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.
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.
Is this Kyle Busch after a speeding penalty or NASCAR fans who still think this year's Chase stinks?
So, Chase naysayers: Are you happy now?
If not, then just end your illusion of any allegiance to NASCAR. Just come clean: You’re not a NASCAR fan anymore.
Because if you didn’t find the AAA Texas 500 even the slightest bit entertaining, then you should just move on. Pass Go, collect $200 and move to your latest sport du jour or continue to long for the “glory days” that had no more glory than what was on track Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
I’m far from a NASCAR apologist, as there are times I think reading toaster oven wiring manuals is more exciting than watching a Sprint Cup race. But this season has been solid, and no race has featured more drama, excitement and over-the-top entertainment than Sunday at Texas.
Let’s start recapping the plot lines. I bet we’ll need to move to a second hand to get a complete count.
One, Denny Hamlin uses a great inside-out move on Matt Kenseth to win the race. Denny could have sat back in second and taken the safe route, knowing he still would have left Fort Worth with the points lead. But Denny did what champions are supposed to do: Drove his ass off for a victory. (It’s a shame that NASCAR doesn’t reward winning drives like this with more points, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Two, Jimmie Johnson is out of the points lead with just two races remaining. Johnson entered the race 14 points ahead in his Drive for Five, yet he left Texas 33 points behind Hamlin, in second, after finishing ninth. Kevin Harvick remains third, 59 points out of the lead, in the closest three-man race this late in the Chase since the format started in 2004.
Three, Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, benched his pit crew mid-race for poor performance, orchestrating a swap with teammate Jeff Gordon’s pit crew. It was about as stinging as a public rebuke can be, but it’s not surprising considering Knaus’ Texas-sized ego. Plus even though Knaus never has met a mirror or the pronoun “I” that he didn’t like, look at the man’s record: He delivers. Johnson didn’t seem that torn up about the divorce from his pit crew after the race.
Four, smack talk by Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Ford. He said the mid-race Hendrick crew swap could be the tipping point toward Denny ending Jimmie’s run of four consecutive Sprint Cup titles. Brash, bold talk — you’ve got to love it.
Five, Gordon’s crew was available because Jeff Burton inexplicably took out Gordon, precipitating the Backstretch Bash. The Driver formerly known as Boy Wonder stomped toward Burton on the backstretch, gave him a strong two-handed shove and started to throw punches before being restrained by NASCAR officials.
It wasn’t exactly Cale vs. Donnie and Bobby on the backstretch at Daytona in 1979, but it was quite compelling. And because the combatants were Gordon and Burton, two of the more sage, even-tempered elder statesmen in the NASCAR garage, you know it was real.
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?
The plunge off the ratings’ cliff is odd, because the racing has been very good this entire season, including the Chase. Even Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR’s generic prescription for Ambien, put on a very competitive race two weeks ago.
If you’ve tuned out the Chase on The Worldwide Leader in Sports this fall, you still should tune into ESPN tonight for what promises to be a fascinating 60 minutes of NASCAR programming. ESPN’s superb series of short documentaries, “30 For 30,” looks back at the life, legend and truths of Tim Richmond in “Tim Richmond: To The Limit” at 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN and 11 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2.
The Last Rock and Roll Star: Tim Richmond
Richmond has sadly faded into the vanishing point of the rear-view mirror of NASCAR. This guy was an incredible force of nature and an incredible talent in Winston Cup racing during the 80s. He raced, partied and lived harder than most of the corporate automatons disguised as drivers today probably could ever dream. Imagine Kyle Busch’s speed and carefree talent mixed with the rock-star magnetism and lifestyle of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones or Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and you had Tim Richmond.
Much like James Hunt in F1, the number of Richmond’s laps led and ladies bedded ran side-by-side. But he had tremendous skill and huge attachments behind the wheel of a stock car and appeared headed to the high altitude of the legends of the sport before he contracted AIDS and died in 1989.
Want to see Richmond’s otherworldly talent encapsulated in one short video? Watch this below. Richmond is swallowing the field whole on a restart at North Wilkesboro while continuing to talk from his car with ESPN commentators in the booth after the green flag:
Due to his illness and the misconceptions associated with it, Richmond never has received his due from either NASCAR or its flag-waving, God-fearing fan base. Hopefully this documentary will help those who have forgotten or never knew about Richmond realize he was a rare supernova.
Watch this show tonight. Richmond is exactly the kind of character that corporate sponsors in 2010 never would bless even though racing needs talented showmen like him more than ever.
Back to racing 2010. It’s a quiet day in worldwide motorsport — a rarity during the season. But there’s still some news to chew on.
There are some things in racing that make everything else — including the NASCAR Chase, MotoGP crowning two World Champions and the F1 race at Suzuka — feel irrelevant. Shane Hmiel’s accident in a USAC Silver Crown car during qualifications Saturday night at the Terre Haute Action Track is one of those.
Get well soon, Shane
Hmiel was badly injured and faces an arduous journey of recovery after a sickening, single-car wreck in which his car bicycled into the outside wall, directly impacting the roll cage. I thought about posting video of the accident that’s out there on the usual places on the Interwebs, but it turns my stomach every time I see it.
If you’re a fan of NASCAR or USAC racing, you know Hmiel’s story. He is the son of longtime NASCAR crew chief and team executive Steve Hmiel. He was banned for life from NASCAR in 2006 for failing three separate drug tests.
But Hmiel was navigating the road to redemption through the tough arena of USAC short-track racing and had won features in Sprint and Midget competition. He was seemingly doing everything right as he rebuilt his professional and personal life.
That’s what makes this accident even more painful for the racing community. America is the land of second chances, and here was a 30-year-old guy who was making the most of his. Now he faces a much greater fight.
If you believe in a higher power, pray for Shane Hmiel. If you don’t, think of him often. He needs all of the prayers and positive thoughts we can offer. A Facebook page is available for fans to offer support and thoughts, with updates on Hmiel’s condition also posted.
There is no such thing as a smooth transition from the sadness of Hmiel’s accident to the rest of the racing results from last weekend. But the octane show did go on around the globe.
Two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart jumped from 10th to fifth in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup after his victory at Auto Club Speedway. Smoke is still 107 points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson, who has switched on his Mr. Consistency mode after finishing third.
Jimmie Johnson at age 60: "Stay thirsty for Cup titles, my friend."
The Bearded Man of Mystery has finished first, second and third in his last three Chase starts after a rough opener at New Hampshire. Is there any wonder why this cat has won four consecutive season championships and seems to be destined for a fifth this year?
This was the last fall race at Auto Club Speedway, as NASCAR responded to the ho-hum attitude toward the sport by Southern California by moving this Chase event to Kansas next season. Past races on the 2-mile oval at California have been NASCAR’s alternative to Ambien, but that wasn’t the case Sunday.
There was plenty of action in the Cup race Sunday and the Nationwide race Saturday, including a hell of a comeback drive by four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon after he was nailed for speeding on pit road Sunday and Danica Patrick learning the ropes of NASCAR give and take Saturday with a firm bumper up the posterior.
Cars also drove four- and five-wide on late restarts in the Cup race Sunday, and there was a questionable debris caution that pulled the pin on Clint Bowyer’s race. Engine problems also put a serious hurt into the Chase chances of Roush teammates Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, and Kyle Busch’s engine condition mirrored his personality, too, spewing hot, black lava.
One of my favorite parts of any Monday during the Chase is reading which drivers are being coronated and written off after the weekend’s results. Remember, media were crowning Denny Hamlin and crucifying Johnson after New Hampshire. So it’s always fun to observe the spastic knee jerks of scribes.
Instead of distilling the Chase contenders from pretenders, Tom Bowles of SI.com is playing the “what if?” game. A fun read, but it reminds me of one of my favorite sayings from my college cross country and track coach: “If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.”
Speaking of attachments, as David Hobbs calls them, was there a gutsier performance in a major event all weekend than the victory produced by Valentino Rossi at Sepang? Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi slipped to 11th after a horrible start in the Malaysian Grand Prix, but he sliced through the field in an imperious, improbable ride to the top step of the podium on his Fiat Yamaha.
Still, one couldn’t help but think Rossi’s fantastic ride and victory were messages Lorenzo for 2011: “Yeah, kid, you’re the champ this year. But I’m going to kick your ass back to Mallorca next year when I get on the red bike.”
Nobody plays mind games in MotoGP quite like Rossi.
It was a good weekend for MotoGP at Sepang. There was a stirring victory by Rossi, a popular new champion crowned in MotoGP, a nice story of redemption through the crowning of Toni Elias as the first Moto2 World Champion and news that Dani Pedrosa is returning next weekend for the Australian Grand Prix just two weeks after suffering a broken collarbone.
But all is not sunny for MotoGP. The bike count for the premier class in 2011 is looking pretty bleak, fluctuating between 15 and 17 depending on the rumor du jour. It’s a far cry from just five years ago, when there were 23 bikes on the grid for this event during the height of the incredibly competitive and exciting 990cc era.
There is a simple solution: MotoGP should just return to the exact specs of the 990 era. The racing was fantastic, the costs were lower, and the cornering speeds were safer. But the electronics’ groundhog has seen his ugly shadow over the last four seasons. So the all-controlling, all-powerful black boxes sadly never will be removed from the bikes.
In Formula One, Red Bull teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ran away and finished one-two, respectively, in the Japanese Grand Prix at the sensational Suzuka circuit. Webber leads Vettel and Fernando Alonso, who finished third at Suzuka, by 14 points heading into the Korean Grand Prix on Oct. 24.
The track is a typical crap Tilkedrome, with 17 turns, no flow, very few high-speed corners and maybe two good overtaking areas. It’s going to be a jarring contrast from Suzuka, which ranks right up there with Spa as the ultimate challenge among current F1 circuits.
Suzuka is a masterpiece designed by the late John Hugenholtz. Hermann Tilke, the designer of nearly all of F1′s boring new circuits over the last decade, isn’t even worthy to carry Hugenholtz’s sketch pad.
The mighty Mount Panorama circuit in Australia also is a man’s track that never could come out of the mind of Tilke. It’s the site of one of the world’s great races, the Bathurst 1000 for the awesome Aussie V8 Supercars. These machines are fantastic, basically agile Sprint Cup cars on steroids. Series stars Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife teamed up to win the most prestigious touring car race in the world Sunday.
Stewart Friesen won another big race Sunday that’s off the radar of many American racing fans, the SEF Small Engines Fuel 200 at Syracuse, N.Y. It’s the Super Bowl for DIRT modifieds, the top form of short-track racing in New York and Pennsylvania. Friesen became the first Canadian winner of the race.
In NHRA, Top Fuel superstar Larry Dixon continued to be the most clutch performer in drag racing — if not the entire motorsports world — this season. He beat Cory McClenathan in the finals of the national event at Reading, Pa., and has 12 victories in 12 final-round appearances this year. Perfection.
Dixon is 89 points ahead of Cory Mac in the NHRA standings with just two races remaining.
There are very few grains of sand left in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series hourglass, as the offseason gets underway this Saturday night after the season-ending Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. So it’s time to start zeroing in on the big finale and championship chase before the long winter gets underway.
John Oreovicz of ESPN.com takes a closer look at the title tussle between points leader Will Power and reigning champion Dario Franchitti, who is just 12 points behind in second.
Power and Franchitti are leaving nothing to chance, joining the list of drivers who tested Monday at the aqua-walled Homestead oval. Also among the testers were Power’s Penske teammates, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, and Dixon’s Ganassi teammate, Scott Dixon. You can bet their engineers’ laptops will be wide open to Power and Franchitti as every last byte of data is examined to try and find an edge heading into the race Saturday.
Fans of arguably the most talented and definitely the most delightful rookie in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season, Simona de Silvestro, can exhale: She will compete in the season finale this Saturday night for HVM Racing. Rumors swirled like a strong breeze in a Manhattan concrete canyon that Simona and the team shut down. Thankfully, that’s not true, according to team owner Keith Wiggins.
Let’s hope HVM finds the dough that Simona’s talent deserves. She’s a keeper for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
One lady in the IndyCar paddock who doesn’t need to worry about her next paycheck is Danica Patrick. But the multi-million dollar question looms high above the 5-foot frame of America’s Princess of Speed: IndyCar or NASCAR? Jeff Olson examines both sides of the story in his blog at VERSUS.com.
Speaking of money and racing, it seemed like NASCAR was the petroleum-fueled land of milk and honey during the boom years of the sport last decade. Now NASCAR drivers and teams are hurting for cubic dollars to power their teams just like their brothers and sisters in every other form of racing in North America. And Jeff Gluck writes that the recoiling of Corporate America at 200-mph billboards could have a negative effect on the talent pool in NASCAR.
Hey, Kenny: What's that, Rusty's money clip?
Gluck also stays on the topic of money in this interesting short about the Twitter feud between SPEED NASCAR announcer and former NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace and Brian Scott, who was released by Braun Racing on Monday despite heading toward the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year title.
It seems that Herman touched a nerve with Master Scott because he suggested that Scott’s daddy had plenty of money that would help buy Sonny a ride. Gasp – ride buyers in NASCAR?
But one reader comment beneath Gluck’s blog post also pointed out the irony of Wallace complaining about ride-buying, as his nephew Steven probably never would have received a Nationwide Series ride if his father wasn’t one Rusty Wallace. Zing!
Then again, some ride buyers in NASCAR eventually develop into solid drivers. Terry Blount of ESPN.com wrote about how Paul Menard has evolved into more than just a kid playing with his father’s money this season and is worthy of his ride for 2011 at Richard Childress Racing. Menard’s father, John, owns the major home improvement chain Menards, which is an institution across the upper Midwest.
Enough about money and racing. It’s too depressing. Let’s get back to the racing itself, and the relentless meat grinder known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup continues this weekend at the 1.5-mile cookie cutter at Kansas.
Everyone was ready to deep-six Johnson after he finished 25th in the Chase opener Sept. 19 at New Hampshire, and now many are calling the engravers to prepare the trophy after Johnson won at Dover. I still think Johnson will complete a successful Drive for Five, but maybe it’s not that simple.
With apologies to Ivan Drago of "Rocky IV" fame, "JJ, I will break you."
A few very solid alternatives to the trendy pick of Johnson to ride the wave to his fifth title are Carl Edwards and the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt. It would be great if four or five drivers had a realistic chance at the title — not just one of those bogus, mathematical “if Jupiter and Pluto align just right and Jimmie Johnson catches whooping cough” kinds of chances — entering the season finale at Homestead.
But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Another thing I’ll believe when I see is Ferrari holding to a commitment to cut costs in Formula One. The gap between the have’s and have-not’s in F1 resembles that in a Third World country. And there’s absolutely no reason why mega-buck superteams like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull want anyone from the outhouse to join them in the penthouse.
Moving on to MotoGP, reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi expects a painful time this weekend during the Grand Prix of Japan at Motegi, mainly because the circuit’s layout will aggravate his chronic shoulder injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rossi follows through on his plan to skip the last two races of the season to have shoulder surgery and be completely ready for preseason testing in 2011 for his new employer, Ducati.
Finally, one of the coolest races in North America to which almost nobody pays attention is scheduled for this weekend, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The American Le Mans Series features an impressive variety of machinery in a motorsports world that has become mind-numbingly spec these days.
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.