Sprint Cup Series: Could Chase Elliott Be the Spark NASCAR Needs? – For the fourth year in a row, the best possible story came together for NASCAR on Daytona 500 Qualifying Day. 20-year old Chase Elliott grabbed the pole Sunday afternoon for the Great American Race, and in doing so became the youngest pole winner in the history of the event.
The conspiracy-minded may take issue with Elliott’s pole due to the unusual coincidence of him being the third rookie in four years to win the 500, but a logical analysis shows that Elliott’s performance should come as no surprise. The No. 24 team that Elliott is inheriting sat on the pole for three of the four restrictor-plate races in 2015, an impressive accomplishment that just goes to show how strong this team is in qualifying trim on the superspeedways.
Elliott now sits in an interesting position, as his pole run is going to garner him a great deal of media attention from those both inside and outside the NASCAR world, further establishing him as a potential superstar (a la golf’s Jordan Spieth) for a sport desperately in need of successful new faces. Could young Chase truly live up to the impossible expectations set before him and win the sport’s biggest event in only his sixth Cup start? He’ll be starting from the best position to accomplish it, and if he could somehow pull off the upset, it would likely be the spark this sport needs to re-energize it’s downtrodden fan base.
No pressure, right? Matt Stallknecht
NHRA: Strong Debut in Pomona – The NHRA kicked off the 2016 season with their first live eliminations show for new television partner FOX Sports in style with a fantastic finish to the Circle K NHRA Winternationals. The season opener from sunny Pomona, CA, featured three very close and very competitive final round races for the Pro divisions.
In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence got the win over Doug Kalitta with a run of 3.735 seconds, 326.48 mph to Kalitta’s 3.753 seconds, 324.36 mph. Torrence and his single-car team are receiving consulting help from Alan Johnson this year and have formed an informal alliance with the JFR team of Brittany Force, who is also receiving guidance from Johnson. Johnson’s team won at the Winternationals last year and it appears he shared the secrets to success in Pomona with Torrence.
Fan favorite Ron Capps took the Don Schumacher Racing organization to victory in Funny Car, defeating reigning Funny Car champion Del Worsham in the finals on a holeshot with a pass at 3.981 seconds, 324.28 mph to Worsham’s quicker but losing 3.962 seconds, 324.36 mph. Capps also defeated Jeff Diehl, Chad Head, and Robert Hight en route to the finals.
“I have the best team in the business, and they gave me a great racecar,” said Capps, driver of the NAPA Funny Car. “All four runs in the 3s in qualifying, I don’t think anyone else did that. I knew we had a good racecar. (Crew chief Rahn) Tobler and I have grown so much together. It’s like a marriage. He really keeps me in line on race day. We had a heckuva day.”
Capps also acknowledged the great day for long-time sponsor NAPA Auto Parts, with a Chase Elliott pole win earlier in the day at Daytona. “I’m like aw, man, I was going to tweet him and say ‘way to put the pressure on, man’ but I didn’t want to jinx ourselves. As we kept going further in the day I thought ‘man, how cool would it be to have the NAPA guys have the pole at the Daytona race and here winning Pomona at the other end of the country.”
Pro Stock kicked off the fuel-injected era (EFI) with Summit Racing leading the way as teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line faced off in the finals. It’s worth noting that three of the four cars in the semi-finals came out of the KB Racing stable as Bo Butner also made it to the penultimate round, making a case for the team having the jump on the competition in figuring out the new combination.
Anderson took the win over Line on a holeshot with a 6.617 second, 207.85 mph run to Line’s 6.609 seconds, 209.82 mph. He also beat Matt Hartford, Jeg Coughlin, and Drew Skillman on his way to the finals. Toni Montgomery
Camping World Truck Series: Bring on the 2016 Season – This Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returns to action at Daytona for another 23-race season to determine this year’s champion. Opening up the year alongside the XFINITY and Sprint Cup series, the Truck Series will have multiple new rules, including a Chase format, new points structure, caution clock and overtime line. Drivers will take to the 2.5-mile oval for a pair of practice sessions on Thursday before setting the field Friday afternoon. The NextEra Energy Resources is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on FoxSports 1. Beth Lunkenheimer
IndyCar Series: Veterans Praise Phoenix International Speedway Following Preseason Test – If Monday’s test was any indication, fans might want to mark the April 1-2 Verizon IndyCar Series return to Phoenix International Raceway on their calendars.
Six of the series’ best drivers took to the one-mile oval for an April 8 test session. Included in the session were Ed Carpenter, Josef Newgarden and Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.
Power, who completed his first laps at the Arizona circuit, showed optimism about the event after the test.
“It has a lot of history and that’s what INDYCAR needs is to go to places that have that history,” Power said in a release. “I really think they will get a big crowd out here. I think fans are interested to see what these cars are like on the track and how fast they are compared to NASCAR. They are a lot faster, which I think fans will enjoy.”
Castroneves, a 2002 winner at the circuit, praised the track’s speed and changes.
“To go around 20 seconds in a mile here, it’s pretty fast,” said Castroneves. “It feels great. The new change (to the track configuration) probably helped a little bit to go even faster, because in the past Turn 1 used to be a little bit sharper and now the outside is open. So it’s kind of cool and, man, this is great.”
The IndyCar paddock will return to Phoenix for another test on Feb. 27, before returning on April 2 for the Phoenix Grand Prix, the series’ first race at PIR in 11 years. Aaron Bearden
XFINITY Series: It’s Go Time for 2016 – There was an abundance of changes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series during the off-season. If there was any expectation that it would be a quiet off-season, it was anything but that. With over 10 driver and team changes, including multiple moves made before the 2015 season ended, 2016 will see many new challenges for the sport’s second-tier division.
The Rookie of the Year race will be quite compelling, with Brandon Jones entering as the pre-season favorite, driving for RCR. However, Ryan Preece and Ray Black, Jr. were late editions to this year’s rookie class, giving Jones some competition heading into his first full season.
With 2014 series champion Chase Elliott moving up to the Sprint Cup level in 2016, it gives Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier a chance to compete for a title. Along with the JR Motorsports tandem, expect to see Darrell Wallace, Jr. emerge as a championship favorite after coming off an impressive rookie year.
However, there is one driver that stands out among the rest, and that is Erik Jones. He is expected to win a handful of races this year, and if all goes well like it did in his full-time Truck Series stint in 2015, he will emerge as a champion once again.
Among the new teams in the XFINITY Series are BJ McLeod Motorsports (Nos. 78 and 99 Fords), SS Green Light Racing (No. 07 Chevy), Kaulig Racing (No. 11 Chevy), Wing Nut Racing (No. 27 Ford) and GMS Racing (No. 21 Chevy). Joseph Wolkin
Sports Cars: Level 5 Motorsports Owner Scott Tucker Indicted – Up until early 2014, Scott Tucker was the owner and one of the drivers for Level 5 Motorsports, a mainstay in sports car racing here in the United States. Following the merger of ALMS and Grand-Am, the team moved to the GT-Daytona class, acquiring Ferrari 458 Italias. After winning the class at the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Level 5 suddenly withdrew from the series under mysterious circumstances. Only now are we learning the sheer scope of Tucker’s business dealings away from the track.
On Wednesday, Tucker was arrested in Kansas and has (along with his former counsel, Timothy Miur) been indicted on a number charges, including conspiracy, collection of unlawful debts and multiple violations of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). According to the FBI, Tucker is accused of extending loans to up to 4.5 million people, at interest rates at times exceeding 700 percent, via deceptive contracts at a number of payday lending centers operating under names such as One Click Cash, US FastCash, 500 FastCash, Ameriloan and United Cash Loans. In addition, Tucker entered into relationships with three Native American tribes in order to prevent himself and his companies from being sued by those who used his services and states suing on the behalf of consumers due to tribal sovereignty. Tucker’s companies also conducted business in a number of states (such as New York) where payday loans are effectively illegal.
As a result of his scheme, Tucker personally earned hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. Those profits were used to purchase homes, a Learjet and bankroll Level 5 Motorsports.
A number of assets were seized from Tucker at the time of his arrest in an attempt to recoup $2 billion in ill-gotten gains. Assets seized included bank accounts, multiple high performance vehicles, real estate and the Learjet. Tucker, along with Muir could face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted. Phil Allaway