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Team Meeting; Weekend in Review: 2011 Indy Qualifying Reactions Edition

  Indycar:  Where to begin?  There were so many stories and my Pre Race Picks and Predictions (in good and bad ways) were very, very wrong.  The two days of Indy qualifying had it all; drama, excitement, underdog victories and disasters for the “Big Three”.  If that doesn’t build some momentum for the 500, nothing will.  I think a fair amount of NASCAR people heard about qualifying even if they didn’t watch it, so that should mean good things next week Sunday.   Sadly, Monday saw Micheal Andretti buying a starting spot for Ryan Hunter Reay.  Bruno Junqueira  lost his ride to make way for RHR.  Mike Conway’s still out.   As bad as that is, it still doesn’t take away from how good Tagliani and the entire Schmitt team was at Indy along side Fisher’s team.  Many people worried about whether Wheldon and Carpenter could qualify.  Instead of being involved in Bump Day, those two were involved in the Fast Nine.

Injured Driver, old car, still in the field on Saturday!

Let’s start with Simona.  She was solid all month, then crashed hard Thursday, flipping twice and getting lit on fire (again).  Her primary car (the one that had been to testing) was toast and she suffered second and third degree burns on her hands.  Her odds of getting into the race weren’t good, and got worse when she was not cleared to practice Friday.  HVM stuck by Simona; no replacement driver was selected even to shake down the car on Friday.  Simona was cleared to drive Saturday and started the day nearly as slow as James Jakes.  Luckily for her she started to move up the time charts, bumping and getting bumped out of the top 24 which qualified in on Saturday.  She ended the day as the final driver in the race.  All things considered that’s a success especially as that meant she was faster than a healthy and crash free Marco, Danica, Conway, Hunter Reay, Rahal, and Kimball!

Unlike what I expected, Pole Day did throw some huge surprises up.  Sam Schmitt and his various partners were very quick, especially Tagliani, Bell, and Dan Wheldon.  Wheldon was driving for Herta, not Schmitt, but they had a “technical partnership.”  Wheldon had not started out in practice as one of the top runners but the plan by Schmitt was to have him work on race setups while others did qualifying runs.  Then the teams would trade information around.  The way Sam Schmitt spread his cars around worked well as 3 of his guys got into the Fast Nine Shootout.

Tagliani and Schmitt won the Pole.

In the shootout the Sam Schmitt Cars continued to be fast.   Dan Wheldon grabbed 6th and Townsend Bell racing in his one race a year got 4th.   Alex Tagliani led in the pre Fast Nine qualifying but were the Red Car’s not trying?  It turns out he really was that fast as he knocked Scott Dixon off the provisional pole!  Tags was fast last year but struggled in race.  This year however Sam Schmitt has been having some practice in race trim so we can only hope they keep that pace for Race Day.  They’ve surprised us so far.

Target Chip Ganassi was fast all week and fast in qualifying.  Fuel problems hurt them in the Fast Nine.  Dario ran out of fuel on the final lap of his qualifying run while Dixon ran very low on his final lap.  This kept them from a shot at winning the pole for the Indy 500.  Most fans, myself included, are hoping these fuel problems persist during race day.  Despite these issues, Dixon is 2nd and Dario is 9th.  They probably represent the biggest threat from the Red Cars during the 500.  Also… they’re two of the dullest drivers and potential winners in the entire field of 33!

Penske’s day stared poorly.  Briscoe put his car into the wall and had to go to a backup car.  They couldn’t get the backup car up to speed enough to put him in the top 24, much less top 9.  While Helio didn’t wreck he also struggled for speed and qualified 16th.  Will Power was Penske’s only success all day (in either Indycar or NASCAR) and got into the top 9.  Power currently is the MVP of Penske Racing.  He’s the only Penske driver at the moment that is reliably up front week after week.

Ed Carpenter+ Sarah Fisher Racing= Fast Nine!

Ed Carpenter has been very strong on the ovals for the last few years with Vision and Panther.  Sarah Fisher Racing has had some speed on the ovals but had a very tough 2010 season.  The combination of the two created a big unknown going into this week.  Last year, Carpenter put his car in the Fast 9 but expectations were low that they’d do it again this year with Fisher.  Just qualifying in comfortably would be a victory.  But instead they got into the Fast Nine!  Ed had a very quick warmup lap but fell off with a car that was too lose.  Still… top 9 at Indy with SFR?  Pretty impressive.  Sarah had said the 57 would be run if they were comfortably in the field but they changed there minds.  I would say that’s a good move.  Focus on winning the race with Carpenter, not dividing attention between Ed and someone else.

Panther did well.  Buddy Rice qualified 7th and JR Hildebrand qualified 12th, first of the rookies.  Both drivers have been good all week in practice.  This is Rice’s first time in an Indycar since 09.  Looking at his results… we need him in more often!  Hildebrand looks like the front runner for RoY, with Hinchcliffe being his big rival.

Andretti Autosport is toast.  On day one, only John Andretti made the top 24.  On day two, RHR and Conway failed to qualify.  On day three, Micheal Andretti fired Tom Anderson and bought a rides for his drivers who DQ’d.  Wave goodbye to credibility and fan support.  AA is a trainwreck.  Think about who beat them in qualifying.  An injured Simona De Silvestro with HVM’s backup got in.  Davey Hamilton got in, Bruno Junqueira got in (then got check bumped…), John Andretti got his AA car in.  Sam Schmitt got 2 into the Fast Nine with Wheldon joining them.  Oh, and SFR got into the top 9 as well.  If you’re a driver or sponsor why wouldn’t you leave at the first chance?  Danica needs to go to Panther, RHR needs to go to Penske, Conway needs to go back to GP2/F1, and Marco needs to go… somewhere.  Cause if you are at AA, you’re second class to Marco and that’s how it’s always going to be.  Did you notice the way Micheal and Marco debated what to do at the end of Bump Day?  Bet RHR wishes they’d have sent him out during that time.  Or sent Marco out so RHR would have still had time to try and get in.  Mike Conway is not getting a ride bought for him.   Uh… I’m not fan of Conway.  I wouldn’t really care if he left Indycar after this. But he’s bringing money to Andretti, is 4th in points, and won a race at Long Beach.  Yet Micheal’s not exactly showing much support for him.  Which one should take priority?  Sponsors might leave but so might Daddy’s money for Conway.

Win at Long Beach, 4th in points, missed the 500, Micheal didn't buy him a car...

This may be “part of racing,” but you know what, it’s a part of racing that needs to change!  Stick and ball fans look down on racing for this reason!  They have there own issues but it’s really easy for a fan of Football or Baseball to laugh at racing when they see it’s not the 33 or 43 or 26 best drivers, but the 20 best drivers and the people who bought their way in!  Not helpful to establishing credibility for racing.  And if you think credibility doesn’t matter… look at Boxing!  All the questionable things happening there have really knocked the luster off of that sport and badly damaged fan interest in it.  Buying/selling rides may be a part of Indycar racing and the Indy 500.  It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t change.  There are lot’s of traditions of Indycar racing (or recent Indycar) that need to change, including the .4 ratings!

AJ Foyt had a good day.  Then he sold Junquiera’s good day to AA.

Last thought on Hunter Reay.  He’s not a good qualifier at Indy.  He struggled bad in 09 and he struggled bad this year.  Not sure what’s gone so wrong with him.

Turning Tom Anderson into the scapegoat and firing him probably isn’t a good idea..  He’s basically the team manager and letting him go runs the risk of doing even more damaged to an already damaged and in turmoil.

Fan Favorite Pippa Mann got in! To make it even better her teammate The Quitter didn't!

Karma struck Sebastien Saadevra who failed to qualify for the race.  Herta, who he complained about last year as not giving him good enough equipment got Dan Wheldon into the Fast Nine!  And Pippa Mann outran him and got into the field.  Cavin says they won’t do a driver swap on her which is something Conquest is infamous for.  Conquest must understand that check bumping Pippa would start a medium level riot at the Speedway.

Servia got 3rd!!!!

Newman Haas got both drivers solidly into the show.  Better than that they got Orial Servia to 3rd.  He held provisional pole until Dixon and then Tagliani bumped him off it.   Servia+Newman Haas has been an incredible combination that sits in the top 5 in points at the moment.  Hinchcliffe didn’t make the Fast Nine, but he’s top 15 and didn’t have to worry about Bump Day.  Look at who missed (or almost missed, I guess) the field.  Is Newman Haas back?  Don’t know… but they seem close.  The first 500 win for them would be huge.

DDR got everyone in, even Ana who qualified  33rd.  Davey Hamilton led their effort in 15th.  Wilson also got in on day one.  Paul Tracy and Ana Beatriz had to get in on Bump Day but they made it!

Dayle Coyne had a poor week that saw one driver slowest at every practice.   James Jakes was a waste of space out there.  He didn’t make it through rookie orientation on day one.  The excuse was a car problem, which set an ominous tone for Coyne’s team.  Lloyd was a little better but still very slow.  He managed to just slide in on Bump Day.  I wonder how much Jakes was paying Coyne because for the 2nd year in a row he had a car with no hope of making it but didn’t make a driver change.

Speed's 500 was over before Qualifying ended.

Dragon Racing was the biggest trainwreck of Indy.  The combination of two rookies didn’t work out well.  The cars struggled for speed and had some issues with handling.  Ho Pointless Tung crashed while Scott Speed and the team argued about how to setup the car.  Speed was so slow by Friday that rumors were swirling that he quite on the team.  While he stayed with them they flew Patrick Carpantier in to shake down/qualify the car on Bump Day.  Carpantier struggled as well and ended up crashing.  Whether the failure of Dragon was down to drivers, teams, or engineers is a major point of debate.  I would say it’s a shared failure.  The drivers didn’t do a good shaking down the cars while having two rookies wasn’t a good idea and the engineers should have set the cars up better.

That said Scott Speed doesn’t look good after this.  He’s truly a Triple League Failure.  No points in F1, a failed Sprint Cup career and not even making an attempt to qualify!  I also wonder if the struggle of Speed will dissuade some people from running the Vegas 5 Million Challenge.  Speed’s Cup career wasn’t good, but he’s run both F1 and Indycar! How will a guy like Kimi Raikkonen or Kasey Kahne feel about going to Vegas?  I think those two could still pull it off but this could make it a tougher choice then before.

Rahal Letterman got Bertand Baguette and Jay Howard into the race safely.  Howard was also part of the Schmitt collective and while not as good as his teammates getting 19th had to feel good after his horrible failure last year.

How smug was TK on Sunday?

KV did well and so far has not torn a single car up all month!  Sato got 10th, Viso got 18th and TK got 23rd.  While not TK’s best Indy qualifying it was still a lot better than last year.  I wish Sato and Viso had failed instead of Speed and Hunter Reay… but at least they haven’t caused so much trouble that TK got neglected.  Tomas Sheckter also made it in safely.  And since Red Line paid for it he won’t have to worry about getting Check Bumped.

Unsurprisingly ASF didn’t make it.  They’re a good plucky team but no oval experience with that many cars is a recipe for failure.

The 2nd Ganassi team’s struggles continued.  Most of us (myself included) expected a 2nd Ganassi team to be a slam dunk.  Red Car Power dominates in Indycar and being involved with them should give a driver the 3rd best car in the field!  Yet, it’s not worked out that way.  Rahal had a good race at Brazil and that’s it.  Neither driver got in on pole day.  Sure, Kimball had to wave a run off due to rain but still that’s kind of sad.  I’m starting to wonder if Rahal and Kimball would have been better off taking what is likely a fairly large sponsorship to another team.  Look at what Schmitt, Panther, HVM, and SFR did this week!  With 6-8 Million dollars in a 2nd car what could they do?  Probably more than 2nd Ganassi has done.

Herta has to feel good about what he and Wheldon did!

Monday’s developments were a massive disappointment but it was an exciting qualifying session.  It looks like there’s a good chance that a Non Red Car will win the 500.  Sam Schmitt has 3 very good cars in the top 10 with Ed Carpenter and Oriol Servia both also in the top 9.  Scott Dixon is the biggest threat on the horizon as he starts 2nd.  Power in 5th and Dario in 9th are still threats to win.  We got a glimpse at what a non Red win at the 500 would be like and I can’t begin to describe how much I want to see that.  Whether it’s Ed, Dan, Servia, Tagliani, Bell, Hildebrand, Hinch, or Rice it doesn’t matter.  My personal preference out of the top 9 is Carpenter.  Carpenter winning would be huge.  It would be huge for SFR, huge for Ed, and huge for their 2012 plans.  It would be a big win for Indycar and would be a “Trevor Bayne Moment.”

That’s why I so desperately want to see Newman Haas, SFR, Schmitt, and Panther do very well this May because it could set them up for a stronger run in 2012.  If you’re a sponsor this is what you want; to be up front at Indy.  Sam Schmitt said he wanted to build a top level team for the future and that he want’s to get more sponsors and manufacturer support for 2012.  That’s looking very possible.  Fisher struggled very badly last year.  Dollar General could have left but they stuck with it and actually expanded it’s program this year with Carpenter.  This is a good way to reward them for sticking with Fisher.

NASCAR:  NASCAR’s All Star Farce was incredibly boring.  Very little action and too many breaks in the race.  Having the race start as late as it did was not helpful either.  Carl Edwards won.

A NATIONWIDE DRIVER WON A NATIONWIDE RACE!!! STOP THE F--- PRESSES!!!

For the first time this year a Nationwide driver won the Nationwide race!  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. beat teammate Carl Edwards at Iowa on Sunday!!!!

Kimi Riakkonen made his truck debut and did well.  He finished 15th and hit the wall twice.  Still he was calm and steadily improved throughout the weekend.  Kimi started off slow in practice, got faster for qualifying, and got even better for the race!   More importantly he didn’t bring out a single caution… and there were ten of them.

Kimi will make his Nationwide debut this week at Charlotte with Joe Nemechecks team.  Well, they say it’s Nemechecks team but the car will be prepared by KBM.  Giving it the 87’s owners points locks Kimi in the race.

F1:  I actually watched part of the F1 race.  I don’t really know what to make of it.  Fans seem to be split between enjoying the racing and saying it’s too contrived.  Not sure which side to take.   All the rules around the adjustable rear wing get a bit over the top but on the other hand… anything that’ll improve the racing…  There was some passing at Barcelona so that should count for something.  I’ll try and figure out where I stand on this issue and do an article at a latter date.

Team Meeting; Weekend in Review: Rossi Vs Stoner Edition

MotoGP:

Rain struck the first Spanish GP this year.  The rain slowed down the Honda’s and allowed the Ducati’s to get closer to the top of the field.  At least until Rossi attempted to make a pass on Stoner that caused them both to wreck.  Casey DNF’d but Rossi was able to get the bike going again.  Simoncelli took the lead only to crash out, which allowed Lorenzo to assume the lead and eventually win the race.  The battle for second was between Pedrossa and Spies.  Spies prevailed only to crash out.  In third, Colin Edwards and Cal Cruchlow both looked in contention but had issues, allowing Nicky Hayden to score Ducati’s first podium of the year.  Hiroshi Aoyama finished 4th and Rossi managed to fight his way up to 5th.

The Rossi/Stoner crash has dominated the headlines after the race at Jerez, with Stoner fans calling for penalties on Rossi and Rossi fans calling Stoner a whiner.  What happened on track was that Rossi tried to dive under Stoner despite a huge gap between them, lost control of the bike and took both of them out.  Rossi was able to be restarted, Stoner was not.  The Honda’s are difficult to start due to how they’re set up (possibly their special clutch) and that hurt Stoner.  Stoner was, unsurprisingly, less than thrilled with Rossi in his post race comments.  It was a really dumb move by Rossi, but at the same time, it’s just a racing incident.  I don’t see the need to penalize Rossi.  Most fans want close racing, and when there’s close racing, sometimes accidents happen.  That’s part of racing.  As for the people accusing Stoner of being a whiner, what type of reaction do you expect after being wrecked like that?

The new 2012 regulations bikes are about to take the track.  Honda, Ducati, and Yamaha all are planning on making their first tests within the next few months.  None of the CRT teams, engines, or bikes have been officially announced…

NASCAR:

Kevin Harvick won the Sprint Cup race at Martinsville, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr in the last ten laps of the race.  Kyle Busch came in 3rd while Montoya was 4th and Jeff Gordon 5th.  For Junior, it was his best race in years although it was not quite enough to beat Harvick.  Just like last week Harvick only led at the end and won the race in a dramatic way.  The race went past the scheduled TV window because of a long Red Flag due to a major wreck between Martin Truex Jr and Kasey Kahne.

Johnny Sauter won the Camping World Truck series race, becoming the first non Cup driver to win a race in either Camping World Truck or NASCAR Nationwide this season.  He even passed Kyle Busch!  That’s a pretty good way for a struggling NASCAR driver to rejuvenate their career.

Speaking of Kyle Busch and Truck Series, Kimi Riakkonen will be making his NASCAR debut with them at Charlotte this May. The Kimi story is real, but thankfully Foster Gillett is not involved.  Kimi will run between 3-5 Truck races for KBM and could run some Nationwide or ARCA races depending on what happens.  His 2012 plans are unknown, but many have speculated he’d join Red Bull.  Kimi will come with a sponsor that is TBA; it may or may not be Red Bull.  Kimi tested Monday at Gresham Speedway in Georgia in a private test where no fans or media were allowed.

F1 (and it’s Feeder series):

Conor Daly participated in the GP3 test at Silverstone.  On Friday he was the highest finishing Carlin driver in 5th.  As he’s shown repeatedly in his career (including a couple weeks ago at St. Pete) he’s got the talent to succeed, but it’s critical he find a quality team.  In other American development driver news, Alexander Rossi will run Formula Renault and has joined the Team Lotus (RE: Fake Lotus) development team.

Indycar:

Tomas Sheckter was confirmed for the KV/Redline car that’s going to attempt to make the Indy 500.  In other 500 news, AJ Foyt racing has confirmed Bruno Junquiera as their second driver at Indy.

Jay Penske has saved his team and will run Paul Tracy in at least 5 races.  However, for the Indy 500, Dragon Racing may attempt with another driver, possibly Hornish or Rice, as Tracy has already signed with DDR for that race.

Robin Miller said on the SpeedTV.com Chat Friday that Houston is a done deal *puke*.  The only plus side to that is that almost certainly rules out Austin (which may or may not actually be built).  Of course, the 2nd Brazilian race looked like a “done deal” and that’s gone quite for the last few months… so these things can change.  If Houston’s added and if they want to keep it 50-50, then almost certianly one of the current street courses is gone, and I’d guess St. Pete, Toronto, or Baltimore.

Rumors are flowing that Baltimore is in financial trouble.  Despite this, they also announced additional sponsors last week.  I’m not concerned about the Labor Day Parade’s chances for this season… but they may not return next year.

Top Gear:

Tesla cars is suing Top Gear (UK) over a test that was done over two years ago.  Tesla is claiming that Top Gear was unfair to their cars and want to do the Soviet thing and try and erase that test from ever being shown again.  It looks like a sad attempt for a struggling automaker to get back in the news, as that test was OVER TWO YEARS AGO and while it upset Tesla at the time, there was no lawsuit!

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.

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: Robert Kubica Edition

Indycar:

The Indycar silly season is still in full swing.  The Bourdais/Coyne Tracy/Conquest parings are still in the works, no conformation on them either way at this point, though Tracy has said he has a “letter of intent” from Conquest.  Martin Plowman and Alex Lloyd’s futures with Coyne are unclear, as well.  Same with Baugette and Vernay at Conquest; no idea what’s happening there.  I would assume the plan is Baugette full time, as the Conquest team really likes him, and I’m assuming he’s got some money.  But with Tracy, that’s two cars, would they really run 3?  If Vernay has money, he may want to shop it at DDR, KV, or even HVM (though I think it’s a mistake to pair Simona and a rookie).

In some sad silly season news, Takuma Sato and EJ Viso were both confirmed for KV.  While some are favorable to Sato, I really don’t like him, and was disappointed by this news.  After all, Sato was the lowest finishing driver who made every race last year!  At one point, a member of Coyne even tweeted that the #19 (piloted by Milka Dunothing!) was within like 50 points of Sato!!!!  He finished behind Graham Rahal, who missed five races and also struggled through the Sarah Fisher stint.  He was by far worst of his team, and when you’re teammates are EJ Viso and Mario Moreas, that’s saying something.  Some say “he was adjusting from F1″ but the fact is, that only increases the expectations of performance.  I mean, Simona, Baugette, even Romancini were all better than him!   They all were learning, too!   Viso wasn’t a whole lot better, and he regressed from his past seasons at HVM.  More worryingly, it’s rumored that KV doesn’t even have anyone actively looking for sponsorship, which is ashame, as they have a lot of potential, but need better drivers, badly.  I am disappointed to see both Viso and Sato back, but at least Moreas looks like toast (which he did a lot last year, as well).  I’m guessing Dallara just increased production by 200% on the current equipment based off this news.  That’s one way to get rid of the old chassis…There still is the 3rd KV seat open (assuming they have enough cars left) and judging from the tweets over the last week or two, Paul Tracy is NOT going to be in it.   But Dan Wheldon, Alex Lloyd, and JK Vernay may want to keep in touch with Vasser.  They also have the Team Redline Extreme car for Indy.

Hedeki Mutoh’s Indycar career is over, he’s going to Japanese Super GT.  So it’s Hinch/Servia or bust for Newman Haas.

Wade Cuninigham, a successful Indy Lights driver who’s never been given a shot at Indycar, claims to have an announcement coming up.  Likely it’s an Indy one off, as he’s been very good there in Lights.  Possibly with Herta’s team, or the Redline Extreme/KV group.  Or, how about as the oval driver for Coyne, since Bourdais doesn’t want to/can’t do them.  Editor’s Note (According to a tweet that came out right as I hit send, Wade say’s he has a 4 race deal, NOT including Indy at the moment.  So… hmmm…. no idea where it’ll be.

Mike Conway at Andretti Autosport, that’s unexpected.  He’s not a bad choice, certainty more experienced than Sourek, but with many of the smaller teams getting either better funding or at least better drivers, it could be a very rough year for AA.

Penske got a couple new sponsors, PPG and Guidepoint.

British Indycar fans should be pleased to know, Sky Sports will broadcast all the Indycar races this year.

NASCAR:

Professional NASCAR drivers need to send Rusty Wallace their resume's RIGHT NOW!

Micheal Annett was given a DWI for drunk driving (as well as speeding, texting while driving, and resisting arrest!), and was reported as having blown a .32 (you read that right), which according to the officer who stopped him, was the second highest he’d ever seen.  Rusty Wallace’s team say they’re still planning to run him, but just to be safe, any unemployed stock car drivers may wish to send their resumes into RWI right now.

Frank Stoddard is attempting to start his own team, called FAS Lane Racing.  Good luck….it’s only 2 weeks until the Daytona 500, after all.  I don’t expect anything good out of this team, it’ll either die off or start and park, which is about the same thing.  For the 500, he has signed Terry Labonte (but won’t run the Shootout with them), and plans to run Mike Skinner the rest of the year.  He does have sponsorship from American Chrome and Air National Guard, but they’ve both been involved with small teams before, and didn’t do a lot.  So…yeah…have fun with that.

Owners point’s insanity ahead.  TRG lost the 71’s owners points, because a member of the team divested and went to RCR.  How the hell that means they lose their owners points, I don’t know.  But, good news!  They get the owners points from the RPM’s 98.  And, the 19 of RPM is going to go to the Wood Brothers, while the 77 of Sam Hornish Jr goes to a one off for Rusty Wallace to  give his son (a KV wanna be) a shot at the 500.  That makes perfect sense, right?

F1:

Robert Kubica, of the Lotus/Renault F1 team, was seriously injured in a Rally accident over the weekend.  His injuries aren’t life threatening, but they may hurt his racing career.  It’s too early to tell, but there is someoptimism over his long term future, but he’s likely to miss races, and maybe even the season.  Here’s hoping for a speeding recovery, and a successful  return that would make Valentino Rossi proud.

American Le Mans Series/ILMC:

I like my Prototypes Open Topped

Peugeot unveiled their new LMP1 car.  I don’t find it attractive at all; it looks a lot like the Audi, which isn’t a good thing.  But, it should be fast.  They plan on the same driver lineup as last year, which is why Sebastien Bourdais can’t run a full Indycar season.

Add two more cars to the GT2 class

Robertson Racing, who run a Ford GT in the GT2 class in the American Le Mans series, will run 2 full time cars in the GT2 class in ALMS, and are attempting to enter both cars in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  They’ve also signed a deal with Michellen for tires.  If the ALMS want’s to be successful, they need to start selling the GT2 class; it’s got Ford GT’s, Corvette’s, Jaguar’s, Lamborghini,  Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, BMW’s, and Panoz’s running against each other!

Poll of the Week: Who Will Replace Kubica?

Who will replace Kubica?  My vote is Kimi Riakkonen.  I’m a fan of his, and while a lot of people seem to dislike him, he’s their best hope.  And it looks like the Lotus/Renault may be a competitive car, which would be a great thing for any driver who signs up with them.  While I don’t know if it’s likely, the idea’s out there.  And it’s what should happen.  Though I wouldn’t mind seeing Bruno Senna get a real shot at F1.  And if he or Petrov win races, or even more spectacularly, the championship, it’ll show how little the driver matters in F1.  But then again, Petrov’s performance last season shows the driver still matters some, as he scored half the points Kubica did in 2010.  So, uh… whoever’s the replacement will be the one expected to do the winning.  And since the only unsigned, semi-active successful F1 driver around is Kimi, it makes all the sense in the world.  Now someone just needs to go convince him to do it.

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