Young NASCAR drivers offer glimpse at future – LA Daily News
LAS VEGAS >> NASCAR held it annual West Coast Media Day in Las Vegas on Thursday and it was a quite a glimpse into the future.
Not just at the 2017 season, but also the next generation drivers. Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez flew cross country from Charlotte, North Carolina to the Nevada city to help drum interest for the three West Coast races following the Monster Cup Series opener at Daytona on Feb. 26. Larson, who will compete in his third season, is 24 and Blaney is 23 before the start of his second campaign.
Suarez, the eldest of the trio, is 25 and will be compete at the Cup level for the first time. The Xfinity Series champion was elevated into the ride vacated recently when Carl Edwards retired.
Las Vegas will host the second race of the season (March 12), followed by Phoenix (March 19) and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on March 16.
All three drivers spoke about the annual West Coast swing and how they enjoy the experience. Additionally, the trio presented views about the new NASCAR rule changes that will essentially create three separate segments per race. NASCAR announced the new format on Monday after all drivers and teams were briefed the previous Saturday.
“Now that the holidays are over, sales for the Auto Club 400 are picking up,” ACS president Dave Allen said. “Our infield has already sold out and we have some good momentum with our ticket sales.”
Larson, who had his initial Cup win in 2016 at Michigan, has enjoyed success at Fontana. He won the Xfinity race last season and has a second-place Cup finish.
“It’s one of my favorite tracks, right behind Sonona,” said Larson, who is from the northern part of the state. “It’s like my second home track. “I’m excited, and we have almost all of our team back. This offseason was the first time people haven’t asked me when I am going to get my first win, so now we can focus on going and getting the second and third.
“Hopefully, we can start the year off well, have a solid season and get a couple wins.”
Blaney also said he’s looking forward driving the Wood Brothers Ford in the West.
“I love coming out west and Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana are some of my favorite places to go,” said Blaney, who had nine Top 10s last season. “I didn’t really know the tracks out west until I came to them last year, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
It will also be an exciting time for Suarez, the first Mexican driver to compete in Cup full time.
“There’s been a lot going on the last couple weeks,” Suarez said. “I was happy and excited to celebrate winning a championship down in Mexico with my family and friends and then the call for the Cup ride came. I was like, ‘Is this true? Is this happening for real?’
“I’m starting to learn all of the little details and how different it is between the Cup and Xfinity guys and hopefully I can get up to speed as quickly as possible. I’m super excited, and I feel like we’re ready to go.”
The Western portion of the NASCAR series will open with four races in eight days with Napa Auto Parts sponsoring the biggest kickoff in the history of the series. More than $400,000 in awards, plus a $50,000 bonus, will be given to any driver who can sweep.
The Napa 500 Challenge is 500 laps of competition at three tracks.
Tucson Raceway will host the opener March 18, followed by another Napa 150 at Kern County Raceway Park on March 23. The series will conclude at Irwindale Speedway with a pair of Napa 100s on March 25.
Former Chino Hills resident Todd Gilliand is the reigning series champion and Rancho Cucamonga’s Ryan Partridge was second.
In addition to the $50,000 bonus for a series sweep, a $10,000 award is available to drivers who finish in the top three positions in all four races. Drivers who finish in the top five spots in all four events could take home a $5,000 award. Additionally, a $1,000 award is available to drivers who finish in the top 10 positions in all four races.
The weekend’s event at Daytona, recognized as North America’s toughest, most prestigious sports car endurance race, will have a definite Southern California flavor in its 55th running Saturday. There will be an all-new field of Prototype race cars in addition to the fastest, most technologically advanced machines in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Among those competing in the WeatherTech series will be Santa Monica’s Robert Alon and teammate Jack Hawksworth. Alon, 26, started racing in 2014 and finished fifth in Prototype Lites L1 competition that year with two runner-up results in some of his first on-track competition. He captured three PC class wins and four poles in the series 2016 last year.
He previously competed in the US Prototype Championship Series.
David Hart is no stranger to racing in the state. In his 28-year career in motorsports public relations, he has been media director at Laguna Seca and Somona Raceway and media manager at the NHRA. He was also director of communications for IMSA in addition to corporate communications director for Richard Childress Racing from 1999-2013. Hart was recently selected as public relations manager for Furniture Row Racing’s NASCAR Cup program that will feature rookie Erik Jones. He will oversee the team’s corporate communications. … Perris Auto Speedway season-pass holders have the first choice of seats for the 2017 season. The sale ends March 1. PAS will run 11 USAC/CRA events, including the Oval Nationals. … Once again, the NHRA Nitro Spring Training will be conducted at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona, Feb. 1-4. It will be the final test session before the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season begins in Pomona with the Circle K Winternationals on Feb. 9 at Auto Club Raceway. … With snow, in his hometown of Portland, Oregon and rain at Sonoma Raceway, veteran Pirelli World Challenge driver Jon Fogarty moved south to the Southern California desert to test at the new Thermal Club. “I am very happy with the runs at Thermal. It is a fantastic track with a variety of turns,” Fogarty said. “It’s a country club setup for the gentleman racer, but we could learn a lot of different things about the new car. The learning curve was steep with the team and the car as well as myself with the car and the tires. I think we were qualifying much better towards the end of the season and made some gains with the car.” Gainsco Racing decided to move to the Porsche 911 GT3 R.”