The 2019 Southern California racing season opened this week at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana as three NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series drivers spent two days testing, getting a taste of the new rules package.
Joey Logano, who won the driving title last season, was on the track along with Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez. Truex, winner of last spring’s Auto Club 400, finished second to Logano and then made the jump to Joe Gibbs Racing when Furniture Row Racing ceased operations. Suarez is driving for Stewart-Haas Racing after two years at JGR.
It was the first time for the drivers with changes that included air ducts, a larger rear spoiler and other aerodynamic changes, including a tapered spacer intended to reduce horsepower to a target number of 550.
The event was closed to the public but opened to season-ticket holders. More than 300 lined up atop the pit row suites to watch the testing while the post-testing meet-and-greet with Logano attracted 200.
Outside Logano’s time with fans, drivers were limited in their interaction with fans. However, a few were able to strike up a conversation through the fence.
“To continue to do a great job that this team did last year,” is how Suarez answered a question on how he expects to do at SHR. “(Wednesday) was a very productive day for us, it will bring information to the table for Stewart-Haas racing and my teammates as well.
“Everything was good in the shop, in the race car and then you come to the race track and you have to change things here and things there.”
Suarez’s transition to the No. 41 driver’s seat was two days (on his 27th birthday) after announcing he had joined SHR
“So far, everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing has made me feel like home,” Suarez said during a Monday press conference. “I feel like a lot of good things are happening so we can perform well on and off of the race track.”
Suarez admitted to bitter feelings upon finding out Truex had replaced him at JGR.
“The reality is that this is a business, and it is very hard to have hard feelings. At the same time, it’s very hard not to take it personal because it is my life in the middle of all this,” Suarez said. “But at the end of the day, I felt like this is the best seat that actually could happen. I needed fresh air. I needed a change. Last year wasn’t good for me.”
Harley drag team
What’s the old adage? If you can’t beat ’em. join ’em? How about the opposite?
There was a time in NHRA history when Angelle Sampey was virtually unbeatable in Pro Stock Motorcycle, winning three world championships and 42 national events.
When the bikes join the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series later in the year, Sampey will be part of the Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines team for the opening four rounds as a ‘showcase rider,’ competing alongside team veterans Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec.
In addition to the 50th Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Sampey will also ride the Harley-Davidson Street Rod Pro Stock bike at the Four-Wide events in Las Vegas and Charlotte and the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
“It’s surreal to be getting ready to race one of these Harleys after lining up against them for so many years,” said Sampey. “I’m so motivated to get out there and see what I can do on the same bike as Eddie and Drew.”
Andrew Hines, Krawiec and Sampey have combined for 12 NHRA championships and 137 national event titles.
Indy 500 on NBC
The Indianapolis 500 will air on KNBC/Channel 4 in May and the IndyCar Series’ season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey. In fact, eight of the year’s 17 IndyCar Series races will air on NBC, a 60 percent increase of network television exposure over 2018. NBCSN, entering its 12th consecutive year telecasting IndyCar events, will air nine race, including the Long Beach Grand Prix.
NBC Sports will air nearly 350 hours between linear television and digital streaming coverage. NBC Sports Gold, the direct-to-consumer streaming product, will offer IndyCar Pass that will feature live IndyCar Series practice and qualifying sessions, same-day race airings and Indy Lights.
“This will be the most complete and robust season of IndyCar viewing for our fans,” said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company.. “Fans can not only see everything that happens on the track, they can see races at their convenience on the same day, which until now had not been available.”
— Las Vegas natives Kurt and Kyle Busch will headline eight NASCAR Cup drivers set to test Jan. 31-Feb.1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Others scheduled to participate include seven-time Jimmie Johnson, 2012 champ Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, 2017 Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto. In addition, rookie Ryan Preece, veteran drivers Paul Menard and David Ragan, 2018 DC Solar 300 winner Ross Chastain, Landon Cassill and Drew Herring are scheduled to be at the 1.5-mile speedway.
The tire test will mark the first track activity for Kurt Busch for Chip Ganassi Racing and for Newman for Roush Fenway Racing. It also will be the first time for drivers to use the new aerodynamic package, designed to reduce horsepower and foster tighter racing.
A section of the main grandstands and pit road will be open to fans at the test, tentatively been scheduled from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday.
— Monster Jam will host the first of six shows next Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium. The series will also produce shows Feb. 2, Feb. 9-10 and Feb. 23-24, more Monster Jam stadium events than any other city.
The truck lineup will feature appearances by Grave Digger and Max-D along with El Toro Loco, Son Uva Digger, Overkill Evolution, Bounty and Avenger. Seven trucks will make their Anaheim debut, including the first-ever diesel powered truck BroDozer and newly rebranded Monster Jam Fire & Ice.
— Brody Roa of Garden Grove will open the 2019 season at the prestigious Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Tuesday. Roa will be driving the midget owned by Kevin Ramey, the 2018 Racesaver IMCA Sprint Cars national champion. Roa was recommended to the Kennedale, Tex.-based Ramey by open-wheel photographer Tim Aylwin.
With more than 300 entries, the Chili Bowl Nationals has attracted racers from Midgets, Late Model Dirt, Super Modified, World of Outlaws, NASCAR, NHRA and USAC. Thirty states are represented in addition to international competition from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Christopher Bell has won the last two events and faces the likes of five-time Chili Bowl champion Sammy Swindell, two-time winner Rico Abreu, Kyle Larson, Brad Sweet, Dave Darland, Damion Gardner, Jerry Coons Jr., and Kasey Kahne.
–The AMA Supercross Series is in Glendale, Ariz., this Saturday. In the opener last week in Anaheim, Justin Barcia was first on a Yamaha, followed by Ken Roczen on a Honda with Kawaski’s Eli Tomac in third. In the 250SX class, Colt Nichols was first on a Yamaha with Yamaha’s Dylan Ferrandis second and Shane McElrath third on a KTM.
— Leigh Diffey, A.J. Allmendinger and former IMSA GT driver Calvin Fish will lead the NBC team for the 50th anniversary of the International Motorsports Association (IMSA) season opener Jan. 26 at the iconic Rolex 24 at Daytona at Daytona Beach, Fla.“Leigh has a unique ability to communicate all of the stories and battles taking place throughout a race,” said Sam Flood of NBC Sports. “A.J. will bring a fresh perspective from the driver’s seat to the booth, while Calvin’s familiarity with IMSA both as a racer and analyst will combine for an informed and entertaining listen.”
Since joining NBC Sports in 2013, Diffey has served as the lead play-by-play voice for the network’s IndyCar and Formula One coverage. Prior to joining NBC Sports, Diffey called both the GRAND-Am Rolex SportsCar Series and American Le Mans Series from 2003-12.
— The 35th Arizona Nationals, set for Feb. 22-24 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, will be sponsored by Magic Dry Organic Absorbent. Midwest Organics is the parent company of CatSpot Organic Cat Litter, which is the title sponsor of the NHRA Northwest Nationals outside Seattle.
Louis Brewster can be reached at [email protected]