NASCAR Unveils 2017 Whelen Euro Calendar
Twelve Rounds In Six American-themed Events, Hosted By top European Circuits
NASCAR announced today the 2017 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series calendar, with six top European circuits hosting the excitement of NASCAR racing at some of Europe’s most prestigious and historic tracks.
The schedule will take the series to six countries, with twelve rounds of racing for its ELITE Division 1 and ELITE Division 2. Each event will be highlighted by four NASCAR Whelen Euro Series races: Two for the ELITE 1 Division and two for the ELITE 2 Division.
New this year will be races at the legendary Hockenheimring in Germany and the Autodromo di Franciacorta in Italy. The series will also return to Valencia in Spain, Brands Hatch in England and Venray in Netherlands, before crowning the 2017 champion at Zolder in Belgium.
Built on the foundations of a very successful 2016 season that attracted thousands of fans every weekend, the ninth season of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series already promises to be the best in the history thanks to long-term partnerships with world class venues. With one of the most attractive and cost-effective formulas in motorsports, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series looks forward to 2017 to further consolidate its position among the best series in Europe.
“We are very proud of this calendar and honored to work with such amazing circuits and organizations,” said Jerome Galpin, president of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. “We will visit some of the greatest facilities in Motorsports and offer the fans one of the best racing experiences they can find in Europe, filled with pure racing in a fun American atmosphere. It’s also a tremendous value for every team, driver and their sponsors; no series in Europe can offer them a better and more cost-effective form of racing than NASCAR”.
“The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has seen amazing growth and the fans have really embraced the series,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president. “We are excited about bringing the series to Hockenheimring and Franciacorta, and very pleased to continue our long-term relationships with four classic venues: Valencia, Brands Hatch, Venray and Zolder. Together, we are looking forward to unprecedented excitement in our European series and continuing the series’ progress.”
For the third consecutive year the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season opener will be held in Spain at Valencia’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo. The track will host the third edition of the Valencia NASCAR Fest on April 8-9.
The series will then head to Brands Hatch on June 10-11 for another marquee event reaching its fifth edition and attracting a larger crowd every year: the American Speedfest. Legendary Hockenheimring will make its debut in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series with a dedicated American-themed event on July 1-2 for the delight of the large German NASCAR fanbase, while Raceway Venray, the “fastest half-mile in Europe,” will close the regular season in spectacular fashion with four nail-biting oval races on July 15-16 in the context of the Autospeedway American Style event.
On September 16-17 the playoffs – awarding double points for each race – will begin at the Autodromo di Franciacorta. Located in the north of Italy near the Garda lake, the 2.519-km road course will host Euro NASCAR for the first time. After another huge success in 2016, Belgium will host the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Finals for the third consecutive year at Circuit Zolder and crown the 2017 European NASCAR Champion.
Anthony Kumpen, the 2016 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series ELITE 1 Division champion, and other top drivers in the series will be honored in the United States next month. They will be on stage at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Series Awards on Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Charlotte Convention Center / NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina. The awards will be broadcast live on FansChoice.tv and simulcast on NASCARHomeTracks.com, in English, Spanish and French.
See below for the complete NASCAR Whelen Euro Series schedule
2017 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Calendar
Alamaa Makes Most Of His Opportunities
Sweeps Top Two Divisions At I-25 For Third Straight Season
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dan Alamaa enjoys racing at Pueblo, Colorado’s I-25 Speedway so much, he races in two different divisions.
In fact, he doesn’t just race in two different divisions, he dominates them.
This year marked the third straight season that Alamaa, 46, has won track championships in both the Division I Super Late Model and Division II Grand American Modified classes at the quarter-mile bullring.
“That’s pretty big for us,” said Alamaa, who earned his second NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championship at I-25 this year since the venue became NASCAR sanctioned in 2015. “The year started out with a bunch of feature wins. It was…I’m not going to say it was an easy year, but it was an event-free year. It was just a good, solid year for us.”
Thanks to five victories, Alamaa easily captured the Super Late Model track championship by more than 100 points over his closest rival, George Maldonado. The battle was a little tighter in the Grand American Modified class, where he won the title by only 80 points over Kyle Rayburn.
Racing in both classes kept Alamaa, who says he likely has more than one million laps at I-25, busy throughout the season. Both classes didn’t always race on the same night, but on nights that they did Alamaa found himself hustling between race cars during practice, qualifying and the features.
It’s not hard to imagine Alamaa being exhausted after a night of racing during the hot Colorado summers. Yet somehow he makes it all work in his favor.
“They both don’t run on the same nights every weekend, but they did for probably half the season,” Alamaa explained. “It’s pretty tough, especially in the Pueblo heat with the desert climate. It’s usually 100 or more degrees out. It takes a toll on not only me, but my crew, who are running around setting tires and making adjustments and such.
“Those people that call race car drivers not athletes, I’d like to see them do that once.”
Alamaa said it’s not as simple as climbing out of one car and into another. There is typically some mental adjustments that Alamaa says need to be made depending on which car he is racing. Each car drives differently and he has to remember that on his busy back-and-forth nights at I-25 Speedway.
“There is definitely some adjustment,” Alamaa said. “A Super Late Model compared to a Modified is like driving a taxi cab. Point and shoot and you pretty much go where you want it. Now a modified, having probably more horsepower and half the tire, you really have to have a finesse to it.
“I’ve been doing it so long I’m pretty use to it. But it does take a lap or two to kind of get in the groove and make sure you’re not diving in a corner in a Modified like you’re in a Super Late Model or you’re going to end up in the fence.”
This is the second year that Alamaa, who calls Colorado Springs, Colorado, home, has earned an invite to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Dec. 9 inside the Charlotte Convention Center. He says it’s not only a chance to celebrate, but also visit some friends who work in the NASCAR world in North Carolina.
“It’s a chance to be able to go to Charlotte and go to the awards ceremony, but also I have a bunch of friends from Colorado that actually work out there so it is a good time to go visit them,” Alamaa said. “They work on some Cup teams, Stewart-Haas, Joe Gibbs and Penske. It’s a good connection and I have a ball out there.
“It’s something that a lot of people from this area will not get to do in their lifetime simply because there are only two NASCAR tracks in this state (I-25 and Colorado National Speedway). It’s a big deal,” said Alamaa.
Established in 1982, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing.
Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering is the series’ title sponsor. Whelen Engineering is a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting. NASCAR tracks and pace cars are among the many showcases for Whelen products.
In addition to his success in the Super Late Model division, Dan Alamaa also won the Grand National Modified title at I-25 Speedway in Colorado. Sam Sgambati
Six Drivers Earn Most Popular Driver Awards
Nearly 47,000 Votes Cast World-Wide For Fan Favorites
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The fans have spoken.
More than 47,000 votes were cast world-wide for the 2016 NASCAR touring series’ Most Popular Driver Awards and six drivers have earned the honor of fan favorite.
The 2016 Most Popular Driver Award winners are:
• Austin Theriault (Fort Kent, Maine), NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
• Salvatore Iovino (Los Angeles), NASCAR K&N Pro Series West
• Melissa Fifield (Wakefield, N.H.), NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
• Trey Hutchens (Lexington, N.C.), NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour
• Jason Hathaway (St. Thomas, Ont.), NASCAR Pinty’s Series
• Alon Day (Ashdod, Israel), NASCAR Whelen Euro Series
The list includes four repeat winners – Melissa Fifield, Trey Hutchens, Jason Hathaway and Alon Day.
There was also nearly an historic first: Hutchens, who competed in both the K&N Pro Series East and Whelen Southern Modified Tour this year, finished a close second to Theriault in the K&N Pro East voting while taking the top honors in the Whelen Southern Modified Tour for the second straight year.
Fifield won the award for the third straight season in the Whelen Modified Tour.
Iovino emerged in front in a close three-way battle in the K&N Pro West with Jesse Iwuji and series champion Todd Gilliland.
Hathaway, who announced he was retiring from full-time competition after racing in all 121 events in series history, ran away with the award in the Pinty’s Series.
Day, who was selected to the NASCAR Next program as one of the sport’s rising stars, won the award for the second consecutive season.
The award was open to any driver who competed in at last half of the races in their respective series.
Monday, Elliott Sadler (NASCAR XFINITY Series) and Tyler Reddick (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series) received the Most Popular Driver Award for their respective series in their awards gala at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.
The NASCAR touring series Most Popular Drivers will be recognized on stage as part of the NASCAR Touring Series Night of Champions on Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Charlotte (North Carolina) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Eckes Edges Teammate Berry At The Line
Takes Prestigious Myrtle Beach 400 Victory In Photo Finish
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – In a thrilling photo finish, Christian Eckes narrowly beat his JR Motorsports teammate Josh Berry to win his first career Myrtle Beach 400 at Myrtle Beach Speedway on Saturday night.
As the field took the white flag, Eckes was alongside of Berry are they barreled into Turn 1 for the final time. When the two drivers rounded Turn 4 and entered the frontstretch, they rubbed tires and hooked doors with the checkered flag in sight. Berry went hard into the outside wall, and it was Eckes, who won the 24th annual event by mere inches.
“Yeah, I mean we definitely did what we had to do,” Eckes said. “It’s coming to the checkered at the Myrtle Beach 400, he would’ve done the same thing. I’m just really proud of out JR Motorsports No. 1 team. We fought all year long and tried to get a big win or trying to get a win period, really. We just haven’t had any good luck and finally, we got it to come together, and we won the Myrtle Beach 400.”
Eckes continued and said,” Lee was kind of holding us up there, but I ‘m glad that we got around him there, but he raced me really clean. I pulled out of line, and he let me have the line. Man, I cannot believe this. I really can’t. The last couple of laps, we had a really good car, and it just hooked up, and we we’re able to catch Josh.”
Finishing in third just behind Eckes and Berry was Pulliam. Rounding out the top-five was Justin Milliken and Myatt Snider. Trey Gibson finished sixth, followed by Brendon Queen, Chad McCumbee, Kason Plott and Tyler Highes completing the top-10.
The Myrtle Beach 400 saw a stout 43-car field take the green flag after more than 55 cars attempted to make the race including several former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions.
Tommy Lemons Jr. started on the pole, and he led the way for about the first 14 laps. Brian Vause only had the lead for a short time before 2014 national champion Anthony Anders got out in front. Anders went on to lead the majority of the first 100 laps of the event.
The second caution of the night came out on lap 70, when Ryan Millington and Dylan Smith got together while entering Turn 1. The contact sent Smith spinning through the first turn and hard into the outside wall.
Not long after the field went back to green, it was Lemons Jr., passing Anders for the race lead; however, Vause came back into the picture and retook the lead himself. On lap 95, the caution came out for the third time as Lucas Williams stalled on the track in Turn 1. Eight laps later, the caution came out for another stalled car in Turn 1. This time, it was Annabeth Barnes-Crum.
The field went back to green on lap 107, but one lap later, the caution flew when Jason York and ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winner Mike Looney got together in Turn 2. On the restart, Brian Vause didn’t take off, and the field behind him scrambled. Unfortunately, Matt Leicht and Tyler English had nowhere to go, and they sustained heavy damage on their cars. Both were having great nights, but English finished 36th, and Leicht finished 37th.
The competition caution came out on lap 126, and the crew took advantage of the final opportunity to make adjustments to their cars. Tommy Lemons Jr. and Christian Eckes brought the field down to the green flag to kick off the final 99 laps of the Myrtle Beach 400. The leaders were in a heated battle, exchanging the lead on multiple occasions, but on lap 148, the strong No. 27 car of Tommy Lemons Jr. suffered a mechanical failure, ending his chances at the victory. After being so strong Lemons Jr. finished 33rd.
Four laps after the restart, the caution came out for a multicar accident in Turns 1 and 2 on lap 157. The accident started, when Justin Johnson made contact with the left rear of Greg Edwards’ car. Edwards went spinning through Turn 1 and into Turn 2. While trying to avoid the spinning car of Edwards, RA Brown and Shane Lee went spinning as well. Lee was unable to continue. He finished 32nd. Brown was able to rebound for a 12th place finish.
The green flag flew once again on lap 163. For the next 35 laps, it was three-time national champion Lee Pulliam in the lead, trying to fight off Josh Berry. At that point in the race, Pulliam and Berry were so strong, and it looked as if the race was going to come down to the two of them. On lap 198, Austin McDaniel and Dylan Hall got together in Turn 1. Hall’s car was absolutely destroyed following hard contact with the outside wall. In fact, Hall’s car had to be loaded onto the rollback in order to get it off the track.
After crews worked hard to clean up the fluid and debris from Hall’s car, the field got the green flag with just 25 laps to go. Two laps later, the caution came out again. On the restart, Pulliam had to hold off Berry in order to protect the lead.
When Blair Addis’ car blew up in smoke and flames on lap 207, the leaders were bunched back up for an all-out 18-lap dash to the finish of the 225 lap event. On the restart, Josh Berry quickly took the lead away from Lee Pulliam. As the laps ticked away, Pulliam just wasn’t able to get around the No. 88 of Berry, which opened the door for Eckes to make his late run.
Jimmie Johnson had never won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, despite having amassed 80 Sprint Cup career race wins. But then again, Johnson had never needed to win at Homestead in his past quest for Sprint Cup titles.
On Sunday, Johnson forever linked his legacy to both Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only seven-time Sprint Cup champions by capturing the checkered flag in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Seven titles in the past 11 seasons is surely a stellar triumph across any sport. For a true barometer of Johnson’s greatness, look towards next year’s Daytona 500 when race cars will roll on the grid.
Johnson will be NASCAR’s only multi-Championship driver when the green flag flies to open the 2017 season. No other active driver will even have two Championships, with the recent retirements of both Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
Truly, this surreal, fairy-tale ending sprung from the shared Chase elimination playoff format that now applies to all three of NASCAR’s top racing series: Sprint Cup, XFINITY, and Camping World Trucks.
NASCAR’s Chase playoff can be simply exhausting and exasperating. When this Chase playoff was first introduced at the Sprint Cup level in 2014, I didn’t care for it.
However, seeing the Chase play out once again this year, I have been painstakingly assimilated as a convert, like the invasive Borg from the Star Trek television serial.
Watching an entire season of the Sprint Cup Championship come down to a final race restart for the Championship 4 drivers, instead of tracking “points racing” tallies, was truthfully just like reveling in a playoff game where anything can happen and the outcome was hazy until the very last lap. Drama delivered, for sure!
Maybe NASCAR has nailed it here after all, in the era of short attention spans. For the third year in a row, the Championship 4 “winner take all” finale delivered strategy, amusement, drama, and controversy, after Joey Logano dropped low on the track and Carl Edwards threw the block, wrecking both drivers and effectively parting the seas for Johnson’s quest for a “come from behind” victory.
Consider that the cream rose to the top in all three Championship series finales:
- In the Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200, Johnny Sauter secured his first Championship over his 13-year racing career with a gritty third-place finish at Homestead-Miami, with the other three Championship contenders finishing 7th, 8th, and 9th.
- In the XFINITY Series, Daniel Suarez took the checkered flag in Ford EcoBoost 300 to capture the XFINITY Series championship. With the win, Suarez became the first International NASCAR champion of any touring series once the Mexican-born driver nabbed the title. The remaining three Championship contenders finished 3rd, 6th, and 9th, but were running in the top 5 throughout the day.
- In the Sprint Cup Series, with 60 laps remaining in the Ford EcoBoost 400, the Championship 4 contenders were clustered together with Logano 2nd, Edwards 3rd, Busch 4th, and Johnson 6th. With 10 laps to go, the Championship 4 were still tightly packed among the top six running positions on the track. When the final race results were racked, Johnson was crowned both the Homestead race winner, as well as Sprint Cup Champion, for the third year in a row under the revitalized Chase format.
But while purists may continue to whine about the playoff format, maybe these fans just require a little more time to “soak in”.
For an unknown, inexplicable reason, the Chase elimination playoff elevates the Championship racers to showcase their cadre of talents in a “winner takes all” battle that compels drivers to take big risks for big rewards, and not rest on their point cushions.
Whether you’re a proponent or not of the Chase playoff format, greatness was delivered by Johnson. Revel in it during the short offseason!
By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano.
Purvis Crowned Final Columbus Champion
2015 Division II national champ moves up to claim title
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When it was announced earlier this year that Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway would be shutting down following the conclusion of the season, the question became which driver would be known as the final NASCAR track champion at the third-mile asphalt oval?
The answer to that question turned out to be 29-year-old Kyle Purvis.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Purvis of being the final track champion at Columbus, which had been owned and promoted by the Nuckles family for nearly 70 years. “The race track was actually sold to the city of Obetz, which is in Columbus, Ohio. They’re going to put rugby fields and expand their recreational center. So to be the last track champion that will ever come out of there, that is pretty awesome to say the least.
“To be able to tell everyone you’re the last late model Division I track champion out of Columbus is awesome.”
The track championship wasn’t a forgone conclusion for Purvis, who this year drove a late model owned by reigning track and state champion Kyle Jones. Midway through the year the team actually switched cars, moving from a Hamke chassis to a Port City chassis.
The change made all the difference.
“We were actually running a different car at the first of the season and were really struggling with that car,” said Purvis, who calls Marion, Ohio, home. “We switched cars and I started driving a Port City car towards the middle of the season.
“We did a lot better with the Port City car. We won a few races and every race we won was in the Port City car,” Purvis said. “We just started off slow in the other car at the first of the season. We struggled a little bit, but once we got the other car up and going good, that’s when we did well.”
Purvis ended up scoring two victories at Columbus, barely edging out Donnie Hill by just 10 points to win the track championship. Purvis also finished second to Hill in the Ohio state championship rankings and finished 54th overall in the National standings.
“We had one bad wreck that really dropped us out of having a shot at the state title. That’s just part of racing,” said Purvis, who carried sponsorship Farm Transport, Beach Manufacturing Company, Manley Graphics and Walker Performance Filtration.
The 2016 season served as a continuation of success for Purvis, who last year won the track championship and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II national championship while racing in the modified class at Columbus. Purvis said the key difference between the two cars was how smooth he had to be in his late model versus the modified.
“To be able to go from a Division II national championship and the track champion at Columbus in the modified division and then the next year be the Division I late model champion, that was pretty awesome,” Purvis said. “You just have to be a little bit smoother in the late model, while in the modified you’ve really got to get up on the wheel and drive it hard.”
Purvis, who will be among those attending the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Dec. 9 inside the Charlotte Convention Center, said it’s hard for him to believe this was the final season of racing at Columbus.
Now, he admits, he doesn’t know where his home track is going to be.
“The Nuckles family did a really, really good job promoting it year to year,” Purvis said. “We call Columbus our home as far as racing and what we’re going to miss is…well we really don’t know where we’re going to call home next.”
No matter where he calls home next, you can bet Purvis will be a contender.
Purvis secured two wins, 14 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 15 starts en route to defending his title. Courtesy of Jack Clay
Pennink Captures Championship Crown
Becomes Fifth Driver To Win Back-To-Back Titles At Stafford
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Rowan Pennink began the 2016 season with uncertainty, but he ended it by making a little bit of history at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway.
The Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, driver captured his second straight NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championship in the SK Modified Division at Stafford this year, becoming just the fifth different driver to win back-to-back track championships at the half-mile asphalt oval.
All that happened despite the fact that 31-year-old Pennink was working with a new crew chief after the departure of Jimmy Fuller following his championship at Stafford last year. His new crew chief, Kevin Crowley, stepped right in and made sure the team never lost a step.
“We started off the year with a new crew chief this year. The rest of the team remained the same,” Pennink said. “We went into the season hoping to pick up where we left off last year and we ended up winning the first race of the year, which was a huge boost for the team and the new crew chief. We kind of never looked back.
“We won a couple more right in a row (at the start of the year) and we just stayed out of trouble and picked up wins where we could through the season,” Pennink said. “Finishing all the laps at each race and getting top fives is what propelled us towards the championship.”
Pennink and company ended up winning six times in 17 starts this year at Stafford, four more than anyone else competing at the track in the SK Modifieds this season.
Pennink hardly ran away with the championship as throughout the season he had both Keith Rocco and Ted Christopher, who have 11 SK Modified track championships and two NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National championships between them, hot on his heels.
“It was really a whole team effort. Everything that Bob Hitchcock and Kelly Iverson, who are the car owners, do, and all of the guys that work on that 99 car on a weekly basis do an amazing job in the shop,” Pennink said. “We ended up getting the championship and a lot of that is due to my team’s effort.”
He ended up winning the SK Modified track championship by 30 points over Rocco and a further 54 points over Christopher. In addition, Pennink was ranked eighth overall in the final NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National standings and was third in the state of Connecticut, ironically behind only Rocco and Christopher.
U.S. state and province champions are determined by the best 18 finishes at tracks within the respective state or province.
The back-to-back track championships at Stafford made Pennink a member of an elite group of drivers who have won consecutive championships at Stafford. The only other drivers to accomplish that feat are Christopher (2000-2001), Bob Potter (1991-1992, 1994-1995), Mike Christopher (1989-1990) and Jerry Pearl (1984-1985).
“He (Ted Christopher) has the most career wins out of anybody at Stafford. It is awesome to put on a list of accomplishments like that and be up there with Ted,” Pennink said.
After taking part in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Dec. 9 inside the Charlotte Convention Center, where he will be honored alongside other NASCAR track and state champions, Pennink will again turn his attention to preparing for a full season of racing at Stafford.
The goal for Pennink next year? Become the first driver to win three-straight SK Modified track championships at the Connecticut oval. He knows it won’t be easy.
“I’m definitely going to go run Stafford in the 99 car again,” Pennink said. “Hopefully we can go back there and try to make it three in a row next year.”
Pennink secured six wins in 17 starts en route to his second track championship. Courtesy of Driscoll Motorsports Photography
Finally! For the enduring fans wondering where the drama had gone in NASCAR’s Chase elimination playoff, the penultimate Phoenix Raceway CanAm 500 delivered. It only took eight snoozer races prior to Phoenix to wake the Sprint Cup contenders up.
With the Championship 4 now set, Joey Logano vs. Jimmie Johnson vs. Carl Edwards vs. Kyle Busch is the best final roster yet under the new playoff format instituted in 2014. Two previous Champions, and two top stars who each fell just short in prior seasons.
Having shed the “Sliced Bread” moniker, Logano delivered the goods, being one cool customer by holding off former Champion Kevin Harvick, who had advanced in every Chase elimination cut-off until this year. By winning in Phoenix, Logano became the winningest driver under the current Chase format, having amassed 7 wins in the 28 Chase races since 2014.
Heading to Homestead, the script is solid with Logano looking to give Captain Roger his second NASCAR title to celebrate Team Penske’s 50th Anniversary, complementing the IndyCar title that Team Penske captured earlier this year. In Johnson, we have the perennial six-time Champion who will polarize the sport even more if he nabs his seventh, thereby binding his legacy with the two immortal icons of Petty and Earnhardt in career titles.
Yet, why was the build-up to this point so tedious? Fans have wholeheartedly ignored most of this year’s Chase playoff, which was intended to bring excitement and ramp-up intensity. Just look at the last three races: Compared to 2014, television viewership ratings have nosedived with Talladega off 28%, Martinsville off 35%, and Texas off more than 50% (partially forgettable due to a six-hour rain delay).
My suppositions on the biggest pain points are:
- No Cinderella Story Left in Play. Marveling at how the Cubs vs. Indians World Series doubled viewership to 50MM viewers for Game 7? In contrast, halfway through this Chase, NASCAR’s playoff had eliminated all the potential surprise contenders, including four Chase rookies.
- Established Superstars are Vanishing. Having Jeff Gordon make the Championship 4 in his final season in 2015 juiced up fan interest. Although Tony Stewart will bid farewell in next week’s race at Homestead, Stewart was not a factor in this Chase with his early elimination.
- The Earnhardt Jr Effect. Having the sport’s biggest star yanked away for ½ of the season due to his prolonged recovery from concussion symptoms has devastated fan interest. Fans are intensely loyal, and losing the sport’s most popular driver for 13 years in a row is a heavy blow to the body.
- The Return of the Downforce. The legion of race teams’ engineers has recovered the much of the downforce package reduction instituted at the start of the 2016 season. Teams now lock in their grip on the track, thereby relegating many races to single file parades and few cautions. Optimistically, the 2017 Sprint cup rules package, already tested this year, conceivably could have commenced early at the outset of the Chase to put more action on the track back in the drivers’ hands.
- No Game 7 Moments or On-Track Feuds. Through the first three rounds of the Chase, the biggest battles were fought by the teams not beating themselves with untimely pit calls, on-track penalties, or mechanical detonations (Martin Truex, Jr., anyone). Sadly, with Joe Gibbs Racing having four qualified drivers in the final round of 8, their idiosyncratic personalities were handcuffed by “team orders”.
These disturbing headwinds make it easy to see why NASCAR has struggled to land a title sponsor for 2017. It’s obvious that the asking price is too high or that a consortium of entitlement sponsors may be necessary to cover the cost. Either way, a cut is coming after a 13-year deal with Sprint that generated a $75 million influx per year.
NASCAR is going to need a sizable miracle of its own to turn 2016 around. Will Jimmie Johnson’s breakthrough to Homestead, his first Championship 4 appearance in three years, move the ratings needle? Hard to say, but Gordon’s final Championship appearance last year captured the imagination more than Johnson has. But then again, if Johnson wins, will lingering fans deem the fix is in?
By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano.
Zagaiski Finds His Groove To Take Berlin Title
Breaks Through For First Feature Win, Then Five More, For Crown
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Prior to this year outlaw super late model driver Dave Zagaiski had never won a feature at Marne, Michigan’s Berlin Raceway.
That all changed this year for 52-year-old Zagaiski, who won six times in eight races and captured his first NASCAR track championship at the .4375-mile asphalt oval.
“We’ve been racing over there for a number of years, six or seven years, and never really did a full season in the past because of a lack of help and a few other reasons,” Zagaiski. “Up until this year we hadn’t won anything. We were getting better and better, but my new help has made all the difference.”
The new help that Zagaiski mentioned came in the form of Nick Fischer and Brad Yunker, two Berlin Raceway veterans who came on board as Zagaiski’s crew members.
“They’ve both been involved in racing at Berlin pretty much their whole lives,” Zagaiski said. “Nick and Brad happen to be best friends and they are actually business partners together. They are very passionate about racing. We’ve created one bad fast race car.
“Last year (2015) was the first year for Nick and Brad. We went through some growing pains. We had quite a few failures. I think we only finished half the races at best. This year we obviously fixed all that.”
In addition to doing the driving, Zagaiski also builds his own engines, which also happens to be what he does at his day job.
“I do the engines, that’s what I do for a living,” Zagaiski. “I work at Katech here in Michigan. Katech has a pretty good and long reputation for all types of racing.”
Zagaiski also said he got a lot of help from a former NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, Johnny Benson, who built the chassis that Zagaiski drove to the track championship this year at Berlin.
“Our cars are Johnny Benson chassis’ and he is a big part of our success. He became a good friend of mine a number of years ago,” Zagaiski said. “Johnny is from Grand Rapids (Michigan), which is basically where we race. He was born and raised over there. He was weaned at Berlin. He has been a big part of our success as well.”
The season didn’t exactly start off well for Zagaiski, who got taken out in a Lap 2 crash not of his doing in the season opener.
“We had a pile in front of us and I picked the wrong path and didn’t make it through the pile,” Zagaiski said.
He quickly put that behind him, rattling off six victories in the next seven races to comfortably capture the track outlaw super late model championship for sponsors Kehrig Steel, Intergra Shocks and Benson Speed Equipment.
His domination at Berlin also left him ranked eighth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings in the state of Michigan.
“Berlin is a pretty unique track in the big picture of things,” Zagaiski. “It is very unique in the surface of the track and the architecture of the track itself. A lot of people will tell you how tough it is, so going over there for this many years … it has had its ups and downs.
“I knew we had a good car last year even though we dropped out a lot. We dropped out leading several times,” Zagaiski said. “I knew we were going to do well and I knew that we had a pretty good chance, but six races and as dominant as the car was, I’m going to say the car not me because it was definitely the car, it was hard to predict that.
“It’s all pretty overwhelming actually,” Zagaiski said.
Zagaiski now turns his attention to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Dec. 9 inside the Charlotte Convention Center, where he will join other NASCAR track and state champions as honorees.
Dave Zagaiski notched six wins and seven top-five finishes in eight starts to capture the championship at the .4375-mile oval. Courtesy of Jessica Gargagliano/HD Photo