The Vendor Marketplace is one of my favorite spots this weekend. It’s a chance to stroll around and check out some fashion, new motorcycle products, score some sunglasses or accessories and learn more about the motorcycle culture. Plus it’s located in Gasoline Alley. Not bad.
Early in the day at Vendor Marketplace
This year I’ve noticed a greater digital influence. As someone that works in the digital arena, this had me intrigued.
As you may know, the Red Bull Indianapolis GP track got a makeover earlier this summer. The circuit has been repaved, and who better to break it in than Nicky Hayden? He took the inaugural lap on the IMS circuit in 2008, so it only made sense that we ask Nicky back to be the first on the new surface.
On the newly paved IMS circuit
The public filed in to watch Hayden’s test from the Turn 2 viewing mounds as he took the track around 9:30. Nicky tested until around 12:30. The new surface seemed to treat him well. I thought I would get used to the site of his bike being almost completely horizontal as he took the turns, but I didn’t. Each time he rounded a turn was unreal!
After the test Nicky said the track was better than expected! He said “it’s pretty much perfect”, and “IMS went above and beyond” the drivers’ expectations. He also thinks it will make things safer during the race. If Nicky Hayden approves, I guess that makes the new pavement a success!
The test definitely left us eagerly awaiting the Red Bull Indianapolis GP that happens on August 28. I know I’m looking forward to seeing more motorcycle action on the IMS circuit, aren’t you?
Check out the video footage from today’s run below.
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.
NASCAR is in the midst of its most exciting Chase for the Sprint Cup since the inaugural year of the format, 2004, when just 16 points separated champion Kurt Busch, second place Jimmie Johnson and third place Jeff Gordon at the end of the season. Yet the endless bleating, soul-searching and head-scratching continues about NASCAR in reverse gear.
Make no mistake: NASCAR has problems. Declining TV ratings and race attendance. Top teams struggling for sponsorship. Yet it’s still the most popular form of motorsports in America, by far. Every other series in the U.S. would love to have NASCAR’s “problems.”
But can we just focus on the racing for the next three weeks? There are three races remaining in what has been a compelling Chase for the Sprint Cup. Four-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson leads Denny Hamlin by just 14 points and Kevin Harvick by 38.
It’s high-octane drama, yet from Tuesday through Thursday of every race week during the Chase — after the race reports and analysis are out of the way by Monday and before the race previews and coverage start Friday — all I read about on NASCAR blogs and websites are theories and speculation about the root cause of the great withering of NASCAR. Dustin Long, who I read daily and whose work I admire greatly, even wrote that the close Chase could be hurting NASCAR.
Isn’t there a two-month offseason during which endless column inches and online bytes can be devoted to the Great NASCAR Decession? You know, when no actual racing is taking place?
There might be only three guys in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing who have it better right now than Jamie McMurray — Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — even though McMurray isn’t one of the 12 drivers this year in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
You'd be stoked if you won at Daytona, Indy and Charlotte in the same season, too. Even if you weren't in the Chase.
McMurray continued his banner season with a victory last Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jamie Mac’s three victories this season came at the three most prestigious tracks in NASCAR – Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte.
I wrote this before, but McMurray’s primary sponsors, Bass Pro Shops and McDonald’s, must be pretty stoked these days. I know I’d rather benefit from the exposure of winning the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and a race at Charlotte and miss the Chase than make the Chase and go winless, as Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth have done so far this season.
Only Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick should be happier than Jamie Mac these days because they’re the only three drivers with a chance to lift the Sprint Cup on Nov. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson finished third at Charlotte, with Hamlin fourth, stretching JJ’s lead to 41 points over Hamlin in the standings. Harvick is third, 77 points back.
Everyone else from fourth-place Jeff Gordon to 12th-place Clint Bowyer are at least 156 points behind Johnson. They can turn out the lights on 2010, Irene. With just five races remaining, they’re toast.
While most media members and fans think Johnson is easing away from Hamlin heading into Martinsville this weekend, Dustin Long begs to differ. He believes this could be Hamlin’s Chase to lose and presents an interesting statistical case.
Kasey Kahne’s lost season continued with illness and a third brake failure Saturday night at Charlotte, and the relations between Kahne and Richard Petty Motorsports plunged to an even deeper malaise. Kahne claimed illness for his reason for leaving the team after his early accident, yet he was healthy enough to run a 5K race for charity the next morning. Granted, RPM has provided Kahne with cars barely worthy of Fred Sanford’s junkyard this season.
It’s an ugly example of how a lame-duck driver and team should not end a partnership.
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.
Only the best win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Just look at the winners of the Indy 500 since 2005: Wheldon, Hornish, Franchitti, Dixon, Castroneves. All IZOD IndyCar Series champions except Helio, and he’s won Indy three times. Same with the Brickyard 400: Stewart, Johnson and McMurray. All Sprint Cup champions except Jamie Mac, and he has won the Daytona 500.
MotoGP is no different. Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi won the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis GP in 2008, and Jorge Lorenzo — who is almost a shoo-in to win the title this year barring disaster or injury — won last year.
But there’s also an interesting trend that has developed over the first two years of the MotoGP race at IMS: Dark horses emerge.
There has been at least one surprise among the riders standing on the famous circular podium at Indy in 2008 and 2009, and there’s no reason why it can’t happen again this year.
Nicky Hayden on the IMS podium in 2009
In 2008, American Nicky Hayden finished second. What’s so surprising about that, you say? After all, the Kentucky Kid has been America’s best rider in the World Championship for the last eight seasons. He beat Rossi to the world title in 2006.
Yeah, yeah: I get it. But Nicky’s runner-up finish during the “hurricane race” in September 2008 still could be classified as a surprise. He had been struggling in what was his final season with Repsol Honda leading into Indy, with no podiums and just three top-five finishes in the first 13 races of the season.
But buoyed by his home crowd, Nicky led 12 laps before finishing second for his first podium finish since August 2007. It also didn’t hurt that the wind and driving rain delivered to the track by the remnants of Hurricane Ike caused the bikes to slip and slide all over the IMS course, which favored Nicky’s sublime bike-handling skills cultivated by years of power-sliding flat-track racing on dirt tracks across America.
Last year, it’s arguable that winner Lorenzo was the only one of the top three finishers who was expected to be on the podium. Alex De Angelis finished second, and let’s face it: Only diehard motorcycle racing fans knew of Alex De Angelis before the red lights turned off to start this race.
Hayden finished third for his second consecutive Red Bull Indianapolis GP podium finish, a feat matched only by Lorenzo in the race’s two-year history. Nicky was struggling mightily in his first season with Ducati entering Indy, with a fifth-place finish his best effort in the first 11 races.
Yet once again, Hayden enjoyed the taste of home cookin’ and came through for his throngs of fans at IMS.
So if this trend continues, who are the candidates to make a surprise appearance spraying champagne in the shadow of the IMS Pagoda around 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29?
First, let’s eliminate the four “aliens,” as MotoGP rider Marco Melandri coined them last year. It will be no surprise if Lorenzo, Rossi, Dani Pedrosa or Casey Stoner finish in the top three. They’re clearly the four best riders in the world, all on factory bikes. So scratch them from the list.
Honestly, would it be a massive surprise if Ben Spies finished in the top three? I don’t think so. Elbowz qualified second and finished fourth at the Czech Grand Prix on Aug. 15 at Brno. He already has a podium finish this season as the top rookie in MotoGP and is challenging Hayden as the top American rider in the standings.
I also don’t think it would qualify as a shock if Nicky finished on the podium for a third straight year. Look at his track record at Indy. ‘Nuff said. Plus he has four fourth-place finishes in 2010 during a resurgent season on his Ducati.
Colin Edwards in 2009 at IMS
But the third American on the MotoGP grid, Colin Edwards, would qualify as a surprise if he stood on the podium. It has not been the best of seasons for the Texas Tornado on his satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine. He has has finished seventh in the last two races, his best efforts of the season.
Yet Colin has a solid chance at a strong finish at Indy. I talked with him this week for the upcoming installment of “Tornado Warning” at this blog, and he was pumped for Indy — and not just because it’s his home race. Colin said the team made a big breakthrough in setup during the test Aug. 16 in the Czech Republic.
Another dark horse — well, let’s call him a gray horse — is Andrea Dovizioso of the Repsol Honda Team. Dovi isn’t exactly a dark horse, as he is on a factory bike and has four podium finishes this season. But he always seems to be eclipsed in results and recognition by his teammate, Pedrosa.
Remember, though, that Dovi ran with the front-runners on a satellite Honda during the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis GP before finishing fifth. He also showed superb bike-handling skills in the wet last year at Donington Park when he earned his only MotoGP win so far in a deluge. The long-range forecast doesn’t show rain on Race Day this year in Indy, but the ability to adjust to the different types of asphalt on the Indy road course definitely helps. Dovi can do that.
So keep an eye on the Texas Tornado and Dovi. It’s a safe bet they’re the leading candidates to be the surprise men on the podium this year at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP.
If you’re a MotoGP fan and want to know even more about the sport or if you’re a curious fan wanting to dip your toes into this wild two-wheeled world, this blog post is a fine place to start. Below are links to websites and social media for MotoGP, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and 2010 MotoGP teams and riders.
We hope this helps you learn even more about the exciting premier level of worldwide motorcycle racing as the MotoGP circus brings its exotic, 215-mph prototype motorcycles and charismatic, CRAZY riders to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 27-29.
So ladies and gentlemen, start clicking your mouse or tapping your touchscreen and dive into the cool world of MotoGP!
Almost everyone had questions about his hair-mohawk and relationship status-single. Nicky also got to ride at the Major Taylor Velodrome with the Marian University cycling team. Hope you enjoyed the behind the scenes action, make sure and grab your tickets at imstix.com
MotoGP is filled with colorful characters. After all, anyone who climbs aboard a motorcycle and reaches 215 mph with no roll cage or seat belt probably has a screw or two loose, wouldn’t you agree?
But there’s also plenty of charisma in the paddock every weekend among people who don’t race. Earl Hayden is a perfect example.
Earl Hayden in the OWB
Earl is the scion of the racing Haydens from Owensboro, Ky., America’s current First Family of motorcycle racing. Oldest son Tommy is just nine points out of the lead of the AMA American Superbike standings this season, middle son Nicky is the 2006 MotoGP World Champion who is aiming for his third consecutive Red Bull Indianapolis GP podium on Aug. 29 at IMS, and youngest son Roger Lee is racing in the Superbike World Championship and will be a wild-card rider for Team Honda/Moriwaki in MotoGP in the RBIGP.
Like all of the Haydens, Earl is good people. He’s also real people, with a great sense of humor, as proven by the video linked below that Nicky Hayden sent to our friends at www.superbikeplanet.com. Seems that Earl had a small incident lately with his home scooter, which gave his sons a good opportunity to rib him endlessly in this very funny video. Heck, his sons call their father “Squirrel.” That’s funny in itself!
Check out Earl’s latest scooter adventure at the link below, and then get your tickets for the RBIGP at www.imstix.com!