present a more attractive package – especially the multi-year term.
“It gives us some stability and a foundation to build for the future,” he said.
Although Hinchcliffe did have discussion with other teams – believed to by Chip Ganassi Racing and KV Racing – the Honda factor was large in making up his mind.
Both Ganassi and KVR run Chevrolets.
“There is no doubt that Honda played a big part in the negotiations,” Hinchclilffe said. “Having the relationship that I do with HPD (Honda Performance Development) and Honda Canada weighed heavily on my decision.
“It was important to me to try to stay in the Honda family – and during the off-season I made that clear
“I’m happy to be still repping the “H”
“I didn’t get the wins for them that I wanted to in 2014 but hopefully we can fix that situation in 2015.”
What was expected but did not happen on Tuesday was an announcement that his Andretti sponsor – United Fibre & Data – would move to SPM with Hinchcliffe, but that deal has yet to be finalized.
“The sponsorship is going to be announced at a later date,” Hinchcliffe said. “But obviously we were keen to let people know that we (the team and Hinchcliffe) are moving forward so the sponsorship is something that will come out at a different time.”
Last season Hinchcliffe participated in a number of sports car and stock car races in the IndyCar off season – specifically the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the Australian V8 SuperCar series – but this off season he will be concentrating on getting ready for 2015 when a modified version of the Dallara DW12 will be introduced.
“I have no plans for any off season racing but we do plan to test the new (Dallara) package – hopefully a lot – between now and the start of next season,” he said. “Both I and Honda think that is very important.”
Hinchcliffe’s development fell off a bit last season after a three win 2013 season, but he still managed four top five finishes and five front row starts.
It was those kinds of numbers that made him an attractive free agent when he couldn’t make the deal he wanted with Andretti.
SPM, albeit, is a muck smaller team, but it did challenge the big teams all of last season with Simon Pagenaud behind the wheel.
“I really like what I saw last year from this team, the way there were able to battle the big teams,” Hinchcliffe said.
He won’t exactly be a stranger in the SPM paddock, having driven for Schmdit back in his Indy Lights career.

Tony Stewart cleared in death of Kevin Ward Jr.

- September 24th, 2014
A New York State grand jury has absolved NASCAR super star Tony Stewart of any criminal charges in the death of 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. last month in a dirt track sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park near Rochester.
Ward was killed when he was struck by Stewart’s race car as he walked across the track to confront Stewart, who he blamed for a crash on the previous lap.
The grand jury saw several videos of the incident and heard toxicology report evidence that Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the deadly accident.
“After listening to and questioning all of the witnesses, and reviewing all of the evidence, the grand jury has determined that there is no basis to charge Tony Stewart with any crimes,” Ontario (NY) district attorney Michael Tantillo said
Tantillo said the 23-member grand jury found “no aberrational driving by Tony Stewart,” or any other evidence to suggest that Stewart was criminally negligent in the incident.
Toxicology evidence showed Ward had a significant level of marijuana in his system, high enough, the jury ruled, to impair his judgment.
Stewart issued a release shortly after the grand jury decision was announced saying it should not be forgotten that Ward lost his life as a result of the accident.
“This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever,” Stewart said.
“I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve received and continue to receive.
“I respect everything the District Attorney and Sheriff’s Office did to thoroughly investigate this tragic accident.
“While the process was long and emotionally difficult, it allowed for all the facts of the accident to be identified and known.
 “While much of the attention has been on me, it’s important to remember a young man lost his life. Kevin Ward Jr.’s family and friends will always be in my thoughts and prayers.”
The grand jury’s finding were similar to what Ontario County Sheriff Phillip Povero found at the time of the crash that there was no evidence to suggest any wrongdoing on Stewart’s part.
What this does is clear Stewart of any criminal charges relating to the accident but he still could by the subject of a civil suit by Ward’s family.
NASCAR communications boss Brett Jewkes also issued a statement following the grand jury finding.
“There are no winners in tragedy,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Kevin Ward Jr. family and Tony Stewart as they all cope with this tragic incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
“This has been a difficult time for everyone involved and we have respected the local authorities responsible for reviewing this case.”
 Stewart sat out three NASCAR Sprint Cup races following the tragedy and it likely cost him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

Jeff Gordon tours Toronto on Wednesday

- September 9th, 2014

Four time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon visits Toronto Wednesday to promote Chase.

 

Here is his itinerary:

 

12-12:30: Gordon arrives at Dundas Square
- NASCAR Canadian Tire Series show car and driver join Gordon

12:45-1:15: Gordon arrives at Rogers Center

1:45-2:30: Gordon arrives at Canadian Tire retail location on Queensway in Etobicoke
- Interacts with fans / employees

Wittmer set for back-to-back World Challenge races at Honda Indy Toronto

- July 14th, 2014

SRT Motorsports has announced that Montreal’s Kuno Wittmer will pilot the No. 92 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R in the Pirelli World Challenge at the Honda Indy Toronto Saturday and Sunday.
Wittmer, coming off a pole sitting, second place in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship this past weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is excited at the prospect of back-to-back races on the temporary street circuit around Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto in the World Challenge series.
“It’s definitely a great step for the Viper program,” he said. “I think the Pirelli World Challenge has evolved a lot over the past four or five years.
“The last time I raced in it was 2010 and it was already very competitive. Seeing how the championship has grown, it’s more competitive in all the right ways and it will be fun.”
Make no mistake about it, Wittmer has all the tools to make a difference in this event, even though he won’t get much time to prepare.
“We can’t forget that this is a one-off appearance on a street course and we don’t get much track time,” he said. “It’s tough. There are half hour sessions and if you get a red flag from another class, you can lose a lot of track time.
“It’s very vital that we get all our laps in as quick as we can, get the right setup right away and it’s going to be very, very important that everything goes as perfectly as possible.”
Wittmer is also counting on the fact that the one day between the two Honda Indy events will give the team a chance to fix anything that might have gone wrong in the first race.
“Luckily, it’s two races and not just one race — it’s a doubleheader, so we can afford to play around a little bit,” he said. “Ideally, we would like to win. But let’s be realistic, get a solid result and showcase what this car can do.”
The goal, of course, is to put the SRT Dodge Viper in front of race fans and race teams on a competitive circuit.
After all Ralph Gilles, CEO of SRT Motorsports, Chrysler Group LLC, said that racing is about is selling cars and Dodge wants to sell a lot of these SRT Viper GT3-Rs.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to have Kuno step into the Pirelli World Challenge and test his skills in the Viper GT3-R against the top class in the series,” Gilles said. “This is a test Viper that Riley Technologies prepared and we see this race as an opportunity to showcase our customer program.
“We’ve had success in the series with Dan Knox taking the Viper to the winner’s circle during the Detroit race weekend and we want to continue building momentum with our Viper GT3-R program.”
Knox, who competes full-time in the World Challenge in the No. 80 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R, ranks third in the GT-A class standings and claimed the Viper GT3-R’s first series victory in a May race on Detroit’s Belle Isle circuit last month at the Belle Isle IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Detroit.
“I believe that the Viper GT3-R is a benchmark car across the world,” Wittmer said. “The Viper has a lot of potential and this is a great opportunity to showcase the car in the GT class.”
Wittmer previously competed in the World Challenge from 2008 to 2010 and tallied six victories in the series, including two Viper wins in Salt Lake City and Long Beach, Calif.
He will have SRT’s Matt Bejnarowicz, who currently serves as the lead engineer for Wittmer’s IMSA TUDOR Viper, as the lead engineer for the No. 92 Viper GT3-R entry.
“I spent a lot of time in the World Challenge as a race engineer and for me it’s like going back home,” Bejnarowicz said. “That’s where Kuno and I met and he had a lot of talent and potential. We ended up getting paired up, cut our teeth together and we’ve been together since.
“It will be like the old days — a lot of fun and we’re going to try to put the Viper up front.”
The Toronto race weekend is the only scheduled appearance for Wittmer and the No. 92 Viper GT3-R entry in the World Challenge.
Knox will continue to run the full series schedule in pursuit of the GT-A class championship for Lone Star Racing and the Viper GT3-R racing program.
dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca