Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dario Franchitti's Pit at Richmond--Just Another Saturday Night Cruise?????

Saturday Night Special--IRL Indy Cars at Richmond...Short Track DeLuxe

Greetings from Richmond...which is a 3/4 mile oval...just about the perfect length for NASCAR Nextel Cup cars. Tonight, after a rainout of qualifying, the IndyCar series runs on its shortest track of the year...some wags describe driving these cars as similar to "flying jet planes in a barn". Dario Franchitti starts on pole because of the washout of qualifying. The Indy 500 winner comes off a win in the "wreckfest" at Iowa Speedway's 7/8 mile oval. Dario's led most of these laps the late stages, he's fighting off the challenges of Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon. Danica Patrick is 6th...not quite a factor, with 224 of 250 laps in the books.

Updated at 9 PM local.

Dario Franchitti holds off Scott Dixon for his second win in the last 7 days; adds to point lead going into Watkins Glen next week. Margin of victory was 0.41 second...Franchitti was credited for leading 241 of the 250 laps.
Updated at 9:35 PM local
Best quote of the night from Dario (whose picture we shot at the post-race news conference) "You get paid to do the PR stuff; the driving you do because you like it."--attributed to Scott Dixon in a response to a question about all the media appearances that accrue to Indianapolis 500 winners.
If we get to an event next weekend, then we'll blog from there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"The Lash of NASCAR Justice--Car of Tomorrow Style"

  • Both of Rick Hendrick's top teams (24--Jeff Gordon/Steve Letarte; 48--Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus) were whacked 100 owner/100 driver points...and hit up for a $100,000 fine. Mr. Letarte and Mr. Knaus won't have to fight traffic at a Nextel Cup event until August 15th when they return to work at Michigan.
  • The rules that they violated are NASCAR rules, and not easily available for inspection by observers such as yourselves. Mike Helton, NASCAR President told me one time at Daytona at a public news conference, that the rule book was a proprietary document and wasn't made available (like the National Football League, Major League Baseball, NCAA Sports, etc. It makes John Darby's job (Nextel Cup series director) even more difficult--I give Darby style points for trying.
  • This business fosters an attitude that the "rules are what we say they are", even though they are in print somewhere. Another famous "sporting" organization has a rule book, too.
  • So I guess that the Car of Tomorrow rules are like "Wrestlemania" and the standard car rules are like "Friday Night Smackdown".
  • Again, when you have an organization with some sporting elements and more entertainment elements, the entertainment elements will win out, because they bring in the most money and can be manipulated to produce drama. What would have been dramatic about Jeff Gordon winning at Infineon Raceway at Sears Point?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Juan-Pablo Montoya: The Real Deal, or does he need to win on an oval in Nextel Cup?

Ganassi Racing's Montoya made his American racing bones in the former CART series, where the series raced on a mix of ovals, road courses and street courses, so the win at Infineon Raceway at Sears Point was not a total surprise. He also has an oval win in the Indianapolis 500--a race of some repute. Now he could back that up this week with a win at New Hampshire International Speedway, and we can crown him NASCAR Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year.
The Lash of NASCAR Justice--Hendrick Racing humbled?
The penalties for "messing around" with the car of tomorrow are severe--if you've listened to the fans calling the Sirius Radio talk shows--you'd think you were listening to talk about a capital murder case, for goodness' sake. The series is not as much about pure sport as it is entertainment. Once it got TV money...that premise went out the door. Anything to do with entertainment must sustain some drama...and the rule-bending has been in the auto racing news cycle for the past 72 hours...and will take on a life of its own. Take it as entertainment and enjoy the drama--because it has NO effect on how you live your life.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Winged Wonder" Bombs at Sears Point

Gordon, Johnson and teams about to taste the lash of NASCAR Justice

Doubtless you've heard that the Nextel Cup series point leader, Jeff Gordon, and the defending series champ, Jimmie Johnson were not allowed to qualify their "Cars of Tomorrow" at Infineon Raceway at Sears Point because the cars didn't pass NASCAR pre-qualifying inspection. Seems the Hendrick braintrust of Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte interpreted rules on the right front fender dimensions differently than did NASCAR. This situation got me thinking:
  • When they first introduced the cars, the NASCAR powers-that-be bragged about having RFID (radio frequency ID chips) on the chassis, and that there were nine (count 'em) laser measurements that would insure uniformity. Are Hendrick Motorsports lasers less accurate than NASCAR's?
  • Or is this a return to a historical use of the inspection process, to try to level the playing field? Throughout NASCAR history, the "room of doom" has been used to keep big-mouthed drivers quiet, and negate advantages found by team engineers worthy of the name (the late Smokey Yunick would have sided with both Knaus and Letarte), which might have tilted the balance of competition to those teams. Just to remind you, the Hendrick Racing team has won all of the Car of Tomorrow races except for Dover, where Martin Truex won. It is not called the "Room of Doom" for nothing.
  • Or is this a way to generate publicity, by handicapping the series' most successful active road course driver?
  • If in fact it was a violation of such epic proportion, than why weren't the teams banned from the NASCAR garage area, and told to go home?

A "smackdown" moment, to be sure.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Random Thoughts/US Grand Prix/AT&T v NASCAR

  • Lewis Hamilton has the F1 cars mostly figured comes the tougher part of the schedule, beginning with the last French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours on July 1. His McLaren-Mercedes teammate, defending F1 champion Fernando Alonso has some experience...I'm wondering whether the bonhomie will continue as Hamilton piles up the points.

  • NASCAR and AT&T are going to court...the issue is whether the sanctioning body can take the AT&T name off Jeff Burton's #31 Chevy. AT&T has exercised a multi-million dollar option to stay on the car; NASCAR is suing for $124 million dollars. Lest I be accused of schadenfreud ( a Germanic term describing one's reveling in other's misfortunes ; I'll apologize for the lame attempt to spell it phonetically), I think NASCAR needs to back off this battle and if they don't , I would like to see them lose it. Nextel/Sprint aren't going to take their $750 million or so and go home (despite the apologists's screed)...they are well behind AT&T/Cingular in numbers of cell phone they are likely happy to have NASCAR fight AT&T. Despite their wire-line mis steps and the gradual decline of that part of the telecom industry...they are still the largest phone company...and have lots of lawyers. Nothing dissipates estate money like hungry lawyers...and those who play in this arena have larger than normal appetites. The best thing NASCAR can do (and save a lot of Bill France Jr's inheritance) is move on. If NEXTEL/Sprint pulls out...the powers that be on International Speedway Blvd. will have NO lack of suitors.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"The Rich Get Richer"
Dale Earnhardt, Jr is now ready to make a pile of cash for himself at Hendrick Motorsports. In case you missed it, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are solidly in the NASCAR Top 12...with Gordon piling up points so he could be with his wife when she gives birth any day now...and still not lose the point lead. Johnson, as you will recall is the defending NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion. (Enough for my MOTO tendency--MOTO=Master Of The Obvious).
Earnhardt Jr needs to bring Anheuser-Busch a championship. He has a personal services contract with the company. The #8 sponsorship is still with Frau Earnhardt at DEI. For how long, we don't know. If A-B jumps the sponsorship to Hendrick (where it used to be with Ken Schrader on the #25), they can leverage that into a big blitz.
Junior needs to win a couple times this year, preferably in the next few races, and get back into the top 12. That will bring momentum to the new Hendrick team, and enhance his reputation as a racer's racer.
This still has more implications...Kyle Busch is looking for a new 2008 team...he'll have no trouble finding it...and it may (as suggested by my advertisers and other commenters) end up being a swap, with Busch going to DEI. You can bet that spite would fuel that effort (it is a powerful emotion, if harnessed properly), if it should come about. Though our laptop woes preclude us from live blogging at the US Grand Prix...we'll still comment on what is happening there.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pocono Spring 2007

The pit picture is that of the Nextel Cup pointleader, Jeff Gordon. Not a lot of room behind pit wall; even less on pit road it is no wonder Kurt Busch was whacked 100 points for getting close to a crewman at Dover...the other half of Team Penske, Ryan Newman, has his 3rd straight pole...and would like nothing better than to complete a Penske Racing IRL/NASCAR double...
This was a busy pit on Sunday, when the boss of that pit, Steve Letarte, made a call that put Gordon on a different strategy for fuel and tires (good thing, since the brakes were a bit flaky and that upset the balance of the car) and that put him in the lead...just enough to hold off Newman for the win on lap 106 of a 200 lap race...when the skies opened up as only they can over the Pocono Raceway.
Would you rather be lucky than good? Gordon now has enough points over Matt Kenseth in the Nextel Cup Championship, that he can take off with no real worries.

Monday, June 04, 2007

NASCAR Vice Chairman Bill France Jr. dies at 74

Here's the details from CBS News:

This will affect all of auto racing as much, if not more, than Dale Earnhardt's death in February 2001. France was the last link to the real racers. Track owners like Joe Mattioli of Pocono and Bob Bahre of New Hampshire, were loyal to him personally...and it was at New Hampshire that the 2003 announcement anointing son Brian as NASCAR Chairman was made. Short-term: don't look for major changes. Long term: A split between International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR (a real split to take anti-trust actions like Kentucky Speedway's pending lawsuit out of play) and maybe a sale of the sanctioning body (like the NHRA professional racing division last week) to a deep pocketed high bidder. And look for major changes to the Nextel Cup schedule.