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Team Meeting Weekend in Review; Ben Spies Edition

ASSEN, NETHERLANDS - JUNE 25: Ben Spies of USA and  Yamaha Factory Racing lifts the front wheel during the MotoGP race of MotoGP of Netherlands at TT Circuit Assen on June 25, 2011 in Assen, Netherlands.
MotoGP:  
Ben Spies has won his first MotoGP race in the Assen TT, becoming the first American to win since 2006 (Nicky Hayden) and the first rider outside of the “Aliens” (Stoner, Pedrossa, Rossi, Lorenzo) to win a dry race since the 800cc era started.  Ben Spies and Marco Simoncelli were strong all weekend and out qualified Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo.  In the wet practice sessions Rossi led, while in the dry he was off the pace.  Simoncelli started on pole, but quickly crashed out, taking Lorenzo with him.  This ruined a potentially great race between Simoncelli and Spies, and allowed Spies to lead every lap on his way to his first career win.  Considering how fast Stoner has been this year, that’s impressive.

Thank god Spies won, because otherwise, it would have been a pointless GP.  Assen is one of the better tracks on the schedule, yet this weekends racing was as processional as it get’s.  Had Simoncelli not wrecked he and Spies might have had an epic race, but Simoncelli did, and so Spies was able to win easily. Stoner just seemed off this weekend, he was fast, but not as fast as he has been.  Because of that, Lorenzo was even more angry with Simoncelli about their wreck, as he lost points to Stoner on a day he should have picked some up.

There are some interesting parallel’s between the MotoGP and Indycar race.  In both series the pole winner was a sophomore driver/rider known for both speed and crashing.  In both races, they lined up next to an American driver/rider who needed to turn their season around, and in both series, the pole winner crashed.  The two main differences were that there was passing in the Indycar race, and the American who won it wasn’t the 2nd place starter, but Marco Andretti, who came from 17th.  Still, just like Spies, he needed to turn a rough season around.

Valentino Rossi was given a 2012 Ducati MotoGP bike that was outfitted with a 2011 engine to try and find some speed before the Italian GP this week at Mugello where the pressure on them will be enormous.   The results were mixed.  Rossi still had problems and still wasn’t as fast as the top riders, but in the wet, he led both sessions.  The 2012 bike has already been tested by Rossi at Mugello, so he may be more competitive here.

Indycar:  For the first time since 2006, Marco Andretti won an Indycar race!  And unlike his teammate assisted win at Infineon, he won this race by moving up through the field and passing Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan on the track!  Sato started on pole with Danica beside him, but the Scottish Douche (new nickname for Dario) passed them for the lead early.  The Least Interesting Driver in the World then went on to lead a bunch of laps until Marco Andretti caught and passed him.  After another restart Kanaan, Marco, Hildebrand and Dixon passed Dario and relegated him to 5th.  Kanaan and Marco fought for the lead until the very end of the race, when Marco came out on top.  And it was nice to see a winner who didn’t whine in victory lane!

Sadly, concussions marred the weekend.  Simona De Silvestro was not cleared to race due to concussion like symptoms from her wreck at Milwaukee.  Will Power had an awful race where he first was hit by Charlie Kimball on pit road and then crashed, likely due to lingering damage from the first incident.  He suffered a mild concussion.  He needs to be healed by Toronto, because Indycar cannot afford the Scottish Douche lucking into another championship.  Seriously, if Dario wins this championship because Power has a concussion and misses races, he needs a MASSIVE asterisk by his name in the record books.  1 Indy 500 due to rain, 1 due to fuel, 2 championships by fuel, 1 by a wreck, and 1 by an injury.  That’s not a sign of a great driver, that’s the sign of someone with a massive golden horseshoe shoved up his….

As expected, Sato crashed.  It was unfortunate he didn’t pull the Full Simoncelli and take Dario out with him.  For Sato haters (and I proudly include myself in that group) it showed why we think he’s a waste of a good seat in Indycar.  Sure, he’s got speed, and he hasn’t wrecked as much this year as before, but he still tears cars up about half of the races he enters.  This was Danica’s best shot to win a race on speed in years (as her teammate proved) but she struggled in the race.  She fell back on the start and never was a factor (or led a single lap) and finished 10th, one spot ahead of Ed Carpenter.

According to Graham Rahal, he get’s the same equipment as Dixon and Dario.  If that’s the case, what’s wrong with him and Kimball?  Rahal’s had some good moments, but Kimball has sucked.  Yes, Kimball is very new and not very experienced, but with a Red Car, it doesn’t take much talent to run up front.  Also, Kimball’s raced in A1GP, where he drove a car with similar power to an Indycar.  Yet he has been a slightly faster James Jakes, crashing or making contact in almost every race.  Indycar desperately needs Americans, so I’m not advocating throwing him out like Viso, Sato, Saadevra and Jakes should be, but someone needs to give him some pointers so he doesn’t crash every race.  Hildebrand and Hinchcliffe are both rookies with worse equipment and yet have had much better results.  It looks like the relationship between “the Quitter” Sebastian Saadevra and Conquest Racing is starting to turn sour.  He didn’t make a lap in qualifying because he felt the car was so slow he would have started last anyways.  This is the same guy who left Herta’s team because he didn’t have equipment up to his standards.  Funny thing happened; Herta won the 500, will be the 2012 test team, and will likely run full time in 2012 and have a leg up on the competition.

In some disturbing news, a website called Pit Pass has this story.   The story basically says 17 F1 tracks will switch to Indycar if F1 goes through with the “green” engines.  Obviously, this story is posturing and BS mixed together but I still find it disturbing.  I can’t think of anything more boring than an Indycar race around Monaco, Valencia, Singapore, and 15 random Tilke tracks.  I understand this story is 99.999% likely to not come true, but if it did, I would have a “who gives a monkey’s” moment.  It would mean the end of oval racing in Indycar and I don’t think there are many people here who would enjoy watching Indycar turn into F1.  I certainly wouldn’t.  It would also kill the Indy 500. Again, I don’t believe this story, but it does make me a little uncomfortable.  I’d like to see a retraction from Pit Pass to put my mind fully at ease.

F1:  Formula One paraded around Valencia in a race even most diehard fans found dull.  Vettel won pole and the race again.  This is getting pretty boring.  For more thoughtful F1 analysis here, look to Triple League Racing blogger Eric Hall, who is an F1 fan and is putting out quality F1 material.

An observation.  For being the “biggest/greatest/largest racing series in the world” F1 is also one of the least stable.  Every year there is a threat of a “split” erupting, cheating scandals like crazy, track not being built in time, and other random disasters.  So far F1 has managed to avoid a complete meltdown, but how long until one occurs?

NASCAR:  NASCAR went road racing this weekend, with Cup at Infineon and Nationwide at Road America.  There are two views on NASCAR road racing, some love it, others (including me) feel that it’s a slow, drawn out crashfest.  The cars are too slow and not built for road racing, with the 4 speed gear box completely wrong for that type of racing!  Since many  NASCAR drivers have almost no road racing experience the amount of wrecks and cautions is so high, almost every race goes past the planned TV window.  Nationwide is even worse, the last cars in qualifying often are over 30 seconds slower than the pole winner!

At Infineon, Kurt Busch put on a Will Power style domination to win his first road race.   Maybe Power gave him and Keselowski pointers?  Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose all finished in the top 5.  For Gordon that’s not surprising, but Edwards and Bowyer don’t have much road racing experience, though Edwards has won Nationwide road races.  Juan Montoya managed to crash out about half the field and piss everyone off at him.   His reign of terror was ended by Brad Keselowski, who took Montoya out before Montoya could take him out, in one of the most entertaining moves of the race.

The fact that Kurt Busch won is a bit surprising until you think about this fact.  In 2004, he tested a Champcar for Derrick Walker at Sebring and laid down times faster than Walker’s Ride Buying driver.   It’s also worth noting how many drivers in the NASCAR field should be in Indycar, and how much better off Indycar would be with them.  Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmindinger, Marcos Ambrose, Juan Montoya, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Max Pappis and Micheal McDowell, not to mention Villenuve and Ranger, should all be in open wheel.  And if you had them, you’d truly have the “Best drivers in the world” instead of 15 of the best+ 10 ride buyers.  I guarantee Gordon, Stewart, Busch, and Kahne would bring in more interest in 1 race than Sato, Viso, Saadevra, and Jakes bring in in 10 years.

As for Nationwide at Road America… it was even more of a crash fest.  Villenuve was wrecking everyone (what is it with former F1 drivers this week?) and took out Max Pappis in a move that had “Mad Max” and his team owner Kevin Harvick fuming.  In the end the race finished under controversy as it ended under yellow.  Justin Allgier ran out of fuel under the caution while leading.  Ron Fellows then passed him and Reed Sorenson under yellow.  Obviously, that’s not allowed and Sorenson was declared the winner.

Top Gear:  Top Gear has returned, at least for British fans.   In this weeks episode, Clarkson reviewed a BMW and celebrated the E-Type Jaguar, as well as interviewed Alice Cooper.  May raced a skeleton luge champion with a Mini Countrymen Rally Car.  Hammond drove a massive SUV through the streets of South Africa and caused a fair amount of destruction, as expected.  From what I’ve heard, it’s been a fairly well received episode.   Hopefully BBC America shows them soon so I can see for myself.

Lewis Hamilton to NASCAR or to Indy Car w/ Tony Stewart???

Yesterday Speed aired the “Seat Swap” Hamilton vs. Stewart @ Watkins Glen International Raceway. The bad part was it was raining a little bit and they put wet tires on both cars. This isn’t the first time this has happened if we go back to June of 2003 Juan Pablo Montoya (Then a Formula One driver for Williams) jumped into Jeff Gordon’s Cup Car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. After all maybe these so called “fun” seat swaps are pretty important. Look at Montoya he quit his F1 ride with McLaren to go to Cup, Montoya has 2 wins but one is on Watkikns Glen and one is on the Infineon Raceway.

Going back to what I said in the first line, this seat swap was sponsored by Mobil 1 because they are a mutual sponsor of the two teams. It was raining at the Glen yesterday for this event, which made even more difficult. First, Stewart and Hamilton made parade laps around the long course at the Glen. Then Hamilton made hot laps in his 3 year old F1 car, he was running laps in the 1:50’s range. After that Stewart came back out in his NASCAR Cup car. He was running laps in the 2:20’s range.

After they were done with the parade laps Hamilton jumped into Stewart’s car and his laps were 9 seconds faster than Stewart’s! This is very surprising to me because he has never driven stick shift and he isn’t used to sitting so far over in the car. Then to please the crowd Hamilton attempted a burn out, and it was a good one. Stewart then jumped into Hamilton’s car he was also running way faster laps then what Hamilton posted in his parade/hot lap on the course. After the whole thing was over Tony said” I’d love to have Lewis as a teammate has information is spot on.” Then Tony mentioned of getting Lewis into a sprint car at Eldora Speedway, the track that Stewart owns. This brings me into my next points.

As I mentioned Hamilton was very fast around the track in a stock car considering the conditions. Stewart has said he wants to field a third car in Cup competition or start up a Nationwide team or both. Look at Montoya again, he raced for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in CART and then he came back to NASCAR with him. Could we see this with Hamilton?? I say yes because after 3 or 4 years when Lewis will started sliding down the ranks in F1 unless he wins a championship again, he will ask Tony if the ride is availaible probably. Stewart would love Hamilton on his team.

Scott Speed is a prime example of this, start in F1 have some success, go to NASCAR epic fail it, then go to Indy Car like he has this year. But this is different with Hamilton behind the wheel, he is much more popular then Speed and will draw more attention. Plus Hamilton is a World Champion. Tony Stewart wants to start up an Indy Car team eventually I think his driver would be Hamilton based on how he learns things and he always wants new challenges. Maybe after he has had success he would go to Penske and run a fourth car there along with Power, Briscoe, and Helio. The Penske thing might not be that bad though. As Dylan wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Hendrick/Penske GM team to F1. Penske is running Chevy’s for the next couple of years and Hendrick is a GM team and Tony Stewart gets his equipment from Hendrick so it could be a three way effort in one. If Hamilton is willing to go back if he makes the jumps it will be ok, and maybe run a second car with Will Power the Indy Car Road Course king. It could be just as successful as Michael Schumacher returning and running great this year.

Team Meeting; Weekend in Review: Colt 45 Edition

Indycar:  The Month of May has begin in Indycar!  Rookie Orientation has been completed, with all drivers but James Jakes passing on day 1.  Jakes latter passed during practice.  Practice has seen Ed Carpenter lead day 1 and Tagliani lead on Monday, but it’s hard to put too much stock into it as the lap times are affected by drivers drafting each other.  The Red Cars are still incredibly fast, which has the potential to make this kind of anti-climatic.

We’ve seen the 2012 car concept.  I stand by my original analysis as I don’t find either version especially exciting.  They look like the offspring of an HRT and the current Crapwagons, and in no way is that a good thing.  On the other hand, if it looks a bit like an F1 car (even a slow one) maybe it’ll be fast?  I’m glad they got rid of the snowplow on the front.

Willy T. Ribbs has become an Indy Lights team owner with driver Chase Austin, who used to be part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program.  The good news is it’s only Indy Lights, the bad, Austin’s never driven an open wheel car before.

The Aero Kit Wars Update:  Some members of the media seem to have joined the team owners, but still, the team owners haven’t explained what the problem is, since you get two kits, and you don’t have to buy a 2nd one if you don’t want to.  And if you really think Penske and Ganassi are against aero kits for the good of the series… I have some oceanfront property in Arizona for you.  Looking at the time sheets from Indy, and remembering what happened in 2005 and 1995 to Penske and/or Ganassi suggest that the real reason they aren’t into aero kits is that the more spec things are, the easier it is for them to find the perfect combination and win 34 out of the last 38 races.

According to Robin Miller Indycar may use the Motegi Road Course instead of the oval this fall.  That would put the road/oval balance at 10/7, which is also known as CART.  I don’t want to hear the “it shows support for Japan” argument.  I seriously doubt that running an Indycar race is going to do a lot of good for anyone in Japan, or Japan’s image.  Maybe the MotoGP will, if it happens, but the riders have hinted that they might boycott that race…  Throwing the road/oval balance to CART levels might be acceptable if we’re talking Road America or Sebring, but I seriously doubt the Motegi road course will be a good race.  The MotoGP last year was good but that’s MotoGP; they were passing at Le Man’s Bugatti circuit.  Motegi is a bad idea for 1000 reasons anyways.  Especially the idea of running the 3rd to last race in the middle of the night in Japan, where 0 American media attend the event.  Just say no, and go to Texas, Chicagoland, Fontana, Atlanta Motor Speedway, or Charlotte.

The Indycar drivers have, according to Robin Miller, filed another petition to end double file restarts, this time for Indy.  Like I said, give into them once (Long Beach) and they’ll keep wanting it again (in rain races) and again (at Indy).  This isn’t CART; the team owners don’t call the shot’s, and the drivers don’t, either.  If drivers can’t handle double file restarts then they need to consider finding a new line of work.  Sometimes people wonder why a segment of fans want’s to have USAC/WoO or NASCAR drivers in Indycar.  Well, this kind of explains it.  I don’t think those drivers would whine about the racing being too close or would petition to end double file restarts.

Scott Speed's Fuzzy's Vodka Livery looks good

Colt Firearms will be an associate sponsorship on Graham Rahal’s car.  This is a good pickup by Indycar, which needs edgier sponsors and more American sponsors.  Colt covers both, and if this partnership goes well then perhaps a full sponsorship could be in the works?  Especially since this is a sponsor that most people would expect to go to NASCAR, this could be a big deal.  On twitter, some of the European and Canadian fans were surprised that Colt is allowed to sponsor a race car, but what needs to be remembered is that the gun rights are protected by the US Constitution, and that in America, having a gun company sponsor a car is not controversial, outside a very small section of people.

NASCAR:  The Cup race saw another late race tire gamble, but instead of an underdog win, it was Matt Kenseth.  The race was as processional as they come, with exactly one groove in the track.  This one groove nature is what allowed Kenseth to win.  Mark Martin got up to 2nd with his tire gamble and Marcos Ambrose got 3rd.  AJ Allmindinger had a good race going and then suffered mechanical problems which cost him what might have been his first NASCAR win.  Juan Montoya’s season got off to a good start, but he’s started to have wrecking issues again, and he brought out the final caution.

This is the result of Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series

Cup drivers dominated the Nationwide race and also caused a large number of wrecks.  A Cup driver also won the Truck race.  Seriously… this is out of hand.

The NASCAR All Star Race is coming up this weekend.  It’s an event that is literally pointless!  It’s hard to understand the need for an All Star Race when one of the selling points of racing is that all the stars are competing at once, as opposed to a Stick and Ball sport which is one team Vs. one team.  In related news on the All Star Race, Jimmie Johnson will run the 5 and Mark Martin will run the 25 for promotional reasons. Also, Trevor Bayne is expected to return to the car after a mysterious illness (sounds like Casey Stoner) has sidelined him for a few races.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch got probation for a month and a 25K fine.  As this is NASCAR, the significance of probation is debatable.  After all, if you violate it, you might just get more probation, or you might get parked.  NASCAR is not known for it’s consistency…  The probation will include the All Star Race which is dumb but, smart thinking and NASCAR don’t go together.  However, no one’s told Fox or Speed this because they are hyping the Harvick/Busch rivalry like crazy to try and promote the race.

Much more interesting than the All Star Race is the fact that Kimi Riakkonen makes his NASCAR debut this week in the Truck race with Kyle Busch Motorsports, which is one of the top teams in the Truck series.

Side by Side commercials are coming to NASCAR!  Fox did a test run at Dover (and it was the most exciting part of the day…) and ESPN announce that during the final half of all the races in the Chase they will also have them.

F1:  The possibility of F1 being for sale continues to be a topic of discussion.  Not only is News Corp apparently interested in buying F1, but the teams might want to either buy it or break away, perhaps with News Corp’s help.  While the idea of F1 without Bernie is exciting… splitting the series is a bad idea, having teams running a series is a bad idea, and I can’t see News Corp running a racing series being a good idea either.

The Best Petrol Powered Car Won't Go to Le Mans

ALMS:  The news out of the ALMS isn’t good.  Highcroft racing announced on Monday that they have ended their relationship with Honda and will not compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as originally planned, nor will they race at the Petit Le Mans.  As well, their purposed Indy 500 team fell through.  Highcroft claims they’ll be back, and there are signs pointing to them running a full time Indycar team in 2012, but they also were planning to run the 24 Hours of Le Mans…  At this point, until I see them at the race, I’m going to take Highcroft announcements with a grain of salt.  And that’s sad… they’re the 2010 ALMS champions and finished 2nd at the 12 Hours of Sebring!!!!  Sadly, with the Non TV deal they can’t sell sponsorship for themselves.

In fake sports car news, also known as Grand Am news, Ganassi was finally beaten by Action Express.  Action Express won the 25K bounty in the first race that the bounty was offered.

The Mad Fro Man is in trouble...

MotoGP:  Casey Stoner dominated the French Grand Prix, leading most of the practices, qualifying on pole, and winning the race.  It wasn’t quite that boring as Pedrossa and Lorenzo got off to a great start, forcing Stoner to fight through the field.  Stoner succeeded, passed Pedrossa, and pulled away.  Marco Simoncelli then caught Pedrossa.  That’s when things got interesting.  Simoncelli made an aggressive pass on his psydo teammate and then Pedrossa passed him back.  Simoncelli continued to battle Pedrossa and made an outside pass on Pedrossa, cut across Pedrossa, and caused him to wreck.  This caused Pedrossa to DNF and Simoncelli to get a ride through penalty for the cutting across of Simoncelli.  Simoncelli would recover to 5th while Pedrossa broke his right collarbone.  Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Rossi battled for the podium, with Dovizioso getting 2nd and Rossi 3rd.

The Simoncelli/Pedrossa incident has blown up the motorcycle road racing forums and comment sections.  I’m no fan of avoidable contact penalties, but the way MotoGP’s race control director explained things over the off week to Dennis Noyes does make some sense.  Basically, contact is okay if it’s from hard racing, but not if it’s from a move that only ever was going to end in contact.  Simoncelli’s problem isn’t the wreck, it isn’t the pass, what got him in trouble was the way he cut down on Pedrossa.  It makes sense to me… even if though I’m not a huge fan of the penalty.

Simoncelli’s biggest problem isn’t the penalty, it’s the fact he took out one of the main Honda riders.  He has (had?) a factory Honda bike on a privateer team and taking out Pedrossa, who would have been the points leader had he not been wrecked is not going to make him very popular at Honda.  Pedrossa an his manager, the infamous Alberto Puig were not pleased with Simoncelli and after the race he was called into the HRC trailer.  Will he lose his factory equipment?  Or will it be given to his teammate Aoyama?

Pedrossa injured his right collarbone.  Last year at Motegi he broke his left collarbone and the fallout from that injury has been an issue all season, with a second surgery needed earlier this year to fix a complication from his original injury.  Pedrossa has had a lot of injuries in his career; adding another one on top of that is a very bad sign.  He may or may not race at Barcelona, but either way, he’s not going to be riding on full form, and that’ll be a big problem as long as Stoner and Lorenzo stay fit.

Casey Stoner got a 5K penalty for punching Randy De Puniet in the shoulder during morning warmup.  Stoner was angry because he felt De Puniet was in the racing line while Stoner was laying down a hot lap, and that De Puniet was waiting around to get a tow.  No… I am not making any of this up.

The nightmare start to Ben Spies’s series has continued.  This week he got off to a poor start, got up to 5th, and then got passed by Simoncelli who was recovering from his drive through penalty.  At least Simoncelli didn’t take him out.

Valentino Rossi got his first podium on a Ducati.  Sure it was helped by attrition, but he was at least competitive against Lorenzo and Dovizioso.  Lorenzo wasn’t so happy.  His great start ended up wearing his tires out and he finished 4th.

Did you know… Casey Stoner got his first ride on a prototype of the 2012 MotoGP Honda bike?

Kimi Riakkonen to NASCAR???

Is Kimi Raikkonen coming to NASCAR?  Autosport and Racer Magazine are quoting a story from Turun Sanomat that says Kimi will be running in the Camping World Truck series in a team called ICE1 Racing (same name as his WRC team) which will be owned by Foster Gillett, son of disgraced former team owner George Gillett.  To those of us who follow Riki Ratchmen on twitter this is not a shock; he tweeted that Kimi was coming to NASCAR a few weeks ago based on a conversation he had with a friend of Kimi.  The rumor of Kimi to NASCAR has floated around ever since he lost his seat at Ferrari at the end of the 09 season, usually linked Red Bull.  Nothing is confirmed on this, but quotes from Kimi’s manager on Bloomberg suggest it is a real possibility.  These reports have Kimi moving to Nationwide and Cup eventually; I can’t see Kimi being content to run Trucks like Piquet Jr is.

Kimi is a divisive figure in F1

Kimi Raikkonen is a polarizing figure in the F1 world.  He’s got his supporters (me, for example) but many question his talent and commitment.  Considering he won the 07 championship, and was able to win a race along side scoring podiums with a struggling Ferrari in 09 demonstrates that he has plenty of talent. I don’t really get the question of his commitment.  He is disliked for not being outgoing enough with the media and thus is accused of being uncommitted.   Kimi will be even more controversial in NASCAR.  While he won’t be as aggressive as Montoya, he also won’t interact well with the NASCAR press and fans.  A lot of people in NASCAR (fans, writers, insiders) have a less than positive view of open wheel drivers anyways, and they’re going to resent Kimi for coming in.   He’s going to come across as aloof and uncaring which ruffle some feathers.  NASCAR needs a villain so that’s not necessarily bad thing… and Raikkonen isn’t going to be that worried about making friends and fans.

Notice who sponsors Kimi's WRC effort. Do they have a NASCAR team with an opening in 2012??? Uh... Yes!

It’s a good idea for Kimi to get experience in Trucks first, but the idea of being involved in a team owned by a Gillett is a bit disturbing.  Gillett’s NASCAR team had a lot of financial issues which caused him to pull out of the series.  Besides the financial problems,the way the team was run on the racing side caused them to be uncompetitive.  I’m really hoping this part of the deal is untrue.  It’s also not clear whether ICE1 would try and advance through the ranks with Kimi (a horrible idea for many reasons) or if he’d jump to a new team once he gets to Cup level.  Kimi drives a Red Bull sponsored WRC car… and it’s worth noting, the Red Bull NASCAR team will have an opening next year in the 4 car.  Hmmm… no idea where Kimi may be headed in Cup…That’s his best chance to get into NASCAR unless he can get a ride at Roush Fenway, Joe Gibbs, or Stewart Haas, and I don’t see any of those happening.  Kimi will continue to run his WRC races this year and fit his NASCAR stuff around it.  At Red Bull, Kimi should get along very well with Brian Vickers (read the Maxim article about Vickers for proof of that).

It’s worth noting that Red Bull in NASCAR has twice tried to develop an open wheel driver and failed both times.  AJ Allmindigner had a miserable first year and a half but did see improvement towards the end of his second year.  Problem was Red Bull let him go to make way for Scott Speed.  Speed failed to amount to much while Allmindigner has found a stable ride at Petty and has become a fairly well regarded driver in NASCAR.  Red Bull didn’t show a lot of patience for either of these drivers which means Kimi will need to perform fairly well to keep his ride should he end up with them.  Many of the recent open wheel converts have struggled in NASCAR, with Montoya being the most successful.  Like Montoya, Kimi is a successful F1 driver… I can see him being fairly good in NASCAR if things go right (IE: does not run with Gillett).  With his experience in Rally he’s got plenty of experience driving a loose (oversteering) car.  Does Kimi really want to do NASCAR?  I’m not one of the people who questions his commitment, but he does enjoy his free time.  NASCAR’s 38 event (36 races, 2 non points’ events) season is going to cut into that, assuming he goes full time Cup.

As an Indycar fan, I’m disappointed he didn’t choose that as his American experiment.  I’ve been critical of “F1 Rejects” but Kimi’s an actual champion!  It’s not surprising Kimi’s not coming to Indycar; he will want more money than any Indycar team could offer him.  For Indycar fans wanting to see Raikkonen run Vegas this is good news.  If Kimi is going to be spending a lot of time in the US, why not run Vegas?  In the right equipment Kimi would have a shot at winning and he could be in Vegas anyways for the Truck race.  Manufacturer conflicts aren’t an issue; he’s driving a Citroen in WRC and he won’t be driving one in NASCAR, so I’m pretty confident he’ll be allowed to run a Honda in Indycar.  He’s by far the best F1 person out there to bring into Vegas; otherwise it’s a snitch (Piquet), a random test driver, or Villeneuve… I’d pick Kimi in a heartbeat.

Car Control won't be an issue.

I’m not going to lie; the idea of Kimi in NASCAR has me pretty excited.  He’ll be fun to watch whether he’s successful or not.  There’s still more to this story that has yet to break.  Is Red Bull going to be involved?  Is Gillett really going to run/fund Kimi’s team, or is this a mistranslation/misinterpretation? Does Kimi plan on running full time Cup in 2012, or is he going to slowly work his way up?  And since he’s going to be spending more time in the US, will he attempt the Vegas 5 Million Challenge???  The Kimi to NASCAR story should be one of the most fascinating racing stories to follow this year.  I’m excited, at least.

Team Meeting Weekend in Review: Tire Failure Edition

Indycar:

Indycar news has been dominated by the pullout of Firestone from the series.  There’s not much for me to say that I haven’t already said except for one point.  Yes, the Goodyear NASCAR tires blow up like hand grenades, but that does not mean that Goodyear is an unsafe brand to use.  Between the name recognition, history with Indycar, and most importantly marketing potential they are by far the best option for Indycar to replace Firestone.  There are two reasons why Goodyear’s are explosive in NASCAR.  1. the sanctioning body considers it acceptable and doesn’t ask for stronger tires.  2. The biggest reason why NASCAR tires fail so often is that they have fenders and the aggressive camber angles can cause tire failures.  Tire failures aren’t acceptable in Indycar and the cars don’t have fenders, so the Goodyear tires should be fine.

Ana Beatriz will join DDR full time in the second car.  This move eliminates one of the stronger available rides (not as good as KV) for Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon although DDR is capable of fielding 3 cars.  I’ll be honest, with all the rideless champions I’m not that excited for Bia… but it’s better than a random F1 reject.  Her odds for Rookie of the Year are about .001% considering Kimball’s has a Maroon Car and Hilderbrand is with Panther.

Rumor has it that the Luzo Dragon team isn’t dead, just Tony Kanaan and Gil De Ferran’s involvement.

In Breaking News last night, the Indycar series has capped all the races outside of Indy and Vegas at 26 cars.  That’s dumb… one of the few exciting things about a lame duck season is the expanded car count.  Sure some tracks struggle to handle expanded fields, but Sports Car and NASCAR both manage to pack over 30-43 cars (more at Petite Le Mans and Sebring).  It feels like a Tony George/Brian Barnhardt type decision, and that’s not a good thing.  George/Barnhardt seem to believe Indycar is a club racing series not the premier American Open Series and from their ridiculous blocking rule to fear of speed to this, it shows.

Pit road safety is important… but last time I checked ALMS, Grand Am, and NASCAR manage to squeeze a lot more than 26 cars on every track they visit, and that includes Mid Ohio, Iowa, and (formerly) Milwaukee.  Tracks can get crowded with 26 or more cars but that just makes things more interesting.  And considering how uneventful the Trinity of Boredom (Mid Ohio, Barber, Infineon) are anything that makes them more exciting is a good thing. Having more traffic on track does make it more difficult and does increase the odds of a wreck.  But it’s racing… and those things happen.  Again, it’ll be a better show for fans with more cars on track and Indycar needs to put on a good show as much as possible.  Plus American’s are into Car count, and when NASCAR’s running 43 car fields limiting Indycar to 26 just isn’t a good idea.

The only positive is that it will punish the ride buyers and should discourage Coyne from brining Dunothing back.  But stopping Dunothing is a simple as revoking her licence which isn’t that hard.  Last time I checked the sanctioning body has that right.

NASCAR:

Carl Edwards won the Sprint Cup race at Vegas.  After two very good races this one wasn’t that great as Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards dominated it.  The finishing order was pretty interesting as Juan Pablo Montoya was third, and Marcos Ambrose was fourth with Ryan Newman in fifth.  Brian Vickers and Martin Truex Jr also got top tens.  Whether the race in the top ten was good or not was impossible to tell with the horrific broadcast we were subject to.  Take out the commercial issue and it still was terrible.  The TV booth would rather tell stories about Trevor Bayne and Tony Stewart than talk about or show the race that was happening on track!  I’ve watched ALMS, MotoGP, WSBK, Indycar, F1 and a few other random races on Speed, and outside of the ESPN Indycar and AMA Pro Racing, NASCAR is by far the worst TV broadcast out there.  Drivers regularly finish in the top ten yet get next to no time on screen which must make their sponsors, especially for the smaller teams, really happy.

On the TV broadcast front Darrell Waltrip has been given a two year contract extension.  That’s unbelievably depressing to hear.  DW is awful.  He used to be one of the most outspoken drivers in NASCAR but he’s become a complete NASCAR shill.  His biases towards his brother and certain drivers are completely out of hand and his grasp on the races tends to be poor.  At the end of the race this weekend he and the Fox crew at first thought Carl Edwards was breaking a major winless streak, even though he had won the last two races of the 2010 season!  This bad of job and he get’s a two year extension!?!?!?!? What the F*ck!!!

A Nationwide Only team goes 1-2??? Unheard of!

In the Nationwide race Turner Motorsports, a Nationwide only team, went 1-2 with Mark Martin and Justin Allgier.  Nationwide only teams have struggled badly in recent years so to see them finish 1-2 is pretty impressive.  While it was a fuel finish and Brad Keselowski did crash on the final lap, it was still huge for them and for their sponsors (which include Dollar General).  Too bad it’s being ignored by most of the NASCAR media…

And the reason for this is because…. Danica got her first top ten and her first top five, not to mention only her second lead lap finish!  It was the type of run I predicted her to have last year.  And considering she’s driving for the second best Nationwide team it’s the type of result that should be expected.  I like Danica but the fawning of the NASCAR press and the Fanica’s was unbelievably stupid.  I read one tweet that said “Danica is the favorite to win the Nationwide Championship” even though she’s not running the full schedule!  If one fourth place finish on fuel mileage makes you a great NASCAR driver… what is Justin Allgier???  I like Danica and I think she’s a huge asset to both Indycar and NASCAR… but one 4th place finish doesn’t suddenly make her ready for NASCAR.

We’ve seen this out of Danica before in Indycar.  She had two runner up finishes in Indycar last year… but she’s still only got one career win.  She had a second place at Belle Isle in 07 and looked to be on the cusp of great things in 09… and it’s never panned out.  So let’s hold of declaring her a NASCAR driver and remember if you’re freaking out over her Nationwide performance that she’s had multiple top 5’s in the Indy 500, an Indycar win, and many top 5 finishes already in her career.

Robby Gordon and Kevin Conway had a confrontation in the garage area that turned physical and got Gordon probation from NASCAR “indefinitely,” which probably means 2 months or so… this is NASCAR so that could mean as little as a couple hours!   Conway also filed charges and has released a statement on it and he really comes out of this looking worse off than Gordon.  People already make fun of him… and crying about getting in a fight with Robby Gordon’s only going to give ammo to those who make fun of him, as if being the Extenze (male enhancement) driver wasn’t bad enough.  Considering both Robby Gordon and Front Row Motorsports have taken Extenze and Conway to court to get the money that was promised to them… I’m with Robby on this one.  If you’re going to be a talentless ridebuyer, at least get the checks in on time!

F1:

Pirelli's faster wearing tires will be interesting at tracks like Monza, Spa, Montreal and of course Monaco

The Pirelli tires degrade faster than the Bridgestone’s. The drivers don’t like this but it has the potential to make the racing better especially if the softs are significantly faster but also wear quickly.  Or, it’ll turn into NASCAR with explosive tires although that shouldn’t happen as they don’t have fenders.  But it looks like the tires will at least add a bit of interest to F1 and that the one stop strategy won’t work this year.

Bernie Eccostone started a controversy when he called for sprinklers on the racetrack to make things more interesting.  Bernie’s quotes are so ridiculous I normally just ignore him so I haven’t really paid attention to this one either.  As ridiculous as sprinklers would be… F1 is so boring and has so little passing I almost agree with him.  Anything to end the parades.  The real solution of course is reduce or rip off the wings but if the drivers are whining about the tires they’ll really whine about that. There’s more passing in one 45 minute MotoGP race with 17 bikes than in 17 F1 races with 24 cars… so something’s got to be done.  And if Bernie does bring in sprinklers can we request three for Indycar’s Trinity of Boredom??? Cause if he does that then it covers Indycar to do the same!  Of course that will scare Barnahrdt… but that just makes it better! (Note: I don’t actually expect F1 to ever adopt this… so save me that comment)

American Le Mans Series:

With a drop to an inline 6 it's literally a downgrade

The new Aston Martin LMP1 car was unveiled.  The good news was it is open top, the bad news was it’s ugly, and an inline 6 instead of V12.  Also, it’s not coming to the 12 Hours of Sebring which is a big disappointment.  The Aston is also low on development time which could be problematic at Le Mans.  But it’s the last best hope of the petrol powered LMP1 cars.

Five Drivers for Five Million Dollars

How can the Indycar series generate excitement for the season finale at Las Vegas?  Does inviting five non-Indycar drivers and offering five million dollars if they win the race count as generating excitement?  As announced last week by Randy Bernard, that’s exactly what is going to happen at the 2011 season finale for the Izod Indycar Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  For this year five drivers will be selected to join the existing field in the Izod Indycar World Championship race and compete for 5 million dollars if they win the race.  These five drivers will be given a special test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in preparation for the race.  Since this is the last race that Indycar will sanction with the current Dallara’s finding teams isn’t going to be difficult.

One of the main complaints about this plan is that it will detract from the championship, but in all honesty, that’s the point!  Unless Graham Rahal or Ryan Hunter Reay pull of a miracle we already know that the winner of the 2011 Indycar Championship will either be a Penske or Ganassi driver.  And unless someone’s a huge Scott Dixon fan (and there aren’t many of those) that’s not terribly exciting.  Something has to be done to add some excitement to the season finale and this is a pretty good way to accomplish that goal.  As it’s the last race with the current cars the teams (such as Andretti, Ganassi, Penske, and Panther) who are well funded and have large numbers of chassis are about to see them get made almost worthless, so they have nothing to lose by throwing them out there.  For the other drivers, of the NASCAR, F1, USAC, World of Outlaws, Sports Car, or drifting/rally perspective, while Indy can be quite challenging (ask Tracy or Kanaan) Vegas is a flat out 1.5 mile oval.  As Jeremy Clarkson would say “how hard can it be?”  Of course it’s not actually going to be that easy; while Indycar oval racing is flat out… it’s not a plate race and none of the non Indycar drivers have driven at the speed which will be seen at Vegas.

Donny Schatz has an American fanbase... Nico Hulkenburg does not

The series will determine which five drivers are eligible to run for the five million dollars.  While I’m normally not a fan of vague rules from a sanctioning body in this instance I’m 100% in agreement with being vague.  While this will upset some people, the selection needs to be biased towards drivers who will draw interest.  In other words it needs to be biased towards having a NASCAR driver, extreme sports guy (Pastrana, Block) or perhaps a popular World of Outlaws/USAC driver over a random F1 test driver or sports car winner.  That’s not to say the sports car driver isn’t worthy of a shot, it’s just that Travis Pastrana will draw a lot more interest than Alan Mcnish.  Also by being vague they can fill the five slots even if they do not get the desired drivers.  If there’s room, sure, invite Joey Hand and Alan Mcnish but if there are better options (and there should be) then don’t.

Which brings us to the question; will a NASCAR driver be able to compete?  Honestly, it depends.  While many are saying it’s impossible for a NASCAR driver to run Vegas due to it being in the middle of the Chase and manufactured  contracts, I’m not convinced that will be an issue to all of the drivers.  The NASCAR race at Charlotte will be held Saturday night and the Vegas race is Sunday.  Any of the NASCAR drivers who run the full Nationwide series schedule have done the infamous Infineon/Milwaukee or Infineon/Road America double proving that it is possible.  It’s probably not a good idea to run Vegas during the Chase but NASCAR drivers have no fear of distraction.  Kyle Busch regularly runs Nationwide and Truck racing along with various late model short track races around the country even during the Chase.  As for the issue of engine manufacturer conflict that’s case by case.  Some drivers have had a relationship with an automaker for years and have personal service contracts with them where others are free to do whatever they like.  Carl Edwards has a lot closer relationship with Ford than Juan Montoya has with GM.

Kyle Busch: Indycar driver?

While a lot of people disagree with me on this point, I believe Kyle Busch is likely to run Vegas.  It’s exactly the sort of race he would love to run, and he’s flown around the country for much less money in the Truck and Nationwide series. Toyota and Gibbs are the two main obstacles but they’ve both allowed Busch to do a lot of extra curricular racing including a Grand Am race that with Ganassi in a non Toyota powered Daytona Prototype.  Even more likely than Busch is Kasey Kahne.  He has a strange one year deal at Red Bull (a Toyota team) but has a multi year contract with Hendrick from 2012 and beyond.  Thus he has no manufacturer ties to worry about and his odds of winning the championship aren’t high anyways so he has a lot less to lose.  AJ Allmindinger is another possibility as is Robby Gordon.  Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski are two interesting options as they are Penske drivers and Busch is doing some NHRA stuff on the side this year so he seems to have the ability to run races outside of NASCAR.  Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick both are used to the multiple races per weekend but they’ve also been pretty dismissive of Indycar, even though Harvick is a Rick Mears fan. Montoya’s made it pretty clear he’s not coming over, Newman never has expressed an interest in open wheel, and Jimmie Johnson’s wife won’t let him run Indycar…  Tony Stewart might do it, he’s getting slimmed down for his F1 test at Watkins Glen.  However, his relationship with GM is incredibly close.  Jeff Gordon’s hinted on his twitter account that he is interested but it’s hard to see him actually running Vegas. As for anyone else, it’s too early to tell, but for most of them Indycar wouldn’t be particularly appealing.

NASCAR got Pastrana... Indycar deserves Block

Outside of NASCAR the two most obvious choices are Travis Pastrana and Ken Block.  Both are popular and would bring in a fair amount of attention.  Ricky Carmichael is another interesting option, and he has plenty of oval racing experience from the Camping World Truck series.  MotoGP is running the Australian GP that weekend so Rossi, Spies, and Hayden are out.  Although Marshal Pruett believes it would be possible for Rossi to fly over in time I cannot see him being that interested in doing it.  Formula One is in Korea so that rules all of their main drivers out.  While some of the test drivers can try to get involved they do absolutely nothing to interest any fans in the US or bring in major media attention.  If Formula One is going to contribute it’ll have to be one of their former champions, most notably Kimi Riakkonen.  Sebastien Loeb has been mentioned but while he’s one of the best active drivers he has no fanbase in the US and won’t attract any attention here.  USAC and WoO could contribute many different drivers including Sammy Swindell, Steve Kinser, Joey Saldana, Brian Clauson, and Donny Schatz.  Most of these drivers have a fairly large fanbase in the US (larger than any Indycar driver except Danica) and would draw plenty of attention to the series.  Plus, they’re oval racers and this is an oval race; they’d most likely be all for running it.  As for Sam Hornish Jr. he should not be allowed to run it unless Indycar get’s really desperate, because he’s basically just an Indycar driver.  As for sport car drivers it depends on whether or not they get a deal to run other Indycar races.  Overall, the sports car guys are fillers if the series get’s desperate, because they won’t do a lot for the series.  Nelson Piquet Jr (the snitch)… no, no no, hell no, f*ck no. When it comes to Piquet… just say no.  Scott Speed would be an interesting addition to Indycar (I want him full time) but he’s not someone I would put in my top five or even top ten for the Five Million Dollar Challange.  While active Indycar drivers such as Kanaan and Wheldon aren’t invited the “legends” are, and if they want to do it the series can’t really say no.  That said, I can’t see many of them doing it.  Still it is a possibility.

Why is the 5 Million Dollar Challenge on an oval? This Picture should explain it

Some people have argued that the Five Million dollar challenge should be held at a road or street course, perhaps Long Beach.  That completely misses the point.  Sure, if they ran Long Beach, Kimi Riakkonen and Simon Pagenaud would have a much better shot at winning, but it would instantly rule out the NASCAR, USAC, and WoO drivers along with Pastrana and Block.  In other words, it would rule out anyone who might actually draw attention to the series.  Besides until Indycar races at Road America, Sebring, Montreal, Cleveland or Road Atlanta the road/street racing is the “weak link” of Indycar racing and are not the most exciting races in the world.  The Indycar oval races tend to be very close and very exciting, especially compared to the NASCAR races at the 1.5 mile ovals.  Exposing NASCAR fans to the Indycar oval racing has the potential to gain some converts… exposing them to Long Beach or Barber would be a good way to keep them from ever watching Indycar again.

Penske and Ganassi have dominated the ovals recently and will be the two main teams drivers attempt to get on.  That said, Panther, Andretti and KV have shown flashes of brilliance on the ovals.  Panther, Andretti, and KV (if they have any cars left) all are likely to be willing to add cars for this event and would give a driver at least an outside chance at winning.  Getting a ride at Penske or Ganassi is a lot more difficult  but it’s a huge advantage if Kurt Busch decides to run Vegas.  Is it worth noting that both Scott Speed and Kyle Busch have raced for Ganassi in Grand Am???

Vegas should be an exciting race

I love the Five Million Dollar Challenge plan.  If it’s done right it could provide a huge ratings boost for the season finale at a track that should produce great racing.  Hopefully that will get some disenfranchised NASCAR fans into the series as it head’s into 2012.  Here’s who I hope/predict will run it; Kimi Riakkonen, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Ken Block, and Donny Schatz.  Those five would bring in a fair number of fans and would bring a ton of talent to the table.  Can they actually win it?  It’ll be tough and they’ll need good equipment; out of the five drivers I named, Kyle Busch and Kimi Riakkonen have the best chance to win.  While it might not be possible to do in 2012, this is one idea I would like to see become an annual tradition for Indycar.  Keep it at an oval so that American oval drivers can participate but in the future (if the Red Car dominance ends) perhaps moving it from the season finale is a good idea.  Indycar needs to do something to shake things up and generate interest, and this is a lot better of idea than shortcuts in the race tracks or having sprinklers wet the tracks.

Team Meeting Weekend in Review: Italian Dream Edition

An Italian Dream

MotoGP:

Valentino Rossi was officially announced for Ducati.  It’s a 2 year deal, and is going to be a major storyline for all of his fans to follow.  Joining Rossi at Ducati will be Nicky Hayden, whose deal is likely to be announced at Indy.

Since Rossi’s leaving Yamaha, Spies is heading up to the factory team.  The announcement, like Hayden’s, is likely to come at Indy.  If you didn’t believe Spies was headed to the factory team, during today’s open test at Bruno, Spies ran an all black prototype that was covered until he got on to run.

Speaking of Rossi, he had a scary fall in practice, luckily, Rossi was unhurt, but he didn’t have a great weekend, finishing 5th, behind Ben Spies, who had a great weekend, and qualified 2nd.  Lorenzo won by a mile, beating the pole sitter Pedrossa by a massive margin.  Overall, it wasn’t the greatest MotoGP race of the year.

Randy De Puniet recovered from his broken leg and finished 10th.

Eventually, I’ll have my review for MotoGP 09/10 for the Xbox360.  My impression of it is that if you enjoy MotoGP and you enjoy racing games, then you should buy it, as long as you can update it, because the base game locks the races in at 3 laps, which is pretty short, a MotoGP bike laps Laguna in like 1 minute 20 seconds, so that’s about a 5 minute race.  However, if you’re an open wheel fan who’s not so into MotoGP, perhaps you should wait and see how F1 2010 turns out.

NASCAR:

Juan Montoya finally got his second cup win at Watkins Glen, fighting a hard battle with Marcos Ambrose.  At Michigan International Speedway, Kevin Harvick beat Denny Hamlin for the win, his third for the season.

There’s been a lot of silly season announcements in the last two weeks.  Kasey Kahne was announced for Red Bull next season.  It will only be for one season as he’ll be joining Hendrick in 2012.  Whether it will be the 83, 82, or a third car is unknown.   Scott Speed’s ride appears to be in danger, although he claims that he’s got a contract for next year.   Marcos Ambrose is leaving JTG Racing for RPM, and his RPM ride will be announced tomorrow, most likely.  Replacing him is Bobby Labonte, whose being given another chance to save his career, with the Michael Waltrip Racing group.

In some concerning news, Paul Menard was hired by RCR to run a fourth car.  This is concerning on multiple fronts.  It’s never a good sign when a top level team higher a ride buyer, and it shows how bad of shape NASCAR really is in.  Not only that, but RCR was at four cars last year, and struggled badly.  They claim that the extra car was not the problem, but considering that 08 and this year both have been great years for them, you’ve got to question this move.  Plus, Menard may be improving, but he’s still not that good.

The battle for the Chase is still relatively close.  Dale Junior is in trouble, in 17th about 140 points out of 12th, and while things look grim, 3 good runs and some struggles of the people in front of him and he’s in.  Sadly though, if you look at Junior and his team, it’s hard to be very confident in them rallying and making it.  Bowyer and Martin are trading 12th back and forth right now, with Newman and McMurray running right behind them.

Danica Patrick ran the Nationwide race at MIS, and was horrific.  Yes, she’s new, but she’s in one of the best cars on track, at a track that is ALL about your car and engine.  And guess what?  She’s got a great car and engine!  The biggest difference between Danica and other open wheeler’s is they went in with mid pack teams in Cup; she’s on a top level team in Nationwide.  But Colin Braun, Shelby Howard, Joe Nemecheck, and even Jon Wes Townsley beat her!  She messed up on a green flag pit stop by not following the blend line, which really is strange, seeing how Indycar’s on ovals have the same thing (I think).  That, is not good, at all.

Indycar:

Speaking of Danica, to all the obsessed Fanica’s who’re upset with my article on Danica, can I refer you to the Mid Ohio race???  One of the complaints was how I said Danica has been hurt by Unification.  Let’s see, in 07, she qualified on the front row twice on a road and street course, since Unification, she’s not had a single front row start, in fact, she’s never made the Firestone Fast 6, although she was close one time.  The Fanica’s whined about comparing Simona to Danica, and they’ve got a point, it’s not fair.  It’s not fair to compare a rookie on a 1 car team with funding that probably is equal to what Danica spends on shoes (sarcasm, but they’re a VERY low budget team), to a veteran on her 6th year with the third best team in the series, you’re right, it’s not fair.  Ranting about how Danica is an “American Icon” doesn’t help your argument…  It’s worth pointing out, this is DANICA’S SIXTH YEAR!  She’s no rookie, she’s one of the more experienced drivers in the field, but she DOES NOT ACT OR DRIVE LIKE IT!  In 2005, Kyle Busch was a rookie in Sprint Cup, and Denny Hamlin was just making his first few NASCAR Sprint Cup starts, with his rookie year coming in 2006.  In F1, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were two years away from their F1 debuts.  Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrossa hadn’t joined the top level of MotoGP, and Indycar’s Will Power had just made his first few debuts Champcar races… yet all of these people have multiple wins and championships… Danica?  She’s got Motegi, on fuel.  Look at Michigan in the Nationwide car!  Look at Mid Ohio!  She’s completely lost out there, and there’s really NO EXCUSE!  Now, when Indycar gets back to the ovals, she should look a lot better.   But it’s pretty pathetic for a veteran driver on a top team to struggle this badly.

Mid Ohio was not a good race.  As usual, the Big Two completely dominated, holding every spot in the top 6 except for 4th, held by Tagliani.  There were about 9 passes for the entire 2 and a half hour race, with only about 4 televised.  There really wasn’t a lot to be excited about… compare it to MotoGP, WSBK, AMA, or ALMS and see which is better… A complete snoozefest!

Onto Baltimore, the site of yet another street course, the track map, which recently was changed, doesn’t bring a ton of hope.  Either design, old or new, looks like passing will be difficult to say the least.  I would like to believe Baltimore’s date will come from another street course, but sadly it’s looking like next year’s going to have even fewer ovals and more street courses, and if Watkins Glen falls off, likely the only road courses will be the non passing parade ground!  What a great way to “sell” road racing to oval fans!

We’re on rant mode, so here’s another.  I am SO SICK AND TIRED of hearing Indycar fans, mainly IRL diehards; hold NASCAR up as an example of racing done right!  We NEED more ovals, we NEED more Americans, we NEED better ratings, but to hold NASCAR up as an example of everything that’s right in racing is ridiculous, they are facing MASSIVE issues, yes, they’ve got more money, but it also COSTS a lot more to be successful, Hendrick spends over 300 Million, not including Stewart Haas and JRM.  So yeah, they’re ratings are higher, but falling ratings is falling ratings, and when sponsors expect more, that’s still a massive issue!  But you get these idiots who say “Nationwide is a bigger series” and while the TV ratings are better, Nationwide is NOT a healthy series!  And anyways, the 500 destroys Nationwide in ratings, and Indycar has a numerous races that outdraw Nationwide.  Again, I don’t get why these people hold NASCAR up as racing done right, because it’s everything but that!

Tony Cotman was announced as the technical director for the 2012 car and engine.

The debate about production based versus race based engines continues.  I’ve heard many positives about production based (especially from Declan Brennan of Midweek Motorsports) and I’m starting to agree, although I’d be happy if LMP1 engines could be converted over, or the Corvette and Mustang engines were used.  I like the quote about Corvette from the Vice President of Global Vehicle Engineering for GM “The customer always wants power. That will not go away.” And I’d replace customer with fan.  That said, if the inline 4 and V6 production based engine can reach a high horsepower, and actually attracts 4 or more engine makers, well, then it’s probably the best move.   And no matter what, engine rules wrote by Honda are NOT the answer.  If it indeed is going to be stressed engines, they need to allow a wide range of displacement and cylinders so that automakers can refit current race engines.

The best story out of Mid Ohio was another good run by Simona De Silvestro.  Hopefully she’ll move up to a strong team next year, maybe KV?  They could use someone with talent who doesn’t wreck a lot.  They’ve been top 3 on ovals and road courses, so maybe Simona could actually win some for KV.  Also, Panther or Newman Haas would be better with a full time second car….  Although according to Miller, there’s interest from F1…

ALMS:

While the Indycar Mid Ohio race was a snooze fest, the ALMS race was very good.  Sadly, the race could only be watched online, as they ran a tape delayed docu drama that was shown at the same time as the Cup race…

Patron Hydcroft looks pretty good for the title as the Muscle Milk Porsche missed the Mid Ohio race due to a massive wreck in practice.

AMA:

The first race from VIR was very good.  Ben Bostrom passed Josh Hayes, and forced Hayes wide, allowing Tommy Hayden to catch up and coming to the checkered flag, Hayden beat Bostrom to the line by .005 seconds!  Race two was won by Josh Hayes, who was able to lead by a larger margin. The title fight is Hayes and Hayden, with Bostrom and a few others still in contention.

Team Meeting, Weekend in Review: A Black Eye For Racing Edition

  I’m not going to do the usual format for Team Meeting this weekend.  Instead, I’m going to do more of a general impression of the weekend.  It was a down weekend for two reasons.  From a fan perspective, most of the good story lines failed, miserably, look at Massa, Montoya, Spies, Silvestro, and Wilson, and then there was a ton of bad officiating/team orders/management issues from the series themselves. 

  When Simona got speared by Viso, my heart completely sank.  I had already seen that movie TWICE with Montoya’s wreck at Indy and Spies going wide at Laguna.  To see it again, was shocking and horrifying.  I mean, Simona was able to be FAST, holding off RHR for a long time, eventually losing a spot, but still running 7th, when Viso speared her, putting her into the tire wall and ruining the ONLY interesting storyline in an otherwise Big Two dominated race.  The Big Two held ALL of the top spots, it was incredibly dull, so to see the ONE thing that kept me interested taken out by VISO, who’s left an impressive trail of carbon fiber behind him this year, really upset me! 

  Spies’ issue wasn’t as bad, or as dramatic, and it was also his fault.  He got off to a good start, but he then slid back.  He recovered and was in 5th chasing down Rossi in 4th and Dovizioso in 3rd, for what could have been his second podium.  Then, during a commercial break, he slid wide and lost a bunch of positions, which allowed Rossi to catch and pass Dovizioso.  It wasn’t as bad as Montoya or Silvestro, and it was Spies fault, but still, right after seeing Montoya bin it, and then to see Silvestro get speared by Viso an hour latter…

  Montoya’s thing was just painful.  VERY predictable “debris” yellow came out, bunching the field up and forcing a bunch of late race pit stops.  A lot of teams took two tires instead of four, thus Montoya started a lot farther back.  He struggled and then ended up hitting the wall, then slid down the field, taking Junior, who was having a fairly good run, out.  It was absolutely depressing, I’m a huge Montoya fan, and to see that for the SECOND TIME was horrifying, and hinted at what was to come.  It was Montoya’s fault, but if they had just not had that late race yellow… stupid “debris” yellows.   

  Then of course Wilson had a bad race, and I’ll get to Massa, who almost won an F1 race the year after his massive injury latter…  But on the positive side, Jaime McMurray won the Brickyard, and Valentino Rossi fought his way to the podium.  Rossi’s podium was impressive, especially because it looked like Laguna hard for him, and his injuries were challenging him.  Plus, he seemed to be fading, and then he came back and pushed up to 3rd.  That was exciting to watch, and even though the race wasn’t a great one, it still was good, a LOT better than the other races that happened this weekend.  And while I’m not a fan of McMurray, his redemption this year has been pretty cool to see, he defiantly seems like a good guy, and a strong win at the Brickyard really is impressive, because that’s a HARD track to win at, it really vindicates him, because most of his other wins are restrictor plates, but that win was pure talent, and Montoya brain fade.  Also fun was the Lorenzo Land flag Lorenzo placed at Laguna, he dressed himself up in a space suit, and it was probably the highlight of the weekend racing wise. 

  Now onto what gave racing a complete black eye.  It started in Germany, with the Ferrari team orders, and Massa giving the win up to Alonso.  Now, I’ve heard the defense of this, from Varsha and some others, and they do have a really good point, but I’m still not a fan of team orders, although I’ll concede it can make things interesting, and although I didn’t watch the race, it sounds like Alonso would probably have overtaken him anyways.  But still, show that to a “stick and ball” fan and see what they say… not a way to get fans….

  After this, we go to Indy, where Brian France holds a press conference, and acts like his normal out of touch self.  He hinted strongly that we will be moving to WWE on wheels, or the eliminations in the Chase.  Then, he went on to talk about the new schedule, which he thinks “fans will like” despite unless a miracle happens, it’s going to have EVEN MORE cookie cutter tracks.  Finally, he insanely claims that there’s “no problems” with the HORRIBLE TV broadcasts….  If NASCAR really goes to “elimination format” for the chase, I’m not sure if I’ll cover it or not next year, because that’s ridiculous.  Onto the race, where the incredibly predictable “debris” cautions showed up and helped screw Montoya out of a win, can you say WWE on wheels???

  Now it’s onto Indycar, surely things can’t go that wrong here, right? Wrong! The race was incredibly boring; with the Big Two holding ALL of the top spot… the only bright spot was Silvestro, who then got taken out by Viso.  Eventually, Helio actually managed to pass Power!  Still pretty dull, as Big Two held all of the top spots.  Then on another restart, Power makes a very aggressive attempt to pass on Helio, fails, and falls to third, behind Dixon.  Then, a minute later, the black flag comes out for Helio!  Even the booth guys were confused as to why.  Helio stayed on track, Dixon couldn’t get near him and after the race, things got heated, with Helio losing it on camera.

  The blocking call makes ZERO sense.  I’ve read the press release Indycar sent out and the statement on Versus.com by Barnhart, and I still don’t get how Helio was blocking!?!?? I mean, seriously, what the f*ck!  I’ve seen multiple replays, and I cannot see HOW you can say that was a block or deserved that penalty!  I understood and supported the penalty in 08 at Belle Isle, because that was BLATENT.  But this is like Indy, when Rahal got a blocking penalty when he HELD IS F*CKING LINE, and still got hit with a “blocking” penalty.  Funny how Danica CHOPPED TK at Texas and DIDN’T get a blocking call…

  I mean, if that’s the standard for blocking, about half the field needs a black flag!  And if that’s “blocking” then what penalty should Viso get for cutting across the field to get to the pits on the restart to serve his penalty for spearing Simona???  What really gets me is how Barnhart allows a ton of ACTUAL BLOCKIGN not to mention those HORRIBLY spread out starts, and no one get’s penalized, but then he calls blocking on this!?!? I literally cannot fathom what Barnhart was thinking…  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, PARK BRIAN BARNHART!!!!  He’s one of the worst race officials I’ve EVER seen!!!   The only way I can interpret the rules is that any running on the inside of the track is illegal, which is an INSANE rule to have.  I AM ALL FOR BLOCKING PENALTIES, but call them on BLOCKS!  It’s not like there’s a shortage of those!!! 

  That penalty capped off what had been an incredibly boring race.  The EVERY SINGLE BIG TWO driver was up front, until Helio was given a 20 second penalty.  That’s right, a complete Big Two domination.  Not only that, but they put over half the field a lap down, which always tells you it was a pretty dull race.  The only good story from Indycar to survive was Tracy, who finished 6th, and after a trying year reminded us why he NEEDS and DESERVES a full time ride. 

   So what stories do the “mainstream” sports media have on racing? F1’s team orders, and Indycar f*ck up, more contrivances for NASCAR, and generally good storylines getting crushed.  What’s sad is the ALMS and MotoGP, who put on good races without massive issues, aren’t getting any attention.  It’s especially sad for MotoGP, because really, the MotoGP might have been the best race of the weekend, and they need to get more publicity, because it’s a GREAT series that I really want to grow in America, because it’s international road racing done RIGHT!  And the ALMS, considering they have about 4 LMP’s, put on a surprisingly good show, but all the talk is on something else….

  Just to cap of this disaster, NASCAR’s attendance at the Brickyard was bad, around 120,000-140,000, which while a lot of people, for Indy, considering NASCAR is supposedly the biggest racing series in the country, not so much.  There’s a lot of concern about Indy’s long term future in NASCAR, and that’s sad, because it’s really cool to see NASCAR at Indy, and it’s a track that really shows who’s a good driver.  Here’s something funny, the MotoGP this August might just outdrawn the Brickyard.  If that happens, well, that would be a pretty big disaster for NASCAR. 

  Seriously, this weekend of racing just wasn’t that good.  If I’m trying to sell a non race fan on racing, I really couldn’t use anything from Indycar, NASCAR, or F1 to do it.  I’d show them MotoGP, WSBK, and ALMS instead.  It’s too bad, because this weekend had a TON of promise, but in the end, it was pretty much a disaster, from Silvestro’s spearing by Viso, to Montoya’s wreck, to the purposed Chase changes, to the Indycar insanity, it’s just one of those race weekends you wish had never happened.

Team Meeting; Weekend in Review: Front Wing Edition

 

NASCAR:

  In the Nationwide Series, the Danica Patrick Experiment continued, and it did improve, marginally, because she finished 2 laps down in 24th place.  More inline with my expectations, although I still say that with the equipment she’s got, top 20s are reasonable to expect.  However, it’s still an improvement and that is important.  Kyle Busch won, leading the Joe Gibbs Parade to victory.  Here’s a thought, would Danica be up front in Gibb’s equipment?  Because as has been said by many people, you could almost put a monkey in that car and win.  So, what would she do? Top tens? Top 5’s? Or would she have been outrun by Morgan Shepherd when he qualifies???

  The Cup race was, not that good.  The 1.5 cookie cutter tracks won’t produce good racing again until the COT aero package is reformatted, and it would help if the races weren’t so long.  Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick all struggled throughout the race.  In the end, David Reuteman won the race, his second win in two years, but it was a win on speed, not rain. 

  A new ridiculous rumor about Mark Martin going to Red Bull Racing was broke on Sirius Satellite Radio, and rejected by everyone involved.  Martin at Red Bull is pretty crazy, they don’t fit each other’s image at all, and I don’t really believe it, because Martin and Hendrick have been very clear that he’ll be back.  However, the rumor is that Scott Speed’s ride is in jeopardy. 

  Also, Elliot Saddler will likely not be back at RPM next year, since A. they tried to fire him a couple years ago, B. he’s not very good and they want someone else, C. RPM might not even be around next year, or will have merged again, D. he’s possibly found a more stable ride (Red Bull?)

  In the Truck race, Austin Dillon, Richard Childress’s grandson, won his first race from the pole at Iowa.  He won in the 3 truck, which would be the 3’s 2nd win in the last two weeks.  Childress has made it clear he’d like to see Dillon in the Cup series eventually.  He’s still got a way to go before being ready, he lacks consistency especially in the Nationwide series, but, by getting his first win on the National level, he’s one step closer being ready.  Also, there’s a STRONG chance Dillon will come in with the 3, because 3 was originally Childress’s number as a driver, and he has said the only people he see’s in the 3 is Dillon and Junior, and Junior doesn’t want to run the 3 anymore, and stated someone else with a connection to it should run it instead. 

  Juan Montoya and Mark Martin both struggled, and they got into an argument after the race, where Montoya reportedly told Martin that he (Martin) needed to learn from him (Montoya).  This has upset a fair number of people, as Martin is one of the most respected people in NASCAR and Montoya is one of the least popular drivers.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Montoya fan, but while it is a little ridiculous for Montoya to criticize Martin, since Martin’s such a successful NASCAR driver, Montoya does know a LOT about racing, having won in F1, CART, the Indy 500, 24 Hours of Daytona, and made a fairly successful transition to NASCAR, so he does know a thing or two about racing.

  Rumors are building that the 2011 schedule will add a date at Kansas, Vegas, and Kentucky, at the expense of Atlanta, Loudon, and Fontana.  Losing Fontana is a good thing, and Atlanta for Kentucky isn’t a bad trade, but Loudon for Vegas? Granted Loudon’s not one of NASCAR’s great tracks, it’s still kind of strange to get rid of a date that always nearly sells out, and is a unique layout for ANOTHER cookie cutter.  I’ll have more thoughts on NASCAR’s schedule latter in the week.  Hope you liked Chicagoland, because expect even more racing like that next year…. 

Indycar:  

  The Chassis announcement is coming on Wednesday.  We don’t know a lot, there’s more and more buzz that it will be multi chassis, and we know Cavin thinks that Lola and Dallara will get the contract (I HOPE he’s wrong).  Here’s something scary about Dallara, look at their new GP2 car. 

 

 Talk about a “Crapwagon”.  Will Indycar be sent another HRT reject car??? I hope not.  Of course, maybe if they submitted one, they’ll lose to Swift!!!! 

  According to RIS, Indycar is looking at either running Atlantic’s and Indy Lights together, or even running Light’s and Indycar’s.  Sure… I don’t believe this one at all.  Light’s car count isn’t good, but it’s not that bad, Indycar is used to low car count, look at the pre unification Indycar field.  Running Lights and Indycar together could potentially work on road and street courses, but there’s good car count, and the Lights would get in the way too much on the very passing challenged tracks already, what’s the point?

  Thomas Schechter is going to drive the #24 DDR car at Toronto, so Graham Rahal is still rideless.  J.R. Hildebrand has been given a DDR ride for Infineon and Mid Ohio (Trinity of Boredom) which is good.  Mike Conway may be back as early as Infineon, and if he is ready, DDR will run 3 cars. 

F1: 

  Bruno Senna was relieved of driving duties for Silverstone by HRT for a driver whose name I cannot pronounce or spell.  The reason?  Money.  Will Senna be back or not no one knows.  Ryan wrote an article about it on FridayEDITOR’S NOTE:  Bruno Senna is in fact back.    

  Sebastian Vettel’s front wing broke during practice, and was destroyed.  Red Bull brought a new front wing and only had two, so they were down to one.  So what did they do? They took the wing off of Webber’s car and put it on Vettel’s.  This didn’t sit well with Webber.  Webber went on to win the race, saying on the radio “not bad for a number 2 driver”. 

  Bernie Eccolstone still wants his New York City street race.  Not likely, shutting down any streets in New York City for the amount of time needed for a F1 race.

  On Austin, I’m not convinced it’s going to happen.  A lot of people whose opinion I respect believe it will happen, but they still haven’t started construction, and they’ve got exactly two years to build it.  I’m pretty skeptical on its reality unless stuff starts happening soon. 

MotoGP:

  Valentino Rossi tested at Misano and will test again at Bruno tomorrow.  The rumor is that he will try and return in time for the German GP this weekend!  That is crazy.  I think he’s likely to do it, but it’s still insane.  I mean, if he wrecks, he’s going to seriously mess his leg up, because it’s not fully healed.  I’m sure he’ll do better than the test rider, but will he be able to win?  Rossi’s is an incredible rider, so it’s possible, but remember Lorenzo is healthy and having his greatest year so far, and Rossi is likely a lame duck at Yamaha.  Also, there is fear if he injures himself again it could be career ending, or at least a major issue that could sideline him for a full season.  But, no racer likes being out, and everyone tries to get back as quickly as possible, so it’s not that surprising. 

  Casey Stoner officially signed with Honda.  Honda may be a 3 bike factory team, with 2 bikes under Repsol Honda and 1 under Red Bull, which rider where is unknown, although rumor is either Dovizioso or Stoner with Red Bull.  Stoner leaving means that Rossi to Ducati is very likely. And, for Americans, it means that A. Spies is likely to get factory equipment next year and B. Nicky Hayden is likely to keep his factory Ducati ride, since they already have an opening with Stoner gone. 

World Super Bike(Spoiler Warning!)

  Well, I didn’t get to see race 1, and race 2 comes on in at 12AM, so I’ve already looked up the results at MotoMatters, and Biaggi won one of the races and came in second, so his points lead continues to grow.  Johnny Rea in a Honda bike won and finished second as well, a pretty good result for him, and it highlights what’s cool about WSBK, that everyone but Kawasaki has a chance to win.

  WSBK coverage for the second time in a row got messed up by Speed TV’s very packed schedule.  I’ve been thinking maybe a couple of the Speed properties may need to consider moving.  I think WSBK or ALMS both could be cool on Versus, granted, it hasn’t worked great with Indycar, but for WSBK, it would fit In well with the Tour De France Versus really pushes.  I mean, Speed covers MotoGP, WSBK, ALMS, Grand Am, Camping World Trucks, F1, Barrett Jackson Car show, CORR, and V8 Touring Cars, so it can start to really conflict and force them to make decisions on who get’s aired live and who doesn’t.  WSBK is always on a delay, but is usually shown between 3-5.  It’s worth thinking about at least. 

ALMS:

  I didn’t watch Miller very closely, but it looked like a good race.  The Acura Patron Hydcroft won overall and LMP, with Risla Ferrari winning GT, and I honestly don’t care about the LMC and GTC classes enough to know who won.  Miller is a good track, Indycar should be running there, because there were plenty of passing opportunities, it would probably be a very good race.

Pre Race Picks and Prediction’s: The Return!

 

Alright, this weekly feature should be familiar to any planet-irl readers.  It’s all NASCAR, because nothing else is on, so, open wheel fans, now is the time to tune out, or, just keep reading for fun. 

  NASCAR Sprint Cup:  Martinsville, most fans love it, I don’t.  It’s not that I hate it, but, the half mile flat track has very little passing for position.  Yeah, they’re in traffic, but, they’re still not passing each other.  I’m not saying it should be removed, I’m just saying that I’m not as in love as many are with it. 

  Anyways, a major issue will be if qualifying is rained out or not.  If it is, Johnson gets pole, and first pit choice.  A rain out helps the top five in points a lot, and, chase wise, hurts the midpack chasers the most, particularly compared to Jimmy. 

  Favorite:  Jimmie Johnson.  It gives me no joy to say this, but, I’d say he’s most likely to win by a long shot. 

  Likely:  This one does give me some joy.  Jeff Gordon!  He’s been very good this season, and it’s a good track.  He’s in the title picture, and a win here would do wonders, particularly if he can pass Johnson on the track. 

  Dark horse:  Juan Montoya:  He took a hit last week, but, I think he’s still in the picture, if not as strong as before.  He will be aggressive, and could easily pull an upset, if he doesn’t wreck.

  Wrecker:  Hard to say.  I’d say David Ragan, who in 06 was called a “dart without a feather” at this track. 

  NASCAR Nationwide:  Nationwide is at Memphis.  It’s an interesting track, and as a stand alone race, it will have less cup drivers than normal.  A lot of development drivers will be given a shot in somewhat completive equipment, and will also be on a track similar to what many are used to, in other words, a short track.

 Favorite:  Kyle Bush, the runaway points leader and a driver in the dominate Joe Gibbs car.

  Likely:  Carl Edwards is good at this track, and he’s busy hunting down Kyle Bush.  So, he could easily steal a win, and if he does, he will keep his title hopes alive.

  Dark horse:  Matt Dibenedetto.  Why?  Because he’s driving the Joe Gibbs 20.  This is his chance; he will never have better equipment, so he needs to make a statement.  The car’s been accused of being so good anyone can win, this weekend could prove that.

  Truck Series:  Truck series is at Martinsville, too.

  Favorite:  Ron Hornaday.  The points leader and dominate driver, plus one of the few drivers with any real funding.  He’s good, and he’ll be good tomorrow.

 Likely:  Denny Hamlin.  He’s subbing for Kyle Bush, and Hamlin’s a flat track driver.  He will likely challenge for a win, but, he also might wreck.

  Dark horse:  Colin Braun.  He’s the, in my opinion, an underwhelming development driver from Roush.  He needs to do more, and a win would do a lot to prove his worth. 

 

Alright, that’s all the racing I’m qualified to predict on this weekend.  Hopefully, when I bring Team Meeting back this week, I’ll have more to talk about.

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