Sunday, 30 August 2009

Indycar Entering a Minefield NASCAR Knows Well

Various hardline fans of the two series might not agree but on recent evidence Indycar seems to be heading for the same sort of worries that have been writ large during this NASCAR season.

As fans of Indycar will no doubt be aware the powers-that-be within the series introduced a raft of measures aimed at improving the races, especially on the oval tracks they visit. There were various aerodynamic widgets added, or made optional, to increase downforce, while others were taken away to increase close racing, and then they introduced an engine boost that a driver can use a set number of times during a race, to help pass a rival, defend from a rival, or catch up to a rival.

The first oval race, in Kentucky, was a revelation (especially compared to what had gone before it). There was close racing, doses of overtaking and lowly Ed Carpenter for Vision Racing came as close to breaking the life extinguishing stranglehold that the powerhouses of Penske and Ganassi have had on ovals as anyone has in eons.

Reviews were almost universally positive, or at least heralded the first steps out of the levels of catatonic boredom Indycar had all too regularly visited, and so it was a certain level of excitement that fans braced themselves for the second oval race since the rule changes. This time at Chicagoland.

Now, here I have to point out my observations on the race are based on Indycar’s online highlight package and various written reports, so they may not be perfect.

The finish was the race was spectacular (as recent finishes at the Illinois track have been) but this was a little extra than recent finishes. Without wishing to pour scorn on greatness Ryan Briscoe’s winning margin of 0.0077 seconds pales into insignificance compared to last year’s so-close-they-called-it-wrong episode. What made this a little special was the fact that covering the top 13 cars – every lead lap finisher – was 0.8269 seconds. In fact there was only a shade over half a second covering the top 12. There may only have been a handful of green laps before the finish, but what it still shows is that the stringing out of the field can be almost non-existent.

Now, you can’t fault close racing. It’s what people want to see when they spin the turnstiles and sit in the stands or pay the subscription and sit in front of their TV, which is what Indycar wants and needs right now, but a look away from the open wheel world shows the minefield they may be stepping into.

A minefield in which NASCAR has been getting its legs blown off in for years.

Where can you get close, fast racing in NASCAR? Daytona and Talladega, the restrictor plate tracks, where the sanctioning body artificially bunches up the field by taking away horsepower from the engines. Now, there is nothing that artificial about Indycar’s rule changes, but it’s having a similar effect.

And what else, aside from close racing, have NASCAR’s plate races become synonymous with?

Huge crashes.

Even to the point that the networks that are “lucky” enough to be broadcasting these races use the threat of “The Big One” in its marketing for the race. Huge crashes may get viewing figures, but I’d guess that even the IRL don’t want that.

Two of the three plate races this year have had massive crashes in their closing laps (often after late cautions like yesterday’s Indycar race), with several very damaged cars, and handful of injured fans and a return to post-Dale-Sr levels of fear over safety in plate races, with several drivers being very vocal in their criticism of the racing.

And as far as safety goes NASCAR’s jalopy knocks an Indycar into a cocked hat. They have fenders, so minor touches are just that, rather than the danger of inter-locking wheels in Indycar. NASCARs also have a roof, and have nothing of an Indycar Dallara’s tendency to take off if the air flow gets under them.

Perhaps the latest (and most re-shown) instance of this last trait has been Dario Franchitti’s flight at Michigan when he drove for AGR.

A small amount of contact at speed gets him sideways, the car get’s airborne, before landing back on the track (and other cars) and sending any nearby scattering.

Now, instead of the half a dozen or so cars he has within a second of him there, put 12, 15 or a full field behind them as would have happened if the same accident struck at Chicagoland last night.

You have the makings of Indycar’s very own “Big One” with all the consequences you don’t want to think of.

That said, there are some there is nothing wrong with NASCARs plate races, and they continue to be huge audience draw, which is what Indycar needs.

They just don’t need it to go wrong.

Friday, 28 August 2009

All Filler, No Killer - The Back on the Road Edition

I've returned from my three week summer blogging break, which of couse gives me one of the AFNK editions where I get to pick and choose what drivers I want to rant about. They're my rules, and I'm sticking to them.

And so we pick the Cup Series up at their second trip to Bristol, TN, and one of the rare night races I actually get to watch live (incidentally the average human consumes enough caffeine to kil a horse - every year).

Enough wittering, on with the usual gubbins, 7 drivers with paragraphs of nonsense that often actually manage to mention NASCAR.

Dave Blaney - Dave, Dave, Dave, what are we going to do with you. You can manage to get the Prism heap of scrap car to start 4th, but then Prism heap of scrap team and the return of Phil Parson's legendary Moth Wallet (along with a helpful nudge from David Gilliland) managed to end his after an official count of 8 laps. The official reason for the retirement was an "accident". That was a rubbish accident! If "accidents" like that put cars out at Bristol (or anywhere) then no-one would actually finish, Personal Injury Lawyers would be inudated with people having "accidents" (I decided to chainsaw my arm off), and many, many more children would have to be told by their parents they were an "accident" (Well, Jonny, you were an accident, first we had a candlelight dinner, then a bath together, before watching a blue movie in bed while I licked body chocolate off your mother......) Oh, and showing my colours here, but with the economy picking up again (apparently, no-one's told my bank account) can we please get Dave into a 2010 ride with a team that isn't so 'environmentally friendly'.....................8/10

Joe Nemechek - While there may be hope for The Blaney, there can be no hope for Joe Nemechek. Even with a sponsor his season has plumbed such depths that the TV team don't even bother to mention he's gone "behind the wall" or "to the garage" anymore. In fact, I fully expect them to start telling us that Joe (or Blaney) haven't done either of those things by, say, lap 50. This week Joe was seen skulking off to count his Greenies after an official count of 48 laps...................10/10

Tony Stewart - Put your fingers in your ears now Tony Stewart fans (or actually skip down a paragraph as your hearing does not effect your ability to read) because you know this isn't going to be pretty. You done that now? Good. What the hell was that?! Just because you have an umpteen hundred point lead doesn't mean you can decide to complete rubbish for a week. First you are the first car to go a lap down, then you have so many spare radios that must have had more dud equipment than your local AV swap meet, then you go speeding down pit road, and when you finally have had enough of (almost certainly) turning the air inside the car blue and decide to try and park it, NASCAR come along with a 'helpful' truck to get you going again. Don't they know who you are?! When you just want to go home they should just let you.....................7/10

Joey Logano - Sliced Bread's race was a little like a single round or toast with strawberry jam which you later find has a maggot in it. Short and sweet at the beginning, before hours of fret and worry, with a nasty ending. He backs his car into the wall early on to scupper his own race, before donning the black cape and picking up a scithe to read the final last rites (priests do hold a scithe when reading the last rites, right, just for effect) for Clint Bowyer's Chase hopes, by giving him a helping the Hamburger Helper into Michael Waltrip....................7/10

Martin Truex Jr - More ups and downs than a roller coaster (or a whore's drawer's for a crude British turn of phrase) is one (or two) ways to describe Truex's race. Speeding off pit road was the first big drop, before working his way all the way back up to the sharp end of the field, before a tyre let go. Then came the loop-the-loop, or corkscrew (if we're continuing the roller coaster metaphor, I'll let you think of something else for the other other) when we were shown employee relations MWR style and Martin got together with his boss next year en route to shortening Michael's car and watering the Bristol apron (I wonder if Martin's been told that was one of his chassis for next year?).................5/10

Sam Hornish Jr. - Praise be! Sam Hornish has returned. After a number of recent weeks when 'Sam Hornish' did quite well in races, Sam returned to the sideways form we know and love him for (not you David Stremme, you're just rubbish, no get out and let the new spotty kid in), by wiping his livery off on the wall, seriously Sam, sponsors don't like that, you can't even read their names on the wall after you've done it. He didn't even manage to beat the steam driven world record (which was actually broken this week). From this we can only summise that Sam hasn't been Sam in recent weeks, and well, the latest series of Top Gear finished here a few weeks ago, so The Stig's been free......................7/10

Kurt Busch - Congratulations Kurt Busch! You have done something that most of us previously though impossible, you have managed to have a pit problem that even Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't had. Was that tear off just extra sticky, or did you have a particularly weedy crewman this week? Kristen, is there a weedy #2 crewman, like one you needs help getting the lids off yogurts or is always claiming he "loosened" jar lids? On the good side we we're given the American Beauty moment of NASCAR as camera's watched the suddenly freed tear off wend it's way into the catch fencing, although no-one has confirmed the director as saying "it's the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed"..............3/10

And the Brikkie goes to...........

As if there was ever any competition this week, of course it's Kevin Harvick. He was the knee-capping to Joey Logano's mob-hit execution of Clint Bowyer's chase hopes, managed to tear up his own equipment, and by all accounts was living up to the name of a completely different Dwarf to his nickname, and he wasn't Doc, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful (although in previous seasons he's been one full of bashes) or Dopey (actually scratch that, Dopey might explain a few things).

Next Week

Well, of course, as is happens, I'm back off my break just as NASCAR's premier series have a week off ahead of going to Atlanta. There we'll have a return for Kurt Busch, a possible no-show from Regan Smith, all too rare visits from A.J. Allmendinger and David Reutimann, and of course, your recommended weekly allowance of the fibre that goes straight through NASCAR, with Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek and Tony Raines.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The All-Motorsport Power Rankings: Week 32

Time for my flag-ship column (aren't I important sounding) to join the party.

Welcome to The All-Motorsport Power Rankings, taking drivers, teams and personalities from every international (or otherwise high profile, which covers me for NASCAR) motorsport shakes them into a random order and pokes fun at them and recaps the week that was.

The Power Rankings have been rumbling on since January, so naturally, we start here in Week 32, which if you wish to be confused anymore is actually edition 31.

The countdown runs from 15 to 1, you probably won't agree with the order, I probably won't agree with the order in 20 minutes.

15 Sebastien Bourdais (Moaning)
According to Seabass STR have no style after pushing him from the “revolving ejector seat”.

No style?! They have a revolving ejector seat for crying out loud! That just sounds fun!

14 Luca Badoer (F1)
Well, the only positive news I could find for Luca was he was inside the old 107% rule.

13 Allan McNish (ALMS)

Excuse my childish excitement.

12 Romain Grosjean (F1)
Consistency is a key part in sport.

So Romain had to spin off at some point.

11 Paul, Lord Drayson (ALMS)
Paul is stepping up to P1 for Petit Le Mans.

This is my government, I voted them in. Where’s Barack’s NASCAR team anyway?

10 Jorge Lorenzo (Moto GP)
On board for another year at Yamaha.

And as I’ve been away for a week, I’ll assume he’s injured.

9 Mark Martin (NASCAR)
He couldn’t have pushed Kyle Busch out of the way for the win.

He might have broken a hip.

8 Jan Kopecky (IRC)
As IRC looks to expand it’s fanbase it aims for toddlers, with an even named after the noise a car makes, with Jan winning the Barum Rally.

7 Marcos Ambrose (NASCAR)

Well, I suppose there has to be some good news in Australian sport.

6 Lewis Hamilton (F1)
McLaren regret showing team replays or Eddie Irvine’s ’99 European GP pitstop.

5 Dario Franchitti (Indycar)
Endless commercials, I can forgive.

Rubbish commentary, I can forgive.

Not being able to tell Oriol Servia and Robert Doornbos apart, I can forgive.

Not interviewing Ashley Judd for her mindless post Dario win soundbite. Unforgivable.

4 Aston Martin Racing (Le Mans Series)
A team 1-2-3 at the weekend’s Nurburgring Le Mans Series race.

Not bad.

3 Mike Conway (Indycar)
Mike’s car had a vinyl suit at Sonoma.

Seriously, if Dario was running the Vaseline livery it would have been perfect.

2 Kyle Busch (NASCAR)
Steve Addington spotted eating M&Ms in Victory Lane.

Now, if only the Intersate Batteries livery can win a race....

1 Rubens Barrichello (F1)
Note rumoured to have been put on Brawn GP fridge;


I really like the podium, you should stop by more often.


Comment away, question away, I am an educator.

Photo credits, with ranking number: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14 & 15 Getty Images (via, 3, 4 & 10 LAT Photographic, 8, 11 Drayson Racing.