The first major racing event of 2017 is just a week away, as engines will fire for the Rolex 24 at Daytona next Saturday.
For the first time in a number of years, no major NASCAR stars appear on the entry list with the exception of recently retired Jeff Gordon. Gordon will join Wayne Taylor Racing after a 10-year hiatus, wheeling a Cadillac prototype. There are a number of familiar names from the IndyCar ranks in the field, including James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot driving Mazda prototypes and Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, and Ryan Briscoe in Ganassi Ford GTs. NASCAR part-timers Boris Said, Kenny Habul, and Justin Marks will be aboard GT Daytona machines, and several former F1 and IndyCar drivers are also in the field. There are 17 prototypes in the race, almost equally divided between the new DPi class and the Prototype Challenge Orecas. There are 11 GT Lemans entries and 27 GT Daytona machines, bringing the total starting grid to 55 cars. Coverage on Fox begins at 11 a.m. on Jan. 28 for three hours, switches to Fox Sports 1 for five hours, Fox Sports 2 from 8 to 9:30 p.m., and from 9:30 until noon back on Fox Sports 1 for the end of the race.
Last week NASCAR announced some new specifications for the cars, drivers, pit crews, and pit equipment for the 2017 season. Changes apply to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Some of the new regulations pertain to safety, with modifications to the cars. Tire allocation limits have also changed, as have the sizes of spoilers and restrictor plates. In all, there are 80 pages of revisions, so I’ll just hit the highlights.
The Monster Energy Cup teams will have to be a bit more frugal with tires in 2017. The number of tire sets allowed will be reduced by one set at Atlanta, Charlotte, Dover, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Pocono, and Richmond. Two fewer sets will be allowed at Auto Club Speedway, Bristol, Chicagoland, Daytona (500 only) Kentucky, Martinsville, and Phoenix. At the season finale at Homestead, teams will have three fewer sets allowed, which will make the championship round of the Chase even more interesting. Drivers will also have to start all races on the same set of tires used for qualifying. This same rule applied in Formula One a few years back.
Aerodynamic changes for the Cup cars at non-restrictor plate tracks include a shorter rear spoiler, which has been cut down to only 2.35 inches tall. That’s more than an inch shorter than the 3.5 inch spoiler used at most tracks last season. The Monster Energy Cup and Xfinity cars will also have a smaller restrictor plate in 2017, measuring 7/8 inch, a reduction of 1/64 inch in diameter.
Safety changes for all three series include a stronger footbox, additional bracing of the steering column, and better side intrusion protection on the driver’s side of the car. Also, the optional roof escape hatch will now be mandatory at the Daytona and Talladega superspeedways. Drivers will be allowed to use biometric devices to monitor heart rate, respiration, and other functions, but must be standalone wrist-worn units that don’t transmit the data. NASCAR has issued a list of allowed devices. And taking another page from Formula One, all cars in the Cup series must carry a roof-mounted camera at all races, whether it’s activated for network broadcast or not.
A talented young American driver who has shown remarkable results in underfunded IndyCar teams got a big break for 2017. Josef Newgarden, who has accomplished remarkable things for the likes of Fisher-Hartmann Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing in past seasons, has been tapped to replace Juan Pablo Montoya in the Penske Racing No. 2 machine. With top equipment and the premier team in IndyCar, watch for Newgarden to have a breakout season.
While Newgarden is sitting pretty, former NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon won’t be starting the season for Don Schumacher Racing due to lack of sponsorship. Teammates Schumacher, defending champ Antron Brown, and Leah Pritchett will compete at the first event, the Winternationals.