Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Bad Boy" Busch, Cuppers testing the "Tricky Tri-Oval" at Pocono
While the Monster Mile, a/k/a Dover International Speedway, awaits this weekend, a scheduled NASCAR open test is going on at Pocono Raceway. Cars (like this rig of series point leader Kyle Busch) got four hours of testing before the skies opened with a classic "frog-strangler" shower. Dario Franchitti is back behind the wheel for testing. He's unsure about running in the Sprint Cup race at Dover; it's more likely he'll get back into action with a Nationwide tuneup this Saturday. Franchitti told me he was following Dr. Terry Trammel's (noted racing orthopedist) protocol very closely--he said in the past he was not as diligent in his following of doctor's orders. He described Pocono as having the scale of a Daytona or Indianapolis (both tracks where he won races), and because of the lack of buildings around the track, the resemblance to an airport. Cleveland's Indy style layout has a hairy first corner on the Burke Lakefront Airport tarmac. So, too Pocono.
Another day of testing awaits before the Monster beckons.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dixon Dominates; Danica Disses Briscoe after Pit Road Wreck; Reunification Brings Back Some Buzz

If you ask the only New Zealand driver to win the Indianapolis 500 what made the difference, Scott Dixon will give all credit to the Target Chip Ganassi team's preparation in the off season. When Dixon snuck into Concord, NC and the Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour, he made a big point of saying he was focused on winning the championship. He is back in the point lead after the Brickyard victory--a dominant 115 out of 200 laps led performance. Dixon now leads Helio Castroneves by 15 points going into the race at the Milwaukee Mile next weekend.
Danica Patrick and Ryan Briscoe collided on lap 171, when Briscoe started to fish-tail as he hit the throttle. Patrick's car was in the way. There was likely some fault which could be attributed to both drivers. When Danica marched to confront Briscoe, she was edged aside by some security operatives...even though she still had her helmet on...you could tell by the stride that Danica was angry. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway management was pleased with the first 500 since the Champ Car amalgamation.
The race was entertaining; it was nice to not have some sort of weather problems to delay the race.
We plan to live blog from the Michigan Sprint Cup Extravaganza in a couple of weeks, or if we have some extra that happens after Race-Talk is produced. Sign up for the podcast on our podcast page: http://msrpk.com/podcast.htm

Race Day at the Brickyard
One of the famed "yellow shirts" guarding Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The weather is about perfect for just about everything, partly sunny, highs in the low to mid 70's, slight breeze and tolerable humidity. This is a welcome change from the rainy skies that limited practice and made a hectic qualifying process (at best) even more so. If you do not believe that Danica Patrick is the IndyCar series' most popular driver, a visit with the souvenir sellers and observation of fans eight to ten deep at the trailers selling her merchandise ought to suggest that this phenomenon is real.
Predictions, Race Stuff
This race won't be won in the first turn on the first lap. The winning strategy will likely develop from experience, reaction and preparation. With a full third of the 33 drivers rookies, IndyCar competition boss Brian Barnhart reminded the field that a good strategy to use was developed by the most recent four time winner of the 500--Rick Mears--who said that one should use the first half of the 500 to set up for the second half. Another three time winner, Johnny Rutherford, always says "To finish first, you must first finish". None of the 33 drivers, from pole sitter Scott Dixon to 33rd starter Marty Roth, is afraid of pushing the throttle to the firewall. The driver who will be immortalized on the Borg Warner winner's trophy will be the one who picks and chooses the spots in which to make bold high speed moves. My Predictions: An Exacta Box with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan (the two best drivers in the field without a win here), with my edge to Dixon.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Carb Day Washed Out; Freedom 100 on Hold

32 drivers out of 33 made some laps before the skies opened up on the corner of 16th St and Georgetown Road in Speedway, IN. Carburetion Day, a/k/a final practice for the 92nd Indianapolis 500, was shortened thanks to a rain shower. Dan Wheldon and polesitter Scott Dixon from Ganassi Racing turned the fastest laps...with the 2005 winner stopping the clock at 223.934 miles an hour. Dixon had a 223 mile an hour tour. Tom Wurtz from Team Penske will have to give some TLC to Ryan Briscoe's Penske Racing machine...the number 3 starter didn't get a chance to make any laps, so the team manager will have to rely on that "attention to detail" to make sure all the nuts are tightened, belts tensioned, and every item on the pre-race list gone over twice on the #6 Penske Racing Dallara.
We'll see what we can find out in the garages early Sunday morning.

More Than A FEW Reasons TO Bookmark this Blog:

The racing people have no manners :-)...part of the racing scenery changed dramatically after this week's edition of Race-Talk was produced, and while I drove out to Indianapolis:
  • H. A. "Humpy" Wheeler is out as day to day boss at Lowe's Motor Speedway...he reportedly clashed with O. Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman and uber-boss. The announcement of his retirement was as sudden as any we've seen. Without his vision, competence, wisdom and good humor (you may thank Humpy for unleashing Robosaurus on NASCAR Nation), NASCAR style racing would still be a regional staple and sometime national curiosity. Conventional wisdom has Marcus Smith (Bruton's son) taking up the mantle of Lowe's leadership.
  • Kentucky Speedway has been acquired by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. There are implications with the anti trust suit appeal, and the possibility of awarding a Sprint Cup date from some other track in the SMI galaxy (which has been ruled out by Jerry Gappens of New Hampshire, and Ed Clark of Atlanta), or, as garage area wags speculate...from the purchase of an independent track. Indianapolis is not included in that talk...Pocono or Dover come to mind in that scenario.
  • Some of the most important attributes of a race driver include the ability to give good feedback to the team so changes to the car can be made quickly enough to go faster, and good judgement in situations. Penske Racing's Tim Cindric says the American LeMans Series brings that out in a driver--that's where Ryan Briscoe ran in 2007...and American Patrick Long runs in the second Porsche Spyder LMP2 car. Cindric confirms my assertion that the ALMS is the most technologically advanced series that runs in North America, even including Formula One.
  • Tom Wurtz, Penske Racing's Team Manager for the 14 time Indy 500 winning Penske Racing Squad agrees. The three word explanation for Roger's success in racing: "Attention to Detail".
  • The Carb Day final practice started, and was rain delayed...with Dan Wheldon running almost 224 miles an hour before practice was halted. The skies are brightening ever so slightly...the practice still on hold.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Let the Butt-Kicking Continue....Kyle Busch Dominates Darlington Despite a Pit Penalty, Traffic

Crewchief Steve Addington, Race Winner and Sprint Cup Series Point Leader Kyle Busch and J. D. Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing after Kyle tamed "The lady in black", a/k/a the newly repaved Darlington Raceway. When a driver leads 7 times for 169 of 367 laps (including the one where they pay the money), comes back after a penalty for a loose lug nut, and still crack a joke about the people who throw beer cans at him...then that is old style domination. This is the younger Busch's 3rd win of 2008 (Atlanta and Talledega prior).

As for Tony Stewart...he and Elliott Sadler caused the first of eight cautions when they got together on the second lap. Sadler was well off the pace; Stewart finished 21st, only one lap down.

The Top 10 in Points:

Kyle Busch

Jeff Burton (-71)

Dale Earnhardt, Jr

Denny Hamlin

Clint Bowyer

Jimmie Johnson

Carl Edwards

Tony Stewart

Kevin Harvick

Jeff Gordon

Them that has, gots. Childress, Hendrick and Gibbs.

We take a break, and rejoin you from the corner of 16th St. and Georgetown Road in a couple of weeks...to see if Scott Dixon can win the Indianapolis 500 from the pole.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Track Too Tough To Tame; Dixon on Indy Pole; Massa Roasts Turkey, Nabs GP F1 pole
  • Felipe Massa starts the Turkish Grand Prix on the pole...his Ferrari teammate, pointleader Kimi Raikkonen 4th. Heikki Kovaleinen starts 2nd for Mercedes McLaren
  • Scott Dixon gets the pole for the 92nd Indianapolis 500 with a speed of 226.366 miles an hour. Teammate Dan Wheldon, a past 500 Champion, starts 2nd (226.110)...followed by Ryan Briscoe and series point leader and two time winner, Helio Castroneves from Team Penske. Danica Patrick starts 5th
  • If last night's Nationwide Series race is any indication, Tony Stewart will have something to say about the outcome, and there will be more banging tonight on track, than there is in the quality control room of the Stanley hammer factory.
  • We'll have more at the end of the race.

Friday, May 09, 2008

New Recordholder Tames Darlington, Beats Old Qualifying Record by 5.7 Miles an Hour
Greg Biffle after putting down a monster lap at the "track too tough to tame" during qualifying for the Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington Raceway. Biffle put his Ford Fusion on the pole (first of 2008, 5th of his 197 race Sprint Cup career) with a speed of 179.442 miles an hour, beating the past record of Ward Burton, set in March 1996, 173.797 miles an hour. Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts 2nd...and after wadding up two Chad Knaus prepared race cars...Jimmie Johnson, the defending Sprint Cup Champion, will start 3rd. The top forty-one qualifying times were faster than Ward's previous record.
Maybe the most important team members this weekend will be those who pound out the dents...followed closely by the shock and suspension guys...and of course the crew chiefs, who'll need to orchestrate changes over the 501 mile race distance.

The "Iron Maiden"--The 'claw' in the open air "Room of Doom"
Greetings from the Darlington Raceway, a/k/a the track "Too Tough To Tame". What you see here is the template for the new spec "winged wonder" NASCAR Sprint Cup Series vehicle. If you don't conform to those specs, you will lose some serious cash, and perhaps get some time away from the track.
We helped with some radio pool reporting this morning and got a chance to talk with Greg Biffle, who says this track is even tougher to drive than last year. The cars are three seconds faster, which is a significant amount. Biffle says there may be some dust-ups on track Saturday night. The weather forecast does not call for the rain like that which we drove through this morning. How tough? Jimmie Johnson, the defending Sprint Cup Champion, is now practicing in his back-up Lowe's Chevy...after crunching up the rear of his primary machine. The field gets another practice before the pole qualifying later this afternoon.
Biffle's comments on three seconds faster need some perspective. If, say, you were the last car on the lead lap and you run laps of 60 seconds (for illustration, they're faster here) it would take a car that was running laps of 57 seconds 21 laps to catch and pass the last car (running 60 seconds), and put that car a lap down. So the next time you're at a race...take out the old stopwatch and time the car that runs last. Then time the car that runs first. That will put this in terms you can see and understand.
More later.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Luck=Preparation meets Opportunity
From left to right: crewchief Gil Martin, owner Richard Childress and winner of the Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400, Clint Bowyer, who snuck past leaders Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kyle Busch. Busch tapped Earnhardt Jr, spinning him out of the lead. Bowyer was running 3rd at the time....and took advantage of the dustup to take the lead...and hold off Busch on the final restart for career win number 2. Busch took the Sprint Cup lead by 18 over Jeff Burton as the series goes to Darlington next weekend. The crowd did not like what happened to Junior and some denizens of the Junior Nation threw trash on the Richmond oval...that kept the yellow out...and set up the green-white-checker restart...since the dustup came within 5 laps to go...that meant some overtime.
We'll get to Darlington next weekend to see the cars turn 200 miles an hour on the 1.3 mile egg shaped oval, which ought to be interesting.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Pre-Race at Richmond
The image is an up close look at the pole winning car of Denny Hamlin. Hamlin tuned up for tonight's race by winning the Nationwide Series race Friday night, beating Kevin "Happy" Harvick and Kyle Busch, for his first win here at the "Action Track".
Unless there's a big time walkup...it looks as though Richmond won't sell out. Many of the garage area wags weighed in with reasons why. When gas gets north of $3.50 a gallon, and artificial restraints are placed on the market (no drilling for oil in the area of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge--"ANWR"--where the existing Alaskan Oil pipeline passes), it's no wonder that disposable income suffers. Those decisions to limit ANWR drilling were not made yesterday. How's about the mid 1990's?
Those chickens (with apologies to Rev. Jeremiah Wright) are comin' home.....to roost.
Enough of the soapbox. We'll file after the race.
The track has issued a press release stating that the Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400 has, in fact, sold out. Press room skeptics suggest that this might be a touch of wishful thinking.
We'll see when we look at the crowd later this evening.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Home Cookin'--
There is something to be said for a "home game"--if there is such a thing in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition. Denny Hamlin starts the Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400 from the pole...sixth of his career. Hamlin found that the track was much cooler than when he practiced the Nationwide car...so much so that on his second lap of qualifying...Hamlin set a speed of 126.198 miles an hour. Mark Martin and Martin Truex make up the all DEI second and third places; Patrick Carpentier has a stout 4th starting position...best for the Dodges and rookies.
Hamlin hails from nearby Chesterfield, VA.
Point leader Jeff Burton starts 33rd.
We'll rejoin you tomorrow.

About to enter the "Room of Doom"--Jamie McMurray's Roush-Fenway Racing Ford Fusion
Just a scant hour before Sprint Cup qualifying here at the "Action Track"...there are lines of cars like Jamie McMurray's Ford Fusion waiting to enter NASCAR Inspection. Inspection has been historically called the "Room of Doom".
Osborne back: Carl Edwards' crew chief, Bob Osborne, is back from serving a six race suspension for some creative engineering of the oil sump system (allegedly leaving a cap loose so airflow would dislodge it and press the car down on the track) on the #99 Car of Tomorrow at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. You'll remember Edwards drove to Victory Lane and left as the point leader. Edwards, as we reported earlier, has renewed his association with Roush Fenway Racing.
Qualifying still to come.

Jamie McMurray and Dan Lowry, the namesake for this weekend's Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400
One thing about what I do: I get to see people either live their dream, or have one of those dreams come true. Lowry won a contest from Crown Royal about sharing his best experience with the Canadian whisky that comes in the Purple Bag. Jamie McMurray is a two time Sprint Cup winner, whose last win came at Daytona last July.
Just an aside...Carl Edwards is no longer a NASCAR free agent (if he ever was), he told reporters that he resigned with Roush Fenway Racing, saying he feels the organization is the best place for him to add to his victory total.
Qualifying is in a couple of hours...
Greetings from "The Action Track", a/k/a Richmond International Raceway
In black and white, Richmond is the 10th of 36 points races in this 2008 Sprint Cup season. In practice, it's where emotions can run from unbridled joy to deep dark despair to pure unadulterated anger. Welcome to short track racing, Richmond style on May 2nd, 2008. It's a place where a couple of drivers hope to get off the losing schneid...the most prominent among them, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who was the fastest in practice. Please remember what we say about practice...it is nice to hear about...but does not normally count for much in the great scheme of things.

We'll post up some snapshots of life at Richmond, and of course of the polesitter of this extravaganza.