On Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR announced the 2015 schedules for each of the top-three tier divisions. Although no major changes were made for the upcoming season, NASCAR did swap a few events in the Sprint Cup Series.

The largest change in the schedule will be between Darlington Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Instead of racing on Mother’s Day weekend such as Darlington has since 2005, the egg-shaped track will be moving to Labor Day weekend, which has been held by Atlanta. Atlanta will now be the second race of the year – replacing Phoenix, which moves to the fourth event of the season.

Besides moving around Atlanta and Darlington, NASCAR also added an off-weekend for the Sprint Cup Series before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins. The Cup Series will be off on the weekend of Aug. 30, and moves the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America to that Saturday. Road America was previously the 14th race of the 35-race schedule, but it will now be the 23rd circuit.

As previously announced, Bristol will be moving from March to April for their first of two races.

Daytona’s July race will be making a swap with Kentucky Speedway in 2015. As a part of the inaugural race weekend for NBC broadcasting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, Daytona will be the first race on their schedule. However, previously held as a Saturday evening race, NASCAR has moved the 400-mile spectacle to Sunday with the Nationwide Series race preceding it on Saturday. Kansas and Charlotte will be swapping races inside of the Chase, but no other races will be changed inside of NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.

But what good is all of this going to do for NASCAR?

Well, in a year that NASCAR expects to have another new competition package, a swap in a few tracks should help spice things up. Moreover, it should boost ratings and fill up seats in the grandstands.

Bristol’s March race had horrific weather over the course of the past several seasons. People were pleading to move it later in the year, and NASCAR listened. However, NASCAR moved Atlanta to the second race of the year for the first time in the track’s history. Previously, the earliest the 1.5-mile track had a race was March 7 in 2010. In addition to moving the race, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will return to the speedway after not appearing at the track in 2013 and 2014. The Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series contests are going to be held on the same day as a part of a “double header” to bring more fans to the stands after attendance has seen a decline for one-race deals.

What is the biggest part about the changes?

Fox. NBC. That’s the only thing that is huge for the schedule change in 2015.

20 events (including non-points) will be carried on the FOX family of networks. FOX Sports 1 will be broadcasting the Sprint Cup Series races at Richmond, Kansas, Dover, Pocono, Michigan and the final event of their schedule – Sonoma in June. Meanwhile, NBC is going to provide coverage of the remaining races in 2015. However, NBC Sports Network will be making their Sprint Cup Series debut with races at Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, Richmond, Chicagoland  (first Chase race), New Hampshire, Dover, Talladega and Martinsville. Daytona, Darlington, Charlotte, Kansas, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead will each be shown live on NBC.

FOX and FOX Sports 1 will carry the first 14 Nationwide Series races, but NBC and NBCSN will have the final 19 events. FOX also has exclusive rights to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 23-race season. All races will once again be on FS1 with the exception of Talladega in Oct. 

Three. It doesn’t seem like a big number, yet it is a significant one for Jeff Gordon.

In a fierce battle with Joey Logano over the course of the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon was able to take the checkered flag for the third time in the 2014 season. Leading 69 of the 200 laps, he tied his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with three wins each through 23 races.

With the victory, Gordon retakes the lead in the championship standings – giving him the top seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as long as Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. or Brad Keselowski do not score more wins than he does until Richmond. This is the first time since 2011 that Gordon has scored three victories in a season, and the last time he won more than three races in a single year was back in 2007, where he fell just short of winning his fifth title.

“It’s never easy to win at any of these tracks, especially when aerodynamics and track position mean so much,” Gordon said. “I thought we learned a lot the last time we were here on track position. Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) just called a perfect race. I kept getting on that inside lane and just not getting very good restarts. I knew it was going to get exciting with Kurt (Busch) and Joey (Logano). Those two are very, very aggressive; and of course Kurt got loose.”

“I didn’t have any trouble with my car sticking all day and I could be really aggressive with the car through the corners. But, the No. 24 and the No. 22 kind of got jammed up a little bit there and I was able to get a good run. The No. 22 tried to move up, but I was going to stay in the throttle one way or the other. We don’t have anything to lose at this point and that was our only chance to have a win.”

Logano led a race-high 86 laps on Sunday afternoon, but he just didn’t have enough for Gordon on the final restart. After debris was found in Turn 2 from Kurt Busch’s car, the caution flag flew with approximately 20 laps to go. The No. 22 car had a comfortable gap over Gordon’s Chevrolet, but he just couldn’t hold on during the restart. Kevin Harvick was able to get by Logano to finish in the runner-up position; scoring his fifth runner-up finish of the year.

Johnson had a roller coaster day in his No. 48 car. His crew had to hand him vice grip in the middle of a green-flag pit stop due to a problem with his shifter. As he drove his vehicle back on track, he attempted to put the grip on his shifter, but that didn’t work to the team’s planning. During a caution several laps later, a crew member was able to put it in his car, but at that point – Johnson was a lap down. He was able to come back to finish in the ninth position, albeit he did have a run in with Ryan Newman following the race.

Paul Menard finished the 400-mile event in the fourth position. He finished in the same position in the race at Michigan earlier this year; his best result of the season. Greg Biffle was able to capture a top-10 finish on Sunday afternoon. He was the strongest of the Roush Fenway Racing cars during the event. With an eighth-place finish, Biffle recorded his eighth top 10 of the year and is now in position to make the Chase.

Kyle Busch had trouble at Michigan; marking the third straight week he finished 39th or worse. On Lap 4, Busch hit the wall hard and was forced to go to the garage area. However, even with the poor finish, he clinched a spot in the Chase.

Following the competition caution, Danica Patrick got loose in Turn 2. Patrick spun underneath her teammate Jeff Burton. Trevor Bayne, Michael Annett, Matt Kenseth, Justin Allgaier and Martin Truex Jr. were each involved in the incident. On Lap 97, Kyle Larson blew a tire after running strong early in the race. Larson fell back outside of the top-20, but was making his way back towards the front of the field. However, when his car hit the wall, the No. 42 Chevrolet caught on fire. This was the first time in the Sprint Cup Series that an incident like this has occurred with the new policy that was announced on Friday morning. He was enabled to exit the car immediately, but did so extremely carefully. 

Hard work and dedication has paid off for the son of the Buckeye Bullet.

Ryan Blaney, a developmental driver for Team Penske since 2012, will be joining Wood Brothers Racing for the 2015 season. Replacing Trevor Bayne in the iconic No. 21 Ford, Blaney will be running at least 12 events next year. With Bayne heading over to the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing in 2015, the Wood Brothers were sent searching for a new driver to take the seat in the cockpit of their vehicle.

In addition to racing for the Wood Brothers, the soon to be 21-year-old will be racing for Team Penske in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This season, he has run seven races for Penske in NASCAR’s second-tier division – tallying up six top-10s; highlighted by a runner-up finish at Iowa Speedway. Although the team did not announce how many races Blaney will race in the Nationwide Series, they said it could be around the same amount that he is scheduled to run this year.

Team Penske has also created an alliance with the Wood Brothers, whom of which previously had a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing.

“Working with an organization that has been so successful at Daytona and the bigger tracks and the success that we have had has been there, but not to the extent that these guys have had,” Tim Cindric, President of Team Penske said. “This is something that we can learn from, but with a third car out there – running the same specifications and equipment that we are with our two cars can only continue to help grow our program in a faster way. With the rule changes that they are looking at for next year – we will have more cars out there to learn quicker. We would love to run three or four cars like some of these teams do, but I think the fact that we run two cars with the group that we have – this is just a good move for us.”

The move enables Blaney to move up the ranks after racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on a full-time basis for Brad Keselowski Racing. Currently, he leads the championship standings with an average finish of 7.4 halfway into the 2014 season. Besides

“I don’t think it will be incredibly difficult,” Blaney said on running both schedules next year. “We have a great team with the alliance with the Wood Brothers and Team Penske. I think we have a great chance. I will need a little bit of time just because all three series drive so differently, but hopefully in time – running these races will definitely help that. It is really big for me getting ready for next season.

This weekend at the Michigan International Speedway, Blaney will turn his first laps in the No. 21 Ford. With Bayne racing in the Nationwide Series event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the newest driver to race for the organization will practice and qualify the car. Earlier this year, he made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut with Team Penske at Kansas Speedway in the No. 12 car – finishing 27th after running inside of the top 15 throughout the race.

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s a good saying, right?

Tony Stewart is being judged, and being judged by people who don’t understand who this man is. The main stream media, along with users on social media, have violated Stewart’s past after an accident in Upstate New York which evidently killed Kevin Ward Jr.

Although no charges are pending, the media continues to report that he should go to jail, albeit no crime was actually committed. If you go on a search and engine – type in “Tony Stewart” and watch what happens. You will be slammed with utterly disrespectful headlines that are utterly despicable.

Publications are enabled writers to discuss the incident, but they have absolutely no prior knowledge of NASCAR, or motorsports in general. The Washington Post published an article on Monday evening entitled “A culture of road rage, not Tony Stewart, is to blame for death of Kevin Ward Jr.” This wasn’t the only incident in which Stewart’s prior history was being use to distinguish the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion as an evil, senseless and brutal murderer.

Some have questioned the safety of NASCAR, even though the incident had nothing to do with the sanctioning body other than one of those involved is one of the most well-known drivers in the sport. On her show, Nancy Grace used a picture (not video) of Stewart’s car hitting a crew member of David Reutimann’s pit crew several years ago – accusing the driver of having a history of hitting people. Reporters like this do not have any prior knowledge of the week-to-week on-goings of the world of NASCAR.

You cannot judge someone on their past. As many of my readers know, I am a Conservative Jewish citizen. I go to Synagogue on a weekly basis, and try my best to be a good person. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it is tough to do so when the main stream media is putting out statements telling the general public that a man should be convicted of a crime that really was just a series of unfortunate events.

The outcome of this tragic accident, and that’s all it was – an accident – could harm the sport’s reputations. With these reporters blaming NASCAR, there might be a rule change that forces drivers to stay in a car until medical crews arrive. But what difference does that make? Most drivers already wait for the crews, and then if they are mad – they throw a helmet or give an interesting gesture to the competitor that they are angry at. That is the problem with the modern era of motorsports.

If you have a problem, don’t settle it on the track. Walking out of a car in NASCAR isn’t as dangerous as it is in a sprint car. There are spotters in NASCAR, plenty of lighting on the track along with a wider range of vision. At a local dirt track or even your usual short track with Legends cars, Late Models, Modifieds, etc, the amount of vision a driver has is extremely limited. A few tracks have already modified their rules for drivers that get out of their cars before safety crews arrive, yet how can one prevent someone from getting out of a car when they are hotter than a pizza in an oven?

But the reaction on social media has an abundance of support for Stewart. He is clearly going through a difficult time, and he’s going to need time to heal and let his conscience take care of things.

I went on Twitter the other evening. I saw some people saying harsh things about him, but others were rather caring. In response to these two polar opposite view points, I posted a Tweet asking people to message me their responses to the situation. Here are some of the responses I received:

“My point of view is similar to Kasey Kahne’s,” Christian E. said. “None of it made sense to me. Like why would he walk right into oncoming traffic – putting himself at risk.”

But that wasn’t all people had to say about the incident.

“As a media member myself, I think it has been abysmal,” said Steven Ellis, who owns his a hockey website and has reported about NASCAR in the past. “When a non-sports media team gets involved with a sporting accident, the truth never seems to come out. For example, according to one publication in Canada, Kevin Ward died at a Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen. Is that the truth? Most certainly not. Also, Tony has been painted as a bad guy due to his history, with CBS going as far as saying Tony threated to run over Matt Kenseth in 2012 when, in context, meant he was going to spin him out.”

Moving forward, Stewart’s reputation will be on the line. According to reports, his sponsors have not been reconsidering their partnership with his organization. With no charges impending, the only thing in terms of legal matters which he will have to deal with is a possible law suit. However, that will be a battle of insurance companies more than anything.

Local short tracks are known not to have the best insurance programs. When I cover local racing at Riverhead Raceway in Long Island, New York, multiple drivers do the same thing that Ward did. Why wouldn’t they? No one actually thinks they would get killed doing that. They just want to blow off some steam. However, one driver at Riverhead was injured in a go-kart accident. Her arm was severely injured, but the insurance company only covers a small amount of her treatment.

There are so many questions that remain, and we might not know the answers to them yet, but we will sooner rather than later.

Stewart owns Macon Speedway, a dirt track in Illinois, with fellow racers Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader, along with Bob Sargent. His ownership stake could be impacted by this event, but that could be unlikely depending on what his reputation will be once the entire buzz slows down. Even with the media making him look bad, Stewart’s peers are there for him if he needs it, and it showed on social media over the weekend.

“I have been racing on dirt tracks for 10 years all over the United States and Canada and this year I have raced more than 60 dirt races,” Wallace posted on Facebook. “About once a month I see drivers do the exact same thing Kevin Ward Jr did. They get out of the race car after a wreck and walk "ON" the race track surface while cars are still going in circles to confront the car and driver they had the wreck with. I have always thought it was dangerous. After I watched the video of the accident "Over and Over" it was clear to me that the racing industry needs to come together and stop the driver from walking on the race track while cars are still going around at a good rate of speed. I blame no one and the blame game is not a good road to travel. This accident was a "Cautionary Tale" that happens every week at all race tracks around the world and now needs to be banned.”

Stewart has yet to make a decision on whether or not he will race this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. If he does race, the media will be swarming him and could cause him to be a distraction to himself, his team and competitors. However, the sooner he gets to the track – the faster the chaos surrounding him will come to a close. 

On Saturday evening, Kevin Ward Jr. passed away during a sprint car race in Canandaigua, New York. Ward made contact on the track with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart. Ward, 20, went outside of his car to show his frustration with Stewart, but Stewart’s car made contact with him – evidently ending his life.

According to Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero, Ward was taken to a local hospital after being hit by Stewart, and was pronounced deceased on arrival. Although Stewart was not charged, an investigation is ongoing as local officials are still speaking to witnesses of the incident.

Stewart’s team, Stewart Haas Racing, released the following statement after the accident early Sunday morning:

“A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We're still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time."

In the accident, Stewart squeezed into Ward’s No. 13 car in Turn 2 – causing him to have a flat tire. When he exited the cockpit of his race car, Ward walked down the track to express his displeasure with the 43-year-old driver. However, during the caution laps, he was using a slightly higher lane compared to the other drivers, and Ward rapidly walked towards Stewart’s vehicle. He was caught underneath Stewart’s right rear tire – sending him flipping in the air multiple times until he landed flat on the ground.

Since he was a four-year-old, Ward had been racing cars. Starting out in go-karts, he progressed over the years to race in Empire Super Sprint division.

In 2013, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was involved in an incident at the same track in upstate New York as well. In a 15-car crash, which Stewart caused, Alysha Ruggles, 19, received a back injury.

After originally planning on racing the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, approximately one hour away from the dirt track where the incident took place, Stewart’s team announced at 10:20 a.m. ET that he will not be racing on Sunday afternoon. Even though he was not charged by county officials and was released, he opted to sit out the race after carefully discussing the incident with his team.

Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, told reports that Regan Smith will replace Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet for Sunday’s event. Smith drives the No. 7 car for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – a team that has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. There is no word on whether or not Stewart will return to the seat of his car next weekend at Michigan International Speedway since the investigation is pending.

“We at SHR support it and agree with it,” Zipadelli said. “It's a difficult time for both parties. This is what we feel is right and we're supporting Tony in it."

Following Zipadelli’s press conference, NASCAR issued this statement:

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”