OMG, these precious 12 ounces of dark roast coffee I am drinking right now are so amazingly awesome. I only get one cup of real coffee per day, so when I get out of bed in the morning I’m like a honey badger charging the coffee pot. Like a junkie close to a fix.
So let’s let the caffeine wash over us and talk about the recent busy race weekend.
Last year Kansas went to a variable banking layout that ranges from 17-20 degrees in the turns and 9 to 11 degrees in the front stretch. The idea is to create three grooves, each with increasing banking, to encourage two- and three-wide racing. The Iowa Speedway track has a similar set up, although the banking degrees are different. With each year of use and age, the groove at Iowa has gotten wider, and that seems to be happening at Kansas as well, per Mr. Kenseth.
“I like the track,” Kenseth said during a news conference post-race. “Today is the first is the first day I've used the variable banking. The last Roush race I ran the bottom the whole time. Today it really widened out pretty good. I mean, it almost got almost three widths wide where you could move around find some of that. So I think the track is just going to continue to get better and get wider.”
It was an interesting race for Danica Patrick, whom I listened too on the internet-based Race View Audio for which I pay $40 a year. More on that in a second. Danica’s team seemed to have her car wired early on and she was advancing nicely, but then she got a big piece of what looked like a white plastic grocery store bag on the grill of the car and had to make an unscheduled pit stop to get it off. She lost a lap on that deal and the car never seemed to be the same. (Insert some really bad words from me here.)
PLUS, it was Danica’s opinion, expressed forcefully via radio to her pit, that other cars were making themselves unnecessarily wide for her. So right away I hear “if she doesn’t like to be raced hard, she should go away” cries. I hear ya, but there’s "racing hard" and then there’s being a prick. Since everything is legal on the track in NASCAR -- including blocking and intentionally wrecking someone -- it’s easy to be an asshole to a car if you want. Most of the time most drivers won’t make a clearly faster car work that hard to get around them. Kind of a do unto others thing.
Since it's Danica, it's easy to be an asshole because you'll have a legion of people who really have no idea of what happened nonetheless jumping in to ridicule Danica for speaking up. On the down side, the multi-million-strong Danistar Nation will automatically leap in with invectives aimed at the allegedly offending driver.
Almost more interesting to me than Danica’s claims of assholish driving is the response to Danica’s claims to assholish driving. “Whining” is a frequent one. David Gilliland, who seemed to be one of the object of Danica’s ire in Kansas, said she should “shut up and drive.”
I wasn’t at the race and they didn’t show these encounters on TV, so I can’t tell ya if Danica had a good case. I don’t doubt the sincerity of her opinion, however, and she’s not really a whiner. Whiners whine all the time, and that doesn’t fit Danica. She was venting off to her crew which everyone does, but because it’s Danica and she functions under an electron microscope, there were stories about it and reactions thereto. I’m not pissed about that because the same hyper-attention also greatly benefits Danica. It’s a good-with-the-bad deal and Danica herself understands that.
I do know David Gilliland has gotten about 12 times the press attention after Kansas than he would have gotten had he not had his encounter with Danica, so in that sense the whole brouhaha is working out for him. I’m not saying he did anything wrong OR he did something wrong in order to get attention, because, again, I didn’t see it and I don’t know the guy and I can’t read his mind. I am saying brushes with Danica (intentional or not) get you media attention. I can’t imagine the other drivers are oblivious to that fact.
The challenge for Danica, who can be, ah, fiery, is to not let the head games that go on all race get to her. When you got a fast car and you’re moving up, it’s easy to get pissed and enraged at people for racing you hard or being assholes, depending on your point of view. Part of her NASCAR development -- and something that would probably be very difficult for me -- is to stay calm and focused in those cases. Her crew chief, Tony Gibson, did a good job of counseling her on the radio to not get on the rage train and focus on the extra effort needed to drive by someone who is trying hard to hold you up.
Speaking of radio … hey, NASCAR (or whoever is doing it), can you please stop censoring Danica’s radio? I didn’t pay $40 to hear everything except when Danica starts getting salty. Every time Danica starts to f-bomb or yell about something, my scanner cuts out. What a coincidence!
The radio is rock solid and crystal clear all race when she’s saying “loose in, tight off” and other routine stuff, but when she starts to go off, I get “That f (silence).” So spare me the “scanner ap is just buggy” stuff. They don’t even bleep the f-word and give us the rest of the sentence. They cut the whole sentence off after the f-word so I got no idea what she’s even mad about.
Look, I get that maybe we’re trying to protect the kiddies, but I don’t pay for HBO just to be OK with the Soprano’s getting bleeped out. If you pay for the access, you need to know you may hear bad words, so if you don’t want to hear bad words, don’t pay for the access. Either that or offer both a censored and uncensored channel that we can listen to, OR just bleep out the bad word and not cut her off entirely. I can’t see me paying $40 to not hear it on the scanner live and read about it the next day in the paper. Maybe you can seem my issue with that. I think people at the track listening via scanner (not through the Internet) get the uncensored version. Work with me, NASCAR. I’m starting to get f (silence).
IndyCar’s Unlikely Podium and Street Randomness -- Pretty crazy race at Long Beach. Race Notes here. In the end it Tacuma Sato broke a 51-race winless streak, becoming the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race and also breaking an 11-year winless streak for AJ Foyt Racing. The last time Foyt won on a twisty was in 1978 with AJ at the helm. Robin Miller's ode to AJ is here.
P2 was Graham Rahal who drives for Bobby and P3 was Justin Wilson for the ultra-low-budget Dale Coyne racing.
That’s all very encouraging because fans like me have long whined that having the big two (or three) of Target Chip Ganassi, Penske and lately Andretti Autosport win everything is a fun crusher. Sato was clearly overjoyed and AJ Foyt Racing is among the biggest underdogs (or should that be littlest underdog?), so manly tears for them. (Jenna Fryer's ode to underdogs here.)
The results also illustrate the randomness of yellow-filled road and street racing. Wilson started P24 and because he was back there his team decided to bring him in to top off during a yellow on lap 4. That, his ability to overtake people on the track, and getting a timely yellow later let him advance all the way to P3. Without the yellows he probably still would have advanced but I doubt he could get to P3.
How the yellows fall is a part of all forms of racing, and attrition is also a big part of street racing. So one of the interesting wrinkles in watching road and street racing is seeing how those two factors impact the result.
Now contrast IndyCar in Long Beach with the weekend’s F1 race at Bahrain, which had no full-course yellows. My observations here. There weren’t any dramatic P24 to P3 drives, but again tire strategy played a big role in the race. There were also some fierce multi-turn battles in the race. Many of these fights were at least aided by F1’s “gimmicks” (as derided by purists) -- option tires, DRS (Drag Reduction System) and KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) -- all put in place to encourage overtaking. They seem to be working.
Yeah, the winner, Sebastian Vettel, ran away from the pack, but it's usually the case in f1 that the leader runs runs off into the distance. To be an F1 fan you have to enjoy watching cars fight throughout the pack and not just for P1. We had some good drama in this one.
The enjoyment of the IndyCar race was heightened by seeing the little guys win, but for my money the F1 race was the most entertaining from a purely racing standpoint. Despite having no yellows (and therefore no restarts) there were a lot of strategy and knife fights. Kimi Räikkönen's team, for example, used their ability to make tires last and still be quick to move from starting P8 to finishing P2. And without yellows, it felt like it was a more organic result. Again, yellows are part of racing and I take nothing away from wins that are aided by timely yellows. Just saying there’s a lot of purity in watching a yellow-free race that isn’t a follow-the-leader snoozer.
Indy 500 Field of 33-ish -- Finally, we’re getting close to May and for IndyCar fans that means we’re starting to get fixated on car counts. A big part of Indy is the fact that only the fastest 33 cars get in (no provisionals!) In order to have drama we need 34 cars or more trying to qualify. In order to avoid shame (in some people’s eyes) you need at least 33 cars to fill the field. So far the car count is short of 30 and people are starting to get freaked out. Read about it in the Indy Star here.
First, I never panic over car counts. They are what they are. Deploy a big grain of salt when teams say “no plans to add another car.” Not saying they are lying, but maybe they have no plans … this second. Tomorrow, maybe they’ll have plans. Generally you don’t have any plans until the sponsorship deal is signed. THEN you have plans.
There have been 33 cars start the Indy 500 for a zillion years in a row. There are still enough owners who are devoted to the Indy 500 who will find ways to fill the field at least. If not, hey, that’s life. We’re still a couple weeks away from needing to get real puckered up about car counts. Let’s hold our water for a bit here. Usually there are a few seemingly last minute deals that come together, most of which have actually been feverishly worked on for months.
Better get something to eat and crank out this tasty brochure copy I’m writing. No IndyCar next week because they are on their way to Brazil. NASCAR is on track Saturday at 8 p.m. in Richmond (on Fox, drinking term is “bull ring”) and F1 is in Spain (8 p.m. Eastern, NBC Sports Network). Happy Tuesday.