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.
Jimmie Johnson put himself in the same room as NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt — both seven-time Cup champions — by winning his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday by finishing second to Carl Edwards in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson rallied from a 15-point deficit to pass Denny Hamlin for another championship. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus endured a tumultuous Chase, during which Johnson’s crew was benched, to continue their reign over the sport.
Say it five times fast: This guy is a legend.
And the great debate begins: Is Johnson’s dominance good for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and help it gain more attention as it attempts to rebound in 2011 from a season of decreased attendance and TV ratings? Or will it hurt, as fans are getting sick and tired of seeing Johnson and Knaus hoisting the big silver trophy every year at Homestead?
SBNation’s Jeff Gluck, an avid Tweeter, posted this interesting smorgasbord of Twitter reaction from fans after the race Sunday. Many fans complained about Johnson’s victory. And those fans are wrong.
What Johnson is doing here, folks, is beyond special because it’s almost beyond comprehension. NASCAR rule makers toil long and hard to build equality into the sport. The COT has homogenized the machinery. The point system rewards consistency more than winning. The Chase system was created to prevent a runaway champion late in the season, erasing any early-season dominance. Four of the 10 Chase races are on 1.5-mile ovals, with no road courses and only one short track.
This is racing’s version of the salary cap and free agency, two components that have killed dynasties in the NFL, NBA and NHL. Yet Johnson, Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports continue to just deliver under pressure, year after year. Think about it: The last time Jimmie Johnson failed to win the Sprint Cup, only Alaskans had ever heard of Sarah Palin. Justin Bieber was a kid dreaming of stardom in his bedroom in Canada. Joey Logano was 15 years old.
Why is this criticized? Why is this seen as boring? I agree with Peter DeLorenzo at Autoextremist: It’s not like Johnson and Knaus are crushing the competition due to superior equipment, an argument that could be made about the Ferrari that Michael Schumacher drove to five consecutive Formula One World Championships last decade.
The clock is ticking, so let the dissection begin.
No, we’re not talking about the Biology final you took as a sophomore in high school. We’re talking about the final countdown to the NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Denny Hamlin leads four-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson by 15 points, with Kevin Harvick third, 46 points behind Hamlin. The math is so simple, yet so tough, for Hamlin: If he wins, or finishes second and leads the most laps, at Homestead, he will hoist the Sprint Cup for the first time.
Can you believe this was $150 in 1972?
If that doesn’t happen, have a slide rule, abacus or an old, four-function Texas Instruments pocket calculator ready.
NASCAR beat writers and bloggers are starting to trot out various scenarios for victory for Hamlin, Johnson and Harvick this weekend. Jim McCoy at All Left Turns makes the point that Hamlin has been the dominant driver this season, won two weeks ago at Texas and was ruling the Desert Mile at Phoenix before fuel-mileage follies emerged.
But Long also writes why it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if Johnson earns his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup this weekend at Homestead, and the reasons boil down to two men: Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson. They’ve been the best driver-crew chief combination in NASCAR for the last five or six seasons. They’ve been here and done it, which neither Hamlin nor Harvick can say.
I also think Johnson is winning the psychological battle entering Homestead. He spoke like a man without a care in the world after slicing Hamlin’s lead to 15 points at Phoenix, laying all the pressure on Hamlin’s garage door. Johnson also knew Hamlin was cracking emotionally after seeing fuel strategy foil his chance to expand his points lead, and like any ruthless competitor, Johnson pressed down the boot even harder on Hamlin’s fragile psyche.
It was one of those weekends why we dig this sport. The unexpected happened, which is one of the most appealing aspects of motor racing.
Here are the facts after the Kobalt Tools 500 Sunday at Phoenix: Hamlin leads four-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson by 15 points entering the season finale this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick is third, 46 points behind. It’s the closest three-way Chase with one race remaining.
Muzzle the mouth or walk the walk, Mike.
Now to the opinions. It might be a good idea for Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Ford, to keep a low profile heading into South Florida this week. Ford crowed after the Texas race Nov. 7 that crew chief Chad Knaus may have lost a fifth consecutive title for Johnson by essentially firing Johnson’s crew mid-race and replacing it with the crew of Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon.
The end result was that Hamlin is rattled. He ripped his team after the race by saying, “Like I said, I did my job.” Not exactly a rousing vote of confidence or rallying of the beleaguered troops by a wise veteran. More of the impetuous Denny we thought had grown up. And at just the wrong time.
Hamlin pledges a pedal-to-the-metal approach at Homestead. He’s going to need it, as there are only two guaranteed routes to the championship for him, either winning the race or finishing second and leading the most laps.
My money still remains on Johnson to hoist the Cup for the fifth straight year. Who is your pick, and why?
Judging by the feedback I received from the Nov. 8 edition of Splash And Go, it appears that the many dramatic subplots of the AAA 500 last Sunday weren’t enough to draw back those of you who have abandoned the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup this fall. Your attitude seems to match that of Kyle Busch to the NASCAR official during his stop-and-go penalty for pit road speeding last Sunday at Texas — the big, fat middle finger.
Guess many of you feel the same way about the Chase, which is too bad.
That’s a shame, as no one is going to convince me this isn’t a compelling Chase. The top three drivers within 59 points. Two races to go. Forget about the COT. Forget about the Chase system.
Four-time reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson trails leader Denny Hamlin by 33 points after Hamlin won last Sunday at Texas. But there are few better places for a JJ rebound than Phoenix, as he has won the last three fall races at The Desert Mile.
Hamlin is hot, as he’s racing no differently during the Chase than he did during the “regular season” — the dude is driving to win. So anyone Chase naysayers complaining about conservative “points racing” better not point to Hamlin. Oh, sorry, I’m on that soap box again.
And what about Kevin Harvick? He’s 59 points behind leader Hamlin, and Mike Mulhern suggests it might be a must-win situation for Happy this Sunday at Phoenix.
It should be vewwwy interesting, as Elmer Fudd would say.
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.