So much for an off-season in Sprint Cup

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:12 AM ET

Has NASCAR figured out a way to make its Sprint Cup series a year-round sport?

Not quite, but the tall foreheads at HQ in Daytona Beach, Fla., are aiming high. Some Cup drivers who last were behind the wheel of their 850 horsepower stock cars on Nov. 21 at Homestead Miami Speedway are back testing for the 2011 season at Daytona International Speedway this week.

For those without a calendar, that makes for an off-season of 23 days.

By comparison, the lag between the 2009 NFL Super Bowl and the first pre-season game was 182 days; 102 days between the NHL’s Stanley Cup final and the start of training camp and 117 days between the World Series final game and the first spring training game in February.

There will be 17 drivers, including 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurry and fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Daytona’s 2.5-mile high banked, newly paved oval, purportedly to test how Goodyear racing tires react to the re-surfacing.

The real reason, it says here, is to check if the 3,400 pound rockets will remain on the ground at expected speeds of over 200 m.p.h. on the super speedway now that all the bumps and undulations have been removed.

My guess is that after this test NASCAR will be instituting a more stringent restrictor plate rule to keep its stars earthbound during the 2011 running of the Daytona 500 — the biggest and most watched race of the season — come February 20.

Two rings for DJ

NASCAR Canadian Tire Series 2010 champion DJ Kennington got and gave a ring at the NASCAR Night of Champions gala awards ceremony in Charlotte, N.C.

The event, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was to present Kennington and other regional series winners with championship rings to commemorate their achievements.

But as he received his ring Kennington turned around, got down on one knee, and he offered an engagement ring he had in his pocket to his girlfriend Jamie.

She said yes.

Piquet chooses NASCAR

Former Formula One driver Nelson Piquet Jr., who was involved in a race-fixing scandal in 2008 when he was with the Renault team, has inked a deal to race full time next season for Kevin Harvick Inc. in the NASCAR Camping World truck series.

Unlike many who failed in NASCAR after coming from open-wheel racing, Piquet said he wants to take baby steps and learn how to handle the big heavy stock cars along the way.

“This is a long-term plan to reach Cup. I don’t want to start jumping phases, jumping series and getting there and thinking I deserve being in Cup because I know that’s not the way it works.”

Finish lines

Canadian James Hinchcliffe is fighting for a seat with Newman Haas Racing for the 2011 IZOD IndyCar season. He is testing this week with the team at Florida’s Sebring International Raceway. ... Corvette Racing has signed off on Johnny O’Connell — former driving partner of Toronto’s Ron Fellows in the American le Mans Series. O’Connell will move to Team Cadillac in the SCCA World Challenge GT in 2011. O’Connell — a 10-year veteran of the Corvette program — will join former teammate Andy Pilgrim in a pair of Cadillac CTS-V Coupes. ... The finalists for the 2010 Mario Andretti Trophy — presented by SPEED-TV to racing’s performer of the year — have been announced. Joining five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson are: Sebastian Vettel (F1), John Force (NHRA), Jorge Lorenzo (MotoGP), Dario Franchitti (IndyCar), Larry Dixon (NHRA), Denny Hamlin (NASCAR), Ryan Dungey (Supercross), Joey Saldana (WoO), Bryan Clauson (USAC), L.E. Tonglet (NHRA), Scott Pruett (Grand-Am), Will Power (IndyCar), Jamie McMurray (NASCAR), Fernando Alonso (F-1), Sebastien Loeb (World Rally), Valentino Rossi (MotoGP) and Kyle Busch (NASCAR). ... Sad news with the passing of former Arrows F-1 boss Tom Walkinshaw who died Sunday at age 64. Walkinshaw, who had been suffering from cancer, was a former racing driver whose F-1 career began with Benetton after successes at Le Mans and in touring cars with Jaguar.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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