Slowing Down on the Backstretch – April 6, 2010

Published On April 6, 2010 » 1109 Views» By admin » Blogs, Cup Series, MotoGP

It was a quiet racing weekend over Easter in the United States, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and IZOD IndyCar Series both had the holiday weekend off.

Still, it’s funny sometimes how a common thread can emerge from even the sleepiest of racing weekends.

The bond between two races on the schedule last weekend was breakage – or lack thereof.

Formula One raced at the Grand Prix of Malaysia in steamy Sepang. Once again, the dominant Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel proved they were the fastest cars on the grid by taking the top two spots in qualifying.

Vettel appeared to be running away with the first two races of the season, in Bahrain and Australia, before mechanical problems forced his retirement. Much like the Infiniti engine in the IZOD IndyCar Series back in the late 90s and early 00s, the Red Bulls were fast but about as brittle as cold glass.

So when Vettel made a brilliant move to dive past Webber in the first turn of the opening lap at Malaysia, the big question wasn’t whether Webber could catch him. He can’t. He’s not as fast as Vettel regardless of how much of the Aussie hard man act he puts on. Webber better learn to handle the truth: Sebastian Vettel is faster than him and a better racer than him.

The big question was whether the pin had been pulled on the hand grenade known as the Red Bull RB6. Would Vettel make it to the finish? It was almost as if the clock had been turned back, and I was watching Eddie Cheever Jr. lead with an Infiniti-powered car back around 2000. Could the damn thing stay together and win?

Well, hells bells: The RB6 didn’t detonate or shatter, and Vettel cantered to an impressive victory. Webber finished second.

But Vettel didn’t produce the most impressive drive of the race. That laurel goes to Fernando Alonso, who drove without a clutch after it broke during the formation lap. Alonso was forced to push the throttle while downshifting for the gearbox to work. Yet Alonso still managed a feisty battle for position with fellow World Champion Jenson Button until Alonso’s engine expired with a big exhale of white smoke with two laps remaining.

I know people like to rip F1 for its sometimes-processional racing. Fair enough. But F1 still maintains an interesting aspect of motor racing that is almost extinct in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and IZOD IndyCar Series – mechanical unreliability.

The mechanical engineering of Honda, Dallara and NASCAR chassis and engine builders is fantastic. Stuff does not break anymore in those two series. The chassis and engines are damn near bulletproof.

That’s great for the reputation of those companies, but it does rob the sport of some drama. Can you imagine the lore of the Indianapolis 500 without Parnelli’s turbine breaking with four laps to go in 1967? Without Bill Vukovich dropping out with nine laps remaining in 1952 due to steering failure, handing a win to a young California cat named Troy Ruttman? Without Tom Carnegie’s famous “Mario Andretti is slowing down on the backstretch!” declaration on the PA to the crowd? Hell, this blog wouldn’t have a name without that, either.

I don’t yearn for the days when one-third of the field is eliminated by engine detonations that look like crop dusting in an IZOD IndyCar Series or Sprint Cup Series race. But it would be cool if once, just once, the thought of “Is this dude’s rig going to hold up to the finish?” entered the equation like it sometimes does in F1, especially early in the season while teams are still finding and squashing mechanical bugs.

The other issue of breakage came Friday night during the Camping World Truck Series race at Nashville Superspeedway.

Winners of races at that facility receive a gorgeous Gibson electric guitar hand-painted by renowned motorsports artist Sam Bass. Kyle Busch infuriated track officials, Bass and millions of fans last year when he smashed his winner’s guitar in Victory Lane, Pete Townshend-style, after winning the Nationwide Series race last June in Nashville.

Busch pulled off a dominant win in the truck race last Friday night at Nashville. But he wisely decided to keep the guitar in one piece in victory lane. Smart move, Kyle. Busch actually gave the guitar to Bass and told him he could smash Busch’s truck in retribution for Busch’s antics last year.

Yeah, right, Kyle.

•This weekend: After a low-key Easter weekend of racing, worldwide racing blasts back into life this weekend. NASCAR Sprint Cup races Saturday night at Phoenix, the IZOD IndyCar Series races for the first time on the road course at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday in Birmingham, Ala., MotoGP finally comes alive like Peter Frampton on Sunday at Qatar, World Superbike is racing at Valencia, Spain, and Grand-Am races Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Damn, I better check the fuse box here to ensure my DVR doesn’t blow up my electrical system. The good, old recorder will be humming this weekend.

Best of luck to Americans Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies as the Americans take on the “aliens” – Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo – in MotoGP. I’m not going to rank series by excitement factor, but I will say that you’re seriously missing out on insanely good racing if you don’t watch MotoGP. Good luck also to American rookie Kenny Noyes in Moto2, the new final ladder class en route to MotoGP.

•Song of the Week: With all this talk about parts breakage, Tom Petty’s classic “Breakdown” is an easy choice as this week’s top tune. Here’s a killer version from the “Southern Accents” tour in 1985, in which lead guitarist Mike Campbell is en fuego: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNxfPAF1frM

Until next time, keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel … and don’t forget to visit IMS on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IndyTalk and continue to stop by here at our place on Facebook.

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