The 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is shaping up already, with two drivers firmly in the field. Kevin Harvick’s convincing win at Phoenix for his new team put him alongside Daytona winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a Chase contender. NASCAR’s tweaking of the championship format, where a race win qualifies a driver for the Chase, is based on a 10-year history. By expanding the field to 16 drivers, NASCAR used statistics from previous Chase seasons. Only once since 2004 have more than 16 drivers scored a race win during the season; that was 2011, when 17 drivers won at least one race. Only 12 drivers won in 2008, the lowest number of winners. So the likelihood that a race winner won’t make the Chase is extremely slight. In fact, there is a much greater probability that some drivers will make the Chase on points without a victory. NASCAR visits Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, with all the Sprint Cup competitors vying to be the next addition to the Chase field.
It has been 10 years since a driver has attempted the Memorial Day “double” of the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but Kurt Busch announced that he will participate in his first Indy 500 in an Andretti Autosport car, followed by the 600 later in the day. The last driver to attempt the feat was Robby Gordon in 2004, and he abandoned Indy race during a rain delay to fly to Charlotte for the Cup race. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of NASCAR drivers traveled north to test their skills in the open-wheeled Indy cars. It was easier in those days, because the two races were run on different dates. In 1967 Cale Yarborough was the first driver to compete in both races. Donnie Allison scored the best combined finish in 1970, winning at Charlotte and taking fourth at Indy. Lee Roy Yarbrough and Jerry Grant also ran both races in the late 1960s. John Andretti managed the feat in 1994, and Tony Stewart ran both events in 1999 and 2001.
The Formula 1 season begins in Australia next weekend. The new technical regulations should make it the most interesting season opener in many years. We could see a first-time winner, or it could be business as usual, with Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes dominating the season. Pre-season testing revealed some serious problems with the new Renault powerplant, which could affect four teams; Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Lotus, and Caterham all use Renault engines. The manufacturer has been working frantically to resolve both hardware and software problems, but the Renault-powered teams may have issues in Australia.
Locally, we’re only three weeks away from the season opener at Fernley 95A Speedway. And Carson City’s Mackena Bell will run her third K&N Pro Series East event of the year at Bristol next weekend in conjunction with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series races there.