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Could 2017 Match Historic 1967 as One of Motorsport’s Greatest Years?

Fans that have watched auto racing all their life and have been alive long enough to remember might say 1967 was the most memorable year in motorsports history.

It was the year “The King” Richard Petty won 27 races and his second of seven championships in the NASCAR Grand National Series. That season, the sport consisted of 49 points events, meaning he won 55 percent of the races.

Racing legend Mario Andretti made his presence known in stock car racing by winning the Daytona 500 in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford. He started 12th and led 112 laps that day, and his victory is still considered one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.

19-22 January, 2009, Concord, North Carolina USA Mario Andretti (c)2009, Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock
Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock

“At that point, I had not won Indy [500, won it in 1969] yet,” Andretti once said. “I was competitive with a couple of poles but had not won at Indy. So arguably the Daytona 500 win at that time was the biggest event of my career at that time and particularly satisfying to do it somewhere where it wasn’t my specialty.

“Can you imagine the same thing as if one of their drivers — Richard Petty or David Pearson -— had come to Indy and won the Indy 500? It had a special sound to it, and it still does, actually.”

“Super Tex” A.J. Foyt won his third of four career Indianapolis 500s in 1967. He also won the iconic sports car event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in France co-driving with Dan Gurney just two weeks later. Foyt went on to win his fifth USAC Champ Car Series title at season’s end.

Now, let’s jump ahead 50 years. Think about what the racing world is like today. It’s a lot different, wouldn’t you say?

2017 NASCAR Cup - Clash at Daytona Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 19 February 2017 Denny Hamlin, FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Daniel Suarez, ARRIS Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch, M&M's Toyota Camry and Matt Kenseth, Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry World Copyright: {Nigel Kinrade}/NKP
Nigel Kinrade / NKP

Today, NASCAR has three national series with its top division sponsored by the increasingly popular Monster Energy drink. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which it is now called, begins its 36-race season with its most historic race, the Daytona 500, often referred to as “The Great American Race.” Races are also divided into three stages and the final 10 events of the year make up the elimination-style NASCAR playoffs, which started in 2014.

Open-wheel racing has evolved exponentially over the years too. Both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Formula 1 have become exceptionally safer. In the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush, three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda says, “Twenty-five drivers start every season in Formula 1, and each year two of us die.”

Although the film took place in 1976, Lauda’s statement emphasizes the danger of being a racecar driver of more than 40 years ago. Deaths of both drivers and spectators were not as unusual as they are today.

In the last six years, two IndyCar drivers have died from accident-related injuries. The 2011 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who lost his life in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the same year he won the 500, and Justin Wilson, who was struck in the head by a flying piece of debris from Sage Karam’s wrecked car at Pocono Raceway in 2015.

In 2014, Jules Bianchi died after an accident in the F1 Japanese Grand Prix — the European sport’s most recent death. It’s still three lives too many when you include the two IndyCar drivers, but racecars have been redesigned countless times to enhance safety for each competitor.

In NASCAR, following the death of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the sanctioning body mandated the use of the Hutchens system, which was the head and neck restraint system required until the end of the 2004 season.

jimmie HANS
Rainier Ehrhardt / NASCAR via Getty Images

In January 2005, NASCAR mandated the use of the HANS Device, which most drivers were already using, as the required safety system because it felt the Hutchens didn’t meet minimum safety standards.

The 2017 racing season is still just beginning, but many storylines could make this year another one for the history books.

The new three-stage format NASCAR created during the offseason made its debut at the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson embarks on his quest for a record-breaking eighth championship after winning No. 7 in 2016. And the “Monster” era of NASCAR began with a “Monster” win by 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, who is sponsored by the drink, in the “Great American Race.”

2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup - Daytona 500 Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 26 February 2017 Kurt Busch celebrates his Daytona 500 Victory World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett/NKP
Rusty Jarrett / NKP

“The more I run this race, the more I’ve learned to throw caution to the wind and let it rip,” Busch, who had previously finished runner-up three times, said. “The performance of the [Stewart-Haas Racing] team has been incredible. My rearview mirror fell off with 30 to go, and I knew I had to drive defensively. I couldn’t even see the cars behind me, just heard my spotter in my ear, once we made that pass.

“It’s just unbelievable to have all this teamwork to get us in victory lane.”

Busch’s victory not only was a triumph for him but also for Tony Gibson, who won the race for the first time as a crew chief, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, who ran the race 17 times in his racing career but never won it.

Now being retired from NASCAR racing and having won the 500 as a team owner, Stewart jokingly said, “If I knew all I had to do was retire to get it done, I would have retired a long time ago.”

In IndyCar, Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud will defend his 2016 title and look to become the first repeat titlist since Dario Franchitti, who claimed three consecutive championships from 2009 to 2011, and the first Penske driver to repeat since Gil de Ferran, who accomplished the feat in 2001.

Lisa Davidson wrote a POPULAR SPEED story about Pagenaud’s approach to the 2017 season in which he says he’ll be in more of an “attack” mode than a defensive one.

“… I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year [his championship year],” Pagenaud said. “It’s about defending. Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It’s all reset.

“Now it’s time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it’s because we attacked and we didn’t look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.”

Pagenaud finished second in the season-opener in St. Petersburg behind fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who won the race after starting from the back.

Across the pond in F1, a retirement announcement heard around the world shocked the entire auto racing industry. The most recent World Champion Nico Rosberg decided that 2016 would be his final season in the pinnacle of motorsports and left the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team. It ended a rivalry — which had the potential to match the likes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s or Lauda and James Hunt in the mid-1970s — with teammate Lewis Hamilton.

skysports.com
Skysports.com

Hamilton, now paired with Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, will look to be the fifth driver in F1 history to win a fourth title. He’s 32 years old and already has 53 career wins, 104 podiums, and 61 poles. By the end of his career, whenever that is, he’ll likely be considered one of the sport’s greatest, if he isn’t already.

During preseason testing, Hamilton said rather interesting comments about the Scuderia Ferrari team, which last won the championship with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Hamilton said, “I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing. They are very close, if not faster.

“It’s difficult right now to say who is quicker.”

If what Hamilton said proves to be true, it will be an intense competition for this year’s championship. Mercedes cars won all but two races in 2016, and Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen won none.

Red Bull Racing won the other two races, once with 19-year-old Max Verstappen in his Red Bull debut at the Grand Prix of Spain after Hamilton and Rosberg wrecked each other on the first lap, and the other at the Malaysia Grand Prix with Daniel Ricciardo after Hamilton suffered a catastrophic engine failure while leading.

The 2017 IndyCar and F1’s campaigns are just getting underway, and there will surely be plenty to pay attention to as their season’s progress. If there’s one thing that holds true about racing, it’s that the unpredictability factor is always predictable.

So my question to you, whether you were around in 1967 or not, can 2017 be just as memorable 50 years from now?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Coyne Raises Projections Following St. Pete

With one race in the books and sixteen more yet to come, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this past weekend has left varying opinions from most. While some teams and drivers reached or exceeded expectations, some others left a little bit to be desired. So here’s a brief look at the stock tips with the first checkered flag thrown in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

ON THE RISE:

Dale Coyne Racing: As you may recall, I had ranked the Chicago-based runners seventh out of the eight full-time teams on the IndyCar Series circuit this past week. While it was clear that Coyne had committed lots of money and personnel to improve its fortunes in 2017, there have been multiple scenarios of a similar form that have not yielded success. Although one race does not make a season, DCR is on the right track. The addition of Craig Hampson seems to have re-ignited the fire inside Sebastien Bourdais. In a similar manner, the remainder of the new personnel also allowed Ed Jones to be a factor for two-thirds of the race, impressive for a driver’s first ever IndyCar start.

Of course, while the team proved itself on a road course there are questions left unanswered looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500. But for now, let’s put those concerns on hold and honor the big score from round one.

Sebastien Bourdais: The qualifying crash suffered on Saturday could have ruined the Frenchman’s chances in what is essentially his home race. The St. Petersburg, Florida resident took the blow and despite starting 21st on Sunday, managed to step up when opportunity struck with the second full course caution period. Bourdais quickly dispatched of Simon Pagenaud on the restart and never looked back from that point to the end of the race.

While it is still premature to tag him as a title favorite, Bourdais is on the right track to return closest to the form he presented when he dominated the Champ Car World Series over a decade ago.

Ed Jones: Although he was plagued by a slow pit stop, the Dubai-based newcomer played a solid second fiddle to his veteran teammate.and could have claimed a top ten result, if not a top five. As the only rookie of the year candidate, Jones is almost a lock to earn the award. However, it appears it will be taken with a solid resume in 2017.

ON THE FALL:

Chevrolet: Although losing Chip Ganassi Racing from its payroll was hurtful, the fact that Team Penske was the only strong team from the GM giant is a concern. Although its results were hampered by DNFs suffered by both Spencer Pigot and Carlos Munoz, its remaining support staff failed to feature at St. Petersburg. Conor Daly and J.R. Hildebrand each stayed out of trouble on Sunday, but neither were able to make a serious impact in the top half of the running order.

Team Penske: This leads us to the Captain’s crew. Simon Pagenaud was able to salvage his weekend coming from 14th to second; however, a mix of bad luck and lack of pace plagued them overall on Sunday. The full course caution that benefitted Pagenaud, crippled the chances for both Josef Newgarden and Will Power. Although Power recovered to run third late, mechanical problems prevented him from making the finish. Newgarden placed eighth, while Helio Castroneves settled for sixth.

While not a significant drop in performance, this shows that Penske may not dominate the 2017 IndyCar Series season as they achieved a season ago. However, as the familiar favorites, they showed some vulnerability to open the year.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

The Return of Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud came to the United States in 2006 from his home country, France, to win races. And in his second season as a driver for Team Penske, he won the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, while picking up five race wins, at Long Beach, Barber, the Indy road course, Mid-Ohio, and Sonoma.

Pagenaud will begin his title defense this weekend at St. Petersburg with the No. 1, as permitted to the reigning series champion. While there has been questions about superstitions surrounding the number, Pagenaud isn’t worried.

“I’m not very superstitious really,” he said. “My only superstition is my routine that I have before the races.”

Pagenaud has the opportunity to be the first Penske IndyCar champion to win back to back championships since Gil de Ferran, his countryman, friend, and former team owner. Pagenaud was reminded that he called Gil “his Yoda,” and noted that he has spoken with de Ferran for advice on winning in 2017.

“It’s actually the word ‘defending’ we’ve talked about a lot,” Pagenaud said. “Gil and I have a very similar approach on how to go racing. I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year. It’s about defending. Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It’s all reset.

“Now it’s time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it’s because we attacked and we didn’t look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.”

Pagenaud also added that even with advice in hand, his approach is to be aggressive when needed.

“Try to maximize the opportunity when I have a winning car in my hands, to score as many points as possible when I’m not having a good day,” he continued. “That approach is the same as 2016. It worked for me.”

Away from the track, though, the approach seems to be relaxing and spending time with his Jack Russell Terrier, Norman Pagenaud, who recently celebrated his first birthday. Seen as the good luck charm before, I asked if Norman is still his good luck charm?

“He has been, and he still is. He’s a joy in our family, that’s for sure,” Pagenaud said. “He’s a great dog. He just turned a year old. He just packed his bag today. He’s ready to go tomorrow. It’s great.

“For me just going back to the motorhome, having him there, no matter what the day is, if it’s a good or bad day, he’s always the same. It brings me a sense of consistency in emotion.

“I think it also helps you relating on a bad day, finding positive out of it. I think that’s really what he does. He’s some kind of therapy for me.”

Yes, he’s back.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.           

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: The Five Most Action Packed Corners in IndyCar

 Races at the highspeed ovals such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Texas Motor Speedway generally draw the most attention among those who follow the Verizon IndyCar Series. However, the road and street circuits which make up a larger portion of the current slate of events each have their own “action” hot spots where several memorable moments have occurred. Now some of these have been more tilted toward the positive side, while some have been not so good.

In this week’s commentary, I take a look at the five wildest corners currently in IndyCar and why each deserves its top billing.

 

5. St Petersburg Street Circuit’s Turn One:

The first braking zone of the season has often seen three and fourwide passing attempts work out great for some, yet poorly for others. Marco Andretti’s recent wild ride comes to mind here, among several others most commonly occurring at the opening of the new year. The off camber nature of this oddly angled righthander, plus its bumpy nature and the funnel down effect at the apex makes contact here sometimes unavoidable.

The key to mastering this section is getting off the final hairpin cleanly to maximize the airport runway front straight. Any slip or slide will make one vulnerable to any Push to Pass aided overtake at turn one, unless one defends the inside lane and forces the trailing car to take a long way around.

4.Watkins Glen International’s Inner Loop Chicane:

While New York’s Thunder Road features several great corners, the Inner Loop chicane has been the scene of many out braking duels in both IndyCar and NASCAR. Created in 1992 to slow down cars on the fast back straightaway, the section inadvertently created probably the most opportune chance to gain positions on the circuit. Being able to complete a maneuver before entering the first part of the Inner Loop to finish off a pass successfully is required, as the curbs at all parts of this section will launch a car off the ground. As a result, a full out of control scenario where a trip to the outside gravel trap is certainly possible.

Being able to hold the accelerator wide open through the uphill Esses and turn four will open up any the door of opportunity to gain ground with Push to Pass activation most effectively done just entering the chute before the run to the braking zone.

3. Exhibition Place Street Circuit’s (Toronto) Turn 3:

Although the narrow nature of the Exhibition Place design has made passing famously difficult over the years, the run down Lake Shore Boulevard to the tight, turn three righthander serves as the area where overtaking most commonly is attempted. Although several successful passes come to mind, one of most infamous challenges gone wrong came in 1989 when Mario Andretti tried to pass Teo Fabi. Andretti moved alongside Fabi, only to find the abandoned Alfa Romeo of Roberto Guererro parked in the same area. Although Andretti managed to escape the nasty impact without suffering injury, the incident would significantly change the way the series would handle stopped cars on the track.

Minus Andretti’s unfortunate situation, the majority of incidents occurring at turn three have been much less wild. The key to gaining or holding position here is getting the braking zone right and being positioned correctly entering the corner. The closer one applies the brakes in relation to the pedestrian bridge on Lake Shore Blvd., makes one more likely to lock up or miss the sweet spot of the corner. This can result in contact with the outside tire barrier and/or position loss since the turn’s narrow nature makes side by side racing next to impossible. You also do not want to get caught on the outside line entering the corner as it is not the most efficient way to hit the entry. An approach using the middle of the road or just left of center should allow for a dive to the inside of the car in front.

2. Streets of Long Beach’s Turn One:

The braking area at the end of Shoreline Drive in its current and previous configurations has been witness to many great moments over the years. Although the infamous turn 11 hairpin draws a majority of attention, getting out of this section cleanly is the goal to make any overtaking maneuver at the conclusion of Shoreline possible. One great example came in 1999 when then CART rookie Juan Pablo Montoya made a pair of successful overtakes at turn one on the way to his first career North American openwheel victory. The section was also a controversial corner in 2016 as Simon Pagenaud appeared to cut off the pit lane exit entering turn one to maintain the lead over Scott Dixon.

Although gaining ground is certainly possible at the 90-degree lefthander, the consequences for getting the turn wrong can be nasty. The tire barrier and runoff roads have caught many drivers who elected to be too cavalier at attempting a late out braking charge and sometimes the impacts with the tires have been so wild that cars have even rolled over as a result. Even before the 1999 track reconfiguration around the city’s aquarium, the former turn one was equally memorable as a 90-degree righthander with many successful overtakes and several unsuccessful moments, including Scott Pruett’s wild shunt in practice for the 1992 race.

1. Barber Motorsports Park’s Charlotte’s Web Hairpin (Turn Three):

Although the quick turn nature of the Birmingham, Alabama layout makes most of the corners here a follow the leader exercise, the story is different when the IndyCar fleet enters the tight and tricky downhill hairpin, named for the spider statue beyond the left side barriers. The tougher braking zone makes missing the apex common here and drivers can be punished for trying to get out of the hairpin too soon. Recall earlier this year when Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal were battling, which eventually resulted in contact and the Team Penske pilot going off course, before finally reeling in and overtaking the damaged car of Rahal to secure the race win.

Getting off of the uphill turn two without spinning the tires and coupled with a pressing of the Push to Pass button on the steering wheel should allow for a passing attempt to occur at Charlotte’s Web, whether a driver takes the inside lane or even the outside lane. Unlike the other facets of the Barber circuit, the hairpin is wide enough to account for side by side racing and does offer decent grip using the longer, outside route.

Although every road and street circuit currently in the Verizon IndyCar Series has its own character and has its own signature section, the five challenges mentioned above currently provide the most excitement that open wheel racing has to offer.

Agree with my list? Believe there is another corner(s) worth a mention? Post your comment below or leave a comment on Twitter.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Year in Review: Simon Pagenaud

This past season, Simon Pagenaud had the best season of his Verizon IndyCar Series career, en route to picking up his first career series championship.

 

Points Finish: 1st

Car No.: 22

Driver Name: Simon Pagenaud

Team Name: Team Penske

Total Races: 16

Victories: 5 – Long Beach, Barber, Indianapolis G.P., Mid-Ohio, Sonoma

Podiums: 8

Top-Fives: 10

Top-10s: 12

Average Start: 3.9

Average Finish: 6.1

DNFs: 1

 

With a pair of runner-ups followed by three wins in a row in the first five races, it was clear Simon Pagenaud was the favourite from the beginning for the championship this season. It was just a question whether he could keep the momentum rolling through the rest of the year and maintain his advantage. Despite facing some adversity, including four finishes outside of the top-10, he weathered the storm which fell his way as he never once lost the points lead over the course of the season. Solid consistency each week, producing the best finish his team could garner, allowed the Frenchman to take home his first career championship.

Highlight of 2016 – Obviously winning the championship as a whole was a highlight for Pagenaud this year. However, capping off with a dominating performance at Sonoma Raceway which saw him lead 76 laps was the icing on the cake for the season.

Downfall of 2016 – There were concerns in May when he had a pair of finishes outside of the top-10 and his competition racked up strong finishes, but leading the points from the second race on provided few downfalls to consider.

Road/Street Course Analysis – Pagenaud showed this was his area of expertise with five wins in 11 events. The only time he faltered was a result of a mechanical issues on his car, which happened twice.

Oval Analysis – While he was unable to reach victory lane, he proved he was no slouch as he posted a runner-up at Phoenix International Raceway to go along with a fourth at Iowa Speedway.

Notes for 2017 – Pagenaud has proven he can get the job done against the best drivers on the circuit. However, they say no driver is the complete package till they’ve won an oval. That’s something the Frenchman will be looking to accomplish when the season starts. Besides that, as long as he repeats this past season, he’ll be tough to beat.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski Thankful of IndyCar Test Opportunity

There was an unfamiliar, yet familiar face in the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet during the afternoon test session at Road America.

Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski got his chance behind the wheel of Simon Pagenaud’s entry. The opportunity came about through team owner Roger Penske.

“It was a heck of an opportunity, and I’m glad to have a chance,” Keselowski commented.

Keselowski has stated previously he’s wanted to drive an IndyCar, and Team Penske President Tim Cindric was made aware.

After testing throughout the morning, Pagenaud sat down with Keselowski, giving him advice on how to handle the car, which the NASCAR regular took to heart, improving his lap times through multiple on-track sessions.

“First thing I told Simon is he has a very secure job, at least from me,” Keselowski said after the test. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him and his team, everyone at Team Penske. This 22 Menards team, they did a great job today, and I had a lot of fun going with them. Simon was fast, really fast and gave me a good rabbit to chase.

For more coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series and everything open wheel, check out POPULAR OPEN WHEEL at http://www.popularopenwheel.com

“I learned a ton today and had a lot of fun. I’ve got to let it soak in here to think about all of it.”

The immediate differences between a stock car and an open wheel car came about for Keselowski, as he said he was able to drive the IndyCar deeper into the corners.

“I think the IndyCar just pulls so many G’s through the center of the corner and in the brake zone,” he said. “You have to build confidence in it because the stock car does everything it can to wreck your confidence and in the Indy car, it’s important to have confidence. So you have to kind of unlearn everything you learned in a stock car to be good in these cars. That’s a heck of a process but a fun one.

“It’s certainly a different feel, trying to get acclimated to a different seat and you lean back more. I was kind of sitting in Simon’s seat, and it doesn’t always fit you perfect, so it wears you out pretty quick. But it’s a good way to get worn out.”

While he enjoyed the experience, Keselowski has no plans to run a race in the near future.

The test at Road America served as an opportunity for teams to get used to the course before the June 26 race. Also testing at Road America were all four Andretti Autosport drivers (Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi), two Chip Ganassi Racing Teams drivers (Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan), two from Ed Carpenter Racing (JR Hildebrand and Spencer Pigot) and one each from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal) and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe).

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.