Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Friends, gentle readers, editors, and detractors I ask you to indulge me for this week. You doubtless have tuned into this Matt-channel looking to read about NASCAR racing, or a topic even spherically related to stock cars. Well I’m sorry to disappoint ya’ll, but this week I’m going so far off the radar that Larry McReynolds and the meteorologists at the Weather Channel couldn’t find me with a pack of bloodhounds.
I am, after all, an old guy. I’ve been following this sport since before many of you were potty-trained. I’ve got the aches and pains, desperate moments trying to put the right name to the right face when I know I should know it, and the occasional health challenge to prove it. I’ve lived hard, I’ve lived fast, and if there’s been a thing or two I’d have changed growing up (a still incomplete challenge) overall I’m pleased with the adventure that is my so-called life over these five decades. In the words of the inestimable James Buffett, some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic, but I’ve had a good life all the way.
Saturday’s Cup race was run on May 1st. I love May. It means the start of car show season and nearly daily Harley rides as the temperatures warm up to a level these old aching bones can tolerate. It’s a pretty good month to be a NASCAR fan, too, with Richmond, Darlington, Dover, the All-Star Race, and the World 600 all on the slate. Fast, loud cars on some of the circuit’s best circuits? I’ll be there with bells and whistles.
But I remain a fan of not only NASCAR racing but auto racing in general. And growing up, I recall when the month of May meant one thing for racing fans. It meant the Indy “By Gawd” 500. Indy wasn’t just the biggest story in auto racing, it was the biggest story in sports bar none. For one month, even stick and ball fans stopped caring so much about the fledgling baseball season, the NFL draft, or even the NHL and NBA playoffs, focusing instead on that two-and-a-half mile semi-oval at 2130 Michigan Street, Indy, IN.
For a solid month, the sport’s coverage focused on the Speedway as if drivers trying to make the race at Indy were the only thing that mattered. Sometimes, the rivalry was between established race teams that had won multiple 500s (remember when Roger Penske’s organization failed to qualify for the 500 late on bump day), new experimental technology cars, and female/foreign drivers all trying to make a field that didn’t have enough room for half of them. Remember when the late Jim Clark won the race in one of the first rear-engined cars competing against the boxy front-engined cars in 1965? That was a news story that reverberated not only across the United States, but around the globe. Remember when the turbine car nearly won the 500 for Andy Granetelli in 1967 before a six dollar ball-bearing seized in the car and handed the race to A.J. Foyt? Hell, how many of you recall A.J. won four Indy 500s, the defining moments of his legendary career winning in just about anything that had four tires and an engine?
Yeah, Indy used to be the top dog, even if the World 600 has slaughtered it in the ratings as of late. My own defining Indy 500 memory was back in 1972. Mark Donahue won the race driving for Roger Penske. A dear family friend growing up, Mrs. Marge Fixture had dated Mark Donahue in high school (he taught her to drive… how cool is that?) and remained his close personal friend. Knowing I was a rabid race fan, she saw to it I got a ride to the old Penske shop on Winding Way in Newtown Square, Pa. about a mile from my childhood home. Once there, I got to meet Mr. Donahue and Mr. Penske, I got to touch that hallowed trophy, and I got to sit in the race-winning car seemingly before Mark’s sweat even dried from the seat. For a bucktoothed twelve-year-old in blue jeans and a Mark Donahue T-shirt it was Nirvana cubed. I wept when Donahue died the day after my birthday in 1975 practicing for the Austrian Grand Prix. At 16, with a newly minted learner’s permit printed with the ink still drying, it was a terrifying wake up call that even a driver with talents far beyond what I could ever comprehend could die in a crash. Though I won’t deny driving like an asshole in my younger years, Donahue’s death always kept me at 90 percent.
Today, sadly, the Indy 500 remains more of a footnote as the sports season reaches the month of May. Tony George’s decision to split with CART opened up a decade long suicidal rift in U.S. open-wheel racing, a war that left his new IndyCar Series the only one left standing. George is gone now, and so is CART, but the sport has yet to heal and even begin to reassert its dominance it once enjoyed during the month of May.
Events like Pole Day, Bump Day, and the poorly-defined “Carb Day” used to draw a bigger crowd than most Cup races. Nowadays… well, not so much. In fact, the amount of fans left in the grandstands for those three events is downright embarrassing for what used to be the lead sports story in the month of May. Did Tony George’s open-wheel split hurt the sport? Is Lindsay Lohan going to win an Oscar this year, edging out Britney Spears for the statuette?
I remain a fan of the Indy 500 despite the lean years. They’ve got some engaging stars. Helio Castroneves is so remarkably upbeat in victory its hard not to like him. Dario Franchitti, with his Italian surname and Scottish accent remains an enigma, but he’s another friendly fellow. During the height of my interest in open-wheel racing, Alex Zanardi was my favorite, but he was badly injured in that race the weekend after 9-11.
I still sometimes dream, though, that the awesome progress medicine has made in prosthetics means Zanardi has one last Indy 500 left in him. Or maybe they could at least let him drive the pace car? I believe that four women entered last Saturday’s IRL race. Next to the NHRA, the IRL has the most diverse set of drivers out there already. It’s gotten to the point Danica-mania has died down to a tolerable level, at least on the open-wheel side of things. It does seem sometimes that white American male drivers are a bit in short supply, at least in top rides (ironic in that the IRL was formed to give American open-wheelers a pinnacle to shoot for) but in that series right now, sometimes you have to bring money to the table to land in the driver’s seat.
Still, any problems in the sport still fade away amidst the beauty of race day at Indianapolis. Even folks who profess not to like open-wheel racing can’t help but get caught up in the pageantry of the event. There’s something about the balloon launch and the sight of the field formed up in eleven, three-wide rows of cars coming to the checkers that’s just soul-stirring. Honestly, it gives me goose bumps every year.
Yeah, Indy isn’t perfect. Too many talented drivers and up-and-comers have died there, sometimes in horrifying wrecks that turned fans’ stomachs. But Indy was also the first big track to install the SAFER barriers.
What’s it going to take to return the Indy 500 to its former preeminence? Truthfully, it might be too late. The prolonged civil war in open-wheel caused both series to shed fans the way a golden retriever diving into a lake sheds fleas. It seems unlikely the newly-minted IndyCar Series will once again draw bigger crowds and get better ratings than stock car racing, despite Brian France’s best efforts to give them a chance.
One big boost, in this writer’s humble opinion, would be for the promoters at Indy and Charlotte to work out a way that drivers could run both races on the same day again. I’ve had issues with Tony Stewart, but I’d love to see him win an Indy 500 before he retires, though certainly not as much as he’d love that victory. Even a win by Robby Gordon at Indy would serve as a reminder of the era when guys like Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, and Dan Gurney hopped from open-wheel cars, to stock cars, to sprint cars, to sports cars, and occasionally even Grand Prix cars with great success. In the increasingly diverse world of auto racing, it’s hard to imagine a driver succeeding in so many disciplines, though I’m not going to argue that point with Tony Stewart, the most multi-faceted driver of his generation.
But I’m not going to compare Stewart with Foyt or Andretti until he wins a 500 and a Grand Prix race, the Baja 500, or Le Mans. So cross-promotional efforts like the old Memorial Day Daily Double can only increase casual or non-fan interest in auto racing of all types. Hell, if they could convince Danica Patrick to run the Indy 500 and the World 600 the same day, the media’s heads might explode, even if she ran like a three-legged lamb in the 600 the first few times.
But let’s not stop at NASCAR. If we could overcome Bernie Eccelstone’s anti-American sentiment, it would also be fascinating to see drivers like Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton (no relation to Bobby) take a crack at the Indy 500 like their F-1 compatriots used to do in days of yore.
Most importantly, I think it’s time for IndyCar to start weaning itself from the spec-car formula. One of the chief charms of the old Indy 500 was the rules were pretty lax. That led to fascinating experiments like the turbine car, diesel-powered entrants, six-wheeled cars and all sorts of other fascinating stuff. None of the above experiments were too successful, but if nobody had tried rear-engined cars they’d never have succeeded, either. This whole deal with one chassis supplier and one engine supplier isn’t helping the sport. I don’t particularly care for Dallara Hondas racing other Dallara Hondas. I want to see some front-engined Fords out there, six-wheel Chevy-powered entrants, and maybe even some V10s and V12s again. A V16? Sign me up. Brock Yates, automotive writing emeritus, once proposed a series called “Formula Libre” in which any car that fit inside a set box would be allowed to compete. Auto racing has always been about innovation and experimentation, looking for what Mark Donahue used to call “the Unfair Advantage.”
There’s still innovators out there in the garage area. The folks who run major racing series just have them locked in boxes. I recall in the crazy old days of racing in the lost and lamented CanAm series, when a team ran a car with one snowmobile engine powering each wheel. It didn’t run worth a damn, but it was cool. A diecast of the old six-wheeled, Shadow Grand Prix car still hangs above my desk. An electric car that runs the whole 500 miles at Indy without a recharge? I think a few people would write about that.
Yes, the Indy 500 is a shadow of its former self, but come Sunday of Memorial Day weekend I’ll still be tuning in. It might be a terrible race and it might be a great race, but damn it, it’s the Indy 500. A lot of you might have no intentions of watching that race (based on TV ratings, a whole lot of you) but I invite you to tune in even if it’s just on in the background as you grill hot dogs, drink beer, and socialize with the neighbors on the first holiday weekend of summer.
Baby, everything dies, that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Yeah, they need to adopt at least two chassis, but they’re not going to. Obviously, pretty much all racing series are in decline from say 1965-1995 when pretty much every racing series was good…probably mainly because the costs became prohibitive.
“In the increasingly diverse world of auto racing it’s hard to imagine a driver succeeding in so many disciplines though I’m not going to argue that point with Tony Stewart, the most multi-faceted driver of his generation.”
Nah, it’s Montoya. While Stewart is certainly way more accomplished in stock cars than Montoya is, Montoya has done pretty much everything there is to do in OW (save an F1 World Championship, and considering only Schumacher and Alonso did that while he was there, that’s forgivable). Montoya has a much, much bigger chance of say winning a Cup title or winning an increasingly meaningless Daytona 500 than Stewart has of winning Indy. He’s probably too old and not athletic enough to win the 500 as well, and if he couldn’t win the 500 in ’96-‘98 when the competition was weak, he clearly wouldn’t today.
Kind words for Tony Stewart?!? Who are you, and what have you done with the real Matt McLaughlin?
For the record, I agree with most of your points, particularly the emotional ones. I’m a bit torn about the “Formula Libre” concept though. I agree that seeing innovative technology and a wide range of vehicle designs is cool. But on the other hand, I look at Formula One, where the ludicrous budgets and closed-door politics play a much larger role than the individual skills of any driver, and I question whether that’s really the right direction to go. Back in the good old days, there wasn’t such a gap between the haves and have-nots because nobody in Corporate America thought that having their logo on the winning car was worth tens of millions of dollars. Now some do, at least in the big series, so it’s not clear how to open the door to innovation without creating a situation where the trophy simply goes to the highest bidder.
Yet further on the subject of money and racing… I don’t think that Bernie Eccelstone is anti-American, per se. Rather, I think that he has a philosophical standpoint that is fundamentally incompatible with American political reality. Bernie has made it abundantly clear that the local promoters of individual F1 races are not expected to make any money from the race itself. Every penny, peso, drachma or kopek generated from ticket sales, merchandising, and most importantly, broadcast rights, belongs to him and his investors. The cost of actually staging the race, in Bernie’s view, should be born by the government of whatever country holds the race, and justified as a promotional investment. Now I’m a pretty big fan of automobile racing, but I stand firmly opposed to taxpayers footing the bill for putting on a big race, as do most Americans, I think. So I’m fairly confident that we’ll see Formula One running in North Korea before we’ll see another F1 race in the USA, at least while Bernie continues to run that show. And Bernie certainly isn’t going to dilute the F1 brand by making it easier for F1 drivers to dabble in other series.
Nice job as usual, Matt, but I don’t think that’s the Speedway’s address. It’s on the corner of 16th St. and Georgetown Rd.in, where else, Speedway, IN.
danica mania will resume in indy. all the noise will be “can she win the 500”…it happens every year.
matt said something nice about robby gordon is even more surprising than his comments about stewart.
What is the World 600?
The World 600 was a race that was run at Lowes Motor Speedway, neither of which exist today.
Some people are just stuck in the past.
I’ll be doing my traditional Memorial Day weekend. Going to Charlotte for the World 600 and watching the Indy 500 on TV before we head to the track for the Cup race.
Like you Matt, I remember the glory days of Indy and racing in general. I use to listen to the radio and catch the Indy 500. The excitement was unbearable. It didn’t matter if it was AJ Foyt, Jimmie Clark, or Graham Hill winning, the Unsers, Rutherford, or the STP turbine cars. It was man and machine and the innovations of the mechnics and car builders that made it exciting. Then I’d catch the World 600. It got more exciting when drivers were able to do the double. It was a good thing for both series. But unfortunately, because of the blunders of both Tony George and BZF and the screwing overs on business deals between the two, I don’t know if we’ll ever see the double again. But should it ever return, I’d expect to see JPM and Robby Gordon try it. Tony’s gotten a little too big for the cockpit of a Indy car. Unless they allow a special bubble cockpit for him.
The thing with the Dallara-Honda engine is like the Cup cars whose bodies are all alike and whose engines are becoming increasingly alike which brings them even closer to the IROC cars of old. It would be nice to see Offy brought back from the grave along with some other engine manufacturers to liven up the IRL. At least then they might get some brand rivalries going again. The things dreams are made of.
I just cant wait for Danica to win the Indy 500 so she can blow out of IRL and come be the savior Nascar so desparately needs.
I forsee some kind of awesome GoDaddy.com comercial involving white t-shirts and water turning to wine.
And Tim Tebow can be her crew cheif. I mean, that covers the dad, and the “son”… who’s gunna be the ghost?
Great article Matt. I could feel the excitement you felt when you were writing this story. I have enjoyed Indy racing on radio and later on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. You could have mentioned the old Myer- Drake engines. They were tough. We need more than Honda power.There is so much that goes on in May at Indy we don’t have time to get all of it. I always looked forward to hearing Jim Nabors singing “Back Home in Indiana” although he and I are from Alabama.
Sean , it’s Stewart . While Tony has yet to race in F 1 , he has a far better open wheel resume than Montoya . Along with his IRL championship , Tony was also the winner of the USAC Triple Crown ( midgets , sprints , and champ cars all in the same year ) , the Chili Bowl , The Turkey Night Midget races , not to mention his World Go Cart Championship . All of those are open wheel .
I started watching the Indy 500 in 1961 , and while i’ll admit that the 60s , and 70s were my favorite years , i know enough about the earlier years to see how they would be someones favorite . Wilbur Shaw , Tony Bettenhausen , the sound of the Offys , and in the decades before that , the Millers and Duesenburgs . Every era has it’s fans . I don’t really see much wrong with the current IRL . It’s different , but still enjoyable . Except for the concept of the spec cars .
NASCAR needs those “over ride” buttons!
Used to be Monaco, Indy and Charlotte. What a day! This year its the Turkey Grand Prix.
For DansMom, what is the Firecracker?
I remember watching the ’67 race on closed-circuit TV in a theatre in Denver while I was in college. Parnelli Jones could pass anyone anywhere; inside, outside, short-chute; it made no difference.
Remember Jim Hall’s “vacuum cleaner” in Can-Am?
Was it Smokey Yunick or Junior Johnson who brought a set of 4-bolt wheels to a race? They laughed and told him not to bring them back next week. Now he would be fined for “Un-approved parts”.
Those were the days, my friend.
I recall in the crazy old days of racing in the lost and lamented CanAm series, when a team ran a car with one snowmobile engine powering each wheel.
Are you referring to the Chaparral 2J ‘Sucker Car’? That used a snowmobile engine to run a couple of fans at the back to suck air from under the car and give it tremendous grip compared to wings and diffusers of the day. It ran for one season before being outlawed – but, as you say, it was not mechanically reliable. Its Chevy powerplant was good for 700+ hp… Must have been a treat to see running in anger!
My dad and I will be running our own cars at the dragstrip in Fontana on Memorial Day Sunday, but I’ll have the races taped and will watch them when I get home.
Was the World 600 run at Lowe’s Motor Speedway? I thought it was still Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the Coke 600 and Lowe’s came later.
Good stuff Matt.I like you remember the month of May being all Indy.The names like Unser,Andretti,Foyt,Bettenhausn and later Rahal were always discuss when we were trout fishing on Cape Cod when I was a kid.We played in the dirt with their cars,the Johnny Lighting Series I think they were called.Greed has taken over more people &businesses and ruined most of them.The sport of Auto Racing no matter what the flavor has seen its share and is now paying for it.
I used to be at the 500 back in the ’90s when it was at it’s pinnacle, and am glad I had the chance to see my heros from back in the day, like Foyt, Unser, Johncock, Mears and the young up and comers. The best I ever saw was Nigel Mansel, and could not believe what I was seeing and the control he had.
Walking into Indy for the first time on a 500 race day was like a religiuos experience, and all race fans were expected to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives, if they could get on the waiting list and get tickets someday.
Back then the draw of Indy was the history, and as Matt said the innovation and diversity of the machines. It used to be back in the ’80s and ’90s we had battles on the track between Chevy, Ford, Buick and Mercedes powered cars, and before that Offy’s and Cosworths. Get rid of the spec and open it up again and you will see more interist in the series.
John Andretti in the Richard Petty #43 might draw some stock car fans to the race, and it is pretty cool seeing Richard Petty backing an entry this year. If they are lucky Danica will go out early, and they might get some TV time.
I remember the 4 most famous words in racing back when I was at the track; “Mario is slowing down!!!”
If you make those words “Andretti is slowing down” they’ve been heard for over 40 years now!