Enough. Please. Stop.
NASCAR is in the midst of its most exciting Chase for the Sprint Cup since the inaugural year of the format, 2004, when just 16 points separated champion Kurt Busch, second place Jimmie Johnson and third place Jeff Gordon at the end of the season. Yet the endless bleating, soul-searching and head-scratching continues about NASCAR in reverse gear.
Make no mistake: NASCAR has problems. Declining TV ratings and race attendance. Top teams struggling for sponsorship. Yet it’s still the most popular form of motorsports in America, by far. Every other series in the U.S. would love to have NASCAR’s “problems.”
But can we just focus on the racing for the next three weeks? There are three races remaining in what has been a compelling Chase for the Sprint Cup. Four-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson leads Denny Hamlin by just 14 points and Kevin Harvick by 38.
It’s high-octane drama, yet from Tuesday through Thursday of every race week during the Chase — after the race reports and analysis are out of the way by Monday and before the race previews and coverage start Friday — all I read about on NASCAR blogs and websites are theories and speculation about the root cause of the great withering of NASCAR. Dustin Long, who I read daily and whose work I admire greatly, even wrote that the close Chase could be hurting NASCAR.
Isn’t there a two-month offseason during which endless column inches and online bytes can be devoted to the Great NASCAR Decession? You know, when no actual racing is taking place?
There are just three weeks of racing left in the 2010 American motorsports season. I’m not a rose-colored glasses guy at all, but good Lord, I’d love to just focus on this excellent championship chase through Nov. 21 instead of regurgitating reasons behind the big slide.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s Chase race at Texas, Mike Hembree writes that none of the three title contenders has a huge advantage on the 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth. Terry Blount at ESPN.com insists that uncertainty could create the best Texas Chase race ever.
Two other major worldwide series are in action this weekend, MotoGP in Valencia, Spain, and Formula One in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
MotoGP will close its season in Spain, and there’s a pretty good party mood among the riders, teams and support staffs. American Nicky Hayden got into the act, cracking wise during a press conference today about his past and future teammate, Valentino Rossi. The Doctor is moving to Ducati in 2011, replacing Casey Stoner, who is sliding over to Honda.
Stoner has enjoyed all of the success in his MotoGP career on a Ducati, including the 2007 world title. But Stoner, who never met an opinion he didn’t like to air, doesn’t seem to be in that sentimental of a mood as his time with the Italian marque comes to an end. In typical straight-shooting Aussie style, Stoner unloaded on electronics, Ducati’s screamer engine, engine penalties and more in this interview from last weekend at Estoril.
NASCAR isn’t the only form of racing with a tight title tussle coming down the stretch. F1 features a great four-way points race, with Fernando Alonso’s recent hot streak putting him atop the standings, 11 points ahead of Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton is third, 21 points back, while Sebastian Vettel is fourth, 25 points out of the lead.
The Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend could have the extra, enticing element of bad weather, as rain is scheduled for all three days at Interlagos. Yes!
Like NASCAR, there always seems to be something happening in F1 to rain on the parade of good racing with the championship on the line. In NASCAR, most of those distractions are created by fan and media concern about the decline of this or the erosion of that. In F1, a good chunk of the distractions come from the man whose very job is to stage and promote the series, Bernie Ecclestone.
That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
Bernie’s latest rant is against the smaller teams in F1. This is hypocrisy of the highest order, on a few levels. One, didn’t Bernie want to encourage more teams to take part in F1 so shrinking grid numbers wouldn’t detract from the spectacle? Two, isn’t the $50 million deposit that Bernie requires from prospective teams just to apply for a slot in F1 going to put a serious dent into their pocketbooks?
The IZOD IndyCar Series season has been over for a month, but the series hit the news this week when a political and financial squabble in Alberta deep-sixed the race in Edmonton. Sounds like a political pissing match rooted in money to me and Scott Whitmore at Pop Off Valve. That’s a shame because the race was very popular and attracted guests to Edmonton’s merchants, restaurants and hotels.
Enough of the negative, ranting, political tone of this blog. There is news to celebrate in the racing world: Injured USAC driver Shane Hmiel is heading home from Indianapolis to North Carolina to start rehabilitation. That’s the best news I’ve heard in racing this week and probably will remain so through the weekend.
Hmiel, who suffered serious injuries in a crash last month at Terre Haute, faces a long path of recovery. Various fundraisers are being scheduled to help defray his huge medical expenses, and I can’t think of a more worthy cause right now in racing.
Get well soon, Shane.
As a final reminder, tickets for the 2011 Brickyard 400 and Red Bull Indianapolis GP are on sale now at www.imstix.com. Race Day general admission tickets start at just $30 for the Brickyard and $40 for the bike race, with all kids 12 and under admitted free with an adult general admission ticket holder.
In these tough times, that’s turning a paper dollar into rubber and stretching it a long, long way. We would love to see you at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next July and August for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and MotoGP races.