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Caffeinated Beverage of the Race #3: Long Beach With Predictions

Picking a caffeinated beverage for Long Beach is a bit of a challenge because I was torn between using Red Bull (classic energy drink) between Indy and Long Beach.  Since an even more iconic caffinated beverage exists (think of a drink maker from Atlanta) Red Bull goes to Long Beach.  To make this feature a bit more interesting I’ll add some predictions too it.  When I have more time this could be a full length blog but since I don’t have a ton of time, this is what you get.

The big issue going into this race is the 10 spot penalty to many Lotus’s and all Chevy’s. That means that while only 3 Honda’s qualified in the top 10, the Honda’s will most of the top spots at the race’s start.  There are three different outcomes that look likely from the race.  The worst case scenario is that the Red Car’s (more specifically Ganassi) just walk away with the win.  The second, more positive, is that a team like SFRH and Joseph Newgarden use this situation to their advantage and pull off an upset win. Newgarden was the 2nd highest qualifying Honda and thus starts second so this looks possible. The third outcome is that somehow or another (attrition, random fuel strategy/pit road luck, or passing) the Chevy’s get back to the front and a Penske or Ganassi car pulls out a win.  The race should at least be worth watching at the start to see which one of these scenario’s happens.  After that, it all depends on whether or not the 2012 car can pass at Long Beach.  Luckily the NASCAR at Texas race set’s a low bar for the weekend.  On the other hand, for TV ratings, with no NASCAR competition, real growth is needed.

Racing’s Untapped Sponsorship Opportunities

It’s no secret that racing in America is low on sponsors.  Red Bull is leaving NASCAR as is Crown Royal.  Many more sponsors are reducing the amount they spend and how many races they’ll pay for.  In Indycar the situation is even more dire with very few teams having real, full sponsorship.  A majority of the Indycar teams relay on ride buying and sponsor deals tied to drivers, not teams, to fund themselves.  It’s also no secret that NASCAR and Indycar are both struggling with a lack of younger fans.  Not just children, but people in the 18-35 demographic.  I can’t help but wonder if these two facts are inter-related.  There are so many major products and companies not involved in racing.  If some were to get involved it would both increase racing’s exposure and fund some teams and tracks.  From Wal-Mart to Aeropostle, Nintendo to McDonalds, Apple to Rockstar Energy Drink, Activision to Nike, there are sponsorship oppurtunities out there if only they could be found and convinced!

Expanding sponsorship into new directions has two main affects (besides the obvious financial benefit for everyone).  Firstly it would provide a massive boost to exposure.  No Indycar driver outside of Danica get’s consistent mainstream, or non racing, exposure. Even in NASCAR there’s not much exposure compared to stick and ball.   The major stick and ball athelete’s (such as LeBron, Bryant, Jeter, Manning, Farve, ect.) are everywhere.  You can’t go out of your house or watch TV without seeing them.  That is what racing is up against.  If you take a closer look at who’s pushing these guys you’ll notice that they have major sponsors that cross promote with them.  You’ll also notice a disturbing fact…most of these sponsors have limited to no involvement in racing.

Racing Needs Nike, badly

The second effect only matters with certain sponsors, but it has just as much impact.  As I’ve said before racing struggles with too many vanilla drivers who lack personality.  A major reason for this is sponsors don’t want to upset people.  But if you look at Hollywood, the music world, and stick and ball sports there are a ton of sponsors who don’t mind a controversial athlete.  I mean, Nike sponsors Micheal Vick who got convicted of dogfighting!  Compared to that Tomas Sheckter looks like a choir boy.  In general though those sponsors aren’t involved in racing.  Change that and the lack of personality issue should disappear.  Racing just needs edgier sponsors which I wrote about earlier this year.

Red Bull activates it's X-Games sponsorship; you can find their gear in almost any mall. Not so for NASCAR.

Of course there are reasons why this hasn’t happened.  With regards to activation the issue appears to me to be that many sponsors see putting their logo on the car as the activation.   That’s all that many companies seem to think needs to be done.  And to be fair sponsorship are expensive.  But if a company just sponsors a car in the end it won’t do them much good without greater activation.  The perfect example of this is Red Bull’s NASCAR team.  In theory NASCAR and Red Bull should be the perfect paring especially with drivers like Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne.  But Red Bull has done almost no activation.  They don’t do track signage.  They don’t do major TV, radio, or print adds.  Red Bull advertises like crazy yet their NASCAR team is nowhere to be seen.  Red Bull is actively involved with Pastrana… so where’s the love for Vickers?  A large part of the reason for why Red Bull plans on leaving NASCAR is due to lack of return on investment.  Both NASCAR and Red Bull share responsibility to that.  NASCAR hasn’t helped Red Bull promote itself in NASCAR (being too tied into other “official sponsorship’s”) and Red Bull hasn’t given Vickers, Speed  or NASCAR in general the same love they’ve given Pastrana and the X-Games.

The other challenge is that NASCAR doesn’t have the right demographic’s for many companies, and Indycar has .2 TV ratings.  The lack of fans in the 18-35  demographic is NASCAR biggest challenge.  Ratings are good and sponsors are still leaving.  Those two facts are inter-connected (again, look at Red Bull).  Indycar is better off in the 18-35 demographic but the 0.2 ratings are a deal breaker.  While a full discussion on how to make racing more appealing to younger fans would take a couple articles the main point is that racing needs to market itself as an extreme sport.  Look at the success of Ken Block, Travis Pastrana and the X-Games.  Do that and the rest should start to fall into place.

Lost because they got a mutli-million dollar deal for the Brickyard 400

It doesn’t help that many companies have started to do a combination of title sponsorship of races and smaller, associate sponsorship that are less visible.  Coke only put themselves on a car once or twice a year but have a program called the “Coke family of drivers” that allows them to have multiple drivers for one low price.  NASCAR also sells a lot of “official product of NASCAR” sponsorship often taking from teams that need them more.  It’s completely within NASCAR’s power to stop doing that.  More importantly they need to try and convince sponsors to sponsor cars and not just do smaller, multi-team programs by offering incentives to sponsors who do full time sponsorship.  An example of an incentive would be extra signage at tracks (especially ISC, who’s owned by NASCAR) and inclusion in adds that NASCAR produces to promote the series.  These types of “perks” would improve the cost/benefit ratio on sponsors.

There are more sponsors who racing should target then can be fit into one article; that said, I’d like to focus on one, Nike.  Nike sponsors a huge number of athletes in a very visible way.  Seriously, look it up and they’re involved with a everyone from Derek Jeter to Tim Tebow to Lebron James to Micheal Jordan.  Yet again there’s almost no presence in racing.  Micheal Jordan owns Jordan Suzuki in AMA Pro Racing that sometimes has Nike stuff on it and Jordan’s Nike brand also has a small deal with Denny Hamlin but it’s almost invisible.  Nike sponsorship would bring a lot of money and exposure to racing.  Possibly more important is that it would bring some legitimacy to the idea that racing is a sport to stick and ball fans.  Outside of music sponsorship, Nike only does sports.  Considering racing always has to answer the question “is it a sport” that would be helpful to say the least.

Sponsorship activation done right

There aren’t enough sponsors in racing but there should be.  Yes the economy is bad but the sponsorship situation in racing is much, much worse than in other major sports.   The reasons are many.  The point is that major sponsors are out there.  It’s up to the racing series to attract and keep them.  NASCAR attracted a ton of sponsors and through incredibly short sighted thinking frittered them away.  Throw in some demographic issues and a 20% drop in ratings from the height and you’ve got a perfect storm of problems.  Indycar’s problem is relatively simple.  Very few sponsors want to dump 5+ million on something with .2 ratings.  It’s tough and I don’t have all the answers but if new sponsorship’s were added racing would no longer have a money issue.  If the right sponsors were added it could also fix the personality problem.  Finally it would add a major source of exposure for both series to people who don’t know about them.  In short, it would give racing in America exactly what it needs.

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.

Pre Season Picks and Predictions: 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup

The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season starts this Sunday, with the Daytona 500. That means, it’s time for Pre Season, Picks and Predictions to kick off, right where we left off last year, with NASCAR.  Since the Chase is basically its own separate season, I’m predicting who’s going to make the Chase, not win the championship; we can talk about that in September when the Chase field is set.  There have been some major changes made over the off season, including a new points system and a move to E15 ethanol/gasoline mixture, but will any of these things really affect the on track product, and more importantly, get NASCAR out of its slump?  Team and driver wise, it’s about the same as last year, with the only significant change being Kasey Kahne to Red Bull, and thankfully, no major team disappeared or merged over the off season; for the first time in years, RPM had a stable off season (though not a stable end of season)!  With the introductions done, let’s get to predicting the Chase field of 2011!  Remember, the top 10 in points plus the two drivers outside the top ten with the most wins will make the Chase, as opposed to last year’s system, which gave Chase spots to the top 12 in points.

Chase Locks: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick:

None of the locks are surprising, they’ve all made the Chase almost every year (for Johnson and Hamlin, it has been every year they’ve competed).  All of them are fairly safe picks, and for Busch, the “wildcard” entrance into the Chase based off wins should let him sleep soundly at night.

Likely: Kurt Busch, Juan Montoya, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Dale Junior, Jamie McMurray:

All of these drivers are capable of making the Chase… but I wouldn’t necessarily bet on them being in the Chase.  Dale Junior is in the midst of a massive slump, but I put him here instead of in the Darkhorse section because he has the equipment do make the Chase, and in the past he’s won a fair amount, he has shown the talent needed in the past. Montoya and McMurray have the speed, but do they have the consistency?  On the other hand, if they can win multiple races, they won’t really need it.  Brian Vickers will surprise some people, but he’s on the best Toyota Racing Development team, and he’s the only one of their drivers to ever make the Chase.  Everyone else on this list has qualified for the Chase multiple times, but you can’t say they’re locked in, either.  And yes, I have more than 12 drivers between Locks and Likely’s, but that’s by design.  All of these are drivers who should make the Chase, whether they will or not, that’s still to be decided.

Darkhorse: Joey Lagano, Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmindigner, David Reuteman, Martin Truex Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Bobby Labonte, Kasey Kahne:

These are the drivers who would be surprising to see in the Chase… but who could potentially pull it off.  Kahne is here instead of Vickers, because while he has the talent and team to make the Chase, his strange one year deal is going to make it a stretch.  David Reuteman is probably the most underrated driver in NASCAR, he’s been fairly close the last two years, and he’s won two races with Michael Waltrip Racing, which is two more than anyone else.  But with that MWR equipment, making the Chase isn’t going to be easy.  AJ Allmindigner and Marcos Ambrose are the two drivers representing a new RPM, and have had a pretty stable off season.  They’re the 2nd Ford team, and at times, RPM has been a strong team.  They are both very talented drivers, but neither one is especially experienced in NASCAR, and without another veteran on the team, they may struggle with developing cars.  This is probably Bobby Labonte’s last chance with a semi-competitive NASCAR team.  The JTG Daughtry team is basically the third MWR car, and that should give him an outside chance at the Chase, if the mechanical failures they suffered last year end. Brad Keselowski won the Nationwide Championship last year, but had a pretty horrific year in Cup, and is one of only two Dodge drivers left in NASCAR.  Joey Lagano should make the Chase, he’s got the equipment, and this is his third season, but he’s never consistently run up front in Cup racing.

No Chance: Paul Menard, David Ragan, Andy Lally, Trevor Bayne, Everyone else:

Menard and Ragan have the equipment to make the Chase, but they don’t have the talent.  Bayne has the talent, but is a part time rookie.  Lally is driving for TRG, and everyone else is either a start and parker, or super undefended team who will be lucky to finish on the lead lap.

Predictions:

Two or More Wins and You’re In the Chase: The new wildcard rules for the Chase will give a Chase spot to the two drivers with the most wins who are outside of the Top 10 in points.  Most likely, this will mean two or more wins, and a driver will have locked themselves into the Chase. Last year, in fact, one win would have been enough to get into the second wildcard position.  If there’s a tie (most likely between one race winners) the tiebreaker is point’s position, so the one race winners will still need to worry about points.  But, the chances of three or more drivers outside of the top 10 in points winning two or more times are very, very low.  What this means is the 3 restrictor plate races and 2 road courses before the Chase have an increased importance for a few drivers.  A driver who can win 2 out of the 3 plate races, or sweep both road races, will almost certainly make the Chase.

Meet the New Points System, Same as the Old Points System: NASCAR has changed the points system, so now the winner get’s 43 points plus a few bonus points, and the last place driver get’s a single point.  The point system still under rewards winning badly; in fact, there’s even less incentive to race hard for 3rd or 4th place than before!  Otherwise, though, the system is about the same as the old one… in other words, there’s been no change. 

The Lone Dodge: Penske is the lone Dodge team that’s going to be running for race wins and Championships (Robby Gordon is also joining Dodge, but…).  More worryingly, though, is the fact that Penske’s NASCAR program is downsizing, and will only have two cars this year, for Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski.  While removing Sam Hornish is a good thing, having only two cars is not a good thing.  To be successful as a standalone team in NASCAR, 3-4 cars is needed.  Can the lone Dodge team be successful with only two cars?  They have the team and drivers to do it… but it’ll be tough, and Keselowski struggled last year..  There’s a good chance Penske will jump over to Chevy at the end of the year, as Penske is bringing GM back to Indycar.  Penske needs to get away from Dodge, and he needs to get the funding for a third car, at least to be a successful team.    

If he get's another Championship, Will NASCAR have any fans left?

Another Championship for JJ?: Will Jimmie Johnson win another Championship? And if so, how badly will it hurt the ratings.  I still say, the luck is bound to run out, and someone, whether it’s Hamlin, either Busch brother, Edwards, Kenseth, Harvick, Burton, Jeff Gordon, Martin, Newman, Montoya, McMurray, Lagano, Vickers, Reuteman, Allmindigner, Ambrose, or Keselowski, someone has got to be able to defeat Johnson.  And whoever does it is going to gain a ton of new fans.  If not…I shudder to think of what the ratings may look like in 2012.  It’ll also be interesting to see if the ratings drop during this year’s Chase, which might be a sign many fans feel JJ winning is inevitable, and are tuning out. 

RCR: Chevy’s Other Team: RCR is expanding back to a 4 car team, with the inclusion of Paul Menard.  This rules out any chance at putting all 4 cars in the Chase, but will it affect the other 3 cars?  That’s hard to tell, the last time they expanded in 09 it did… but they’ve learned their lessons, right? There’s got to be some concern, but if they run with the same form as last year, all three of their real drivers have the potential to make a run for the title, with Harvick leading the way.  Burton and Bowyer are also free agents; Burton is expected to resign with RCR, he’s older, still talented, and fits in well with Childress.  Bowyer will also probably resign, but…Penske and Roush could both use him and Petty’s new management likes him, so he’s got some options.  Aside from Reuteman, Bowyer is one of the most underrated drivers in NASCAR.  As for Menard, he’s likely to stay, unless he either gets bored with racing, or another driver with a check bounces him out (Edwards or Danica). 

Will the Ratings and Attendance Stabilize?: NASCAR’s ratings and attendance have been in decline since 2008.  It had looked like the ratings were stabilizing last year, until the Chase, when there was, with a couple exceptions (Talladega and Homestead) were between 15 and 25% lower.  Why? There are three main reasons thrown out: 1. A sense of inevitability about Johnson winning (And/or a dislike of the Chase) 2. The move to ESPN 3. The Start of the NFL.  I don’t really believe the move to ESPN was that big of deal.  Almost everyone has ESPN, and pretty much every bar and restaurant which has a TV on plays ESPN, so I don’t really see how a 15-25% drop can be blamed on that.  I would guess it’s a combination of NFL, Johnson fatigue, and disliking the Chase.  Will the same thing happen this year?  With Johnson coming from behind to win the title last year… the sense of inevitability is higher than ever…

Overall, though, things should stabilize.  NASCAR will have shrunk by a considerable amount, but it should hit the point where it drops to the base fans and then things at least stop getting worse.   If the bottom continues to fall out during this year’s Chase, though…then NASCAR’s in even worse shape than we thought.

As for attendance, that’s more economic based.  Even so… tickets to a NASCAR race are cheap… as in between 20-60 dollars, depending on track, for pretty much every race except the “big ones.”  Yeah the economy’s bad… but at those prices… the stands shouldn’t be as bare as they’ve been the last few years.  Attendance doesn’t matter as much as the TV ratings, but seeing an improvement in the amount of fans who go to the races would be a very positive sign for NASCAR.

The NFL Lockout, the most irrelevant story in NASCAR: As the saga of the NFL lockout continues, you will hear a ton of NASCAR people talking about how the lockout, assuming it happens, will benefit NASCAR.  Here’s a tip, don’t believe the hype.  A lockout may keep some of the fans who are both NFL and NASCAR fans, and who tuned out once the NFL started, but it will do nothing to add any new fans.  And with College football and MLB still going strong in the fall, fans that are either disgruntled or just get worn out with NASCAR over the long season will still have somewhere else to go. I see no reason why a NFL lockout will suddenly bring a bunch of football fans to decide they want to watch the last few NASCAR races.  

The Re-Formatted Hendrick Motorsports: Hendrick Motorsports team went through significant changes over the off season, with the two garages being changed from 24/48 and 5/88 to 88/48 and 24/5.  Every driver but Johnson switched crew chiefs, with Gordon being paired with Gustafson, Junior with Latarte, and Martin with Mcgrew.  As well, Mark Martin will be leaving Hendrick at the end of the year to make room for Kasey Kahne, and it’s believed Kenny Francis will make transfer in as well.

I expect the changes will help Gordon the most; Gustafson is a good crew chief, and is hopefully the change Gordon needed, and being paired with the 5 should be a good thing once Kahne and Francis move in.  Johnson should be pretty much unaffected, Junior’s going to join the garage, but the crew chiefs remain the same in each garage, so it’ll still be Kanaus/Latarte, and he’s keeping his crew chief the same.  While Junior should benefit from being in the 48’s garage, I don’t see how Latarte is going to help Junior.  What Junior seems to want and need is someone who’s more of an “old school” crew chief, as he seems to have that mentality and be able to communicate better with someone like that.  It’s worth noting, a majority of Dale Junior’s wins came with Tony Eury Senior.  Latarte is none of those things.  As for Martin… he and McGrew should be alright, but with Martin leaving and McGrew likely to be relegated to another role, there could be some issues.

Sadler Vs. Almirola, the Nationwide Championship: With the Cup drivers prevented from winning the Nationwide Championship, that battle should become Sadler against Almirola.  Both are fairly experienced, and both have strong equipment.  I would lean towards Almirola; he has slightly better equipment and is hoping to get another shot in Cup with Hendrick or a Hendrick affiliate.  However, will the Danica Patrick sideshow distract JRM to the point where they lose focus on the title?  Allgier and Bayne are the Darkhorse’s, Allgier has the talent, but does his team, Turner, have what it takes to compete with KHI and JRM? That is unlikely.  Bayne is with Roush, so he’s got the equipment, but he’s got funding issues, and its thought he may move to Cup instead.  Outside of those four, no one is running the full season that’s got even a faint hope of becoming the champion. 

Danica Patrick: Decision, 2011: Danica Patrick will continue to switch between the Izod Indycar series and the NASCAR Nationwide series.  She will also make her short track debut at the spring Bristol race.  Danica’s contract with Andretti Autosport could potentially be ended at the end of this year, which could pave the way for her to move full time into NASCAR.  While this is what a majority of people expect, I predict she’ll stay in Indycar, but move over to another team (RE: Ganassi).  I just don’t think that Danica is going to want to commit to the NASCAR schedule, and I don’t think the performance is there.  If she gets to Cup and then performs at Sam Hornish levels or worse, what’s the point?  Sure, she’ll make a lot of money for a year or two… but after that she’ll lose her relevance (especially if other female drivers start to succeed) and her racing career will be in serious trouble.  If she leaves Indycar…I don’t think she’ll be able to come back again, at least not with a good team. 

Expectations at Gibbs: For Gibbs drivers Hamlin and Busch, expectations are high.  Hamlin has contended for the title the last two years, but failed to win it.  Busch has, despite a lot of wins and talent, never seriously contended for the title once the Chase has started.  Many are expecting Hamlin to fail to repeat his past success again this year, but it’s worth remembering, Johnson was close a few times before he got his first title in 06.  As for Busch, he’s incredibly streaky.  One hot streak early in the year should lock him into the Chase via wins, and a second one during the Chase should win him the title.  But… he’s had some serious problems putting it together in the Chase.  Still, he’s had enough time at Gibbs; he should be ready to pull it off.  I expect both Gibbs cars to make the Chase and contend for the title, anything less is a serious disappointment.  As for Lagano, he’s got to perform, it’s his 3rd year, and the excuses are starting to wear thin.  If he’s not careful, he’s going to end up as another example of a driver who got into the series too quickly, failed to perform, and disappeared into obscurity. 

Carl Edwards Future and Roush Fenway Racing: Roush has a large number of drivers whose contracts are coming up this season.  Three, in fact; all three of his winners, Edwards, Biffle, and Kenseth.  Biffle and Kenseth are expected to be retained, although they’re going to have to take a pay cut.  Edwards though, is the wildcard.  He’s one of the better drivers out there, and he’s marketable enough he should be able to get sponsorship to add a 3rd or 4th car to teams such as Stewart Haas, Penske, Gibbs, and Childress.  He’s most likely going to resign, but if not, it’ll shake silly season up as Roush rushes to find a replacement.  David Ragan’s contract is supposed to last through 2014 (!!!), but… he’s got to perform better, or Roush will need to look for ways out of it.  Roush won’t be able to pay the new driver much… but Trevor Bayne’s talented and a Ford driver, who would be a cheap and talented replacement for Ragan. 

All the Other Teams: The TRD teams are all decent, and a team or two may slip in and surprise us.  RPM has a bit of stability, but they lack experience.  Trevor Bayne should be able to do some good things with his partial schedule.  Ganassi’s team also has significant expectations, and may even put both cars in the Chase.  Stewart Haas is basically Hendrick’s 3rd shop, they will rise or fall based off how good Hendrick is this year.  TRG, Front Row, Furniture Row, and whoever else are out there are running for scraps, and will be lucky each time they get a lead lap finish.  The Start and Parkers are wastes of space. 

The Ethanol Issue: NASCAR is moving to E15 fuel, and they’re trying hard to remind us at every turn. This is not going well.  For fans of Indycar and ALMS, they’ve already seen a series use Ethanol, actually, Ethanol with a lot higher concentration. Plus, some of the way NASCAR’s marketing this can feel like a slight on those series.  There are also some negative views on corn based Ethanol, and what it could potentially do to food prices, which turns a segment of the fans against it as well.  So it’s not going to do a lot to make NASCAR seem green or relevant to the people who care about that (who aren’t race fans, anyways), it annoys open wheel and sports car fans, and it upsets some of NASCAR current fans who’re not believers in Ethanol. 

Are the Pony Car's NASCAR's Saviors?

Final Thoughts: First off, congratulations for reading this massive article; sorry about that, but there’s a lot to talk about.  NASCAR is not going to have a lot of depth at the tail end of the field this year, but even so, over half the cars will have the potential to win races. That’s a lot, and is one of NASCAR’s biggest strengths.  The on-track product needs to continue to improve; yes, things were better last year, but they weren’t as good as pre COT, whatever stats NASCAR.com tries to use to say otherwise.  NASCAR is acting really desperate to try and convince everyone that things are great even though they’re clearly not.  The continued attempts to put a positive spin on everything turns people like me off of NASCAR, and makes them seem out of touch.  And the constant overhyping over everything related to NASCAR is as strong as ever.  These factors, plus the extremely long season with a short off season, have led me to become less interested in NASCAR over the last year.  I still watch it, blog it, and overall, enjoy it, but not nearly as much as a couple years ago, and I don’t see anything this year that’ll change that. 

The Year in Racing Review: 2010 Edition

2010 was an interesting year in the world of racing.  The economic issues continued, but in some series the recovery started, while in others, the recovery hasn’t even begun.  I started watching motorcycle road racing, primarily MotoGP, but with a lot of World Superbike and AMA Pro Racing thrown in as well.  NASCAR and Indycar were more of the same, literally, as the same person who won the championship last year repeated this year (which was disappointing) but off track, it was the tale of two series, as Randy Bernard attempted to renovate Indycar while Brian France continues to try and kill off his series.

By far, the best racing of the year

The best racing I saw this year was definitely in the motorcycle road racing series, AMA, MotoGP, and WSBK, which featured the closest racing I have ever seen on a road course (Seriously, Indycar fans, this is what we should get!) and produced between them finishes that would stack up to any Indycar or NASCAR oval race.  That is what road racing should be.  I enjoyed it a lot, and hopefully next year I’ll have more to say on this site on that subject.  As it was the first year of watching these series, blogging them was pretty tough.  Also, AMA and WSBK run a schedule that has some huge breaks in the schedule, sometimes back to back (IE: Race, month break, Race, month break) and that can make it difficult to follow, especially for AMA, which doesn’t get much coverage anywhere (WSBK I usually see updates on twitter from Moto Matters).  The only downside was my interest in F1 dropped in large part due to this. Interestingly, while the championship fight itself was a blowout, and Yamaha won 60% of the races, the individual races still managed to stay interesting, as Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrossa were able to win a fair amount of races against the Yamaha’s, and Rossi’s recovery on the way to his second win at Sepang was incredible.  Even if the battle for 1st wasn’t great, there was almost always a great race for some position in the top 5, and unlike a couple of North American racing series, the TV camera’s actually focused on the close battles on track!  And, while 3 teams won every race, unlike in most form of motorsports, the teammates aren’t friends; in fact, they were often bitter enemies (especially Rossi/Lorenzo) which led to some great racing.

I can’t say I watched a lot of F1.  The races just aren’t exciting, as whatever position you’re in on lap 5 is where you’ll end up, unless penalties or pit strategy changes things.  I don’t think there’s any passing in F1, outside of maybe Montreal, Spa, Monza, and one or two other non Tilke tracks.  Honestly, for my international road racing fix, MotoGP and WSBK are everything I could ever want, including good racing, and some successful American racers.  I like the SpeedTV TV crew and I like the Sidepodcast.com community, and my part time co-blogger Ryan, but I can’t say I like F1 that much.  I just can’t get into it, as far as I can tell, driver talent really doesn’t matter, neither does team skill, it’s 100% car, when Brawn or Red Bull or Ferrari has a good car, literally anyone who’s a professional level racing driver can win in it, so what’s the point?

Indycar was okay.  The oval racing, outside of Indy, Kansas, and Motegi, was good, and the road and street racing varied between horrific and okay, but never great. Also, I was correct, the Red Cars completely dominated, with every Red Car driver winning at least once, and everyone but Power (surprisingly) winning an oval race.  As with F1, I really believe any professional level driver could win races in a Red car, from Kyle Busch to Tony Kanaan to Tony Stewart to Danica Patrick to Mark Webber to JR Hildebrand, give someone a Red Car and they’ll win, period, unless they are Milka Duno level bad.  Despite this, the racing was good on most of the ovals, and exciting, if a little disappointing that the Red cars won every race, even when Panther was faster (due to fuel mileage) but I guess it gives some hope for seeing Panther win next season (and thus Hildebrand).  Ryan Hunter Reay, Justin Wilson, Dan Wheldon, and Ed Carpenter and Simona De Silvestro were to points of light in a sea of Red Cars, as both managed some impressive performances, and often were the leaders in the non Red Car group on track, with Ed shinning on ovals and Simona on the road and street courses.

The ALMS was a mixed bag.  They had a lot of good racing, especially Road America, but no full time factory prototypes put a damper on things.  Sebring wasn’t very good for LMP1, as Peugeot entered but Audi didn’t, which took all the drama out of the race for overall victory.  On the other hand, combining the LMP1 and LMP2 classes produced some great racing, as the LMP1 based cars were faster but LMP2 based cars handled better.  This kept everything close, as one car would pull away on the straights only to be caught by another in the turns.  That said… more regulation changes mean it’ll be completely different for 2011, and LMP1 and 2 will be separated again, and it’s pretty unclear which teams will be back.

Another bland winner (same one) for another Chase

NASCAR was pretty meh for me.  It was okay, but nothing special.  I watched most of the races, but honestly they’ve pretty much blended in my head, and I’d have a hard time pointing out individual moments from the races.  The racing was a little better, but the overhype and complete insanity of “Have at it boys” negated that.  The Chase was close, but JJ winning overshadows that.  By far the biggest issue though, is how clearly out of touch the leadership of NASCAR is, and sadly, I don’t see that changing until things really hit the fan.   As a blogger, I don’t really get a ton of links or site hits for most of my NASCAR stuff, as there are so many other writers writing on the same subject, although a couple articles have been fairly well read.  And as a writer, it often feels like everything has already been said a thousand times on most subjects revolving NASCAR.

Who Cares About Grand AM???

While most people were praising Ganassi for his season this year, where he won the Indy 500, Indycar Championship, dominantly won the Grand (Sh) Am championship, and the Daytona 500 (which is a crapshoot), Brickyard 400 (most impressive of the 4), and two more NASCAR races, I can’t say I was that impressed.  Grand Am, I could care less about.  As for Indycar, he was just doing what a Red Team does, win an extreme amount of races, so again, not surprising or impressive, and he wasn’t a whole lot better than Penske.  In NASCAR, yes he won 4 races, but that’s out of a 36 race season… and neither driver qualified for the Chase, despite Montoya making it last year.  I was impressed with McMurray, I wouldn’t have expected him to outperform Montoya, but neither of them made the Chase, and there are plenty of Chase spots to go around.  They had a good year, and certainly Ganassi should feel pleased with himself, but I can’t say I was blown away by them, either.

As for the best driver and team, they’re one in the same, as Jorge Lorenzo and the Fiat Yamaha/Tech 3 Yamaha teams dominated MotoGP.  They combined for 60% of the wins in the season, despite Rossi breaking his leg mid season.  Throw in Ben Spies result on the satellite bike, and they often placed 3 bikes in the top 5 each race.  And while the bike was very good, it had some flaws (low top speed, especially for Tech 3) which the team and riders managed to overcome.  With two major rivals, the Repsol Honda’s and Marlboro Ducati’s, it didn’t feel as bad as the Red Car slaughter in Indycar.

Even a win at Iowa couldn't keep 7-11 and Tony Kanaan together

Series have started to evaluate whether or not the cost cutting measures they made during the start of the economic crisis are a good idea or not.  NASCAR and F1 apparently will keep their testing bans, despite the fact it hurts rookies more than anyone else, but MotoGP and WSBK are starting to expand their race weekends back to normal, after cutting back in 08, to almost universal criticism. Economically, everyone struggled with sponsors, but sportscar, Indycar, and NASCAR led the charge in this area.  NASCAR has added almost no new sponsors, outside of AARP and a partnership between Sunoco and an Ethanol group; while at the same time losing quite a few, or seeing massive scale backs, some of which (Verizon, AT&T, Geico with Germain in Trucks/Nationwide).  The Truck series and Nationwide series are in even worse shape, with both series bleeding out sponsors so rapidly that ride buyers are becoming the norm, even at teams such as JRM!  Indycar gained some sponsors, but also lost long time sponsor 7-11. The series is doing well, but the teams aren’t. The biggest problem is sponsors are bleeding out of the smaller teams and into the Red Cars, which will just make the gap even larger.  That said… Wheldon and HVM both may be close to announcing new sponsors, and Wiggins (owner of HVM) has said he has a major multiyear deal lined up and plans to return to 2 cars with real funding.  F1’s mixed… overall, everyone but HRT has some outside sponsorship, but the cost of operating is so high, Williams and Renault are taking ride buyers, which is never a good sign.  MotoGP, well, the teams who are in it are generally well supported… but the bike count is 17.  ALMS and Sportscar are struggling, and I worry if Indycar takes off… ALMS could be in serious trouble with keeping the remaining sponsors.

The 2012 Indycar chassis/engine decision was the subject of a lot of discussion on this blog (and I mean a lot) most of which resulted in a battle between me and a majority of my commenter’s, who didn’t especially agree with me.  Looking at it with what we know now, I believe Indycar made a good decision engine wise (though I want more HORSEPOWER!), but I still maintain, the Indiana First mentality that gave the contract to Dallara over Swift, which was truly an American company, and produced a very good looking car, was a failure.  Also, for something that we’ve known would be happening for years, the 2012 Indycar chassis move is looking pretty rushed, as we’ve yet to see a chassis be built, or the rules and regulations confirmed, although engine specs did come out in the fall.  I wouldn’t blame Bernard for this; the blame clearly falls on the unholy trinity of George/Barnhart/Angust who were willing to use the same cars for eternity.  Bernard had to make the best of a bad situation, as these decisions should have been made a year or two ago!  Also from what I’ve heard, Indycar may have badly burned the bridges with Swift and Lola, so that in the future they may not be willing to join the series when it goes back to proper chassis competition.

Certainly, the engines have worked out okay, with 2 new manufactures confirmed for 2012, and possibly more for the future.  The real issue here is that if Indycar hadn’t waited until so late to get the specs out, Ford and Fiat may have joined, but I guess there’s always 2013 or 2014.  As for aero kits, it’s worked with Lotus and Chevy, but I doubt we’ll see much more, though Cavin expects one or two more than we have now.  I guess for the Honda teams, they’ll want something else besides Dallara, and they won’t be using Lotus or Chevy (who’ll likely have both Dallara and their manufacturer), so maybe something will come up, but there’s absolutely no way Lola or Swift will develop an aero kit, unless an automaker comes to them and commissions them to build it, which isn’t likely, as the people who make the aero packages on the ALMS/Le Mans GT Corvettes (Pratt and Miller) are expected to built the aero kits.  Summing it up, engines went well, chassis not so much, but I’m pleased we’ve got manufactures interested. There’s potential for more in the future too, but the series procrastinated way too long on the entire 2012 decision and still don’t have official regulations set up for the chassis!  This isn’t Bernard’s fault; this is George/Barnhart/Angust who seemingly would have been willing to keep the current crapwagons forever.  Let’s hope the remaining two join Tony on the outside as soon as possible!

This was supposed to save Indycar? More like kill it!

Speaking of Indycar chassis, Delta Wing was by far the most disappointing thing this year.  From what Miller had said about it, I had expected something great, but what we got belonged in a sex store, not on the racetrack!  That thing was hideous, and as someone who had at first believed in it, I quickly became disenchanted with it, and moved onto Swift.  From all the pre release hype from Miller, I expected something that looked more like the old wingless Indycar/F1 cars (which are awesome) not the “flying cock”!  The entire business model of open source and stuff was ridiculous and unbelievably complicated (do you trust Penske and Ganassi to self police?) and 300 Hp is embarrassingly low for a professional racing series.

Ugh.... two of my least favorite drivers both won another championship!

A close second on the disappointing scale was the fact Dario and JJ both won the championship, again!!!!! They’re both unbelievably boring champions, and having them win multiple championships in a row isn’t good for either series.  Dario winning also plays into the idea that open wheel is “easy” to NASCAR fans, as Dario may have been one of the worst drivers to ever attempt to run in NASCAR!  That’s not a completely fair assumption on NASCAR fan’s parts, as he got injured and his team ran out of funding, but still, that’s the perception.   Plus, I find Dario a little whinny, and I dislike immensely his b*tching about the racing being “too close” or at Homestead when he said people were racing him “too hard”.  He’s also one of the most underwhelming multiple time winners of the Indy 500, as he won one race on rain and the other on fuel mileage!  He’s a driver, not a racer; he is good at running a Red Car fast, but he can’t really handle having to race closely with people, and he’s not very aggressive.  JJ is bad because he’s won 5 Chases in a row, which has gotten incredibly old!  Not only that, but he’s so dull and very underwhelming, as he’s so clearly a product of the Chase. Not only that, but the amount of points racing and “trying things out for the Chase” makes him even duller! I guarantee without it, he wouldn’t have won 5 in a row.  Maybe he would have won 5 titles (unlikely) but no way would he have won 5 in a row.  The Chase now almost has a sense of inevitability to it, which was reflected in the huge ratings drop this season.  I’m just hoping next year, I don’t have to see EITHER of them hoist the championship trophy!  I’d be ecstatic if both went winless, although I admit, that’s incredibly unlikely. I think a majority of fans would be in agreement with me on that one.

RIP to Indycar's best track...

The loss of Chicagoland and Watkins Glen, as well as the potential for returning to MIS and Phoenix that came from the ISC/Indycar split was also pretty disappointing.  It’s pretty clear the NASCAR business model is war on everyone who’s not NASCAR, and the promotion sucked, which annoyed Randy Bernard, which caused them to get pissed off with each other, and us to lose our ONLY good road course and best oval.  Vegas should be a good replacement for Chicagoland though, but Watkins replacement is another street course!   Also… the Indycar TV ratings may have grown by “40%”, but that’s because they were basically at ZERO last year, and they’re still horrifically low.  I’m really surprised how poorly the ratings have done on Versus, as they do very well with PBR, Cage Fighting, and NHL, so why are Indycar’s ratings so poor?

Brian France and the leaders of NASCAR were incredibly unimpressive.  They’re convinced that the only issue with NASCAR is a problem of perception, which they can fix by fining everyone who criticizes them and having the TV and “official” journalists pump out as much Kool Aid as possible.  Sadly…20% ratings drops during Brian’s precious Chase suggest it’s not working out.  Worryingly, the ratings had started to stabilize over the summer, only for the bottom to fall out in the fall.  Even worse, the rumored “Eliminations” in the Chase which only Brian France likes is looking more and more likely, which will just make everything completely contrived and pointless.  The series is in desperate need of good leadership, but there’s really not a lot of hope on the horizon, as who’s going to fire Brian France? Himself?   Also… the allegations by Jeremy Mayfield… however you stand on that issue, after hearing them, and adding in some questionable calls at the end of the Chase against Childress and secret driver fines; it really makes you question everything you think you know about NASCAR.  Or at least, it did for me.

As for what impressed me, Iowa’s Indycar race tops that list.  The Indycar races at Iowa haven’t traditionally been very good.  It’s a great track for NASCAR, but a 3/4ths mile track isn’t exactly what modern Indycar’s are meant for; many of the previous races have been pretty follow the leader, and of course, last year’s race at Richmond, another 3/4th mile track, was horrific.  Despite all of this, the race at Iowa actually was one of the best of the year, with some great racing, surprises running up front, and a non Red car win as Tony Kanaan made it to victory lane!  It was everything you could ask for in an Indycar race!  Next year the race is being moved to Saturday night, so it should be even more spectacular to watch.

The ONLY American Chassis Maker, A Great Looking Car that was designed in time for the announcment... too bad Indiana First ruled the day....

Also, I loved Swift.  I loved how the cars looked, I love how approachable they were to fans, I loved the Swift Lights, I loved how they were the ONLY American chassis maker to express an interest that weren’t startups (BAT, Delta Wing).  They were awesome, and I hope to see them in something I watch, whether it’s ALMS, F1, or even a constructor of motorcycle chassis, possibly in MotoGP or Moto2.  If only it had been based in Indiana, instead of the foreign country known as California.

You can’t talk about impressive without mentioning Randy Bernard.  Outside of the Texas double header, horrific championship trophy, and 2012 ICONIC (not his fault) he’s been almost perfect, and he’s made the best of a bad situation with the last one.  From making the Road to Indy matter, to helping end Milka Duno’s reign of terror and embarrassment, he’s spent the last year making the long overdue changes the series needed.  Only question is, why did it take so long to get him?  Imagine if he’d been here after Unification!  Next year, he’s going to take a larger role in the marketing and promotion of the series, alongside Izod, which should be a huge plus to the series, and hopefully help raise the TV ratings from infomercial levels.

Fans Choice For Sprint Cup Champion

The way Childress turned around his team, from going winless last year to nearly winning the championship this year was by far the most impressive performance in NASCAR this year.  They got a ton of penalties, from pit road speeding to failing the R&D center inspections, which does make you wonder if Childress did something to piss off Brian France (RE: Mayfield Allegations).  It’s a shame Harvick didn’t win the Chase, as he was by far the fan favorite, despite being consistently under rated by the media.

2010 was my first full year as a blogger, and it was interesting.  There were high points and low points, but it’s been fun, and I’m thankful to have some fairly dedicated readers out there.  Racing wise, I’m not sure how I feel about NASCAR anymore, or how much coverage it’ll get in the future.  Indycar… I’m cautiously optimistic about, but the Red Cars and boring road races need to change.  ALMS… they need factory LMP teams to run the full season, badly.  F1… boring.  MotoGP and WSBK, love them, and I’ll try and blog more about them next year.  AMA Pro Racing, interesting, but being choked by being owned by NASCAR.  2010 was a better year than 2009 across the board in racing.  The economy improved some, and that was beneficial to everyone, although money’s still tight.  Generally, the quality of the racing was better, as both Indycar and NASCAR races were better than last year, even with Jimmie Johnson and the Red Cars ruining it.  I would also say that Denny Hamlin’s outspokenness, which upset NASCAR, made me a fan of his this year.  Tomorrow, check back in, I’ll hopefully have some thoughts on 2011.

NASCAR Year In Review: 2010

2010 was an interesting year for NASCAR.  On one hand, it was one of the closest Chases ever, and yet during that time, the bottom fell out of the ratings.  It was “have at it boys” on the track, but secret fines to drivers for not towing the company line, even though drivers aren’t “employees of NASCAR” (a fact NASCAR throws out whenever convenient).  The Championship battle included the car that Dale Earnhardt used to drive, yet it was won by the very boring 4 time (now 5 time) champion.  The actual on track racing improved slightly from the last few years of the COT, but it still was pretty poor.

For the second year in a row, the Daytona 500 was symbolic of the season.  This time, due to the fact Daytona hasn’t been repaved in ages, a pothole appeared in the track during the race, delaying it twice as repairs took place.  The racing itself was pretty good, but having a hole appear twice during the marquee race isn’t good, and is completely indefensible.  Similarly, throughout the year there were high points, but they always seemed to get covered up by the multiple problems the series encountered.

2010 was a great year for General Motors, as Chevy easily walked away with the manufactures title, with wins spread between Earnhardt/Ganassi racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart Haas, and RCR.  Hendrick won the championship with Jimmie Johnson, but the rest of the team struggled.  In the same way, Earnhardt Ganassi racing won 4 races (3 with McMurray and 1 with Montoya), they still struggled for consistency and failed to put either driver in the Chase.  RCR was pretty strong, with both Bowyer and Harvick winning races, and Burton also qualifying for the Chase, making them overall the strongest team.  Going into next year though, RCR will again try and expand into a 4 car team by adding Paul Menard, which feels a lot like trying the same thing again and expecting the same result, because in 2009 when they went to 4, with Casey Mears, it didn’t go well.

NASCAR Nextel Cup: Driver of the No. 29 Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet Kevin Harvick

Almost the champion...

Dale Junior continued to struggle, as he failed to qualify for the Chase or win a race all season, outside of one win in the Nationwide series.  His struggles continued despite the massive focus Hendrick put on that team.  Moving forward, Junior’s contract will be up soon, and it will be interesting to see whether he goes to another team (Childress) or if he stays at Hendrick.  He has a new crew chief, Jeff Gordon old crew chief Steve Latarte, and will be teamed up in the same shop as the 48.  I’m wondering if Junior just doesn’t fit in at Hendrick, and if they can’t improve dramatically next year, perhaps he should consider a switch to Childress.

Ford (Roush) struggled, although they ended the season with some wins, they really weren’t title contends though they did put 3 cars into the Chase.  Worse was RPM, which lost Kasey Kahne, lost Paul Menard (you know you’re in trouble when a ride buyer leaves) and letting Elliot Sadler go.  No wins and they were nowhere near qualifying for the Chase. AJ Allmindigner was okay, and is the only one of the current drivers coming back next year.  RPM was lucky to survive, as George Gillett’s record of failure continued to mount, and Richard Petty had to organize a buy out with various investors. They managed to make it to the end of the season with all four cars, and will continue to race next year as a 2 car team with AJ Allmindigner and Marcos Ambrose.

Toyota had a great year for Gibbs, but not so great for everyone else.  Michael Waltrip Racing did okay, but weren’t spectacular, while Red Bull imploded as Brian Vickers had to sit out most of the season.  Still, Hamlin brought them very close to a title, and was overall the best driver in NASCAR this year, so there’s no reason why they can’t win next year.  The biggest thing Toyota needs is for its non Gibbs teams to improve so that they aren’t reliant on one team to challenge for wins.  Next year, they’ve only had one major driver change, with Marcos Ambrose leaving the Waltrip Satellite and being replaced by Bobby Labonte, which should help MWR improve and give them a solid former champion.

One race away from becoming the 2nd most popular driver in NASCAR...

Dodges were driven only by Penske, which ran a 3 car team that featured one competitive driver (Kurt Busch), one complete failure (Sam Hornish) and one potentially good but struggling driver (Brad Keselowski).  They may have to drop down to 2 cars, which is not a recipe for success in NASCAR, and likely are going to Chevy as soon as Dodge pulls out/ contract expires.

As for the back of the field, most of them were either incredibly uncompetitive back markers or start and parkers.  NASCAR created this situation by over marketing 43 cars per race, when 43 really should have been a cap, with anything above 35 being acceptable.  But they’ve so overhyped the idea of 43 they are desperate to keep the car count there.  Plus… they may have signed a TV deal promising 43 starters…  Next year, it looks like more of the same, with no new real teams expected.  Indycar’s got lots of issues and .4 ratings, but they’ve had FAZZT join this year and may have some involvement with a new part time Patron Hydcroft team next!  This is the best time possible to start a NASCAR team, because breaking into the Top 35 (and the guarantee of making all races) is as easy as it’s ever going to be.  Yet all the new teams have been completely anonymous field fillers, if not outright start and parkers.

In the Nationwide and Truck series, it was Cup driver domination, as Cup drivers won all but 2 Nationwide races, and a surprisingly large number of Truck races.  It got completely ridiculous, as these are supposed to be development series for younger drivers and a retirement/fallback series for people who aren’t quite Cup level (The Ron Hornaday’s and Mike Skinners of the world).   NASCAR seem pretty unwilling to do anything about it, (because everyone’s an independent contractor until the secret fines start flying) although there have been rumors that they may not give points to Cup drivers in Nationwide next year, it hasn’t been confirmed.

While the racing might have been slightly better, the whole thing felt a lot more contrived.  While, as many NASCAR journalists are quick to point out, there were 40 fewer cautions in 2010 than 2009, they came out at some very interesting times.  The Phantom Caution phenomenon made a lot of appearances, although to be fair, they seemed to ebb and flow during the season, as a stretch of races got hit hard by them, and then a few would pass without them.  Cautions in NASCAR magically come at the end of races (except a couple where that would have hurt Jimmie Johnson) which no one seems able to explain.  “Have At It Boys” got taken to the extreme (on track, off track it’s the opposite) as it turns out it’s legal for a lap down car to purposely wreck a top 10 car on one of the fastest and thus most dangerous tracks of the year. As Pressdog calls it, it was “Prison Rules Racing”.  Worse, the TV broadcasters and writers so overhyped have at it boys, that sometimes you wondered whether you were watching motorsport or “Professional” wrestling.

Should be paid to not to commentate on NASCAR

And now let’s hit the final point, TV broadcasts.  They are horrible.  I don’t understand why, either.  Look at MotoGP, their World Feed (which is what’s shown on Speed) is okay.  They’re not the greatest broadcast team ever, but they do a good job, and keep viewers informed on what’s occurring on track.  NASCAR’s broadcast?  Half the time I can barely follow what’s going on without using twitter to read what’s actually happening on track!  Cautions appear that are never explained, people drop out of the race for reasons that are never explained!  Not just start and parkers, which the TV tries to pretend don’t exist, but fairly notable teams can have their cars drop out and never get noted.  Then add in the combination of over hyping and in race advertising beyond the normal commercials, and you get an almost unwatchable telecast.  To be fair, NASCAR has more cars on track than MotoGP (43 to 17) but the broadcasts are also a lot longer (like 3-4 hours), so why do they struggle so much with showing more than 5 drivers in the race?

The disconnected between NASCAR’s leadership, “official” journalists and TV broadcasts, and fans (not to mention reality) is shocking, and more than anything was the impact of this year.  NASCAR’s leadership seems unable to accept that anything is wrong, and when they do accept it, they come up with insane plans to try and make things better that almost always backfire.  Their opinion of what’s wrong is that writers/broadcasters and drivers complain too much, which was mentioned various times throughout the year and cumulated in the summer driver fines.  This has allowed the gap between the series and fans to grow even larger, as the NASCAR “writers” (generally just hype men/women) try and come up with more and more reasons why it’s the “greatest NASCAR season of all time” and how the racing is “better than ever” and Jimmie Johnson may be the “greatest active athlete” and “greatest driver of all time”.  Not to mention repeating how great the Chase is and how all the criticisms and concerns over NASCAR’s future is just whiners, haters, and complainers.

He'll fine you if you don't tow the company line

That’s what they want you to believe, at least, but anyone who has any independent thought can tell otherwise.  For all of the excuses, hype, and positive thinking out of Daytona, attendance was down, as were ratings.  Not just a little down, either, but a significant amount from last season, which also was down.  NASCAR apologists are quick to point out, stick and ball have had some poor attended events, but then again, a recent NFL game had 24 million viewers, so that argument loses a bit of weight, as NASCAR ratings are down too.  Ratings had started to stabilize mid season, but they imploded during the Chase, with almost every Chase race being 15-20% down (Talladega and Homestead were the main exceptions) from last year, which was also a down year.  Clearly there’s something wrong here!

I don’t see anything really changing for the better next year.  The point system is likely to change, and if it rewards winning more, that’s a very good thing, but sadly it’s also been heavily rumored that an “eliminations” system will be brought into the Chase, which will make it even more contrived than it already is.  Ethanol and fuel injection are coming, but that’s been done in many other forms of racing already, so it’s nothing new.  We get one new track in Cup, but it’s just another 1.5 oval… and driver lineup is pretty much the same, with Kasey Kahne at Red Bull for a single year being the only significant change.  Otherwise it’s more of the same… and that’s not a good thing.  They seem to believe they can say “pay no attention the man behind the curtain” over and over again and convince everyone that there are no problems, but that’s not going to cut it. People do realize something’s wrong, and the ratings/attendance are showing it.

Least Interesting Driver in the World

What will 2010 be remembered for?  Sadly, however close the Chase was, in the end it was another dull Jimmie Johnson win that no one is excited about.  That’s what will be remembered most about this year by a majority of the fanbase.  That’s not something that is giving anyone a sense of excitement and enthusiasm to take us through the off season.  I do like NASCAR, or rather, I like NASCAR style racing (oval stock car racing).  It’s frustrating to see them apparently being suicidal, because they appear to be doing everything in their power to destroy themselves (when’s a split coming?).  What NASCAR really needs is to hire Randy Bernard away from Indycar for whatever price it takes, and give him control of the series… since they won’t do that, I don’t know what can be done.  Brian France seems to believe in the “Let Them Eat Cake” view of the world… but that doesn’t usually work, and is clearly not working with NASCAR.  Summing up the season is too easy; lot’s of too long races in a season that in the end was another win for the Least Interesting Driver in the World tm and overall was more notable for how out of touch the series looked than anything else.  It was an okay year… there were some good moments, but it wasn’t really anything special.  The question going forward is… how much will the attendance and ratings drop next year, and will they soon be at Indycar levels???

Where Will Scott Speed Go?

Scott Speed is looking for work.  He got let go from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Red Bull team and is now in search of work.  He’s definitely a controversial driver; and after failing in both F1 and Sprint Cup, many wonder, does he have any talent?  Whatever his talent level, he’s an interesting personality, and NASCAR, Indycar, and ALMS would all be better with him.

3rd in GP2 points in 2005. Hey, that's better than many of the other F1 rejects!

Is he talented?  He went winless in 2005 GP2, but finished 3rd in points.  He went pointless in F1, and struggled badly in Sprint Cup, but he won a Truck race within 2 months of entering that series, and almost won the ARCA championship.  He also got a 4th place finish in A1GP.  Is he great?  Probably not… but he’s at least as good as many drivers in Nationwide, ALMS, Indycar, and Trucks.  I mean, he can’t be worse than Sato or Viso.

Struggled through his F1 career, going points less.

The major question hanging over Speed’s head is does he have Red Bull money still?  If he does, that really opens doors, although it may close a certain very big door in Trucks.  On twitter, Speed has said he’s preparing a lawsuit against Red Bull; which suggests the Red Bull money’s not coming back.  Unless of course, it’s just against the NASCAR team.  Even then though…the Red Bull chapter of his career is probably over.  And there has to be a little concern that he’s never been with anyone else, and probably doesn’t have very many connections with other sponsors.

I want to see him come to Indycar.  He would most likely be fairly competitive, and could probably line up a fairly strong ride at a team such as AA or KV.  He fit’s the F1 Reject model pretty well, except he’s also an American, and would add an interesting personality to the series. If he still has Red Bull money, AA might be a little difficult, because of Venom, but KV would be very doable.  If he’s without Red Bull, and can find some money, AA would be a possibility, although adding Speed wouldn’t exactly do anything good for the team chemistry.  Drivers seem to be able to get up to speed on the ovals pretty fast, and Speed’s done the NASCAR thing on ovals.  He was only road course racing in his previous open wheel racing, so he should be good on the road courses.  More importantly though he adds another American to a series that’s lacking Americans, and he adds an interesting personality to a series that could use a major injection of that.

Scott's Cup career is in trouble

In Cup, there aren’t many options.  Front Row is a possibility, but it’s an awful team, he’d get a check, but he’d probably be better off doing RC car racing than that.  Maybe if he can find funds he could get RPM to hire him and expand back to 3 cars, but I doubt he’d fit well with Petty, and he has a poor relationship with AJ Allmindigner.  Considering his poor results, Cup is probably closed for right now.

Speed could return to the Truck Series, where he's a winner

Nationwide, there are a few smaller teams who might hire him, especially if he brings money.  It had been speculated that there would be a Red Bull Nationwide Team with him and Clauson, but that lawsuit… uh… not sure where they stand on that.  For the Truck Series, I have speculated he may end up at Kyle Busch Motorsports.  He and Kyle are good friends, and Kyle owns a team.  Red Bull could be an issue, as Kyle has a close relationship with NOS, but then again… there’s that lawsuit thing, and that may open up an opportunity over at KBM.

Don’t forget sportscar.  ALMS and Grand Am both have opportunities.  He has ran a Daytona Prototype before, and was better than Busch at it.  ALMS is in flux right now, with LMPC, LMP1, and LMP2 planned for next season.  I’m not sure where he’d go, but he would have the possibility of going somewhere.  Here’s a thought, what if he ran ALMS with HVM and then a few select Indycar races???   Grand Am, I don’t follow or cover… but I’m sure he can get rides.

One of the highlights of Speed’s career.  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked him out, while he was the points leader and Stenhouse was 2nd in points, and Speed then came back and decided to make sure Stenhouse didn’t win the title.

Where Speed will go likely depends on what his plans are.  If he wants to get back to Sprint Cup, then Nationwide or Truck is what he will need to do.  If he’s less focused on Cup, then Indycar could be a good option.  He’ll need to find some money, but if he can, he should be able to line up a fairly strong ride and get a lot more attention than he will in NASCAR.  Indycar has a bit of optimism right now, and NASCAR is having some issue and doesn’t have a ton of optimism for the future, unless you chug the Kool Aid.  Personality wise, he’ll fit in a lot better in Indycar, and he’ll probably be happy to be out of the NASCAR police state.  I certainly want to see him in Indycar, because he’d be an interesting personality to cover, and he should be at least somewhat successful.  he’s never expressed a lot of interest in American Open Wheel, but he’d be better at that than NASCAR, and he’d enjoy the culture more so he may reconsider, especially since his NASCAR career is going nowhere, fast.  But where do I think he’ll go?  I would have to say while I hope to see him in a Dallara next year, I expect to see him in a Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck, trying to win the first championship in his career since Karting.

Team Meeting, Weekend in Review: Underdog’s on the Podium Edition

 

MotoGP:

  Ben Spies won the pole, his career first, in the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, beating Jorge Lorenzo and fellow American Nicky Hayden.  As the race began, Spies was able to jump out to the lead, but lost it a few laps in to Dani Pedrossa.  And, Pedrossa was on good form, so he didn’t do his infamous fade away.  Spies still finished second, his second podium of the year, with Lorenzo in 3rd

  It was officially announced that Spies will replace Rossi at Yamaha, and Spies backed that up well, as he was the highest finishing Yamaha this weekend!   Nicky Hayden also got a two year extension to his contract with Ducati, which is good news, because he’s considered to be one of the riders who will benefit most from the move back to 1000cc’s. 

  A one year extension was announced for the Indy GP, so it will return next year.

  Tragic news out of Indy, Peter Lenz was killed in a crash during the United States Grand Prix Riders Union at Indy.  Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers. 

  However, this has set off a lot of controversy and discussion due to the age of the riders.  It NEEDS to be mentioned, that almost ALL professional racers, in F1, Indycar, MotoGP, and NASCAR were racing at 13 and younger, and 16 is the youngest you can be to run 125cc MotoGP races, which run with EVERY MotoGP except Laguna Seca.  Bob Kravitz has a must read article on this, go read it here.   Also read David Emmet’s article from Moto Matters.com.

Indycar:

  ON TRACK PASSING FOR THE LEAD!!!! Haven’t seen that in a while!  The race was really good, although I will concede that once you got in the lead, you could hold it pretty well by holding the bottom line, and a Red Car did win, but Marco and Dan Wheldon both put up a good fight for the win, with Wheldon attempting a last lap last turn pass on Dario. 

  The racing was so good; it scared Robin Miller and Dario Franchitti!  Franchitti, along with a couple other drivers, complained that the driver didn’t matter enough in the race, and were upset with how some of the other drivers drove.  Will Power, Sarah Fisher, and Ed Carpenter, though, did not share this view. 

  Sadly, the crowd was, not so good.  At first, on TV, it looked truly awful.  There are conflicting reports that the crowd was between 10,000-20,000 depending on who you believe.  It’s very depressing that so few people came to see one of the best Indycar races of the year, and yet 55,000 (over a 3 day weekend) people go to watch a parade at Barber!  Might have something to do with the non-existent promotion that ISC did.  Plus, on twitter, I’ve heard some less than positive stories involving the ISC security. 

  More bad news, the chances of any ISC race on the calendar next year is about 0.000.  Both Miller and Cavin have reported this, and when you see how ISC promoted the race, you get the feeling its mutual.  This is VERY bad news for Indycar.  Firstly, we lose Chicagoland, site of some of the best races in the current Indycar series.  Second, we lose Watkins Glen, the ONE road course where it’s possible to pass!  Third, we lose Kansas, which should produce good racing, but hasn’t, and is also our main track in the “heartland’ section of the country. 

  There is some positive news though.  Robin Miller stated he expects to see Milwaukee back next year, and if that does happen, then we’ll keep the current balance of road and street courses, which is a positive.  Actually, that is a MASSIVE positive, because I was starting to expect Indycar 2011 to look like Champcar 2.0, but it might not!

  In Indycar, no piece of good news can come without at least 2 bad, and this is the case with the schedule.  According to MoreFrontWing, formerly planet-irl.com, Randy Bernard stated Road America will not be on the schedule next year.  Again, I don’t see how Indycar can sell road racing without tracks where cars can pass!  But, apparently they’re willing to try. 

  The Oklahoma city street race appears to have fallen through.  This was an ALMS thing, but I have had a somewhat irrational fear it would be adopted by Indycar as well.  So, I was pleased by this news!

  Interesting tidbit, Kentucky expects their 2011 race in the first weekend of October. 

  Do you ever get the feeling the wheels are coming off of Indycar?  I really don’t know what’s going on with the car owners/series fight.  The team owners and series come out and say “everything’s fine, we had a meeting” and then you read a tweet saying that a team owner was nearly ejected from the meeting!  Clearly, things aren’t fine!  I stand by my belief that this in the end is all posturing for even more discounts, or some Hulman bucks.  A couple of bloggers, and Jack Arute wrote this in his blog as well, have mentioned that if the teams refuse to buy, then just go on without them, but if the majority of teams refuse to buy it, were is the series going to find more teams?  Arute mentions a Nationwide/Truck team could consider it, but that’s INSANE!  The team would need completely new people and would have to buy completely new equipment.  IF a Nationwide/Truck team left NASCAR, they’d go to ARCA, the NASCAR touring series, or WoO/Lucas Oil Dirt Late Models, because the equipment and team members are more familiar with that, and to get into open wheel would take too much money.  Now, there are rumors of some new teams planning to come in 2012, but not enough to make up for a large exodus of teams.  Daytona Prototype and LMP/LMC teams could make the switch, but it’s still unlikely that very many would do it, so if the teams leave, Indycar’s screwed. 

  Will Power ran well, led laps, and was one of the few drivers who were not talking about how much they hated the racing in his post race interview.  However, his team messed up fueling on the final pitstop, and so he had to come in and top off in fuel, which destroyed his race.  Running in the top 5, he looked about to clinch the title in Kentucky, but due to the fuel issue, he lost a bunch of points and has about a 20 something point lead.  Not good for him, and honestly after Dario’s post race comments, I really don’t want to see him win the title…

  Good news was, the Red cars only got 3 cars in the top 10!  As was noted by many people, the non Red cars were much more successful at Chicagoland than at the last few road and street courses, except for HVM and FAZZT, the y were probably missing the road/street courses a lot. 

   Paul Tracy has gotten the 24 ride again for Kentucky and Motegi! 

  The IndyLights race came down between Pippa Mann and James Hintchcliffe.  Pippa nearly won her first race, leading the first laps of her career after qualfying second.  It was Hintchcliffe’s first oval wins in Lights.  Since coming off of her injury, Pippa has been more successful, with a 5th at Infineon and a 2nd at Chicagoland.  Luckily for her, the next race at Kentucky should be a good race for her. 

NASCAR

  The Nationwide series raced in Montreal, and there were good and bad points to the race.  The positive was the exciting finish between Papis and Said, the bad side was the fact that, like every Montreal Nationwide race, there were a TON of yellows and it was very long.   It was nice to see Said and Papis run so well, and it was nice to see a non cup team and driver win. 

  Marcos Ambrose continued to struggle at Montreal, having mechanical failures.  Mechanical failures also affected Carl Edwards. 

  NASCAR, being the genius’s that they are, have decided to cut an additional 20% out of the Nationwide purse for next year.  This brilliant move may take out the Start and Parks, but it’s more likely just going to screw the underdog teams but likely it’ll just force more people to start and park.  But this is NASCAR, so they screw the underdogs. 

  NASCAR is also re-organizing their pr and marketing departments.  Yeah… that’s what it takes to fix NASCAR’s problems….

F1:

  Lewis Hamilton won the race, which had multiple rain/dry condition issues.  Lots of drivers made errors, and it had major championship implications. Sebastian Vettel struggled badly, got involved in a wreck with Button and got a drive through penalty.  Luckily for Red Bull, Mark Webber finished second, with Robert Kubica in third.

  Mark Webber seems to be enjoying how he’s showing up Vettel, and he’s hinting that he feels that he should be the number 1 driver, and to be honest, considering how big of hole Vettel is building it’s not that surprising.

  The Vettel penalty was stupid.  Yes, he made an error, but if you’re going to start penalizing people like that, then there’s going to be even less overtaking! No one’s going to be willing to make passes if they’re all scared of penalties! 

ALMS:

  Muscle Milk Cytosport won the overall race at Mosport, followed by Patron Hydcroft and Autocon Motorsport in third.  The GT was Porsche, Ferrari, and BMW. 

  The race at Mosport was ended early after a major wreck brought out the red flag with under a half and hour left in the race.  This is the second ALMS race that ended early, with Road Atlanta 09 being the first. 

  The OK city street course died, and while this upset some ALMS fans, as stated above, I was happy.  Really, when street courses die, that’s a good thing, there are already too many street courses, except for Cleveland, that’s the exception, otherwise, if they go away, then bye!  As Dave Despain said a few weeks ago, street courses don’t usually produce good racing, so when they die, it’s really not a tragedy, again, Cleveland non-withstanding.

Team Meeting, Weekend in Review: Compare and Contrast Edition

 

 

 

NASCAR

  The biggest story of the weekend was Kyle Busch accomplishing the “triple” winning Trucks, Nationwide, and Cup in one weekend.  While this is impressive, to be honest, I’m not that excited by it.  After all, a title contender in Cup should be able to contend for and win races in the lower tier series!   As Ryan Newman winning the MODIFIED race… um… yeah… 

  In the Nationwide race, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch got into each other when Kyle Busch did a slide job pass and slid a little too much.  Busch, upset by this, wrecked Keselowski on the next turn, and admitted it after the race.  No fines or penalties were issued for either driver.  I don’t love seeing Busch turn Keselowski, but I wasn’t that upset about it.  Unlike at Gateway, this is a short track, and that stuff happens.  I mean, I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, that’s just how it is in short track stock car racing.  Not everyone does it, Mark Martin for example was very successful in ASA, but it does happen.  So I don’t really think NASCAR needed to do anything about it.  I also wouldn’t have blamed Keselowski from punching Busch in the face, either.  Fair’s fair, after all!  It was quite humorous in the Cup race to see Keselowski hold Busch up when getting lapped. 

  Great news from Brian Vickers, he says he will be healthy and able to race next year!  He also revealed that he had to have heart surgery as well, to repair some damage done by the clot.  Good news is, he’s been able to Mountain Bike and stuff, so he should be fine for NASCAR next year.  This does put some concern for Scott Speed, as Vickers is certain to get his ride back, and so either it’s 3 car or no more Speed, who might just get sent back to Nationwide or Trucks for a season, remember, Kasey’s only there for a year.  Or, they’ll go the 3 cars, which they kinda need to do anyways. 

  The shape of the Chase is looking a little clearer.  At the moment, Clint Bowyer has a 100 point lead on Jamie Macmurry.  If he still has that lead going into Richmond, he’s in good shape, but if he has a bad run at Atlanta in two weeks…

  This weekend is an off weekend for Cup, but Nationwide/Grand Am are running a double header up at Montreal; on the same track F1 used… talk about speed differences…

Indycar:

ZZZZZZZ……ZZZZZZZ………ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ……………..ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ……………ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ………….ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ……………

  So, about the “race”…. Infineyawn lived up to its name…   Very little passing, Will Power lead all but like 3 laps when he pitted and waited for Dixon to pit.  There was a little passing through the field, but mainly there was spearing since you couldn’t really pass.  Only turn 11 allowed even the option for a clean pass, and since Indycar runs a neutered short version of turn 11,well, it wasn’t much.  Simona had a decent qualifying run, making round 2, after struggling badly through practice.  Simona was involved in some contact with Matos and then got speared by Viso, but still managed to finish 13th.  The start was a typical Indycar clusterF*ck, which ended up with Dan Wheldon flipped over.  And, that was probably the highlight of the race…

  Danica Patrick and Takuma Sato had multiple run ends this weekend, including during practice and at the end of the race.  It sounds like they’ve got some sort of issue with each other, not sure if it started in the practice wreck or they’ve had earlier confrontations, but Sato’s run into almost everyone, so really, it’s nothing special for him to run into Danica.

  Sadly, the Red Cars dominated, with all 5 of them taking up the top 5 spots… seriously, remember in 2008 when non red cars used to regularly win or at the least podium on the road/street races??? 

  Milka Duno was awful, and spun and brought out a saftey car.  She’s on PROBATION but nothing’s happening to her!!! WTF!!!   Dracone is not doing himself any favors either! 

  Compare what we saw at Infineyawn to the ALMS race at Road America… in one,  it was another Red Car Parade, in the other, a team fought back after a late race pit stop under green and went from 4th to 1st, getting their team’s first win in the process. 

  Izod did a photo shoot with Playboy and the Izod girl, that was racing themed, that predictably caused a lot of controversy.  The place where I used to blog (Planet-IRL.com) has set off a massive conversation on this.  This has gotten so blown out of proportion it’s embarrassing.  I commented on twitter when this first came out that Indycar’s desperate for sponsors on cars, so I don’t really care who’s doing the sponsoring, as long as they sponsor real drivers (IE: No Kevin Conway’s or Milka Duno)  But, the real point is, this was JUST AN IZOD THING!  PLAYBOY IS NOT SPONSORING A CAR OR DOING TRACK SIGNAGE OR PLANNING TO!  That said, we’re desperate for track signage, and we’re desperate for car sponsors, so really, Indycar CANNOT be banning anyone.  The ONLY thing I wouldn’t especially like to see is the LEAGUE signing them as a series sponsor.  If tracks or teams want to, or IZOD or Versus want to, that’s their business, do whatever you want.  And please, let’s just drop this subject, it looks RIDICULOUS because again THEY ARE NOT DOING ANY SPONSORSHIPS OR PLANNING TO AS FAR AS I OR ANYONE ELSE KNOWS AT THE MOMENT!!!

  Now here’s what should be causing people to freak out.  Cavin predicts a scheudale that’s only 16 races long, with only 7 ovals, 6 street courses, and 3 motorcycle/parade tracks.  No Chicagoland, no MIS, no Homestead, Kansas, Watkins Glen, Phoenix, Road America, Sebring, Road Atlanta, or Clevleand.  Now, Cavin also says there may be one more race, which could be another SMI ovals (please…) Chicagoland (we can only hope) Road America (a good road race!) or the (rumored) Oklahoma City Street Course (NOOOO!!!!).  This is basically Champcar 2.0!  I mean, I get having a mix of road and oval racing, but you kinda need some good road courses to make that mix work!  Also, you’ve GOT to have at least 50-50 oval road, a 7-9 split isn’t good, especially when your road races include Edmonton, Mid Ohio, Barber, and Infineon!   Now, the positive news is the night before on the Indycar Trackside podcast, Cavin said they also might be able to save Chicagoland, and probably add Fontana.  That would be VERY good, if Vegas is also added, that would actually give us a 9-9 Oval/Road split, as well as 3 NEW ovals!  But, here’s what’s scary, IF the ISC meltdown occurs, and IF a deal at Vegas doesn’t happen, we’re down to 6 ovals…   If Indycar really does lose all the ISC tracks, they REALLY NEED to be at the SMI owned Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, whatever the attendance, because those might be good races, Gateway and Nashville wouldn’t be, Pocono’s not safe, and so that leaves those two and Milwaukee.  We don’t know what’s going to happen yet, we may learn soon, but I’m worried.  Champcar died once, we don’t need to see Indycar make the same mistakes…. Worse, Indycar people, including Randy Bernard, have mentioned China and Australia as a future possibility…. Viva La Champcar!

  Thank GOD Chicagoland and Kentucky are coming up next, temporarily we can forget Indycar’s problems in what SHOULD be two great races, we’re all DESPARATE for that!  Homestead could be good, could suck, it depends if we get the 08 race or the 09 one.  Motegi… well, the MotoGP should be good there… Indycar??? Yeah, not so much…

American Le Mans Series:

  The best race of the weekend!  The LMP race showed WHY non spec racing is so great.  The LMP1 based cars were faster, but didn’t corner as well as the LMP2 cars.  The racing was close, although there were some VERY long yellows.  The finish, with Drayson’s team staying out under the final yellow, running full out and gaining a decent lead, pitting and coming out in 4th, then working through an over 12 second gap to first, passing 3 other LMP’s, plus all the classes, and winning the race on the last lap!  That is what REAL road racing is about, not the horrific parades we saw at Infineon. 

  Corvette got a podium, but didn’t win, the GT win went to BMW.  The Intersport Lola LMP team sadly suffered a VERY early engine failure, and the Radical LMP car suffered a failure in practice and had to pull out. 

Editor’s Note:  Chris Bailey pointed out that I had the wrong person named!  I put Chris Drayson and it was Lord Paul Drayson that won.  Chris Dyson drives the Mazda powered LMP2 Lola based car. Switched their first names around… it’s been corrected.   

It’s worth remembering, this is Paul Drayson’s  first LMP win, and that’s against teams such as the Patron Hydcroft and Muscle Milk Cytosport team, both of which were run by two professional drivers, where as Drayson Racing has Paul Drayson, who’s an owner/driver and is much older than the drivers of those teams.  MMC’s team is also normally owner/driver, but the owner/driver was injured at Mid Ohio, and thus they brought in a second driver. 

  The 2011 schedule came out.  It has a TBD on Jul 3 and a TBA on September 3rd.  The September 3 TBA is CLEARLY Baltimore, run with Indycar.  The TBD is more interesting.  It could be the rumored Oklahoma City Street race.  It also might be Miller Motorsport Park, which is not on the 2011 schedule right now.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s VIR, Barber, Watkins Glen, or even IMS?  And, it could be a date that doesn’t come through, and they’ll end up with a 9 race schedule.  My HOPE is it’s Miller, my prediction is it’s either Miller, OK, or nonexistent. 

  Next up, Mosport! 

 F1: 

  Time for Spa and Monza!  

  The promoter from the Austin GP track appeared on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain.  I’ve heard many who say the race is going to happen, and many with the complete opposite opinion.  Until construction actually starts, I’m kinda skeptical.  If they’ve not done significant work this summer, I’m kinda concerned, although to be fair, they can do work in Texas in the winter.  They seem to have the State government behind them, and the F1 sponsors and manufactures want an American race VERY badly, so maybe they’ll put enough money into it.  Since it’s a Tilke Track, I REALLY DO NOT want to see Indycar, ALMS, MotoGP, WSBK, or NASCAR run there.  NASCAR’s least likely, sadly, I can see Indycar there, unless Bernie gets an exclusivity agreement, like he has at Interlagos which prevents Indycar from running there, and puts us out on a street course.  I suppose MotoGP, WSBK, AMA, or ALMS might put on a good race, after all, motorcycles and ALMS are fairly good at Mid Ohio, and Indycar’s awful there! 

MotoGP:

  IndyGP time!  I’m working on a MotoGP for Dummies guide to the race, expect it either Wednesday or Thursday.   

  MotoMatters had an interesting article about the profits, cost, and reach of MotoGP.   

WSBK:

  Nothing happened that I can think of, they’re on a very long summer break.

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