If I got any busier, I'd have to have an empty coffee can under my desk (think about it). But, hey, we can always squeeze in a beverage! (I'm actually having a lovely coffee.) Make yourself comfortable in front of the fire, even though its 87 degrees out).
Let's kick it all off with some ..
NASCAR Nationwide at Iowa Speedway -- Hit the Nationwide race last weekend at the pdog home track. A quick 45-minute drive down the interstate from my house. Nice.
NASCAR does a nice job with their media center effort. Extremely similar to IndyCar's media center schwerve. Tracey Judd from NASCAR was the main media handler. Did a lovely job. When Danica crashed out, Tracy was completely deployed in the garage, telling us what the deal was, when Danica was coming out, where she was going to be, herding us to the right spot. Full marks. NASCAR also uploads audio from the press conferences to their media sight in seconds, which means I don't have to struggle through listening to my mini digital recorder trying to figure out who said what.
Danica Patrick seems to be having more fun in Nationwide than IndyCar and is MUCH more relaxed, etc. She was quipping ... QUIPPING ... with other drivers, including Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Some of her relaxedness may have to do with the fact that she can walk around in the NASCAR garages without getting mobbed like Japanese carp to popcorn.
Since garage access in NASCAR far more controlled and harder to come by, there are fewer people around, so Danica doesn't have to worry about being surrounded and carried off like ants carrying food back to the colony. She stood out in the open for upwards of five minutes on Friday practice and nobody approached. Crazy.
Cole Whitt. Just want to say 1) the kid can drive. 2) He's about Danica's height. 3) He has light red hair. Just a few shades darker than pink. It takes a while for an IndyCar veteran like me to get used to all these tall drivers in NASCAR. Travis Pastrona, for example, is tall and lanky. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is kind of IndyCar driver size (sub 5-8, sub-150 or so). I'm used to seeing more jockey-sized drivers.
Pretty good race, what I saw of it. Danica's right front blew on lap 114 and that was it. The brakes apparently overheated, causing the tire bead to melt and BLAM, blown. Danica did well talking to the media afterword. Ricky Stenhouse owns Iowa Speedway. Three wins there in a row.
Sub-Five Hour Races -- Several people tweeted on the fact that the NASCAR Nationwide race at Iowa was a compact two-hour event, rather than the four or five hour marathon that is a Sprint Cup race. One of the main things that keeps me from watching Sprint Cup live is I don't have four hours to invest in any sporting event. Better to just jump in with 50 to go ... and then it's still usually an hour.
Pace Car Ride with Austin Dillon -- Got a ride around Iowa from Austin Dillon in one of the speedway Camaro pace cars. It's amazing that driving at about 105 mph is not a big thing to these guys. Going into turn four Austin says "listen to the tire noise" ... you could hear the car kind of sliding. This amused Austin but sort of disconcerted me. Plus pitting in a stock car has all the elegance of ramming it into a wall. You sort of get mid-turn 3 then CRANK it down the hill into the pit. BANZAIIII. Also the famous bump at Iowa Speedway over the tunnel between turn 2 and 3 is pretty noticeable. The bump is worse down low; that's where you want to go to be fast. Most drivers DO NOT want the bump fixed. "Gives the track character" is what they say.
Very Low Fawning Factor -- If you are worried about Nationwide fawning over Danica (not sure why you would be, but if you are) you can stop. She had one, 15-minute media availability which she shared with Ricky Stenhouse. That was it. Stenhouse and FIVE other drivers had the same kind of availability. It's all demand driven, and there's always demand for a Danica press conference, but as far as fawning over her: No. No evidence of that. NASCAR did a great job of bringing in the top three from qualifying and the race regardless of who that is.
Indy 500 Qualifying -- No bumping, but I'm not bunched up about that. (Except in the sense that I pesonally would have liked to see Pippa Mann jump in a car and make a run.) I don't think the masses of casual fans get all frothed up one way or another, frankly. Naturally bumping is ideal for excitement and drama, but no bumping hardly ruins the event, IMO. More exciting than no bumping is the fast 9 of qualifying. Ryan Briscoe on the pole, Jame Hinchclifffe P2, Josef Newgarden starts P7. Even Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose team had to buy his way in last year, was P3. Great story lines at the front.
Yeah, Penske is up there. But so are some young turks. That's awesome. That's what IndyCar needs. New blood, new challenges for the Death Star teams (Ganassi and Penske) who have won everything for so long.
Good to see Katherine Legge get in their. The last-second engine switch from Lotus to Chevrolet really threw a wrench in things, but Katherine and her teammate Sebastien Bourdais managed to qualify comfortably. We'll see what the race brings. I think Katherine is a much better racer than many seem to think. She had an ultra pig of a Lotus enigne so far, so it's a bit difficult to judge her skills in that car. Now that she's got the Chevrolet power, not only at the 500 but in the remaining schedule, it should be a more fair demonstration of her skills (or lack thereof). I think she'll show well for herself and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.
James Hinchcliffe -- You should read the transcript of Hinch's news conference today. (Here). Here's a key passage:
Hinch: "At the end of the day, as much as racecar drivers like to think we do this week in and week out, to be us, to be racecar drivers, it's got nothing to do with that, it's all about the fans. It's why we have the opportunity to show up every Sunday and have the coolest job in the world."
I read that and almost cried. Seriously. Someone who gets it. The fans are the most important thing. That's not just because I'm a fan. It's because I'm smarter than a tree and I know that without fans you don't have jack squat. No fans ... no sponsors. No sponsors ... no anything. I've harped on this over and over and over. If all drivers, owners and IndyCar employees had Hinch's mindset, IndyCar would immediately start to grow and prosper. But the odds of many owners putting anything in front of themselves are slim, sadly. Lose sight of the primacy of your customers and you lose market share. IndyCar is a case study.
Josef Newgarden also seems to get it. There are others, of course. Ed Carpenter comes to mind. Hinch just had the stones to speak up about it. Newgarden is a welcome breath of fun and fresh air. Hinch said once in an interview that he was continuously perplexed by racecar drivers who walked around as if they were hating every second of what they do. Pissed, moody, angry at whoever (including fans). I'm with Hinch. It makes no sense. If it gives you so much pain, get out of racing and let someone who would give a kidney to be in your place take over.
Indy 500 Race -- It's supposed to be a hot one. Wear your sunscreen. Stay hydrated. I'll be watching from the air conditioned comfort of my couch. Enjoy the race.