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:
One of the tasks my wife and I assign to our kids is to set the table before dinner. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s important. The same could be said for the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup last Saturday night — it was anticlimactic as hell, but it set the table for what could be a very interesting Chase.
Denny Hamlin won the race before a hometown crowd, earned his sixth victory of the season and the top seed in the Chase. Some media members and fans played the momentum card and christened Denny as the title favorite heading into the 10-race stretch run. And some rivals already think the trophy engraver should learn how to spell Denny’s name, even though I think that’s a coy ploy to deflect pressure and attention from them.
I’m with Monte: Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s team have won four straight Cups, and they’re the favorite to complete the drive for five. Momentum, schmo-mentum. Someone else seemingly has been named as the contender to Jimmie’s throne each of the last three years, and they’ve ended up being pretenders.
And before the Chase starts this Sunday at New Hampshire, expect all sorts of analysis and permutations, dissecting this auto race as if it was the Federal budget proposal. If Hamlin wins the Cup, can he thank his teammate Rowdy Busch for pushing him to new heights this season and in the Chase? Then again, Shrub doesn’t plan on helping Denny much if both have a mathematical chance Nov. 21 in Homestead. Or can a driver without a teammate in the Chase win the whole enchilada, such as the steady Kurt Busch?
Of all the Chase analysis and crystal ball polishing I read over the weekend, I think Mike Mulhern sums it up the best. This Chase could be good, but don’t expect a 12-man battle to the end. It never has happened historically, and Hamlin, Johnson and Kevin Harvick have been too good and too steady all season to let too many other guys play consistently in their world.
There is one famous guy who’s not in the Chase, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and after a horrible race Saturday night at Richmond, Junior was left to pick up the pieces of another tattered year. This team’s lack of success — only making the Chase once in three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, arguably the most powerful team in NASCAR — is a riddle wrapped in an enigma trapped in a mystery.
NASCAR already expanded the Chase from 10 to 12 drivers in an attempt to ensure megastars like Jeff Gordon and Junior make the postseason. Now there are rumors the Chase field could grow to 15, and Junior is feeling the pressure. He knows an expansion could basically be called “The Junior Rule.” I feel for the dude, as the margin between swimming and treading water is so thin in any form of motorsport. But right now, that cat needs some serious Red Cross swimming lessons or a life jacket.
With all the Chase talk, it’s interesting to see that Formula One — which often is criticized for processional, parade-like racing — has a very tight points battle brewing without a reset of the standings to tighten the field for the “postseason.” Fernando Alonso’s victory Sunday at Monza — in a Ferrari in front of the adoring homeland Tifosi, no less — put the top five drivers in the standings within 24 points of each other with five races left. Leader Mark Webber is just five points ahead of second place Lewis Hamilton.
Sure, the winning pass by Alonso over Jenson Button took place in the pits. But this was still a very good race since both Button and Alonso were at 10/10ths until their pit stops two-thirds of the way through the race. Button’s gap ahead of Alonso never wavered from six- to eight-tenths of a second, and it was captivating. One mistake, one bobble, and either Button was gone or Alonso was ahead.
But it never happened until the quick work of the Prancing Horses in the pits leapfrogged Alonso past Button. Still, it was fantastic, precise, on-the-edge driving between two cars with completely different aero packages. It was damn good motorsports theater, summed up well here by the brilliant Nigel Roebuck.
The race also was refreshing because Hamilton took full blame for an ill-timed attempt to pass Felipe Massa on the first lap. The resulting contact damaged the front right wheel of Hamilton’s McLaren and left him beached in the gravel before the end of Lap 1, his title hopes starting to smolder like touch paper in an ashtray. I can’t imagine the petulant, arrogant Alonso accepting blame for anything.
Speaking of Formula One and miscues, it’s time for six degrees of separation by shining the spotlight on Kimi Raikkonen. Remember him? The vodka-swilling, monosyllabic Finn who won the 2007 World Championship for Ferrari and then bolted for the World Rally Championship last year.
Kimi is still tearing it up on the stages. Well, tearing up some perfectly good Citroens, as seen in this video at WRC.com. Kimi crashed out of the rally Sunday. He seems to be having more fun in the more carefree, laid-back world of rallying, where there are no Ron Dennis sightings to torture him. Still, Kimi isn’t exactly gaining a ton of traction on the stages and was an immense talent in an F1 car when motivated. I’d love to see him back in Formula One, challenging Webber, Alonso, Button, Hamilton and Vettel every race.
MotoGP will be back this Friday at the new Grand Prix of Aragon in Spain after a weekend off. The big wrinkle this event will be a change to the time schedule which sees riders participating in four 45-minute sessions Friday and Saturday — two practices Friday, a practice and qualifying Saturday — instead of the three one-hour sessions.
I like the idea, as fans will get two sessions of MotoGP practice on Friday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The shorter sessions also will compress more action into a tighter timeframe. That’s never a bad thing.
Loris Capirossi will not race this weekend on his Suzuki, recovering from surgery to rebuild a bone and attach a severed tendon in his finger after a crash with Nicky Hayden at Misano. No replacement rider was named, so Suzuki will field just one factory bike for rookie Alvaro Bautista at Aragon. I doubt there was a big line of riders banging on the factory door wanting to ride the worst factory bike on the grid.
A provisional 2011 MotoGP schedule has leaked, with the event lineup rumored to be confirmed this weekend at Aragon. No major shakeups other than Portugal moving to the spring and the season-opening night race in Qatar moving up a few weeks so the season begins in March. Plus, the only date you really need to memorize now on that schedule is Aug. 26-28 — the dates for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP at IMS!
One key aspect of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule announcement last Friday that may have been overlooked was significant — CEO Randy Bernard’s decision to eliminate Indy Racing League as the sanctioning body name and switch to IndyCar. It’s a VERY smart move, as the acronym IRL still is a symbol of 12 seasons of open-wheel strife in the U.S.
IndyCar is easier to market, easier to remember and creates a great image in everyone’s mind. Smart move.
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.
Well, it was an eventful, long opening week of NASCAR, wasn’t it?
I might be the only one who was happy that Rolex 24 at Daytona, er, make that Daytona 500, lasted around seven hours because that’s about how long it probably took to remind people that yes, there was a race last week at Daytona that was bigger than the Daytonica 300 Nationwide Series race Saturday, Feb. 13.
Danica Patrick was a BIG story last week at Daytona International Speedway, from her solid sixth-place debut in the ARCA Series race Feb. 6 to her early exit from her NASCAR debut after being tangled in a crash in the Nationwide Series race Feb. 13.