10:36 a.m. What up dogs? I'm live at the Kansas Speedway, ensconsed in the library-like media center and definitely not cheering. Maintaining my cover. I saw Patrick from Trackside Online, who is constantly wired in to every development within a 15-mile radius of the track. You should immediately subscribe to Trackside Online for their email alerts and updates. Comprehensive and yet stylish, much like Patrick himself.
(Last updated 4:26 p.m.)
Day started off well for me when the fabulous lady at the credential office said she liked my pressdog.com card. They're good people down here in Kansas. Make plans now to motor down (or up or over) for the race in 2009. Click the links on my site to find your tickets and pressdog gets a tiny piece of the action.
Imagine the thrill that went up my spine as we drove in on the little "Park and Ride" tram and I looked at the scoring pole and saw #7 on the top during the first practice. Danica is atop the pole. (Careful.) Viewing enhanced. I also appreciate the way the tram driver, who I think was wearing N-word gear, got 'er up to about 67 mph coming through the tunnel. And me without my chapstick.
The big news here so far is the weather. Sunny and beautiful but about 49 degrees. The Honda Man, Dan, accused me of bringing Iowa Weather with me from Des Moines. Dude, it was 37 degrees and rainy in Des Moines yesterday. Sha. Normally Firestone requires that air temperature be at least 50 before you can make with the hot laps, but since the track temp is 60-some they didn't throw themselves in front of the cars to stop practice.
Danica is fastest so far. Much atwitter. I'm off to stagger around the pit area. Stay tuned for frequent updates.
1:16 p.m. Second practice is over and the amusing N-word pickups are on the track turning a savage 167 mph laps.
The thing about IndyCar practice is, it's a lot of people watching monitors. Since you have to be a complete race thug to detect when someone is going 214 mph rather than 211 mph, mostly people spend the session looking at monitors.
So what happens is all the fans in pit road walk up and down looking at people who are looking at monitors. Because, as Derek Daly says, "everything in racing lies except the stopwatch."
Fantasy League Spoiler! The Target Twins are freaky fast again. Scott Dixon and Danny Wheldon have the wings back in the delta an are supersonic on this track and its sister, Chicagoland. Vitor Miera is looking strong as well.
I found out that after Danicker threw up some big laps early, she had a transmission issue. Much foot stomping. But Andretti Green Racing got it fixed in time to get her back out there. There were also some other issues with the AGR cars, including steering rack issues (Kanaan) and two other gearbox problems.
I also talked to someone extremely close to Bobby Rahal and asked when BR would start chucking pieces of debris at Danica's car during the actual race, so as to limit the amount of upstaging for young Graham. There was full denial that Rahal has any plans to "chuck shit at Danica's car" any time soon. Especially on the ovals, when it's super difficult to do it and not be obvious.
The "new" drivers -- in a spirit of Oneness I refuse to call them "transitional" drivers any more -- are struggling on the big oval. Don't look for Rahal, Powers, Wilson, Bruno or the others to pose any threat to the leaders tomorrow.
We've had all kinds of celebrity sightings including the entire ABC/ESPN posse. Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear, my boy Russ the Stat King and Vinny Welch were prowling pit lane early.
In the second practice, Brienne Pedigo was spotted -- looking at a monitor -- as was Jack Arute who I have to say looks pretty bad ass in his shades and goatee. This is where the pit peeps set up their "I spoke to (team guy) yesterday and he said ..." intros.
My ESPN homeys refused to reveal to me if the Danica Montage count would hit double figures tomorrow. I gotta think it will. Bristol (Conn., the site of ESPN WORLD HEADQUARTERS) will insist on many and varied Danicker packages.
The most fans were clustered around Danica's pit area, of course, hoping for a glimpse. I was mainly there to get Bev on film (see above). I'm impressed with Bev. Honestly. Ever since she gave Kyle Moyer HUGE props immediately after Danica's win, I've been pretty high on Bev. I'm sure Bev is elated to have warm wishes from pdog.
Speaking of warm wishes, I attempted to hunt down AGR's genius strategist Kyle Moyer to ask him what it's like to be the Racing Buddha. You'll recall that Moyer was the one who made The Call to stretch fuel that ended up helping Danicker win in Motegi. But, I have it on good authority that Kyle doesn't like to do media stuff. Kind of publicity shy/hostile. I don't see why that's a problem, because I'm a bogger boy, and everyone knows we're not The Media. So where's the love, Kyle? I'll keep trying to bust through. He'll use some lame excuse like trying to make the AGR cars go faster or something. Like that's important.
Qualifying is at 2:10, and that means we'll have The Bullpen, which is a very cool feeding frenzy for sure. I'll give you a blow by blow after.
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4:26 p.m. Just back from qualifying, and Marty Roth is P7. When he finished his qualification run -- late in the order -- he was P2. So we had to talk to Marty about that, and our question was, mainly, "WTF?"
Me: "Where did that come from?"
Marty: "We've been working on the car and my guys did a great job putting it together and we think we've found a few gremlins that have been plaguing us since the beginning of the year," Marty said. "I think we cured it. We'll see tomorrow when we load it up with fuel and see how it goes in the race."
Me: "So are you enjoying the stunned looks on people's faces as you toss up a fast qualifier?"
Marty: "I always knew we could put out a good product. It was just eluding us for the first couple races but we just put our heads down and kept working at it. The guys we have are awesome and never got too frustrated. They just did the job that needed to be done."
Marty said they ran all their practices on full tanks to try and get ahead of some of the race handling issues that put him out quickly in places like Homestead.
Me: "So, by Chicagoland, are we talking pole here, Marty?"
Marty: "Absolutely." (Chortling.) I told you earlier we're going to win races this year."
Me: "So Marty's buying for the team tonight?"
Marty: (Laughter.) "Tomorrow."
Give Marty big props for having a sense of humor. The exchange came after practice in what's called the "Media Bullpen." It's a a pit box that's roped off. Most of the media stand on the inside of pit wall and the driver's and their handlers come through a little gauntlet and we ask them probing questions.
Or at least real journalists probe. I mainly look for my opportunities to cover the "more off-beat" stuff, like how does Justin Wilson wedge himself into a Dallara?
Me: "You're a very tall guy (6' 4"-ish), is it hard to wedge yourself into the Dallara?"
Justin Wilson: "It's is a tight car, yes, probably the tightest I've been in in a long time. The DP01 was a very big car so I had lots of room in there. This is a little smaller than the Lola. The team had to move the pedals as far forward as they could and make the seat as thin as possible. Then I just have to squeeze in. I'm going to get used to it."
Scott Dixon basically bitchslapped the field, qualifying wise, and was in a good mood. You can tell how far up the pole a driver is by his or her mood. Dixon recalled last year at Kansas where Wheldon and he were basically kicking the field's butt but then Dixon got black flagged for pitting off turn four instead of turn three. Dixon claimed at the time that he had to pit off four because about to run out of gas. He also used some unfortunate words on the radio at the time.
Me: "So, did losing a fuel race last week piss you off or what?"
Dixon: "I was angry after that one just because it's a race where I've had my ups and downs and I've had fast cars there but never came up with a win. I was thinking to myself in the last stint it was looking pretty good and it going to be decent here unless something off-the-wall happens.
"You always know there is going to be someone who is going to try a different strategy. I can't complain, I won my first Champ Car (CART) race on a fuel strategy."
Me: "Did you use an unfortunate word when you had to pit with a few laps to go?"
Dixon: "I don't remember, but yeah, I probably did."
The new IndyCar, former Champ Car drivers expressed some frustration with the whole ovulation thing. The thing about ovals is, as Buddy Rice said, "flat out is flat out."
Will Power: "You're 100% flat and you're on the white line, so you tell me where you can get quicker as a driver. You can't. It's all about getting the car right."
Q: "Do the road courses give you your lift?"
Power: "Yes. When you get a road course it's really nice. You're back on the track where you should be."
Justin Wilson: "You never know what the limit is until you get there. I've been on a couple of ovals now, but before I always wondered do I just wake up the next day or do I get some warning before the back steps out? So far I've gotten some warning and I've had a few moments already today where the back gets loose and I've to correct it. It's been very controllable."
"On ovals qualifying is the easy part where on a street circuit qualifying is the tough part. On an oval, the race is where you have to earn your money. We're trying to do what they've done in five years in two months, so that's tough."
Then came The Danica.
I gotta say I was shocked at the lack of throng in the bullpen for Danica. There were maybe ten of us. I guess the Big Leaguers get her individually or hit the big press conferences at the Media Center. I expected a Japanese-press-around-Mutoh-like human reporter donut to form around Danica, but it didn't. But, you can't be in the bullpen and not stick your stylish little digital recorder out to get Danica on record. First guy was all over her about the N-word. Going to the N-word? Been called by the N-word? Danica said she hasn't been called, emailed, texted, etc.
Q: Interested at all?
Danica: "I'm interested in all kinds of racing. For me, I need to be a place where I can win races and that's where I am right now. But I don't think you can ever shut the door everywhere because folks like you are writing this down and recording it I will eat my words one day if i ever did say that (I wasn't interested). I think it's foolish to ever say 'never' so I'm never going to say 'never.' I'm super happy where I am and I'm enjoying IndyCar and I don't want to change a thing, but the next time a contract rolls around or anything ... lots of people do that."
No doubt in my mind at all that Danica is a shrewed business person. Danica confirmed my suspicion that the trophy she posed with at Motegi is Borg Warner-ish in that you don't get to take it with you. They put your face on it. It weighs more than her. She thinks she'll get a replica. She said she'd been working hard the last week, "sitting on the couch next to Dave" and making appearances to get attention for the series and sponsors.
Some of it was fun, but Danica said she was happy to get back in the car again and relax a little bit.
I wanted to ask her if pressdog.com was, in fact, her favorite blog, but Danica's handler, in an effort to spare the other blogger's feelings, hustled her away. I gave Danica's woman my card, so I'm sure the fan email will flow in to the pdog shortly.
One last thing. I said earlier you could tell how fast drivers are by how pissy they are. Well, Tony Kanaan was pissed. Rage pouring out of his pores and eye sockets. He only had a few laps of practice due to a mechanical issue, so he qualified 11th. For a lot of teams, P11 is a dream, but for AGR it's like starting the race a lap down.
Q: "Tony, what happened?"
Kanaan: "I didn’t run both (practice) sessions; those (qualifying) are the longest runs I’ve had all day. We’re not doing a good job. For sure we’re not doing a good job. We had mechanical problems. We gotta wake up otherwise we’re not going to go anywhere."
Q: "Does this change your approach for race day?"
Kanaan: "We're going into the unknown. I don’t know what to expect. I didn’t run. I did ten laps all day plus the 7 I did in qualifying. I'm going to play it by year. Can’t say what’s going to happen."
Then some of The Media accused Tony of setting up one of his Kanaan-esque starts wherein he passes six cars by turn three, which made him smile. We're here for you, Tony, to pick you up when you are down.
Marco Andretti qualified 14th. Then coming through the bullpen someone asked him about what Danica's win did for the sport, American drivers, etc. Marco answered, but you could tell he was thrilled to be doing so. I imagine he's gotten tons of questions about how great Danica is, and for a race car driver (and they're all competitive and have reasonably large egos) it's probably tough. Focus the rage, Marco.
That's it from Kanas for day one. The amusing N-word Trucks are droning around the track now. We'll be back on race day. pressdog .... out.