Roger Diez: Takeaways from the 2014 racing season
For the Nevada Appeal
Here are some of the highlights of the 2014 racing season that I found particularly impressive:
NASCAR’s new Chase format. Like many others, I was skeptical when it was first announced, but it provided season-ending drama and excitement beyond expectations. Kevin Harvick won the last two races back-to-back, doing what he had to do. The Chase provided excitement, fights, elation and heartbreak. I can’t wait for the 2015 version.
NASCAR’s new qualifying format. Nothing is quite as boring as single-car qualifying, particularly at superspeedways and road courses. The new format gave drivers a chance to overcome a bad lap, and gave crew chiefs headaches trying to figure out the right strategy.
The battle for the Formula 1 championship between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. It was a season-long seesaw battle that saw Hamilton win his second title. No other team was even in the hunt.
Will Power finally winning his first IndyCar championship after throwing it away for so many years. With the addition of Juan Pablo Montoya to the Penske Racing stable, the organization is back on top.
Penske’s fantastic NASCAR season. For a two-car team to win 11 of the 36 points races is unheard of, but Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano pulled it off.
Kyle Larson’s rookie season: The young California native ran with the big boys, putting up some impressive stats and taking Rookie of the Year honors. He didn’t win a race, but it won’t be long before he visits victory circle.
It was the year of the woman in the NHRA Mello Yello drag racing series. Erica Enders-Stevens became the third woman to win a division championship, following in the footsteps of Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey. Enders-Stevens is the first woman to win the title in the Pro Stock division. Women scored 14 wins in 2014 competition, with Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria posting Funny car wins and Angie Smith scoring in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The sound of racing engines will be heard at Daytona next weekend, as the tune-up before 53rd running of the Rolex 24 hour race takes place. Known as the “Roar Before the 24”, the test gives teams a chance to shake down their cars and make necessary changes prior to race weekend. In the second year of the series that combined the former American Lemans and Grand-Am organizations, the sanctioning body is close to getting its equivalency formula right. Last year’s 24 saw the V8-powered Daytona Prototypes dominate the turbocharged V6 engines used by the P2 Prototypes, but by season’s end tweaks to horsepower and weight had somewhat evened the playing field. This year the open-cockpit P2 cars will be replaced with enclosed cockpit machines and will be more like the DP entries in appearance. Next weekend’s three-day test will give race officials data on which to make final tweaks to the equivalency formula, or “Balance of Performance.” And in order to prevent sandbagging, for teams that show a marked increase in performance between the test and race weekends will be subject to significant penalties. And by significant, they mean a minimum five-minute stop and hold.
Shortly after the endurance circus folds up its tents and leaves Daytona, the NASCAR Sprint Cup entourage will take possession of the track. NASCAR’s Preseason Thunder test session is scheduled for Jan. 15 and 16, with the 17th as a rain date if needed. NASCAR has eliminated private team testing for the 2015 season, with teams only allowed to participate in sanctioned tests conducted by NASCAR and Goodyear. So Preseason Thunder will be the only opportunity before practice for the Sprint Unlimited to check out the technical changes mandated by NASCAR for 2015.
Finally, the family of Jules Bianchi, the Formula 1 driver who suffered severe head injuries at the Japanese Grand Prix, has issued an update on his condition. Bianchi has been moved to a rehab facility in Nice, France, but has not yet regained consciousness. He is breathing on his own, but his neurological status has not changed since the accident. We wish him a full and speedy recovery.