With all apologies to Led Zeppelin, it’s been a long time since we’ve rocked and rolled at “Splash And Go.” There has been plenty of news since the North American season officially ended with the NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale Nov. 21, so it would be a bit tedious to review all of that.
Let’s just pick up with the last week or so, shall we?
The IZOD IndyCar Series season ended two months ago, but it seems that no series in America has more mojo right now than Randy Bernard and Co. The good news keeps coming and coming, putting more than a decade’s worth of acrimony due to “The Split” deeper and deeper into the rear-view mirror.
Mazda joins the party!
The Road To Indy ladder system for INDYCAR, consisting of Firestone Indy Lights, Star Mazda and USF2000, received a major boost this week when Mazda announced its title sponsorship of the program. The Mazda Road to Indy will provide scholarships to the champion of all three developmental classes to jump to the next level the next season.
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. There’s no other way to describe this, on so many levels. The scholarships provide a legitimate carrot for aspiring open-wheel racers at all levels, and the addition of another manufacturer bullish on the future of INDYCAR racing is fantastic.
Combine the Mazda Road to Indy with the recently announced program to grant a Firestone Indy Lights oval program to the USAC National Drivers Championship winner, and few — if any — sanctioning bodies in the world have such a clearly defined road to the pinnacle as INDYCAR.
Team Penske continued to add sponsors to its stable, as series sponsor IZOD came on board this week. IZOD will use Penske driver Ryan Briscoe as its new poster boy, and the best series sponsor in INDYCAR history — by about 1,000 miles — already is activating both its series sponsorship and support of Briscoe through new TV commercials filmed in the desert with a live soundtrack provided by rock band Weezer. No more racing to the party, I guess. I shed no tears.
The addition of IZOD continued a hell of a capitalistic run for Penske, which also snared Shell/Pennzoil as an Indianapolis 500 primary sponsor for three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves, AAA of Southern California as a primary sponsor for Castroneves at Long Beach and Texas and Midwestern grocery store chain Meijer as an associate sponsor for all three of its cars.
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.
Sometimes it’s possible to take two completely incongruent things or people and create a fun concoction. Peanut butter and crispy bacon sandwiches. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss singing a duet. Red Bull and vodka. Add NASCAR and rally to that list.
Really. Ford has made the combination of NASCAR and World Rally quite tasty in a video series that is part of an ad campaign to promote its Fiesta model. The very cool video below combines a race between A.J. Allmendinger in a Sprint Cup stock car, Rally America star and YouTube legend Ken Block in a Ford Fiesta rally car and Richard Petty tapping his cowboy boots while looking on with glee. Yes, it’s surreal. And yes, it works. Hell, just watch it:
That was cool, wasn’t it? But enough with the fun and games. The Chase is about to start! The Chase is about to start! THE CHASE IS ABOUT TO START!
The NASCAR hype meter is spiking already as 12 drivers start the Chase for the Sprint Cup this Sunday at New Hampshire. SBNation’s Jeff Gluck takes a final look back at the race last Saturday night at Richmond and offers some interesting analysis and opinion, including a small swipe at America’s princess of speed, Danica.
As the Chase gets underway, column inches devoted to ways to “fix” the Chase are running neck and neck with those offering predictions of this year’s Cup winner. NASCAR.com gets into the action with a Dan Aykroyd-Jane Curtin-style “Point-Counterpoint” segment about changing the Chase.
But if you’re looking for a good, hype-free and opinion-free read about the Chase, look no further than this piece by Mike Mulhern about the new and improved Jack Roush. The Cat in the Hat lost another one of his nine lives when he crashed his plane earlier this year, losing the sight in an eye but hanging on to his life.
It’s about Roush’s third or fourth brush with death, and he realizes now that he may be living on borrowed time. He knows life is good, especially with Roush drivers Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle in the Chase, and he wants to spend more time appreciating the meaningful people and things in his life. A nice piece.
Another nice piece was penned by longtime motorcycle racer and journalist Dennis Noyes at SpeedTV.com about the recent tragic deaths of USGPRU rider Peter Lenz at Indianapolis and Moto2 rider Shoya Tomizawa at Misano. Dennis has been around the sport of motorcycle road racing for a long time and has seen and done nearly everything in it. He also is a former racer and the father of American Moto2 rookie Kenny Noyes, so he understands the mentality of racers and racing families better than most, explaining it in this poignant, moving column.
The IZOD IndyCar Series community is en route to Japan for the penultimate race of the season, with the title race between leader Will Power and challenger Dario Franchitti still on full boil. Power leads Franchitti by 17 points with just the Japan and Homestead races remaining. Those are both on ovals, a Franchitti strong suit and a Power weakness. Will has zero career oval victories.
But Power’s Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe thinks his fellow Aussie is up for the challenge of clinging to the lead over the last two races. Plus Will’s sense of humor probably will help him to stay loose.
Franchitti certainly isn’t gripping over the pressure of the title fight. The jet-setting Scot spent last weekend hanging out at the F1 race at Monza, watching the progress of his cousin Paul DiResta, who is a test driver for the Force India F1 team.
Dario wasn’t job-hunting in the F1 paddock in Italy, as he made it very clear that he’s happy to be in the IZOD IndyCar Series. But he might have had a shot at a job at Sauber if he knocked on that team’s door. Everyone’s favorite F1 retread, Nick Heidfeld, has replaced Pete Rose, er, fellow retread Pedro de la Rosa, at Sauber. Quick Nick is in for Charlie Hustle.
It’s nice to see that NASCAR isn’t the only series that recycles has-been’s at a regular rate. I guess Not-So-Quick Nick is the F1 version of Casey Mears or Elliott Sadler.
K-I-M-I C-O-M-E B-A-C-K
Just yesterday I highlighted two crashes by former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen — one in a rally car last weekend in Japan and one in a drunken stupor from a yacht a few years ago. I also said I would like to see Kimi back in an F1 car, where I still think he’s an immense talent, and my Ouija board must be working.
Autosport.com is reporting that Raikkonen has approached Renault for a seat on its F1 team next season, presumably replacing rookie Vitaly Petrov. Of course, Renault is playing it cool, insisting it will keep Petrov if he can improve his form over the final five races of the season.
Yeah, right. And I’m going to win a Pulitzer for this blog. Renault will keep a nobody rookie over a swashbuckling former World Champion? Only if finances are an issue, as Kimi will command and deserve a much larger pay packet than a petroruble-filled Russian ride buyer.
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.
On the surface, it would have appeared that two of the three major worldwide motor races last weekend were compelling as hell, and one was not.
The Le Mans 24 Hours featured its usual overload of drama and strategy, most of it coming when three of the four dominant Peugeot prototypes were forced from the second half of the 24-hour race with apparently the same engine problem. This let archrivals Audi claim a sweep of the podium positions in the premier P1 class and in the overall race.
Formula One put on its best dry-weather race of the year, with ease, at the Canadian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished 1-2 for McLaren in a race packed with action, passing and fascinating strategy.
Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin dominated the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan, leading 126 of 200 laps and pulling to 10-second lead late in the race before a late caution bunched the field.
There’s no doubt that Le Mans and Montreal were thrill shows. But I found Michigan to be quite interesting, too, because it was a rare sight of a team and driver in NASCAR simply crushing the competition.
Nobody wants to see races in any series decided by double-digit margins of victory every Sunday. Nobody wants to see winning drivers lead more than half the race every Sunday.
But what’s wrong with seeing it every once in a while? People appreciated the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won 72 of 82 regular-season games en route to the NBA title. People appreciated the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who won the Super Bowl as an unbeaten team. People appreciated the 1927 Yankees.
And I appreciate that Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing are on an incredible roll right now, winning two in a row and five races together since the end of March.
So one question must be asked: Why was there a debris caution with less than 20 laps to go, when Hamlin led by 10 seconds? Did that make the end result of the race, Hamlin pulling away to a comfortable victory over Kasey Kahne after the final restart, any more thrilling for the fans?
Sorry, but I don’t think a team or driver should be penalized for brilliance. If Hamlin won by 10 seconds without a debris caution that Hamlin even admitted was dubious during Victory Lane interviews, it’s because he and JGR kicked everyone’s ass, fair and square. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Speaking of brilliance, Audi must be commended for its 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans. The German marque’s top two finishers ran like diesel-powered metronomes for 24 hours at the La Sarthe circuit in France, and the crew working on its third finisher showed fantastic resolve to keep the car running after an early accident while trying to lap a crippled BMW GT car.
It took a special kind of discipline for Audi to stay calm while rivals Peugeot ran ahead into the distance with its fleet of bubble-top diesel prototypes, seemingly headed for another victory. But Audi and steely team boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich know the ebbs and flows of Le Mans better than any team. Ullrich is one of motor racing’s great tacticians and hard men. He rules that team with an iron fist. I know I wouldn’t cross him.
Peugeot lacks that tactical nous. There was no need for it to push its prototypes to the limit on every lap, gaining three or four seconds per lap over the Audis. An advantage of one second per lap is more than enough over the span of a 24-hour race, but Peugeot boss Olivier Quesnel doesn’t seem to get that. Even after flames belched from the right side of the first Peugeot to fall out of the race, the team’s other cars continued to blister around the French countryside.
Davidson was on a tear in a Peugeot 908 late in the race, trying to catch the leading Audis after losing four laps due to an electrical problem. He approached the GT2 class-leading Corvette in the Porsche Curves and ran it off the road, forcing the Corvette to spin and back heavily into the wall. The American-based Corvette team did a remarkable job to replace the back half of the car in just 31 minutes, but an engine problem later in the race sidelined the car for good.
The incident was so unnecessary. And the diminutive Davidson couldn’t help show a Napoleon complex and a lot of “I’m a former F1 driver” attitude when he took absolutely no blame for the accident and even had the gall to say “I don’t care” about Corvette losing the GT2 lead during an live, in-race interview with SPEED.
Get over yourself, Ant. Yes, you were in a faster car. Yes, you were driving it like you stole it in an effort to catch the Audis. But you also were trying to overtake a much less nimble car with much less downforce at a part of the circuit where passing is tough even for two high-downforce prototypes.
You screwed up, Ant. Man up and at least share some blame.
Speaking of blame, it would be hard to blame Michael Schumacher if he hung up his helmet for good after this season. His comeback tour has been a disaster, with the Canadian Grand Prix last Sunday in Montreal a new low point.
Seven-time World Champion Schumacher never has been the most ethical driver in F1 history, mastering the chop block to hold rivals at bay, famously ramming Jacques Villeneuve off the road in 1997 at Jerez and parking his crippled Ferrari on the circuit in qualifying in 2006 at Monaco to prevent Fernando Alonso from winning pole.
But Schumacher’s weaving and blocking last Sunday at Montreal were different. They were the signs of a desperate driver with no answers for the speed of his younger rivals, starting with teammate Nico Rosberg. Mercedes changed the wheelbase of its car to better suit Schumacher, whose driving style is different than Rosberg’s. But Nico still is beating him.
It’s a sad sight, much like watching Willie Mays fall down in the outfield while fielding a routine fly ball during his final year with the New York Mets. Hang it up, Michael, before you become the butt of too many jokes that cause people to forget your brilliance.
•This weekend: All three series that compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are in action this Sunday. So put down your World Cup vuvuzela and check out MotoGP at Silverstone (9:30 a.m. ET, SPEED), the IZOD IndyCar Series at Iowa (1:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS) and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma (3 p.m. ET, TNT).
•Song of the Week: Here’s a song I would love to see Peugeot’s Anthony Davidson sing karaoke-style in a tune-o-gram sent to Corvette Racing manager Doug Fehan and the entire team – the blistering “I Was Wrong” by the great Social Distortion. I don’t think Doug and his incredibly talented crew should hold their breath for a rendition by Ant, though.