Roger Diez: Minden’s Thorson headed to Chili Bowl Nationals
Seventeen-year-old Tanner Thorson, from Minden, is making a name for himself in USAC Midget racing, which has been a traditional stepping stone for a lot of NASCAR and IndyCar drivers through the years. Thorson took season honors as National Midget Rookie Driver of the year, finishing 11th in the national USAC points. He ended the season by finishing 10th and taking Rookie of the Race honors at the annual Turkey Night Grand Prix at Perris Auto Speedway. As you read this, Tanner is on his way to Tulsa, Okla., for the Chili Bowl Nationals, the annual midget racing extravaganza. He will be the only driver representing Nevada, and will be competing against a field of over 280 entries that includes NASCAR stars as well as racers from Australia and New Zealand.
Mother Nature put a bit of a crimp in NASCAR’s preseason Thunder test at Daytona this past week. Instead of four days of track time, only two were dry enough to run. But while the cars were waiting for the track to dry, there was plenty of news to talk about. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief, Steve LeTarte, announced that he will be leaving the team at the end of the 2014 season to take an on-air job with NBC Sports. Rusty Wallace was back in a driving suit, wheeling Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Wallace showed he’s lost none of his form in his nine years away from the driver’s seat, posting fourth-fastest qualifying run Friday afternoon. Bantering on-air with Darrell Waltrip, Wallace seemed most proud of the fact that he still fit into his uniform.
Tony Stewart was on hand, although Mark Martin drove the No. 14 Chevy for the tests. Stewart allowed that the bones in his broken leg still haven’t completely healed, but sounded confident that he would be ready to go for the Daytona 500 next month. And it was good to see the black No. 3 Cup car back on the racetrack with Richard Childress’ grandson Austin Dillon posting some excellent times. The car will not have the iconic Goodwrench logos that race fans have missed, but the color and the number will evoke memories, particularly if Dillon can run at the front.
NASCAR Vice President for Competition Robin Pemberton announced that the unique Daytona qualifying format will still be in place this year, and there was no announcement to a change in qualifying for the remainder of the Cup series. However, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series will not use single-car qualifying on the ovals in 2014. NASCAR went to a group qualifying format for road courses last year, but Pemberton said that the details of the new oval procedure have not yet been finalized. It may be group qualifying, or perhaps qualifying heat races.
Finally, if you want to have a say in the format of the Sprint Unlimited race that will kick off Speedweeks on Feb. 5, here’s your chance. Fan voting is now open to determine the length of the three segments, the starting order, and the restart order for the final segment. Twenty drivers are eligible to participate in the race; pole winners in 2013 and past winners of the event. You can submit your votes using the official NASCAR app, or by going to NASCAR.com/Sprint Unlimited on the Internet. Voting on the starting order and final segment restart order will close during the race broadcast.