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What To Watch / Top News 04-22-13

What To Watch: Tuesday

– As usual, it’s penalty day in NASCAR and the biggest bulls-eye lies on the No. 98 Truck driven by Johnny Sauter. The current series point leader, Sauter’s fuel cell was confiscated following pre-race inspection in Kansas, a move that’s led to fines, penalties, and crew chief suspensions in the past. Sauter is currently 12 points in front of teammate Matt Crafton in the championship chase.

– Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing will hold a national teleconference with reporters. Bowyer, ninth in the series standings has gotten his 2013 season back together after a rough start. Fifth at Kansas, his hometown track he’s now got three top-5 results in his last five Sprint Cup events.

– Denny Hamlin is expected to meet with doctors, following X-Rays to determine if he has medical clearance to race at Richmond. Hamlin has been out for about a month, since a last-lap crash into a non-SAFER, inside wall at Fontana resulted in an L1 Compression Fracture of his lower back.

– Charlotte Motor Speedway will have a series of announcements concerning the Coca-Cola 600 race Memorial Day Weekend. Among the items on the docket: a special set of pre-race ceremonies, plans for a unique “Welcome Home” presentation for U.S. Military returning from overseas and additional partnerships with Coca-Cola. Joey Logano and Charlotte Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith will be among those on hand for reporters.

Top News
by Tom Bowles

NASCAR Adopts European Style Qualifying For Sprint Cup Road Courses

Sonoma and Watkins Glen will have a whole different way of setting the field in 2013. NASCAR, on Monday approved European style qualifying procedures they’ve already used in Trucks and Nationwide that will now apply to the Sprint Cup Series as well. Set to debut this June, at Sonoma Raceway it should make the process quicker and more fun to watch for race fans.

Here’s how it works, for those who haven’t seen it: the cars get split into groups, based on practice times. The slowest five or six cars start qualifying, followed by the next set, and so on and so forth until qualifying is complete. Each group gets sent onto the track at the same time, with the Series Director determining the exact interval in between each car. Then, there will be a set number of minutes (likely five) where the cars can put down as fast a lap as possible. The best lap during the session will count for each car, setting the field while the same provisional rules as any other race still apply.

As you might expect, NASCAR spent Monday trumpeting how the new procedure will enhance its product.

“The change will add an exciting element to road-course qualifying,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition. “Fans will be treated to new strategy and increased competition with several cars on track at once.”

“The new format of qualifying at Watkins Glen International enhances the fan experience, which is our top priority,” added Michael Printup, President of Watkins Glen. “Qualifying on Saturday for our Cheez-ItTM 355 at The Glen is even more of a not-to-be missed aspect of a weekend of high-quality racing.”

Sonoma, which is selling separate tickets for qualifying day hopes the new procedure will benefit them with a boost in sales. The Cup Series is the only major NASCAR division that comes to their raceway over the course of the year.

Dodge Dodging Reports Of Possible NASCAR Return

Could Dodge be heading back to NASCAR’s Cup Series in 2014? Not according to a series of denials issued Monday. The website allpar.com issued a report over the weekend claiming Dodge’s Ralph Gilles had “funding approved” for a return to stock car racing, with the right teams and personnel as early as next year. Last month, Gilles reportedly responded with a “no comment” when asked if Dodge was on the verge of negotiating with teams, testing the waters to make a return.

However, Chrysler quickly shot down the report, claiming the website’s quotes were taken out of context. According to the manufacturer, in a statement released Monday their exit from NASCAR was “Based solely on not being able to develop the correct structure to fit our overall business and competitive objectives.” The company goes on to claim the structure still does not exist for long-term success, which means until it does, Chrysler/Dodge is choosing to stay on the outside looking in on this sport despite the proper funding at the ready for re-entry.

In 2012, Gilles was working with Richard Petty Motorsports and Michael Andretti before choosing to back away rather than push forward with brand “new” programs. Penske Racing made the decision, early that year to move to Ford in 2013 which ultimately left the manufacturer with no major, Chase-contending teams to support its engine and chassis program.

News ‘N’ Notes

– Overnight TV ratings for Kansas showed a clear bounceback from Texas the weekend before. Posting a 3.9 Nielsen number, that’s 11 percent better than the 3.5 from Texas and five percent higher than the same race a year ago. So far this season, FOX has seen an 11 percent increase in its television audience, the 5.0 ratings average its best for NASCAR coverage in four years.

– Don’t expect Justin Lofton to be returning to the Truck Series anytime soon. The former full-timer, who drives for Eddie Sharp Racing had reduced his schedule this season to participate in Robby Gordon’s new Stadium Truck Series effort. But after running the exhibition race, at University of Phoenix stadium this month Lofton is hooked and ready to go after the $500,000 championship grand prize. He has since informed ESR his “appearances” in the Trucks will be cut further, jumping to full-time off-road competitor instead meaning the vast majority of the 2013 schedule for the No. 6 is now open. Sharp is expected to use funded drivers to fill the void, similar to Danny Efland’s effort at Kansas last weekend (28th). Unfortunately, since Lofton’s fourth-place run at Daytona the trio of drivers hired since (Devin Jones, Tyler Young, and Efland) have yet to break the top 20.

– A belated congratulations from the Frontstretch to Scott Speed, who won Global Rallycross Gold down at the X Games. Speed, competing in the event for the first time beat superstars like full-time Nationwide Series driver Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan to score the upset. For the second straight year, Pastrana failed to medal in his Dodge after getting involved in an accident shortly after the start of the final.

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