F1 OPINION: In Defense of Fernando Alonso and the Future

Two time World Formula One Champion Fernando Alonso

Two time World Formula One Champion Fernando Alonso Image: Sky Sports

It seems to be the cold shoulder du jour when Alonso’s name comes up these days. How quickly we forget. But for 5 incidents, not of Alonso’s making, Alonso could, arguably, be a four time champion. Would have, could have, should have.

Cases in point: (1) Ferrari blundered the team strategy in 2012 at Canada allowing Hamilton to overtake on new tires keeping Alonso out on old rubber. (2) Romain Grosjean set in motion a crash at Belgium that could have beheaded the Spaniard. (3) Kimi Raikonnen took out Alonso at Japan on the first lap. (4) and probably most important in the end, Red Bull’s Adrian Newey had simply created the best car. (5) Fernando Alonso took a heavy hit during the McLaren ‘Spygate’ nightmare, but did he really deserve it?

Of the 5 instances cited, the last is the most insidious reason. Ron Dennis. Can anyone tell me that Ron Dennis didn’t deserve to have his feet held to the fire for giving Lewis Hamilton special treatment over Alonso? Can anyone tell me that if you were in the same position as Alonso that you wouldn’t threaten Dennis over the 780 Coughlin papers as they regarded Ferrari secrets? If you’re playing in an arena this large and you don’t, you are the jailhouse bitch. That’s not Alonso.

Alonso didn’t seek out this information, it was passed to him by De La Rosa. He never went public with it, but when presented with threats from the FIA he did what anyone would do, he cooperated. To not do so would have stopped his career in it’s tracks.

It seemed like a remediated love-fest, but was anything but.

It seemed like a remediated love-fest, but was anything but. Image: Sky Sports

In an interview with AutoSport he said as much: “I did not leave McLaren in 2007 because of Hamilton.” He added: “It was a surprise for the sport, because he was very strong. Unfortunately for the team it was not easy to handle the pressure that was created in these circumstances [of two fast drivers]. Political aspects emerged similar to Verstappen today – he was the symbol of the moment. The result was that we lost both the constructors’ and drivers’ title, due to a situation which was mismanaged.”

“The car was a winner immediately. Starting from scratch was the way to go because 2007 was the year of change as the Bridgestone tyres had different characteristics and the car was very different car to drive, with a lot of over-steer. We had to change the way we drive. All this helped Hamilton and he was competitive immediately. With the best car we lost both championships. And that was a good reason for me to change teams,” explained Alonso.

The real fall came when, during a qualifying round, McLaren’s upstart star Lewis Hamilton refused to let the team’s world-champion driver Fernando Alonso pass him. Alonso retaliated by blocking Hamilton in the pit lane to hurt the rookie’s time. Alonso was immediately penalized — instead of beginning the grand prix in pole position, he would have to start from sixth place. At a press conference that afternoon, Alonso and Hamilton launched into a public argument over what had happened.-Wired Magazine

We can all say that sharing information between teammates is normal, but it isn’t. Not even in NASCAR.

What about Ferrari? What about it. He outperformed every teammate that they presented. They did not, however, present him with a winning car or probably more accurately a winning strategy.

Make no mistake, Ferrari has, as with all top teams, had it’s dark period. But with Alonso it was wearing thin. He has always been driven by the credo “Never give up”, but towards the fifth season with the Prancing Horse, that became more of a tagline than a rule to live by.

Alonso clams that 70 HP would have McLaren back in the winners circle.

Alonso clams that 70 HP would have McLaren back in the winners circle. Image: Sky Sports

Alonso had lost faith in the Red car from Maranello and it’s culture. He had to look elsewhere. The irony was that it become McLaren who courted him. Many think it was the other way around, but it wasn’t. Many, many promises were made by Dennis and, more importantly, Honda.

Alonso made it plain that it had to be a factory effort he was seeking and not a customer car. He had assurances and a fat contract to go with it. But was McLaren up to it? No. When you look at a racing package it’s not only the chassis but the power-plant. They have to work in tandem, if not, they are worlds apart and to date that has been the case. There’s no need to try and disseminate the reasons that Honda has left everyone in the lurch, the reasons are many: Culture, late to the hybrid party and an unwillingness to relocate the power plant R&D from Japan to England where Formula One is a cottage industry- all good reasons.

However, I’ve had first hand experience in seeing Honda come back to life. I was standing in the Rahal IndyCar compound at Mid-Ohio when Bobby Rahal informed Honda he would not return with them for the following season. The next season they dominated. Honda can pull off a miracle. Being a three time IndyCar Champion, I would not purport to question his wisdom. Racing is a bitch.

With McLaren’s options running thin, as in only one choice to stick with Honda the real question becomes: Will Alonso stick with them? He has choices, which are all valid when you are arguably the best racing driver in the world.

IndyCar would love to have him as well as the WEC, but will that satisfy him? Doubtful. Can Honda give a great chassis the horsepower it needs to be competitive? I suppose we’ll all know soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Battle of the Beach: IndyCar Wins Long Beach Grand Prix

2017 LBGP Winner James Hinchcliffe

2017 LBGP Winner James Hinchcliffe (image credit: Gary Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

With Formula 1, as well as IndyCar, ready to return from their mid-season breaks, the silly season news continues to flow.  Instead of drivers, the latest bulletin revolves around the signature Long Beach Grand Prix that has been a staple of the IndyCar schedule since 1984.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach remains the longest running street race in America, having sustained 43 consecutive years.  While the inaugural Long Beach GP featured Formula 5000, F1 arrived in 1976 and stayed until 1983, when IndyCar took over.

For IndyCar, the Long Beach Grand Prix has been a bonanza, boasting crowds of more than 180,000 over the extended weekend, remaining the 2nd most popular IndyCar race on the circuit, and providing a giant April precursor to the pageantry of the Indianapolis 500 in May.

Given its 2018 contract expiration with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach (GPALB), the Long Beach City Council apparently felt compelled to bestow a $150,000 project to accountancy KPMG for an assessment of competing proposals to host the street race in 2019 and beyond, given an expressed overture to bring F1 racing back to the Beach.

John Watson of McLaren won the last Formula 1 race at Long Beach in 1983

John Watson of McLaren won the last Formula 1 race at Long Beach in 1983

Two primary motives caused the Long Beach City Council to open the bidding process: 1) F1 exudes worldwide prestige, and 2) the insider beating F1 drum was none other than Christopher Pook, the visionary founder of the original race back in 1975.

Fortunately, the KPMG report reached the conclusion that the current GPALB is the “most qualified” firm to run the race, snubbing Chris Pook and his World Automobile Championship of California.  The report left no doubt that the WACC proposal was truly wacked.

Bluntly, the entire undertaking seemed ludicrous and hollow from the beginning.

First, the exorbitant investment required to accommodate F1 racing would never have made economic sense for a city of Long Beach’s prominence.  Hosting F1 would have necessitated construction of a semi-permanent garage and pit complex.  Additionally, a reconfigured circuit would require costly expansion for the widened track and safety runoff areas that are necessary to host F1.  It would be insanely expensive, impacting the City with dramatic venue changes.

At the end of the day, what costs the city money…costs the taxpayers money, and most of its citizens are currently stretched.

Secondly, the reason the Long Beach Grand Prix is so successful is the assortment of events and activities, which feature a casual, laid-back vibe.  Many of its attendees are not hard-core race fanatics, but are destination entertainment seekers.

These thrill seekers come for the evening concerts, variety of concessions, and spectrum of races, such as IMSA, Stadium Super Trucks, Pirelli World Challenge, and Formula Drift.  The Long Beach race is a tepid melting pot, and offers something that everyone can partake and find enjoyment in.  And the ticket prices are affordable enough to attract the broad masses.

Chris Pook, founder of the original Long Beach Grand Prix

Chris Pook, founder of the original Long Beach Grand Prix

More basic, the WACC bid raised more questions than answers around broadcast rights, sanction fees, etc.  It just seemed unfeasible that WACC could negotiate all of that, honestly.  The death knell was the acknowledgement by WACC that they could not mobilize to host a race until 2020, which would have left the city with a schedule gap and no race calendared for 2019.

And yet, Pook expressed dismay, saying “We’re disappointed.  I don’t understand; apparently the financials weren’t taken into consideration.”  Perhaps that because no realistic numbers were truly on the table.

With the selection committee’s recommendation firmly in hand, we anticipate the full Long Beach City Council will bless these findings when they meet this week and begin negotiations in earnest with the GPALB for a new 2019 contract extension, assuring IndyCar’s leading role in this signature series.

However, one thing is certain: The City Council, having played poker with the best of them, can be expected to seek a more alluring deal with the GPALB, including perhaps a higher rights fee associated with rents for Convention Center and ancillary facilities, as well as neglected road infrastructure repairs and improvements.

Perhaps if we are blessed, this increased cash flow will provide the City of Long Beach with payback of its $150,000 study cost.

By Ron Bottano

Give your take: Should Long Beach have stayed with IndyCar or pursued F1? Take our Twitter poll at @rbottano

IndyCar and NASCAR: Don’t Tamper With Motorsport Traditions

Bristol: “The Last Great Colosseum”

Bristol: “The Last Great Colosseum”

The Holiday season is a wonderful time for celebration and reflection, and traditions are the magical slice of our culture that sustain our most important memories, restore our faith in values, and reconnect our paths with those closest to us.

Looking towards the 2016 NASCAR and IndyCar racing season, I pondered the most memorable 2015 track lessons on how tampering with our Motorsport traditions can alter the foundation of a race track’s folklore and jeopardize its viability, or ensure its future success.

IndyCar’s Vortex in Southern California

As a study in contrast, consider the ocean breezes and desert gusts that the Verizon IndyCar series has experienced in Southern California.

As a cornerstone of the Verizon IndyCar series, The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, running 41 years strong, consists of a pilgrimage of 175,000 fans to downtown Long Beach for this annual seaside festival. Each year, I engage with thoroughly satisfied fans from all over the US, as well as internationally, who often vow to return the following year.

Considered the city’s biggest event, the Long Beach Grand Prix showcases races from multiple series, including the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race for charity and the IndyCar series race. This event is intricately connected to the beach scene of SoCal. Tradition is evident everywhere, yet freshened around the edges with new twists, such as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Trucks being added as a supporting event in 2015. Basically, this race showcases great racing in a fun environment for spectators of all ages.

Yet, as an epic Motorsports failure lacking tradition, we only need to look to Fontana, an hour drive east of Long Beach. For 2016, the Auto Club (California) Speedway will not be on the Verizon IndyCar series schedule, after having hosted 14 IndyCar races since its opening in 1997.

Moving Darlington from Labor Day was 'The Big Mistake".

Moving Darlington from Labor Day was ‘The Big Mistake”.

On paper, Auto Club Speedway should be a stellar track for IndyCar with low banking and long straightaways. Open-wheel cars have set a pair of world records (including fastest qualifying lap by Gil de Ferran at 241.248 mph and fastest average race speed by Sam Hornish Jr. at 207.151 mph) at the two-mile superspeedway.

This year’s Fontana race was one of the best in memory, with 81 lead changes among 14 drivers, along with Graham Rahal winning the hotly contested race in a shootout finish.

Yet, the Fontana IndyCar race failed to establish any sense of tradition, a direct result of the date having been bounced around for four consecutive years. IndyCar offered up no favors, moving the race to August in 2014 and June in 2015, arguably the hottest times of the year in the valley east of Los Angeles. The June race was assuredly the smallest crowd ever in IndyCar’s history at the track.

IndyCar explored several alternatives to retain the Auto Club event as part of its 2016 schedule, including the track’s request to host the season finale. However, the race had lost its identity among the crowded SoCal entertainment scene.

Consequently, the Auto Club Speedway’s solitary major series in 2016 will now be the NASCAR weekend in March. NASCAR, having fine-tuned it schedule with a west coast swing during the more ambient March time frame, has generated three consecutive Auto Club Speedway sell-outs amid a consistent positioning in the series rotation.

Darlington Resurrection

The lesson is not just relevant to IndyCar. NASCAR also has experienced the trauma of messing with traditions, as evidenced by two unforgettable examples.

In 2003, the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina was moved from the mainstay Labor Day weekend it had embraced since 1950. For the diehard NASCAR nation, the Southern 500, which had served as a dynamic link to the sport’s rough and hard-hitting early years, virtually died that day. Instead, the Labor Day date was transferred to the Auto Club Speedway, which couldn’t be further from the sport’s southern roots.

After 12 dismal years shifting around the date, the Southern 500 finally returned to Labor Day weekend in 2015, with a retro motif that included 32 race teams running throwback paint schemes, an in-person celebration of 14 NASCAR Hall of Fame legends, and many other classic touches (such as a pre-race concert by Grand Funk Railroad), delighting fans of all ages who were buzzing about the event.

No surprise, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 throwback theme returns in 2016. Chimes track President Chip Wile, “Labor Day weekend has great historical significance for Darlington Raceway. It fits nicely with our Tradition Continues platform as we enter year two of this successful multi-year celebration of the history and heritage of our sport.”

It’s Bristol, Baby

Since hosting its first NASCAR race in 1961, Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee holds exceptional lore on the NASCAR schedule because of its distinctive features, including extraordinarily steep banking, an all concrete race surface, and stadium-like seating (affectionately described as “The Last Great Colosseum”).

Back in 2007, Bruton Smith (longtime founder and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Bristol Motor Speedway), always willing to experiment in a bold way, chose to repave the track by creating progressive banking so that the one-groove race line could be expanded to allow for more side-by-side racing. However, fans, historically drawn to Bristol by its unique short-track tightness of the circuit and continuous contact between cars, stepped away in droves.

After a steady decline in fan turnout and a drop in ratings due to the lack of bumping and close-quarters racing, Smith polled the fans in 2012 on what changes should be made to the track. Fans spoke loud and clear with a demand to “give us the old Bristol back, please”, which led to a diamond regrinding of the track surface.

In the August 2015 night race, Bristol showcased a noticeably improved fan turnout and a nail-biting finish, with Joey Logano’s victory margin of .22 seconds barely holding up, as Kevin Harvick pursued Logano relentlessly over the final 30 laps.

Now on the upswing, the legendary Bristol Motor Speedway has pivoted its formula in order to restore tradition to a race that had lost its luster, by listening to the fans and taking action, exemplifying why Bruton Smith will be enshrined as a 2016 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee on January 22nd.

So heading into 2016, raise your glass and toast your most essential motorsports tradition, whether it is Monaco, Martinsville, or Indianapolis. And remember, tradition is like good health, never to be taken for granted, so get out there and catch a race in 2016.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano

 

 

Danica Patrick: Different Series, Same Old…

If Patrick and Tony Stewart can't bring the level of sponsorship to the team they're used to seeing, it could spell trouble.

If Patrick and Tony Stewart can’t bring the level of sponsorship to the team they’re used to seeing, it could spell trouble.

No one can say with authority that Danica Patrick isn’t a worthy professional racing driver, she is.

However, it can be said that she appeared in her early racing career as a potential super competitor turned mediocre by today’s standards.

Auto racing as an endeavor to master machinery under stress is agnostic to color, race, creed or gender. It doesn’t care. The bottom line is all that counts.

Unfortunately her bottom line has been more monetary than on track results.

GoDaddy ultimately took her in as a potential historical racing figure in which to base it’s main marketing focus. Now, after a very long stint as her primary sponsor, they are leaving.

The question now remains: Will Danica Patrick be able to move up in stature in NASCAR or slowly grind her way back down the grid?

As it stands she shows brief flashes of skill on par with her main competitors, her teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing, but hasn’t delivered on-track as hoped. As long as the money train was in play, she was very relevant to both IndyCar and NASCAR.

In IndyCar she won one race. In virtually all of the lower formulas of her racing after Formula Ford, she was merely a few steps above average.

What she has excelled at is marketing. Other than the Earnhardt clan she may be the most marketable driver to have driven in either series.

Racing teams, racing series and corporations have flocked to her, used what they needed and either they moved on or she did. Ask Bobby Rahal how he feels.

Could GoDaddy take her back to Europe and into the WEC?

Could GoDaddy take her back to Europe and into the WEC?

Whatever the reasons, it has to be understood that all is fair in ‘Love, War and Racing’. She used whatever she needed to get where she is and no one can take that from her or fault her.

What can be taken from her is that if she can’t produce another sponsor at GoDaddy’s level, she will move further down the grid. Stewart Haas didn’t hire her for her driving prowess. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the money doesn’t get spread around the SHR camp.

However you look at it, she won’t see equipment like she presently enjoys should SHR decide to cut her loose.

I’ve no doubt that she will land on her feet, but unless she can show up with the magic funding number, she won’t get another chance. She’ll be the next single car team driver du jour.

Should Patrick fail to produce the dollars required to keep her on a top team, she may very well do herself a favor and move to a sports car endurance series such as the Tudor series or even the World Endurance Championship.

GoDaddy is on record as saying they want a more global marketing presence, which would make WEC sense, but that may not include Danica Patrick.

The bottom line? When you run out of cash, they take you out of the game.

 

NASCAR and IndyCar: You Dodged a Bullet (VIDEO)

Sans the engine, Austin Dillon took the ride of his life. Thank God no one lost theirs.

Sans the engine, Austin Dillon took the ride of his life. Thank God no one lost theirs.

On Sunday night while the Dale Jr fans pressed themselves closer against the fence at the finish line on a green/white checkered to see their man take the flag, a maelstrom was taking place behind him. Not just any type of ‘big one’ or normal car scattering event, but one of much greater importance.

Thunderstorms had moved into the Daytona area, which is normal in the summer, and dumped rain that took the track into the late hours of the evening to dry. Once the race was underway it was every restrictor plate racing fans dream: Bumper to bumper, pushing and shoving and trying to position themselves at the right point upon which to make their Banzai attack move.

That’s fairly typical, a big wreck is typical and racing that close is typical for plate races. However, Austin Dillon’s car losing control and being catapulted into the front stretch catch fencing was anything but normal. Yes it’s happened before and people were hurt. They were hurt again, 5 fans were hit and treated for flying debris.

Denny Hamlin looked as if he backed out of the throttle and backed up into Kevin Harvick. That pushed Jeff Gordon into Dillon, whose car then went airborne and over two or three lanes of traffic and up into the catch-fence toward the entrance to Turn 1.

Once this car became airborne and passed over the top of several other cars at the start/finish, it moved into the catch-fence at over 190 mph moving forward and centrifugally being flung to the outside. The fence did it’s job of stopping the car from intruding into the stands, but just barely.

 

The fence had actually taken an angled hit that tore it down after Dillon’s car impacted it scattering debris, some of it metal parts, into the crowd. NASCAR’s worst nightmare narrowly avoided.

When it was all said and done, Dillon’s car was ripped to shreds and his burning engine sat in the infield front straight like a talisman of some natural disaster. It wasn’t pretty. 13 fans were medically checked, 8 turned down treatment and 5 received medical attention.

This, coupled with the IndyCar Fontana race, put the spotlight directly on these two sanctioning bodies to make stronger moves to prevent intrusion of a racing car into the stands and to prevent the car from disintegrating on a forward moving side impact.

Keeping the cars out of the stands is possible, it worked for Dillon, but it could have just as easily taken down the second pole, that holds the retention cables, and flown into the crowd, The last time a racing disaster had that potential it turned out very badly. (See the video below.) It was LeMans 1955.

This incident from 60 years ago still haunts track developers and sanctioning bodies as well it should. Despite the safety measures of today, one cannot predict the unpredictable and if auto racing has shown us anything it’s that once a set of circumstances are set into motion, they can produce disastrous and unpredictable results.

There’s no doubt that NASCAR will take further steps to beef up the catch-fencing along with looking at how fast these restrictor plate races need to be.

After leaving the medical care facility, Austin Dillon said: “It’s not really acceptable, I don’t think,” Dillon told reporters after exiting the care center. “We’ve got to figure out something. Our speeds are too high, I think. I think everybody could get good racing with slower speeds. We can work at that, and then figure out a way to keep the cars on the ground. That’s the next thing. We’re fighting hard to make the racing good. I hope the fans appreciate that. We don’t, but it’s our job. You go out there and hold it wide open to the end and hope you make it through.”

IndyCar take notice.

 

 

Does Ganassi Really Want to Win in NASCAR?

How much passion does Chip Ganassi really have for NASCAR?

How much passion does Chip Ganassi really have for NASCAR?

You have ask the question, in fact, I’m sure you’ve all asked yourself this question. Does Chip Ganassi really want to win in NASCAR or is he simply running a business?

There’s nothing wrong with the later, but it does make a difference when the team owner doesn’t seem to show the same passion for his NASCAR efforts as he does for his IndyCar and sports car teams.

Funny thing, Sebastian Bourdais, who won the second IndyCar race at Detroit this past weekend, said: “In IndyCar, no one makes money. It’s just great, pure racing.”

Having been around this sport in virtually all of it’s forms for over 45 years, I can safely say that I think that’s the case for almost every series, NASCAR may be the exception. However it doesn’t walk away clean, in NASCAR a few people make money, relatively speaking.

You would think that Ganassi’s obsession with beating Roger Penske would spill over into NASCAR, but by all visible appearances, it doesn’t. Does some of the money from sponsorship in NASCAR find it’s way over to pay for Ganassi’s IndyCar exploits? My bet is that it most assuredly does. If so, it’s legitimate, just not very original.

Enzo Ferrari built road cars for one purpose only, to go racing. At least he was upfront about it. With Ganassi who knows? He seems to be in the game, his drivers are showing a bit stronger than in the past, but the passion seems to be missing.

No one can dispute the passion Ganassi exudes for IndyCar.

No one can dispute the passion Ganassi exudes for IndyCar.

Jamie McMurray sits in 7th place in the standings and Kyle Larson 20th. Meanwhile, Joey Logano sits in 4th and Brad Keselowski sits in 6th. Penske has the passion, business sense and organizational structure to be the lead dogs in Ford’s camp while Ganassi languishes buried in the pecking order of General Motors.

A case in point is Andretti. He’s all about business, has the passion for IndyCar but none for NASCAR. He’s stated that if an opportunity came along where he could properly fund the team, he could be interested. That’s not passion. He could make a NASCAR effort happen, but he chooses no to do it.

Passion for Chip Ganassi is IndyCar and sports car prototypes, that is If you can call the present crop of cars in the TUDOR series proper prototypes. It just doesn’t feel like he’s really in the NASCAR game.

Maybe I’m wrong. However, Kyle Larson came out of the box strong, but he’s still fighting to get that first win and is inconsistent. Jamie McMurray seems content to be where he is, but Larson is one that couldn’t be blamed for moving on.

The bottom line is that no matter what the die hard, old school fans say, NASCAR is unbelievably competitive. It’s hard to win and the people who are winning are doing so with teams that exude passion from the owners to the kid sweeping the garage floors.

One could have only hoped that Ganassi would have taken what he engineered in taking over the Earnhardt operation that he would have put more heart and effort into it.

Montoya should feel vindicated being back in IndyCar after an excruciating tenure at Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR team.

NASCAR: The Coke 600 Is No Longer Necessary

Cousin Carl Edwards finally gets his win. It was only a matter of time.

Cousin Carl Edwards finally gets his win. It was only a matter of time.

It cannot be argued that Sprint Cup racing has reached a level of dog-eat-dog competition that the rest of the motorsports world envies, with one exception, The IndyCar Series.

Watching the Cup teams on Sunday battle for 600 long, and unnecessary miles, they have established themselves as great drivers, great strategists and great athletes. 600 miles of hard driving should put to rest any doubts that they are athletes.

Unfortunately the Coke 600 is an absurd display of those talents. It’s too damned long.

After you’ve won the ratings war by a hundred fold, why go through the agony of having to watch the teams spend themselves on a race that was designed to out perform the Indy 500. That was long ago.

Maybe it’s because this year they didn’t. The Indy 500 was hands down the best racing on planet earth for Memorial Day weekend. The Coke 600 drug on like a Yugo drag race.

I’ve stated my position before, which is, shorten some of these NASCAR races where the competitors have to race hard for every moment of the race. What I saw in the 600 was a great deal of driving to set up for the last 50 laps. Why take 550 miles to do that?

600 miles for a NASCAR are has outlived it's novelty.

600 miles for a NASCAR are has outlived it’s novelty.

I know, IndyCar does the same in it’s oval races, but they race harder throughout the race, you can’t hold back as much with a modern IndyCar, you’ll lose the draft and precious momentum, the same could be said for the NASCAR races, but it’s just not as immediate.

NASCAR thrives on tradition, but this tradition began in order to one-up the Indianapolis party. It’s now become overkill.

A weekend that has three great races on it’s calendar need not have to come with an over-reach of trying too hard to be seen. The Cup races bury the IndyCar series in viewership. The Formula One races are so horribly predictable now the most exciting thing about them is the standing start and the first turn.

Formula One is in crisis, IndyCar can barely contain the bleeding and NASCAR is keeping it’s head just above water in attendance and viewership, but it’s far more stable at the moment than either of the aforementioned series.

The competition in NASCAR, both Cup and the Xfinity series has never been better, never had more competitive drivers and teams and has never been more interesting. So why bother to cling to a tradition that really isn’t? It was a creation that happened when NASCAR was on the defense.

NASCAR no longer need worry about IndyCar or Formula One. It has become entrenched as an American sporting institution and now has to concentrate on competing with other sports. NFL, NBA and Baseball are it’s main competitors and where it’s marketing efforts should be.

The 600 mile stock car race has simply outlived it’s value to the consumer.

 

Kurt Busch Walks Into A New Spotlight

Kurt Busch came to the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Indianapolis on the day of the event. He finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500.

Kurt Busch came to the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Indianapolis on the day of the event. He finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500.

Let’s face it, sometimes it is easy to dislike Kurt Busch.

Throughout his somewhat controversial career, he’s been arrogant, volatile, rude, disrespectful, hot-tempered and more (actually, I’ve run out of words).

But then you probably know all of that.

At the same time, he’s a tremendously talented race driver with 24 career NASCAR Sprint Cup victories and a championship in 2004.

You probably knew that, too.

In spite of what Busch is, or may have been, I’m convinced he has stepped into a new light.

He has earned respect. He has gained a new appreciation from many fans and media members.

On May 25 Busch became the fourth driver to attempt what’s called the “double double.” He was going to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and then make the hectic trip South to race in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the longest race in NASCAR.

If Busch competed both races, he will have run 1,100 miles in one day.

It’s been achieved. In 2001 Tony Stewart completed both races and to this day holds the best record for 1,100 miles in a single day.

He was sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.

Busch was the first driver since Stewart to attempt the feat.

At Indy it appeared Busch had learned his lessons well.

Although he's had a tough year in NASCAR with Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch won at Martinsvile to enhance his chances for the Chase.

Although he’s had a tough year in NASCAR with Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch won at Martinsvile to enhance his chances for the Chase.

He finished a solid sixth in a Dallara Honda for Andretti Autosport. He earned a cool $423,889.“It was a challenge I put forth for myself,” Busch said. “I enjoyed it. I soaked it all in up North.

“I loved racing up in Indy in front of all the Indiana natives and the Hoosiers.

They love their speedway up there. That speedway loves them.

That’s what I really saw out of that track. There was a grand stage to stand on and represent NASCAR.

We brought her home in sixth place. I didn’t think I had anything for those top five guys.

They were racing hard. And those were the top five in that series. They’re strong. They’re tough.”

On his flight to Charlotte reports were Busch took an IV and tried to nap.

When he stepped out of the helicopter that took him to the track, Busch received a warm welcome from the grandstands.

No doubt many fans knew what he had accomplished at Indy.

The 600 did not go well for Busch. Driving his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, he fell out of the race due to engine failure after 271 laps. He finished 40th.

What was yet another misfortune for SHR, which has struggled this season, meant disappointment for Busch. He completed 906.5 of 1,110 miles.

“We clawed our way up there and caught a lucky break with one of the yellows,” Busch said. “We worked on the car and I thought we were actually, you know, right in the mix.

“Those top 15 guys seemed to separate themselves.

We were going to start cracking on the top 10 if we could get one more adjustment done to the car.

“And then we had a problem on pit road. A car came at me perpendicular on pit road and it broke the left rear shock. And so we were hanging on.

“We were going to muscle it out. And then it’s like the car just swallowed three cylinders all at once. So, the engine let go. Those things happen in motorsports.”

Now there might have been a time when Busch would have expressed himself, shall we say, a bit more “forcefully.”

But not this time. It seemed he knew that, despite the Charlotte disappointment, he had accomplished a lot. He may well have had a feeling of self-satisfaction. – and deservedly so.

“I was hoping to do 1,100 miles today,” Busch said. “I can’t let what happened here dampen the mood on what happened up in Indianapolis.

“But it’s not just one individual. It takes a team. Andretti Autosport guys put me in a good car. Stewart-Haas gives me a great car every week.

We just had a monkey on our back in running NASCAR this year. “That kind of motor failure symbolizes some of the struggles we’ve had.”

At Charlotte, respect for Busch permeated the garage area and was expressed by many competitors.

It was the same for Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon, the three who took on the challenge ahead of Busch.

And, importantly, just like them Busch earned it.

“Overall, I can stand here with a smile knowing I gave it my all for six months trying to get to this point,” Busch said.“I’d love to do it again.

“And at the same time, you’ve got to do it with quality teams. The teams really can make the big difference in all of this.

And I have to thank Andretti and I have to thank Stewart-Haas.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Gordon: Formula One’s Loss, NASCAR’s Gain

Jeff Gordon at speed in Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams Formula One car.

Perhaps this is a bold statement: Jeff Gordon is the only NASCAR driver of the modern era who could have made it to Formula One and had the potential to be a multiple World Champion.

Unfortunately, he suffered the same slings and arrows of abandonment by the open wheel world that many have. No one gave him a chance. IndyCar and Formula One’s loss, NASCAR’s gain.

Gordon’s win at Martinsville and his elevation in the Chase standings prove that the will to win, to never quit and to dig deep in the face of such steep competition are but a few of the attributes he possesses that would have propelled him to the top on the Global stage.

The villagers with pitchforks and torches aside, Gordon had/has exactly what it takes to perform at this level. The remaining Sprint Cup NASCAR drivers in the field today do not.

Many fans dont realize that Earnhardt, Sr and Gordon were friends. It was Earnhardt who gave Gordon the nickname “Wonderboy”.

When the name Jeff Gordon comes up in conversation with fans it evokes one of two reactions: They love him or ‘think’ they hate him. The flaw in these polarizing reactions is simple: They don’t know him.

That’s somewhat understandable considering the level of fame he’s achieved; it’s hard to get to know him. However, that’s for those who haven’t met him and looked beyond the defense mechanisms that celebrities have to use, which is hard to do, unless you’ve grown up around many, many celebrities. You learn how to look over the fence.

My family has been in the racing business since 1952 and I’ve met some of the world’s greatest and most unusual drivers, so I don’t have the typical reaction of most. Celebrity is a man made environment that just doesn’t matter to me. I’m more interested in the person.

I’ve met Jeff Gordon twice. Both times in settings that were not charged with the adrenaline rush of fuel and throngs of fans vying for his attention.

The first time was the year he came to NASCAR. I was staying with a friend in Lake Norman who had sold him the condo right next door to hers. Ray Evernham lived across the walk.

When she introduced us I hadn’t really heard much about him other than he was an up and coming talent. It was all there, the reticence on his part to be too open. The exuberance of being in an such an enviable position in his career. The trust of having met someone new through a friend.

A much younger Jeff Gordon learning the ropes.

My senses picked up all of these emotions, body language and speech. What he lacked was an ’enfant terrible’ attitude or sense of entitlement. That was different than what I expected.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. As anyone who knows me can attest, Formula One is my octane of choice. It never occurred to me that he had delivered on the potential in his early years that the Europeans rave about these days.

I walked away from that casual meeting impressed most of all with his politeness. That’s a learned skill, not something you’re born with, at least that’s what I have observed over the decades.

The second meeting was about 7 years ago at one of his pre-Daytona 500 parties; it was for Georgia Pacific, I believe.

My friend, who knew him, and I were early and Jeff was sitting by himself and his step-father, John Bickford was sitting at the bar in heavy discussion about hunting and Salmon fishing in Alaska. This was a subject near and dear to my heart as these were my ‘gourmet cooking’ days.

John Bickford, Jeff Gordon’s Step-Father.

After about 20 minutes of engaging John on the merits of cooking wild game, in the wild, Jeff walked up. Obviously he had overheard the conversation and said to me “Be careful, he may invite you on one of his adventures”.

I knew if that came to fruition I would be held to an impossible standard as John’s hunting/fishing crew always invited an exceptional chef or cook for just that purpose.

I decided to extricate myself from John and my friend in order to talk with Jeff. I found him interesting. He didn’t remember our meeting at Lake Norman, nor do I expect he’ll remember our second meeting.

Most stars do not approach someone else, they wait for someone to approach them. In that scenario the celebrity can mentally size up who has invaded their space. They can control the situation.

With Jeff, I must have not given off those stalker vibes. Although, probably a few women in my past would challenge me on that statement.

He was very cautious at first.  Many celebrities want to immediately dominate the conversation in order to take control. Not Jeff.

Gordon and his wife, Ingrid Vandebosch in Martinsville winners circle.

This driver was different. He actually began asking about me.  Why? Because I wasn’t asking him for anything, no need to screen me through his PR or marketing machine. Fans underestimate the pressure these drivers are under. Let’s face it, everybody wants something from them. To me he was simply an interesting person.

As the conversation rolled on I managed to hear about how he attained his position in racing, from quarter midgets on up. What struck me then and still does, is that he had every attribute that is required to be a Formula One star.

Not that being a NASCAR star is bad, quite the contrary, it’s just that the Europeans aren’t the nicest lot to us Americans when it comes to racing. Michael Andretti is a perfect example.

This is when the subject of his F1 swap with Montoya came up.

His eyes glazed over recounting the experience as he mentally took me around the Grand Prix track at Indianapolis where the swap with Montoya took place. Every corner, the traction control, the braking, the grip and the startling technology.

I knew that he enjoyed it, but I couldn’t yet ascertain whether or not he could have pulled off going to Europe and enduring the full contact fighting that takes place in the lower formula’s leading up to a prized spot on the Grand Prix grid.

When Jeff Gordon retires from NASCAR, let’s hope he keeps racing. The LeMans prototypes would be suitable.

The conversation didn’t last long as more and more people filed into the room demanding his attention, but the information that had been passed to me coupled with his obvious intelligence had piqued my interest. I set out on a mission to learn more about the path he had taken.

From the very early years until the move to Indianapolis, I was intrigued.

Why would I say that Gordon is the only driver in NASCAR’s modern era who could have been America’s GP star? You have to look at the dedication, the mannerisms, the passion and many more attributes that aren’t verbally communicated. Jeff Gordon is a sponge. He soaks up everything, if he finds it interesting.

Stewart is a great driver, but he lacks the total and unflappable dedication to such a foreign discipline.

Jimmie Johnson didn’t have John Bickford calling the early shots. Yes he’s incredible at what he does, but how many families would buy a quarter midget to drive in front of their talented son in order for him to learn how to pass the other car? Not many.

Allmendinger? Talented yes, but his attitude wouldn’t have gotten him far enough in order to have the very best rides in Europe. He would have, in short order, rubbed the Europeans the wrong way.

The rest of Gordon’s accomplishments are in the history books.

When Jeff finally decides to step out of the drivers seat at Hendrick, he may very well take on another role with the team. After all, he does have equity in the operation.

However, something tells me that despite his eventual departure from the grueling schedule of NASCAR, this driver won’t be done.

He excels on road courses and truly seems to enjoy the prototype racing. His ability goes beyond what is offered in Grand Am.

Gordon is a full blown candidate for the LeMans prototypes, the LMP1’s. They dwarf the Daytona Prototypes and LMP2 cars in power, speed, torque and technology.

With Gordon, the skill is there, the technical understanding, the passion and not to mention the fact that landing a top notch Mercedes, Porsche or Audi ride wouldn’t be a stretch. They still sell most of their cars in the United States.

Who better to carry Old Glory to the Europeans?

 

 

 

Danica, Kyle Busch: Observations On Two Key Daytona 500 Drivers

Danica Patrick has polarized fans, many of whom are her supporters but others who think she has far more marketing ability than driving talent. Patrick knows all this and deals with it.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Some observations on two drivers, each – or both – of whom could play a pivotal role in today’s Daytona 500.

To some Danica Patrick is a breath of fresh air; a catalyst to peak the nation’s interest in NASCAR and curiosity over a female competing in a predominantly male sport.

The proof, they say, is to simply look at the wealth of attention she brought to Indy Car competition before she switched to stock cars.

Others claim Patrick is nothing more than a bright, good-looking marketing magnet with more interest in promoting herself than a sport.

They add that the media has taken it upon themselves to shove Patrick down their throats – reporting on her every word and action to the point of distraction.

Some say Patrick is more smoke than substance and question her driving ability. They express the belief that if she didn’t have the wherewithal to lure sponsorship and media attention, she wouldn’t enjoy relationships with top teams in Sprint Cup and Nationwide – or the equipment they provide.

As for the fact she won the pole for Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300, well, NASCAR had the fix on.

Which is nothing but conspiracy theorists’ blather.

Patrick used her skill and JR Motorsports preparation and equipment to become the first woman to win a pole at Daytona International Speedway. Nothing more and nothing less.

It’s a mystery why some choose not to believe that. Why is it so hard to accept a unique, even historical, feel-good story when we all have done it freely, and repeatedly, in the past?

It’s because Patrick is involved. And with that comes the belief that her skills aren’t good enough to allow her such an achievement without “assistance.”

If nothing else, I hope I make this point strongly enough: Patrick does have skills. She has, and has had, the ability to drive a race car. Her peers know this.

While I’m sure that her marketing skills and sponsor dollars were part of her lure to JR Motorsports, let’s not forget the team is in the business of winning Nationwide races, among other things.

If the team thought Patrick didn’t have the ability to do just that, it wouldn’t have hired her.

Yes, Patrick is a rookie in a Sprint Cup developmental role with Stewart Haas Racing. She’s scheduled to compete in just 10 races this year.

Sure, she brought the needed dollars that helped her cause. But if Tony Stewart, who is nobody’s fool, did not believe Patrick had potential and could achieve the goals she and the team have established, he wouldn’t bother.

Yes, Patrick wrecked in a Gatorade Duel and in the Nationwide race. Neither was her fault and should be considered part of her learning curve.

I haven’t said a thing here Patrick hasn’t already heard, likely many times.

She knows exactly what is going on and the perceptions people have of her.

Unfazed, she accepts it all.

“I think that people can choose to look at what I have done and like it. Or they can look at it and choose to judge it and think it is not enough,” Patrick said. “I don’t think you are ever going to change the people that want to cheer for you and the people that don’t want to cheer for you.

“It’s funny. I did see somebody say something right after my win (in Motegi, Japan). I saw something that said ‘Oh let’s see what she does against the people in the United States.’

“I thought how funny that a casual fan didn’t know that was the Indy Car Series racing in Japan.  I just thought that was a random funny thing.

“I really think that the people that write have the ability, and there are fortunately enough to be there every weekend, to see what I do.  They can draw their own opinions.”

While Patrick knows precisely where she stands in racing, the attention she draws and all that comes with it – good and bad – it is likely she will not change.

“No, I don’t I enjoy being different,” she said. “I enjoy being unique. I enjoy it all. I really do.

“I chose to look at the positives that come with it instead of the negatives, but it is a balance. The ups are really good and the downs are sure disappointing.

“Partly because I’m used to the down part is why I feel, what’s not to like? I’m followed well and I have lots of great fans and I’m always so grateful when people write nice things about me.

“I feel good. The people that don’t like me, well, I also respect that perspective as well.”

And now for another, quick observation:

Kyle Busch is recognized for his driving skill and his bad behavior. There's no indication Busch is going to change who he is, but it's certain he knows how he's perceived.

Kyle Busch knows exactly what is going on. He gets it.

The younger Busch brother is a driver who has repeatedly displayed his considerable skill.

He has won multiple times on NASCAR’s top three national circuits, including this year’s Budweiser Shootout. Perhaps the most graphic example of his talent came in that race.

Busch kept his car under control twice when he could have easily spun and wrecked. Then he made a masterful move to pass Stewart and win the race by the closest margin in its history.

I think most fans have accepted Busch’s driving talent, even if grudgingly.

But instead of being widely admired, Busch is vilified. He is NASCAR’s “bad boy,” its spoiled, sometime immature, brat.

In a bout of anger he’s been known to take matters in his own hands and not worry about the consequences.

Which he did last year when he deliberately wrecked Ron Hornaday in a truck race at Texas. NASCAR suspended Busch for the track’s Cup event. That cost him any chance at a championship.

I have said before Busch would serve himself well if he became a changed man. I don’t know if he has any intention of doing so.

But I do know he’s very aware of how he is perceived – both in talent and personality – and at least accepts and prepares for it.

“After the Shootout, there was just a lot of encouragement,” Busch said. “Things like, that it’s one of the best they’ve ever seen, it’s something that they’ve never seen – some would say that there’s few that can do it, but they know that I may be the only one that’s ever done it.  Just stuff like that.

“After the race, my phone was blowing up with over 100 text messages and 25 emails.  I had

a long next day getting back to everybody and answering everybody.

As for the other side, Busch might find it a little more difficult to swallow, but he seems ready for it.

“At races, I hear the fans a little bit,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to hear them when you don’t have your helmet on.

“I keep my helmet on when I get out of the car in case of unidentified flying objects.  I’ve learned from my past experiences.

“It’s always fun that you get to be able to get out of the car and hear the rants of the crowd, whether they be cheers or boos or applause or what have you – and get to do your victory bow.

“That’s the greatest satisfaction of winning a race.”

Yep, Kyle Busch knows exactly what’s going on.

 

 

 

 

 

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