Earlier in the summer I attended the Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, July 31st, 2011 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) hosted the 18th Annual Brickyard 400, which was the first Brickyard 400 I had ever attended. I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been to a NASCAR Race before. I wondered how the NASCAR cars would compare to open wheeled cars.
Before the race I went to the infield. We passed by the Pagoda and noticed a big crowd, so we went to see what was happening. Security blew whistles and one white van after another pulled up through the crowd of people. I saw the majority of the drivers and family members as they walked through the Pagoda to the otherside to prepare for the race. It was amazing to be so close to the drivers.
Grace Ybarra - Scholastic Kid Reporter
Before the race, I watched Desert Storm/Shield Veterans, Mayor Greg Ballard, Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire on the winners podium. At the end of the National Anthem there was a US Navy T-45 Goshawk Jet Flyover and hundreds of red, white, and blue balloons were released into the sky. I loved hearing IMS Chairman of the Board, Mary Hulman George, say those famous words “Gentlemen, start your engines.” I was very excited that Hope Solo, US Women’s Soccer Goalie, came to the Brickyard to drive the 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport pace car around for two laps before the start of the race.
When I was walking through the tunnel to get to our seats I put my hand on the top of the tunnel and you could feel the cars drive over your head. Every time the cars passed by your entire body shook. The NASCAR cars are definitely louder than IndyCars.
Once in our seats we watched the cars race around and pit. During the middle of the race Kyle Busch was leaving his pit while his neighbor, Tony Stewart was entering his pit. Kyle drove straight while Tony drove left into him. Both cars were damaged so they entered the pits and both pit crews took out sledgehammers and started beating the car back into shape. The sledgehammer is definetly something you definitely don’t see in open wheel racing.
I really enjoyed the unique designs on the NASCAR cars. My favorite car was Kyle Busch’s M&M Car. Even the tires advertised M&Ms with the multicolored M&Ms in the center of the tires.
Kyle Bush in the pits - Photo by Grace Ybarra
As the race neared the end, it was anybody’s race. After most cars pitted during the last twenty laps it was certainly unclear who was going to win it. When Jeff Gordon entered the pits he was in first place but when he came out of the pits he was in 18th place. Nothing stopped him though. He sped past 16 drivers and landed himself in second place on the final white flag lap. Paul Menard still stood in front of him. On turn four Gordon was close enough to catch Menard, although he didn’t pull it off. Menard came zooming across the bricks for his first NASCAR win. He drove his yellow 27 car in circles with smoke filling the air. The last five laps was pure adreneline.
I was glad to see such an exciting finish for my first Brickyard 400.
What was your first Brickyard 400 experience like?
Welcome to 2011. No, Splash And Go is not working on the Roman or Julian calendar. It’s just getting quite busy around here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as preparations for this season — especially the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 on May 29 — are pedal to the metal.
Everything is just as hectic in the world of INDYCAR, where good news continues to be generated at a breakneck pace. The first big change is the elimination of the old Indy Racing League name and the creation of a new logo. INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard is right — the old name conjures too much bad mojo, too many memories of the split.
So INDYCAR it shall be. You won’t see any mention of Irrelevant Racing Lingo (IRL) around here anymore. Big-time open-wheel racing in North America is INDYCAR, baby.
The dramatic buzz created by these changes and other positive developments is catching the eyes of the INDYCAR blogosphere and media. Robin Miller at SPEEDTV.com pays tribute to Bernard’s role in INDYCAR’s resurgence, while Tony Johns at Pop Off Valve talks about the vital, smart decisions Bernard has made in the last 10 months. Mike Knapp at 15 Days in May mirrors the optimism of nearly every INDYCAR fan, while Christopher Leone at Open Wheel America looks at the importance the strengthened Mazda Road To Indy ladder system will play in INDYCAR’s future.
These are Timbuk3 times for INDYCAR. (Remember the classic one-hit wonder, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades?” Yeah, they sang it.)
The good news could keep on rolling on the television front, as a proposed merger between NBC and Comcast could signal a significant change for the IZOD IndyCar Series TV package.
NASCAR also is on the verge of a major change, as NASCAR.com reported Jan. 11 that drivers will be forced to choose one of the three major series in which they want to earn championship points in 2011. This could reduce the number of Sprint Cup drivers dipping into the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, as they won’t be eligible for championships.
This proposed move is going to take some digesting, just like the big Christmas meal I enjoyed. The ramifications are huge.
Will it reduce the marquee value of the Nationwide and Truck series if fewer Cup drivers participate? How can a driver who performs regular double or triple duty, such as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, lure or keep a sponsor for the two lower series if he’s not running for a championship? How will that effect race teams in Nationwide and Busch owned by Cup drivers?
In another change, California Speedway is reducing its spring race distance from 500 to 400 miles. Halle-freaking-lujah. Here’s to hoping other tracks follow suit. Forcing fans to sit in front of a TV for a 500-mile race is just too much in the ADD world in which we live, especially when prominent drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. even admit the middle stages of those long races are nothing but parades to cut down laps to get to the final fuel stint. Five-hundred milers should be saved for a few special places and special races.
Dustin Long remains one of the top writers on the NASCAR beat, and he came up with this interpretive gem: It seems more and more Cup teams are hiring younger drivers, but the average age of participants in the Chase for the Sprint Cup continues to rise. Age and experience always can overcome youthful exuberance, I guess.
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.
Television ratings and attendance for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series continue to drop, and the series heads this weekend to one of its few flops as a new race market, Los Angeles. Then again, Tinseltown is the worst pro sports market in America, so is anyone surprised?
But never fear, a solution to NASCAR’s woes is here, courtesy of Auto Club Speedway: THE HOFF.
David Hasselhoff, famous from “Knight Rider” and “Baywatch,” being booted after the first round of “Dancing With The Stars” and one of the most legendary videos ever on YouTube, is singing the national anthem before the Nationwide Series race Saturday at the track.
BOOM goes the dynamite! NASCAR’s problems are solved thanks to The Hoff. Remember, he’s huge in Germany.
The Nationwide race at California also will be significant because it will the first of six consecutive Nationwide races for Danica Patrick, with no IZOD IndyCar Series race commitments. The stretch will mark her first back-to-back races in the series since February and March.
Gentleman Jim has a point: Is anyone talking about the racing during this Chase? Well, maybe if the racing involves wrecking.
The racing Richter scale continues to chatter over the Carmageddon bump-and-runs between Chaser Kyle Busch and non-Chaser David Reutimann last weekend at Kansas. Rootie is unrepentant, and Kyle’s brother, Kurt Busch, has entered the fray by saying non-Chasers should keep their heads when racing around drivers participating in NASCAR’s postseason.
That’s fine, Kurt. But Chasers also should treat non-Chasers as more than speed bumps or bumper car crash-test dummies. Your little bro Rowdy never has received that message and probably never will.
Meanwhile, that Bearded Man of Mystery is back in the points lead heading to his home track, a place where he normally puts the boot into the behind of his rivals. Then again, if Jimmie wins this weekend at California and extends his points lead, fans will yelp that the Chase is boring, needs changing and is responsible for their shrinking 401K despite eight of the 12 Chase drivers being within 85 points of the lead entering this weekend.
It usually takes awhile for Silly Season to crank up in the IZOD IndyCar Series. But this year is different. Announcements and rumors — good and bad — are flying like Justin Bieber dolls will off shelves this Christmas shopping season.
First, the good. Simona De Silvestro may not have won the Rookie of Year title this year — Alex Lloyd did — but she easily was the most pleasant and talented surprise in the series in 2010. She’ll stay at HVM Racing for the 2011 season.
KV Racing Technology is helping a new team, SH Racing, field a one-car entry for the 2011 Indianapolis 500. No driver has been named, but a sponsor, REDLINE Extreme energy drink, is lined up.
Is it just me, or are energy drinks the new dot.com’s of the racing sponsorship world? Let’s hope the long-term viability of those fizzy, yellow drinks to pay the bills is better than the Internet firms that sprouted and disappeared like crabgrass about 10 years ago.
Two-time American Le Mans Series champions Highcroft Racing aim to run a limited IZOD IndyCar Series schedule in 2011, with an eye on a full-season ride for 2012. Highcroft and team owner Duncan Dayton are the real deal, so this team looks like a solid prospect for IndyCar in the future.
Now for the bad news, and it continues to swirl around one team – Andretti Autosport.
Just a few days after AA announced Tony Kanaan was free to look for a ride with another team because primary sponsor 7-Eleven wasn’t returning in 2011, Michael Andretti’s team announced it needs a primary sponsor for Ryan Hunter-Reay. Series sponsor IZOD picked up RHR’s tab in 2010. AA officials have indicated one company already has made an offer as a primary sponsor, so that’s a proverbial silver lining.
It should be one of the more active Silly Seasons in recent IndyCar memory. VERSUS IndyCar announcer Jack Arute offers his opinions on what might happen.
And speaking of silly, ’tis the season for a good highlight reel of IZOD IndyCar Series bloopers.
MotoGP continues its Asian tour this weekend with the Grand Prix of Malaysia. 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa will miss his second consecutive race with a broken collarbone suffered last weekend in practice at Motegi, so Jorge Lorenzo only needs to finish ninth or better to clinch his first World Championship.
Put the mortgage on it. Jorge’s worst finish this season is fourth, twice. He’s been on the podium at every other race.
One of those fourth-place finishes for Lorenzo came after an epic battle with Fiat Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi last weekend at Motegi. The Doctor and Jorge aren’t on each others’ Christmas card lists, and Rossi has no regrets about racing Lorenzo hammer and tongs over the final laps.
And why should he? Rossi may be a happy-go-lucky guy off the bike, but he’s an assassin on it. Plus that battle sent a clear message to Lorenzo: You don’t own me, kid.
Beating Lorenzo must have done wonders for Rossi’s ailing shoulder, as he’s leaning toward finishing the entire season with Yamaha instead of skipping the last two rounds, at Estoril, Portugal and Valencia, Spain, for shoulder surgery.
Then again, Rossi is a master of mind games. Maybe he’s just trying to butter up Yamaha to let him test his new Ducati ride for 2011 the day after the season finale at Valencia.
Rossi’s replacement for 2011 at Yamaha, American rookie phenom Ben Spies, did an interesting video interview with OnTheThrottle. Check it out in two parts here.
Formula One and its raging championship battle are back in action this weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, one of the world’s greatest tracks. But all eyes in F1 remain on Japan’s neighbor to the west, Korea, where the inaugural Korean Grand Prix remains in doubt for Oct. 22-24.
The final layer of asphalt is being paved for the race, and the FIA’s Charlie Whiting is supposed to inspect the circuit Monday. But even if the track passes muster, this race is a disaster in waiting. Come on: Just two weeks for the asphalt to cure?
Yet despite this joke of a race, F1 continues to look east to banana republics as proper spots for races while ignoring places with history, tradition and completed infrastructure like Imola, Magny-Cours and … Indianapolis. Thailand is the next target. At this rate, more than half of the races in the World Championship will take place in the Middle East or Asia, where dictators, despots and oil barons are more than willing to play Bernie Ecclestone’s financial parlor games.
Syracuse, N.Y., is a far distance from Thailand or Suzuka, and the Syracuse Mile doesn’t have the infrastructure of any of Bernie’s speed palaces. It doesn’t have a pavement problem, either, because there is no pavement.
But the Moody Mile is playing host again to one of the most balls-out racing events anywhere on Earth, Super DIRT Week. The SEF Small Engine Fuels 200 this Sunday is the showcase event, the Super Bowl for dirt modifieds. Much like the Knoxville Nationals for sprint cars, it’s roots racing at its hardest, purest and finest.
Make no doubt about it: This guy is the boss of IndyCar racing over the last 15 years. Robin Miller, who knows a thing or 100,000 about great drivers, thinks so. I don’t need as large of an abacus to count my racing knowledge as Robin, but I think so, too.
It also was a good night in South Florida for one Danica Patrick, who tied a season best by finishing second in the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300. It was a solid salvage job by America’s Princess of Speed, who ended the season in the top 10 with the strong result after an intense duel with Andretti Autosport teammate Tony Kanaan down the stretch laps of the race.
But there’s no rest for weary Danica, who probably would give some of her sizable endorsement income to approach a single-digit finish in her Grand NASCAR Nationwide Experiment of 2010, which continues full-bore now that the IndyCar season is done.
You had to feel for Will Power after the Homestead race. The laid-back Aussie dude was visibly oozing the pressure of the title chase last weekend at Homestead. I was there, and Will was uncharacteristically tense and even borderline snippy in a press conference Friday night after Franchitti won the pole, trimming one point from Power’s 12-point lead entering the event.
And the coil spring of Will’s psyche finally snapped when he brushed the wall trying to avoid lapped traffic in the race, ending his race and his championship hopes. Contrast that with Dario’s chilly nerves when avoiding the spinning, crashing car of rolling chicane Milka Duno later in the race.
Power lost the title by five points, but he gained a ton of respect and injected a heavy dose of fear into his rivals this season. As Danica said of Power in the post-race press conference: “He did a hell of a job this year. He kicked ass on the road courses, for sure.” That he did, winning the inaugural Mario Andretti Road Course Championship Trophy. And Power also improved quite a bit on ovals, even though that first win on roundy-rounds eludes him.
Prospects for a strong year also are looking up for Graham Rahal. He announced a big sponsorship deal for 2011-12 with TBC Retail Group, a major American tire and automotive retail company, on Saturday afternoon at Homestead. Whispers are getting louder than Graham is heading to a third Ganassi team in 2011. Was it any coincidence that a Ganassi executive was in the deadline room when the press conference took place Saturday at Homestead? Hmm …
IndyCar’s favorite bad boy, Paul Tracy, also is aiming for a strong full-season ride in 2011. PT is beating the bushes and says he’s close to having enough funding for next year. Let’s hope so. You never can get too much of The Thrill from West Hill.
While Graham is set and things are looking up for PT, there was a bit of bad news for Tony Kanaan and Andretti Autosport. 7-Eleven, TK’s longtime primary sponsor in the IZOD IndyCar Series, is returning only as an associate on Danica’s car next year. AA has given TK permission to look around the series for another ride.
Sorry, but I just can’t imagine TK at another team besides Andretti. He has been the one fixture — the pillar — of that outfit since it came to the series in 2003 as Andretti Green Racing. No one has worked harder, no one has driven harder and no one has kept the team more focused and unified than TK. To lapse into American sportscaster-speak, TK is the glue guy at Andretti. The team simply cannot afford to lose Kanaan, who immediately becomes the most coveted free agent in IndyCar.
The rousing battle between TK and Danica over the last 30 laps at Homestead wasn’t the only compelling bout last weekend between teammates who aren’t exactly best buddies. The heated rivalry between seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi and 2010 champion-elect Jorge Lorenzo finally boiled over at Motegi in a phenomenal, elbow-rubbing duel Sunday.
Seriously, the only difference between the scrap between Fiat Yamaha teammates Rossi and Lorenzo over the last three laps of the race and the classic old video game “Road Rash” was the lack of spiked balls and chains. This was as close to 180-mph two-wheeled combat as you’re going to see.
And Jorge was not happy with The Doctor after the race. As if Rossi cares. He knows Lorenzo and another rival, 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner, hate him, and he doesn’t give a rat’s posterior. Ah, the beauty of psychological warfare. Vale is a master of it. Just ask Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi. The brilliant Julian Ryder offers his always spot-on analysis of the Battle of Motegi at Superbike Planet.
Lorenzo, who just signed a two-year contract renewal with Yamaha, will get a bit of revenge this weekend at Malaysia: He’ll likely clinch his first MotoGP World Championship. Lorenzo’s closest pursuer in the standings, 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa, almost certainly will miss his second consecutive race after suffering a broken collarbone in a crash during practice at Motegi.
Three-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson took the lead from Denny Hamlin in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup after finishing second behind Greg Biffle on Sunday at Kansas. But unlike MotoGP, it’s going to be awhile until this year’s champion is decided, as just 85 points separate eighth-place Biffle from points leader Johnson.
The tight points race should be a major topic of conversation heading into Tinseltown for the race this Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California, but instead a typical NASCAR soap opera is devouring the headlines. Kyle Busch and David Reutimann traded sheet metal and post-race barbs after they clashed twice on track at Kansas. The intent of Busch’s contact was debatable; Reutimann’s was not. He wanted to take out Busch and succeeded, helping to drop Rowdy to a 21st-place finish.
And thus the filmy residue of NASCAR’s “boys, have at it” policy was left on this race like soap scum around the base of the bathtub. Is it really in NASCAR’s best interests to have a non-Chase driver intentionally trash the race of a Chase driver? Jeff Gluck plays attorney, judge and jury in this blog, and his point is solid: NASCAR’s hands-off policy only will encourage more Chase-altering melees like Sunday at Kansas.
Maybe that’s what NASCAR fans want. But don’t you think NASCAR Nation would react a bit differently, with fewer “That puke got what was coming to him” comments spewed toward Busch, if the object of Reutimann’s bumper was Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Yeah, so do I.
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.
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.
Despite having 25 races in the books this season, much of the talk surrounding the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series remains focused on nearly everything but racing. Voices in the media, blogosphere and fan universe continue to debate, bleat and wring hands about the perceived “problems” of the sport, which still remains the most popular form of motorsport in America.
One of the topics of discussion has been the stagnant TV ratings for the Sprint Cup Series. Two interesting solutions have been floated by bloggers this week. Bob Margolis at Sledgehammer proposes NFL-style blackouts in local markets where races aren’t sold out, while Patrick Reynolds at All Left Turns thinks weeknight races — similar to “Monday Night Football” or “Thursday Night Football” — can revive ratings.
I’m not sold on the blackout concept. TV coverage fueled NASCAR’s explosive growth in the 90s and 00s. Races were sold out coast-to-coast seven or eight years ago despite network coverage. And fans have to come to expect wall-to-wall TV coverage of every Sprint Cup race, so I don’t think taking from the customer would be a positive.
Home-market blackouts have been a fact of life in the NFL for a long time, well before saturation coverage became the norm on TV. But it’s different with NASCAR. I think it would go over like flatulence at Mass.
Weeknight races? Another mixed bag. One, it would be tough to attract fans to a weeknight show, especially those who must work the next day. Many fans travel hundreds of miles to attend a Cup show, and it would be tough to ask them to drive home all night to ensure they clock in on time for work the next morning.
Plus there’s also the issue of race lengths. If a weeknight show started at 8 p.m. Eastern time, it probably wouldn’t end until close to midnight. That would cut into “SportsCenter” if the race was on ESPN or local news — which generates beaucoup advertising bucks for local affiliates — if the race was on FOX.
Maybe it would work if Sprint Cup races were shorter, which I think is long overdue. But it’s a tricky proposition.
Another NASCAR issue that has spurred plenty of conversation this year is the sanctioning body’s edict of “Boys, have at it” in regards to aggressive, full-contact racing. Some drivers who are active users of social media, such as Denny Hamlin, also interpreted that maxim to apply to Twitter. And that belief bit Hamlin in the posterior earlier this season when he was fined for posting comments on his Twitter feed that NASCAR didn’t like.
Blogger Bill Daly believes that decision by NASCAR has placed a veil of silence on Twitter among drivers. I can see both sides of this issue. Drivers are independent contractors working for race teams and feel like they should be able to speak their minds. But NASCAR also is the sanctioning body that provides the sandbox in which they play every week, so it also should have some control.
A tricky situation. Wasn’t life simpler when all we had were newspapers, TV, radio and static websites? You know, the old days of five years ago?
That Rowdy Busch kid
Bruce Martin at SI.com also has a panacea for what supposedly ails NASCAR, and it isn’t a clever TV scheduling tactic or a social media policy. It actually deals with a live human being named Kyle Busch. Bruce thinks NASCAR would get a huge shot in the arm if Rowdy won the Sprint Cup this season.
I agree. Love him or hate him, Shrub evokes emotion unlike any other Cup driver. And emotion is what fuels all of our passions.
And the Gluckometer shows that no one in NASCAR stirred more passion during driver introductions last Sunday night in Atlanta than young Kyle Busch, even if it was 89.3 decibels of boos.
By the way, do you really think Jeff Gluck carries a decibel meter to Cup shows? Man, that’s dedication. Or is there an iPhone app for that?
Emotion continues to fill the MotoGP paddock after the deaths of Peter Lenz and Shoya Tomizawa on consecutive weekends. And few riders are dealing with more emotion now than Moto2 rookie standout Scott Redding, who was involved in the fatal accident with Tomizawa. Redding is trying to cope with the loss of Tomi before remounting his bike for the Grand Prix of Aragon on Sept. 19.
Not an easy task. Best wishes to both Redding and Alex De Angelis, the other rider involved in the accident.
In IZOD IndyCar land, the announcement of the 2011 schedule Friday in Milwaukee continues to be the main topic of conversation. More Front Wing takes its best guess at the 2011 schedule in a post that also includes its latest podcast. The podcast is a solid listen, if a touch long at 68 minutes. I’m a firm believer that no podcast without guests should be more than 45 minutes, but probably that’s just me. Good work, as always, from Paul and Steph.
Nearly all of this blog, like seemingly more and more of the news from the racing world these days, deals with business and off-track incidents and episodes. So it’s time to finish up today’s “Splash And Go” with a reminder of why we love racing, why we still have the FEE-VAH.
Motor Sport Magazine recently ran two pieces about two iconic European circuits, Monza and Donington Park. Rob Widdows’ blog about Monza describes why it’s a must-visit for any racing fan, like Indianapolis one of the true temples of worldwide motorsport. And Andrew Frankel wrote about how Donington — one of my favorite tracks in the world – is being resurrected after it was emasculated in the intent of staging the British Grand Prix before Bernie Ecclestone pulled the race back to Silverstone.
Both circuits have a soul, a petrol-fueled pulse, that no Tilkedrome can replicate. If you’ve been at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a quiet day around sunset, you know what I mean. You look at the Turn 1 grandstands in the shadows of twilight, and you can just feel and hear the ghosts.
It’s a goosebump-bulging feeling from a spine-tingling place.
I’m a firm believer in racing karma, good and bad. And both kinds of karma were on display last weekend in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, IZOD IndyCar Series and MotoGP races.
NASCAR made its first of two trips this season to the Southwest for the Subway 600K last Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway. Rowdy, er, Kyle Busch dominated the race, looking to pull off a sweep of the Nationwide and Cup races.
But then that thing called karma entered the building.