A bit of housekeeping and two public service announcements before Splash And Go begins. Sorry for the lack of recent posts — I was splashing and going on vacation last week. And if you’re 18 or older and a U.S. citizen, please vote today. You lose your right to complain about your government if you don’t do anything about changing it. Finally, please help Hoosiers in need by donating to the 1 Lap, 1 Great Cause food drive at IMS.
On to racing.
Sorry, Carl, but Happy Harvick is too busy fighting to win the Sprint Cup
Talladega was an interesting show last Sunday for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but it wasn’t the decisive “wild-card” race many expected. All it did was reinforce that this is a three-man show with three races to go, as Jimmie Johnson leads Denny Hamlin by 14 points and Kevin Harvick by 38 points.
This is the kind of bandstand finish that NASCAR envisioned when it created the Chase. I’m starting to believe that Harvick can be the dark horse in this race and take it all, as he has the right attitude regarding the final three races: Top-10 finishes, simply staying out of trouble, don’t cut it.
Harvick also has a consistent, solid teammate to help him, Clint Bowyer. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin are too inconsistent to be solid wingmen for Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to be largely irrelevant. Kyle Busch is too much of a wild man and wild card to be much of a help for Hamlin, and Joey Logano is no factor.
Take a minute to think about Bowyer. He has won two of the seven races during the Chase. Yet he’s 12th and last in the Chase standings because of the 150-point penalty levied by NASCAR for driving an illegal car to victory lane in the Chase opener in September at Loudon.
Bowyer deserves applause. He’s driving hard, like a man with nothing to lose, despite being buried in the Chase because his car was out of whack by about the width of a hair. He’s the Chase’s version of the Buffalo Bills, still playing with intensity despite being 0-7.
The “Big One,” which ESPN’s announcers seemingly so desperately wanted to see last Sunday at Talladega, never really happened until A.J. Allmendinger’s wild ride on the final lap that precipitated the extending scoring review to determine Bowyer edged teammate Harvick for the victory.
But there was a massive wreck last Sunday in the DTM (German touring car) race at Adria, Italy. This looked every bit like a tumble-and-spin job from restrictor-plate racing, yet it was on a road course. Thankfully driver Alexandre Premat was OK:
Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Where’s that iconic stopwatch from the opening of “60 Minutes” when I need it? Time is short — very short — before the IZOD IndyCar Series title showdown Saturday night here in South Florida, and there is a lot going on in IndyCarland.
First, the obvious. Points leader Will Power and second place Dario Franchitti are gearing up for the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 on Saturday night, and Will is keeping it simple as he clings to his 12-point lead. Keep Dario in his mirrors, and the title is his. Problem is, that task isn’t so simple. Power has no career victories on ovals, and Franchitti is the inaugural A.J. Foyt Oval Championship Trophy winner this season for being the best performer on roundy-rounds.
I don’t know what to make of it. I still think Dario is too tough on ovals to top. But then again, staying ahead of Franchitti might not be such a tough order for an hombre who returned to racing this year after suffering a broken back in a crash midway through last season. Both of these cats have a ton of commitment and very large attachments, as David Hobbs likes to say on SPEED’s F1 telecasts.
He finished the Thursday Night Bowling League with a 217 average.
The lovely Cameron freezes another dude in his tracks.
Either Power or Franchitti will hoist an interesting-looking new IZOD IndyCar Series championship trophy that was unveiled Tuesday in Miami. What do you think? It’s not your typical bowling trophy. It’s certainly … different.
You must admit, the trophy does look nice next to IZOD Trophy Girl Cameron. Then again, Cameron makes everything look nice.
While watching the IndyCar finale Saturday, it won’t be hard to notice Sarah Fisher’s Dallara on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sarah is driving an all-pink car for the second consecutive year at Homestead to increase awareness of breast cancer and help Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Another great gesture from one of the finest people in the series. Way to go, Sarah.
There appears to be some off-track news cooking for the IZOD IndyCar Series, according to Indianapolis Business Journal reporter Anthony Schoettle. He is reporting that the series is close to landing another big fish in the sponsorship pond.
It seems like off-track news is about all that NASCAR can generate these days. How to change the Chase, how to lift flagging TV ratings, the Great Clint Bowyer Controversy, etc. It sort of reminds me of the scene from the classic Led Zeppelin concert movie, “The Song Remains The Same,” in which Robert Plant shrieks the lyric, “Does anybody remember laughter?” during “Stairway to Heaven.”
With all apologies to Plant, does anybody remember the racing in NASCAR? There still is paint-trading going on every weekend as 12 drivers try to beat each others’ brains out to win the Sprint Cup. Yet fans are still bitching. A lot. And Ed Hinton at ESPN.com is getting damn sick of it.
Still, it’s pretty hard to avoid the stock car soap opera du jour, NASCAR’s denial of the appeal filed by Richard Childress Racing of the penalties imposed on Clint Bowyer and his crew chief, Shane Wilson, after Bowyer’s car was found a hair-width out of spec after winning the opening race of the Chase, in New Hampshire.
Childress is steamed and said he will take the appeal to the Chief Appellate Officer (whomever that is). The accident reconstruction expert Childress hired to testify for the team in the hearing Tuesday also thinks he was smeared like mayo on a BLT by NASCAR.
It’s getting fugly, folks. Despite this imbroglio and the pending second appeal, Childress insists it won’t affect the team’s three-car assault on the Cup with Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton. Let’s see: Bowyer’s chances of regaining 150 points lost from the NASCAR penalties and jumping back into the thick of the Chase hang on more off-track proceedings, and Bowyer and RC are not supposed to be distracted?
Hey, there is good news in this melodrama. Harvick and Denny Hamlin have kissed and made up after Harvick played Smash-Up Derby with Hamlin in practice last weekend at Dover, angry at a verbal swipe Hamlin took at Harvick’s RCR teammate Bowyer over the New Hampshire penalties.
Will Volkswagen go NASCAR racing soon? I snuck that in there quietly because I know so many NASCAR fans went apocalyptically berserk when Toyota joined the Cup series even though Toyotas are built by workers who earn real George Washington dollars in Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Texas and West Virginia, strongholds of God-fearing, Lee Greenwood-singing American patriots.
So, shhhhh on VW. Sorry I even mentioned it.
Off to MotoGP, where the series starts a three-race-in-three-weekend stretch this Sunday at Twin Ring Motegi.
Points leader Jorge Lorenzo isn’t exactly in cruise control despite leading 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa by 56 points with five races to go. Seven-time and reigning MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi will be on the grid, but fans might see 2011 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 signing Cal Crutchlow on a Fiat Yamaha for the last two races of the season if Rossi follows through with surgery on his nagging shoulder injury. Welcome to the big time, Cal. No pressure, matey!
One thing Rossi claims he won’t do this offseason, new surgical scar on his shoulder or not, is form and manage a Moto2 team for 2011. He’ll probably be too busy, anyways, talking about his new red ride for 2011 with longtime crew chief Jeremy Burgess, whom it looks increasingly likely will follow The Doctor from Yamaha to Ducati.
A provisional 2011 MotoGP schedule finally is out. While David Emmett at Motomatters.com does his usual excellent analysis of all things Grand Prix motorcycle racing, there’s really only one fact you need to know: The fourth annual Red Bull Indianapolis GP is Aug. 26-28, 2011 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and you better damn well be there!
Is it a winner's trophy from Dover or Carl Edwards in a rage?
Jimmie Johnson is giving new meaning to the words embossed on the passenger-side mirrors on vehicles: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. Johnson climbed to second place in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, just 35 points behind leader Denny Hamlin, after his victory from the pole in the AAA 400 last Sunday at Dover.
But does anyone think Johnson isn’t the favorite to win his fifth straight title after this victory? Raise your hand. I think I see one or two brave palms in the back of the room.
One of those hands belongs to Dustin Long, who thinks the Chase starts this weekend at Kansas. Sorry, Dustin, I disagree, because last weekend at Dover was a microcosm of why Johnson and the entire No. 48 team are the best and won’t be topped.
Johnson won from the pole and led the most laps in the race. Meanwhile, points leader Hamlin engaged in a war of words with fellow Chaser Clint Bowyer over NASCAR’s penalties for Bowyer’s illegal car that he drove to victory lane Sept. 19 in the Chase opener at New Hampshire.
Then Bowyer’s teammate, Kevin Harvick, defended the honor of Richard Childress Racing by bumping and sideswiping Hamlin in practice, which led to a shouting match in the garage between Harvick and Hamlin.
It was good theater and the kind of soap opera that NASCAR breeds every other week. Call it what you want, but it’s entertaining.
So the list of focused Chase drivers was down to nine before the race even started Sunday. Not a great strategy for trying to topple Johnson and Co. And a few of the Chasers had lousy races. Matt Kenseth finished 18th, Greg Biffle 19th and Tony Stewart 21st. Biffle is 140 points behind Hamlin, Stewart 162 and Kenseth 165.
Hamlin showed Friday that he doesn’t have the focus or maturity yet to lead a championship team when he spouted off about Bowyer’s penalties, which led to Harvick’s road rage during practice. Kyle Busch is third in points, just 45 behind Hamlin. But Rowdy’s mind is more erratic than Hamlin’s. Plus he still insists on running Nationwide and Truck races on event weekends, and I don’t care what anyone says: That distracts from and dilutes a Chase-winning effort.
Don’t believe me? How many Nationwide or Truck races has Johnson run down the Chase stretch in the last four seasons? You can probably count them on one hand.
The countdown is on for the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 this Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, after which either points leader Will Power or Dario Franchitti will be crowned the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series champion. Power leads Franchitti by just 12 points.
It’s pretty safe to say these cats are ready for Saturday night at Homestead. It should be a hell of a duel to the finish, but dramatic title races decided at the season finale are nothing new for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
The Firestone Indy Lights season ends Saturday at Homestead, with the name of rookie J.K. Vernay all but engraved on the championship trophy. Vernay leads second place James Hinchcliffe by 48 points and only needs to start the 100-mile race to win the title.
While there’s not much air in the title chase balloon for Lights this Saturday in South Florida, it will be nice to see Lights veterans Ana Beatriz and Sebastian Saavedra step up to the IZOD IndyCar Series in the big show Saturday night for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Conquest Racing, respectively.
It was all quiet on the MotoGP front last weekend, as the series is heading to Motegi for the Grand Prix of Japan this weekend. That race was postponed earlier this season when the Icelandic volcano forced the disruption of travel throughout Europe. Thanks to old Smoky Top, MotoGP now has three races in three consecutive weeks. Hell for the riders and teams, heaven for us MotoGP fans!
World Superbikes had a big weekend, though, as Max Biaggi clinched the 2010 championship at Imola. Meanwhile, Suzuki thanked Leon Haslam for chasing Biaggi all season by releasing him because the Alstare Suzuki team lacks sponsorship for 2011. Haslam, second in points this year, is expected to move to BMW.
This move also could have ramifications on MotoGP, as the fate of Suzuki’s MotoGP team apparently is under discussion at the home base in Japan. Suzuki has put a bucket of bolts on track in MotoGP for the last three seasons, but the championship still needs major manufacturers. Kawasaki left after 2008, and Suzuki could be gone soon. That would leave only Honda, Yamaha and Ducati in MotoGP, which is not good.
Webber and fellow title protagonist Lewis Hamilton made contact while fighting for third, and Hamilton was forced to the garage early for the second straight race. Webber survived to finish third behind Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.
Parking early for the second straight race put a dent into Lew’s title hopes, as he’s 20 points behind Webber. Vettel is 21 points back in fourth, and reigning World Champ Jenson Button is 25 points behind in fifth. It’s a hell of a struggle among superstars with just four races remaining.
Or are there just three races left?
The debut Korean Grand Prix looks to be on shaky ground as the final layer of asphalt hasn’t been laid on the circuit, and the race is scheduled for Oct. 24! Yeah, Oct. 24 of this year. Even F1 head honcho Bernie Ecclestone, who shrugs off criticism of the lunacy of putting F1 races in countries with no motorsports heritage or infrastructure, is a bit worried about whether the Korean race can be pulled off.
NASCAR has the controversy it wanted for the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup: The Curious Case of Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer was penalized 150 points, and his crew chief, Shane Wilson, was suspended for six weeks due to Bowyer’s car not meeting specifications after it won the Chase-opening Sylvania 300 on Sept. 19 at New Hampshire. Team owner Richard Childress appealed the penalties because he said either taps from drivers congratulating Bowyer on his victory lap or the wrecker that pushed his car into Victory Lane knocked the back end 60-thousandths of an inch out of whack. RC said he’ll take the case all the way to the NASCAR commissioner, whomever that is.
That all came down Wednesday. Fast-forward two days, and this soap opera is getting sudsier by the hour.
Drivers met the press today at Dover, site this Sunday of the second race of the Chase. (Loudon, N.H., and Dover, Del. — two chic media capitals to start a big-time postseason, eh? But that’s the topic for another blog entry.) Bowyer lobbed the opening grenade by making an impassioned defense of himself and his team. Here’s the full transcript.
Safe to say, Clint is pissed. He thinks NASCAR put his entire team into the hardware department — it’s getting screwed.
Hamlin: You're so full of crap, Clint, that your eyes are turning brown.
Ah, this is getting juicy. But remember, there is a race this Sunday at the Monster Mile. What’s that? Oh, yeah, the race! All Left Turns handicaps the AAA 400, making a good point that Johnson is on thin ice after just one race in the Chase as he attempts to complete his drive for five.
The build-up to the IZOD IndyCar Series finale Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami continues, without the melodrama of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft at More Front Wing take an interesting point-counterpoint approach to the Clash of the Titans for the title between points leader Will Power and Dario Franchitti.
I have two wishes for the race at Homestead: One, Will and Dario battle for the title down to the last lap, just like Scott Dixon and Franchitti did in 2007 and 2009, with Dario becoming champion both years. Two, KV Racing Technology puts all of its chassis back on the truck in one piece.
It’s been a rough season for KV, which must have platinum card status with Dallara. You also hope the team has accident forgiveness insurance with Allstate. Some cruel or clever dude — take your pick — has put together this compilation of the team’s troubles this year on YouTube:
Ouch. You really have to feel for team owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser and for drivers Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso and Mario Moraes. And for sections of concrete wall all over North America.
While there’s still a superb current championship race in the IZOD IndyCar Series, there’s also a lot of attention on the future in that series. The new schedule for 2011, the new chassis and engine package in 2012 and future sources of talent behind the wheel.
Robin Miller of SPEED writes that USAC drivers, who got a foot back into the Indy door during the early years of the IRL, might have a smoother path back to the Brickyard in an open-wheel car if series boss Randy Bernard has his way. One of those potential USAC drivers to jump into the Road to Indy system could be Shannon McIntosh, who continues her driver diary at Pop Off Valve.
But the always interesting Tony Johns at Pop Off Valve insists that everyone in IndyCar needs to let go of the past if the series is to progress. No, he’s not talking about the ebbing acrimony of The Split. He’s talking about everyone’s insistence that it’s vital that progeny of the great names of the past are in cars and the persistent belief that IndyCar keeps a firm grasp on its past glory days.
MotoGP is off this weekend, but its feuds are brewing almost like those in NASCAR Sprint Cup. There’s already a cold front coming through the Repsol Honda organization, whipping up a storm between those who support incumbent Dani Pedrosa and those who back the incoming Casey Stoner. Hate to say I told you so, but I predicted this coming snit fit a week ago. Dani and Casey certainly aren’t the Captain & Tennille or Peaches and Herb.
With new 1000cc bikes coming to MotoGP in 2012, many suspected that Aprilia was using its Superbike World Championship program as a warm-up act for a return to the premier class of worldwide motorcycle racing. Balderdash, says Aprilia.
It’s not like the Italian marque set the world on fire when it was in MotoGP in 2003. Oh, wait, it did: Just ask American Colin Edwards. His Aprilia mysteriously burst into flame while he was riding it at 125 mph at the German Grand Prix in one of the indelible images of the 2003 season.
That was Colin’s first MotoGP season. It’s amazing he even wanted to return in 2004 after riding that flaming piece of turd.
Formula One is taking its nightclub on wheels under the lights this weekend at Singapore, where the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ruled the first practice. Like IndyCar, F1 is another series that doesn’t need a postseason to create a good title race. Just 24 points separate leader Webber from fifth-place Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button forming a triple burger with cheese between them.
Hmm. Anyone ever wonder that maybe the points system in NASCAR is broken and needs fixing? Just sayin’, as people in the Midwest are wont to say.
The controversy over which team will use the famed Lotus name next season is over: Lotus will remain Lotus. God, I feel better now. Don’t you? As I said before, it’s a moot point. The current F1 car is not a Lotus. This is a real Lotus.
Plenty to catch up on after a day away from Splashing And Going. But first, it was good to be Bruce Barhydt on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Damn good.
Bruce and his wife, Barbara, visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to pick up the keys to their 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS Indianapolis 500 Pace Car that they won in the Indy 500 Pace Car Sweepstakes simply by renewing their tickets for the 2011 “500″ at www.imstix.com. And two-time and reigning Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti was there to hand the Barhydt’s the keys to their new ride and take them for a spin around IMS in the Camaro. Dario is a hell of a driver and a classy dude – a magically delicious ambassador for the Indy 500 and IndyCar.
Not a bad way to spend a day, eh? Speaking of Indianapolis 500 tickets, it’s time for a friendly Public Service Announcement: Tickets for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29 – the 100th anniversary of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – are on sale now at www.imstix.com.
While Japan’s rabid-but-polite IndyCar fans are still coming down from their fun last weekend at Twin Ring Motegi, attention in IZOD IndyCar land has shifted to South Florida for the season finale Saturday, Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Will Power leads Franchitti by just 12 points entering their titanic tussle, but Pop Off Valve has those drivers reversed in its latest power rankings. Hard to blame them. Will never has won an oval race; Dario has won plenty, including last year at Miami.
VERSUS will televise the finale, and Pressdog interviewed ace racing TV producer Terry Lingner about all the hard work that goes on inside and outside “the truck” just to get an IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcast on the air. One of Lingner’s charges that night will be reporter Jack Arute, who curiously wonders out loud why the season finale is going up against SEC and Big 12 football.
I’m really getting tired of the “we need to avoid football” argument. First, if the finale was contested on Sunday afternoon, it would clash with the NFL. And is there really enough room in the schedule to end the season by the end of August, before football? No.
So all IndyCar can do is put on a good show (it does), have a compelling championship race (it does, without gimmicks) and promote the hell out of it. Every other sport in America – not just IndyCar – is a fresh asphalt speed bump ready to be flattened by the steamroller known as football. Even NASCAR, the self-proclaimed No. 2 sport in America, is struggling with ratings against the mighty giants of the gridiron.
Plenty of reasons and solutions for the disappointing TV ratings of the Chase opener at New Hampshire are being tossed about in the blogosphere. One of the reasons I see often is the proliferation of high-def TV’s these days. The camera angles are great from the track, the picture is crystal-clear on an HDTV, and the beer is a lot cheaper and plentiful and the traffic is a lot thinner at home in front of the 50-inch plasma than it is at the racetrack.
That might be true. So how is Charlotte Motor Speedway responding? By building the largest HDTV in the world at its track. It’s even bigger than Jerry Jones’ vaunted board hanging over the field at the new Cowboys Stadium, which has to rankle Jerruh’s considerable ego just a smidge. Everything is big in Texas, but it’s even bigger in Charlotte.
Can you play Xbox 360 on that thing?
I have mixed emotions about this board. It will be good for replays. I’m also guessing advertisers and sponsors will dig it. But “Bruton-tron” also will breed more of the loons who pay good money to attend sporting events and spend more time watching the video boards than the action on the field or on the track. I’ve never understood that. If I wanted to watch TV, I would have stayed home. Am I a lone, crotchety voice in the video wilderness?
This just in, almost literally as I type, from the halls of NASCAR in Daytona Beach: Clint Bowyer was using an illegal car when he won the Sylvania 300 last Sunday at New Hampshire, the opening race of the Chase. Bowyer was docked 150 points, and his crew chief, Shane Wilson, was fined $150,000 and suspended six weeks. I guess it was more than a misplaced wheel nut, then.
Richard Childress, Bowyer’s car owner, claims the car was out of specification because other drivers tapped the rear of it during Bowyer’s victory lap. Childress also said the tow truck that pushed Bowyer’s car into Victory Lane knocked the rear out of whack.
Childress vowed to appeal the penalty all the way to the NASCAR Commissioner. This could get interesting. What if the penalty is overturned, Bowyer stays on a hot streak and ends up winning the Chase by less than 150 points? What if the penalty is upheld and he ends the season 149 points or less behind the eventual champion?
Sticky. And fun.
Well, so much for the Bowyer Cinderella story, at least for now. Bowyer now has yo-yo’d from 12th to second back to 12th in the points since last Sunday morning. Leader Denny Hamlin now enjoys a 45-point gap over second-place Kevin Harvick.
The soap opera continues in Formula One, where a battle is brewing over who has control of the iconic Lotus name. It’s a typical F1 sh*tstorm between two guys with wallets to match their egos. But does it really matter? Lotus isn’t Lotus without Colin Chapman running the show, and reviving the classic British Racing Green paint job doesn’t instantly play Lazarus with an esteemed racing marque.
All this does is besmirch the names of late Lotus greats like Chapman and Jim Clark. Sad.
There also are rumblings that Michael Schumacher may pull the plug on his ill-fated comeback attempt after this season and hang up his helmet. So the ego really has landed? I’ll believe it when I see it, but it would be a good idea. Right now, Michael looks like Willie Mays in his final, sad season with the Mets, losing routine fly balls in the sun.
From a four-wheeled legend to one on two wheels, Kenny Roberts, the first American MotoGP World Champion, is selling his house and practice facility in California. Check out King Kenny’s Krib. It’s a roomy place, but in time-honored gearhead tradition, the garage is almost as big as the house and contains a complete machine shop:
Ducati also was in the news recently, but it had little to do with Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi or Nicky Hayden. The iconic Italian manufacturer presented two of its Multistrada models to the motorcade for Pope Benedict XVI. Maybe it’s a gift for His Holiness using his WATS line to above for Ducati, as Stoner answered the Ducatisti’s prayers by earning the team’s first victory of the season Sept. 19 at the Grand Prix of Aragon. Hey, they don’t call it the Red Phone for nothing.
There is real, on-track news in MotoGP. Seriously. The Grand Prix Commission rubber-stamped a change of the schedule for the rest of the season in which the three hours of MotoGP track time Friday and Saturday will be divided into two 45-minute practices Friday, and one 45-minute practice and one 45-minute qualifying session Saturday. Since 2009, there has been a one-hour practice Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, with a one-hour qualifying session.
That revised schedule debuted at Aragon, and it looks like it also will become the rule of the land for the 2011 season.
So maybe it’s not so bad to be Clint Bowyer, after all.
Remember last Thursday when I linked to a blog entry about whether it was better to be Clint Bowyer, winless but in the Chase, or Jamie McMurray, out of the Chase but the winner of the mega-monstrous Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400? I leaned toward the side of Jamie Mac, as people remember winners more than drivers who bring home their car safely in a nice points spot every week.
Tony Stewart’s situation in Sunday’s fun race shows just how thin the line is between the penthouse and the outhouse. If Smoke had enough gas to hold off Bowyer over the closing laps, media would have anointed him as the favorite to win the Chase. Instead, he finished 24th and fell to 11th in the points.
But Smoke wasn’t the only popular Chase-winning pick to have trouble. Four-time reigning champ Jimmie Johnson finished 25th. But remember, JJ finished 39th in the opening Chase race in 2006 and still won the title. Jeff Burton finished 15th. A few people’s dark horse pick, Matt Kenseth, probably rode off into the sunset after finishing 23rd.
Kyle Busch finished ninth, but Rowdy’s immaturity — sometimes my 9-year-old son acts more grown-up than this guy — isn’t exactly a crucible of grace under pressure. I’m just not sure if Kyle has the mental toughness to survive the pressure of a 10-race grind. He’s THE classic example of checkers or wreckers, in the car and in his brain.
So where does that leave Denny Hamlin? As the leader of the Chase after finishing second to Bowyer, which maybe isn’t that surprising after Hamlin was the stylish pick to win the whole enchilada after taking the checkers at the final pre-Chase race Sept. 11 at Richmond.
Hamlin admitted that he didn’t have the greatest day or car Sunday, but he still ended up second. That should trigger the theme from “Jaws” in his rivals’ mind. That’s what champions do: Take rotten apples and still make damn good tasty cider.
One final comment about the New Hampshire race. It was an exciting show, with a lot of action and drama packed into a nice, three-hour window. Note to Daytona Beach: Sprint Cup races do NOT need to be 500 miles or 500 laps. This was a classic case of less is more.
Sure, some races should stay at the classic distance or lap total. But most of the NASCAR shows could, and should, be cut down to a more reasonable length. It’s less time plopped in front of the TV to see drivers cut meaningless laps, and it provides more of a sense of urgency and a better show.
OK, time to climb off the soap box.
The IZOD IndyCar Series’ championship chase — which doesn’t need a postseason to be close, I might add — has come down to Will Power vs. Dario Franchitti on Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Power’s Team Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, won the Indy Japan 300 on Sept. 19 at Twin Ring Motegi, while two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Franchitti finished second. Power finished third, his best result on an oval.
But Dario looms closer than ever in Will’s rear-view mirror. Just 12 points behind. The math is pretty simple for Power: He needs to beat Dario at Homestead. Easier said than done, especially when you remember who won last year at Homestead to clinch the title. Yeah, that Franchitti kid.
Tony Johns takes a look at a few other trends from Motegi, including love for IndyCar in the Land of the Rising Sun and a solid performance by Danica.
Much rejoicing in the OWB
MotoGP served up one of its best races of the 2010 season Sunday at the new circuit at Motorland Aragon. Casey Stoner pulled free from the dogged pursuit of 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa over the final laps for the first win by Ducati this year. American Nicky Hayden used a ballsy pass on the final lap to pass Jorge Lorenzo for third, the Kentucky Kid’s first podium finish since placing third in August 2009 at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP at IMS.
It was Lorenzo’s first finish off the podium in 13 races this season. But what’s even more shocking is that Lorenzo’s fourth place ended a run of 47 consecutive MotoGP podium finishes for Yamaha. Damn, that’s amazing. The Crossed Tuning Forks put at least one rider on the box for nearly the equivalent of three straight seasons.
Lorenzo’s Yamaha factory teammate, Valentino Rossi, suffered through his second-worst weekend of the season by finishing sixth. It’s pretty safe to say that Vale’s crash at Mugello in which he broke both bones in his lower leg will be tough to top as the lowest point of his year.
Rossi dropped a bit of a bombshell after the race by saying he may skip the final two races of the season, at Estoril, Portugal, and Valencia, Spain, to have surgery on the shoulder injury that has troubled him even more than the broken leg this season. It will be interesting to see if The Doctor changes his mind if Lorenzo’s 56-point lead over Pedrosa shrinks to dangerous margins by then.
Vale and Jorge aren’t buds, and there’s also a lot of friction between Rossi and Yamaha now that Rossi is moving to Ducati next season. And it looks like Rossi’s wizard/crew chief, Jeremy Burgess, and his entire Yamaha crew will follow Vale to Ducati in 2011. Rossi, the Pied Piper of MotoGP.
Some fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series were a bit peeved last Friday when all three of the 1.5-mile International Speedway Corporation cookie-cutter tracks on this year’s schedule — Kansas, Chicagoland and Homestead-Miami — were removed from the unfurled 2011 schedule.
A few of the series’ top drivers don’t share that sense of loss, according to a piece by John Oreovicz on ESPN.com. Let’s face it: IndyCars on 1.5-mile, high-banked tracks are the series’ version of restrictor-plate racing. It’s fun to watch, to a point. But it’s insanely dangerous. Put yourself in the cockpit for a bit, and you’ll see the drivers’ point of view.
Plus it will be nice to race at two ovals next season, Milwaukee and New Hampshire, where the brake graphic actually will illuminate during in-car shots on the TV broadcast. I squirmed and squealed with delight over many of the races over the last decade on 1.5-mile tracks, especially the heart-stoppers during the epic 2002 season.
But after a while, I do start to wonder about the constant drone of engines wide open for the entire race minus pit stops. Is a race where the brake never is used except in the pits really a test of a driver’s total ability? It’s an unreal test of their courage and sanity, no doubt. But I’m ready for the flat, short ovals next season.
Another proponent of the brake pedal for IndyCars is three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser. I’ve heard Uncle Bobby say more than once that he thinks either horsepower should be increased or enough downforce removed from the current cars so drivers need to use the brakes entering Turns 1 and 3 at Indianapolis again, as in his day.
Bobby also is the subject of today’s “Gasoline Alley Unplugged” segment with IMS Historian Donald Davidson. This series, in which Donald offers audio commentary on a photo from the IMS archives, is superb. You really need to check it out now and daily if you haven’t yet. Donald is a gentleman and a genius, an irreplaceable part of IMS.
There’s not always a lot of overlap between the NASCAR and IndyCar world, except for maybe when Danica Patrick makes her sojourns to the Nationwide Series. So it’s nice to see the open-wheel set get some attention from the stock car media, such as this solid feature on IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard’s first six months on the job by Fanhouse NASCAR blogger Geoffrey Miller.
Hey, and there’s even more crossover. Joe Menzer at NASCAR.com conducted a good interview with Penske Racing President Tim Cindric, who oversees the IndyCar and NASCAR operations of the iconic team. Cindric is one of the sharpest cats in the racing business and a fine Indiana boy. I don’t think The Captain needs to look far to see his mirror image of class, professionalism, attention to detail and competitive spirit when he decides to step away from racing.
But enough of the overlap. What about THE CHASE? THE CHASE! THE CHASE!
The hype machine for NASCAR’s postseason — Brian France hates that term, but let’s face it: That’s what it is — is in top gear heading into New Hampshire. The analysis, dicing and slicing is almost done by the media, and some reporters and bloggers are making their predictions for this year’s Cup champion. Dustin Long is hanging ten on the momentum wave of Denny Hamlin, while All Left Turns is taking the conservative tack by picking a successful drive for five by Jimmie Johnson. Same with Terry Blount at ESPN.com, who even lays odds on the contenders. I’ll put an Andrew Jackson on Tony Stewart at 20-1!
One of the flaws of the Chase is that the other 31 drivers in the 10 Chase races usually are forgotten unless they’re leading or winning. But Patrick Reynolds raises a very interesting point at All Left Turns: Who would you rather be this Sunday, Clint Bowyer or Jamie McMurray?
Jamie Mac and Mrs. Jamie Mac
Bowyer is in the Chase but winless, the very definition of the mind-numbing consistency that often can land a driver a spot in the postseason. Meanwhile, Jamie Mac missed the Chase but held the checkered flag at the two biggest races of the season, the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
It really is a damn good question. If Clint Bowyer finishes fifth in the Chase with no victories, will people remember his season more than McMurray’s? I think not. I subscribe to the short-track school of racing: Fans come to see drivers win races, not finish third every week. Checkers or wreckers, baby.
It’s also interesting from a sponsor perspective. Is General Mills stoked that Clint is in the Big Dance without any Victory Lane photos to show off at headquarters, or would it be happier from the kind of exposure that Jamie Mac landed McDonald’s and Bass Pro Shop for getting splashed all over the worldwide media pond for winning NASCAR’s two mega-races?
I’m not sure. Again, I lean more toward winning. What do you think?
But forget the race Sunday at New Hampshire. Qualifying will be the big story this weekend from Loudon since Coors Light is debuting a trophy queen, the aptly named Miss Coors Light, to pose with the pole winner and interact with fans every week. I’m honestly out of words to describe this brush stroke of genius.
MotoGP heads to Spain this weekend for its maiden event at the Motorland Aragon circuit. Let’s all hope for a safe, clean race there. The series really needs it after the recent tragedies at Indianapolis at Misano.
One of the lingering MotoGP questions hanging over the last four months of 2010 in motorcycle racing is whether Yamaha will release Valentino Rossi early from his contract so he can test with Ducati before New Year’s. Most rumors whisper that the Crossed Tuning Forks will not, as there was some bad blood over Vale’s departure to Ducati.
But it all might be a moot point, anyways. The Doctor is headed to the operating room after this season for surgery on the shoulder that he injured earlier this year in a training crash. That injury has been more bothersome than even the snapped lower leg Rossi suffered in June at Mugello.
Finally, it couldn’t be a racing blog without some sort of political, off-track news, could it? The Australian Grand Prix is reporting huge losses, causing some politicians to question continued state funding for the event.
That fact doesn’t exactly qualify as a shocker. One of the best ways to lose a fortune in the racing world is to stage a Formula One event, as Bernie Ecclestone’s contracts and revenue distribution almost guarantee burgeoning coffers for him and scraps for the tracks.
Still, it should trigger alarm bells that the Australian Grand Prix, one of the most well-attended and popular Grands Prix in the world, is bleeding red ink like an ill-placed Bic in a back pants pocket. But don’t count on any bells being heard in the F1 paddock. The team owners and sport’s bosses are too busy jingling the keys to their new Gulfstream jets to care, especially with oil-rich banana republics featuring tedious Tilkedromes lining up to replace the classic tracks of the world.
Who needs a joyous, traditional event on a great park circuit like Melbourne when you can have jewels of motorsport like Abu Dhabi and Bahrain?
The IZOD IndyCar Series released its 2011 schedule today with few surprises from various guesses and sleuthing by media and bloggers and Randy Bernard statements to the media this week. Nine road/street courses, eight ovals. Milwaukee, New Hampshire, Baltimore and a TBA oval to end the season are in, Kansas, Watkins Glen, Chicago and Homestead are out.
Bernard took questions from the media during a teleconference this afternoon, and most of the queries centered on two topics: The apparent divorce between IndyCar and International Speedway Corporation, as all four tracks gone in 2011 are ISC properties, and the site of the TBA oval season finale.
You don't think Bruton looks a little like Don Rickles? Not just a little?
While Randy went to great lengths to emphasize that he wants to keep the door open with all ISC tracks for the future, he made it pretty clear that scheduling, sanctioning fees and marketing were sticking points in the talks between IndyCar and ISC. And Randy also said he thinks Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. are “absolutely fantastic marketers.”
It doesn’t take a Wharton School MBA to figure out that Bernard thinks SMI is going to do a better job in promoting IndyCar than ISC.
But ISC still has a shot at getting one track on the 2011 schedule as Bernard identified Las Vegas Motor Speedway (SMI) and California Speedway (ISC) as potential venues for the season finale. But Randy poured out the love for the city of Vegas, where his Pro Bull Riders Finals took place, and reminded the media of his strong relationships with Vegas and casino officials. Randy said a decision could come as soon as two weeks on the venue of the season ender, and a smart fan would bet on Lost Wages.
Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star touches upon the schedule and a few other issues today in his daily Q&A blog, which is always a good read.
The eyes of the NASCAR world are focused on the fine short track in Jefferson Davis’ old stomping grounds, Richmond International Raceway. The 12 drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be set after the race Saturday night, and it’s almost a lock the lineup won’t look any different than it does today.
Only two drivers, 11th place Greg Biffle and 12th place Clint Bowyer, are in danger of losing their spots. And using the term danger is quite a stretch. These guys are about as much at risk of falling out of the Chase as Bill Gates is of going broke.
The Biff needs to finish 42nd or better. There are only 43 cars in the race. Do the math. Uh, yeah. And Bowyer needs to finish only 28th or better. That’s a pretty safe bet, as his average finish is 10th there over the last four years.
But if Rowdy is the next Dale Earnhardt, as Ed Hinton of ESPN writes, then he’s going to need to ditch the pink firesuit quickly. Can you imagine seeing the Man in Black in pink? Hell, no: That’s why he was the Man in Black, not Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink.”
Oh, and by the way, 3 Nation, ED WROTE THAT KYLE BUSCH IS LOOKING MORE LIKE DALE EARNHARDT, NOT ME. So please don’t paper the IMS Facebook page and layer comments of spiteful venom at me. Then again, if you want to, feel free. Nothing like a bit of passion.
The biggest NHRA event of the year, the U.S. Nationals, finished up Labor Day at Indianapolis. ESPN’s John Oreovicz stepped out of his IndyCar zone to cover the race and wrote a fine feature on the return of Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden at age 66. Bob is a Hoosier racing icon and a very decent human being. He didn’t make the show at The Big Go — thankfully NHRA doesn’t offer bogus provisionals to past champions — but it was still great to see him back behind the wheel.
Dean Adams (red hat) - one seriously funny dude
Bouncing around the racing globe, MotoGP is off this weekend before racing at the Aragon circuit in Spain for the first time next weekend. But Dean Adams at Superbikeplanet.com continues to crank out the fine photo galleries from the Red Bull Indianapolis GP last month at IMS. Gallery No. 6 of fan photos is live. While the pictures are great, Dean’s cutlines might be the wittiest, most clever and flat-out funny writing in all of worldwide motorsport. The man is a mad comic genius.
In F1, the team orders’ controversy won’t die even after Ferrari International Aid, ayem, the FIA, slapped Ferrari on the wrists for rigging the finish of the German Grand Prix earlier this season. Sir Frank Williams, the purest of the racing purists, thinks team orders should be allowed because it’s a team’s right to impose its will.
Hmm. Sir Frank, whom I respect GREATLY, has a point. But what about the fans who pay their bucks to attend or watch a race on TV? Don’t they want to see a legitimate sporting contest?
Then again, the FIA continues to prove itself utterly unable to police the sport it’s supposed to govern. So maybe a return to team orders would be the most transparent move of all.
Finally, the greatest pure drivers — drivers, not racers — in the world are competing this weekend in Japan. No, not at Suzuka. No, not at Motegi. On the stages of Rally Japan, silly. The World Rally Championship is competing in the Land of the Rising Sun, and ebullient former World Champion Petter Solberg leads after day one.
If you’ve never seen a World Rally event, check out the delayed broadcasts on Discovery HD Theatre or read about the series and watch some video on the official site, www.wrc.com. It’s seriously bad-ass driving.
Time for a quick merry-go-round to see what’s shaking and baking in the motorsports world today, with tasty links to full stories elsewhere on the Interwebs about these topics, to boot. We’ll focus on the three series that compete annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — IZOD IndyCar Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and MotoGP — but anything with wheels and an engine is fair game.
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule will be announced Friday, Sept. 10, and the announcement is taking place in Milwaukee. Hmm. Think there’s any coincidence there? Is series CEO Randy Bernard going to unveil the sked in Packerland just because he loves a good beer and a brat as much as the next guy?
You can connect the dots.
While the biggest story this week in the IZOD IndyCar Series is what tracks will and won’t appear on the 2011 schedule, there’s still a crazy 2010 championship chase going on. Will Power leads Dario Franchitti by just 17 points, and — start the foreboding music of doom — the last two races take place on the equivalent of kryptonite to Superman Will, ovals.
Still, Power thinks he will conquer ovals sooner than later. It better be sooner, Little Dingo (yeah, I love those Verizon commercials, too!), or the not-so-wee Scot will become just the second driver to hoist the IZOD IndyCar Series championship trophy three times.
This has nothing to do with the schedule or the championship chase, but much like E.F. Hutton, when A.J. Foyt speaks, you listen. Paul Dalbey at More Front Wing offers a podcast with Super Tex this week. I don’t know what’s more refreshing, an interview that actually features questions instead of statements with responses or that the hard-drivin’, two-fisted Texan actually is doing a podcast. Either way, it’s a good listen.
Taking stock in NASCAR, the final race before the Chase this Saturday at Richmond has all the suspense of a deflated balloon, as Clint Bowyer has a 117-point lead over Ryan Newman for the 12th and final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Still, SBNation’s Jeff Gluck and NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello both warn that the lack of drama this Saturday shouldn’t force NASCAR into a knee-jerk reaction of expanding the Chase to 15 drivers, as has been rumored.
I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes even the best plan doesn’t work out. This year is an aberration, as the fall Richmond night race usually features at least a couple of drivers fighting with every drop of sweat for the last spot or two.
Michael Waltrip Racing vice president and GM Ty Norris urges Corporate America to take a chance on a young fresh face as the leading man for its stock car sponsorship program. While Ty’s piece is a compelling story, perhaps the best part is the pictures of current NASCAR superstars as young turks. Tony Stewart without two chins and a gut! Jeff Gordon with a trucker hat, Gargoyles shades and a porn ‘stache! Junior with the Clorox look in his locks! Epic.
Formula One continues to be the most melodramatic soap opera on wheels, as the FIA ruled today that Ferrari will face no more punishment despite issuing team orders to its drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, to fix the finish of the German Grand Prix. That decision only plays into the cynics’ belief — and I’m one of them — that FIA stands for Ferrari International Aid.
The MotoGP world understandably continues to reel with sadness following the deaths in consecutive weekends of USGPRU rider Peter Lenz at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP and Moto2 rider Shoya Tomizawa at the San Marino Grand Prix.