Yo yo yo home skillets. How’d the weekend go? Kind of a weird one with NASCAR on Saturday night and no IndyCar a’tall. Grab some dark roast and DRINK, ye BASTARDS while we discuss …
NASCAR in the Lone Star with Gratuitous Danica Photo – So NASCAR went down to Texas and had themselves a festival of tire strategy. Yeeee haw. Kyle Busch is a big fan of Texas since he won both the Nationwide race on Friday night (where he started P2) and the Sprint Cup race on Saturday night, where he started from the pole.
DON’T LOOK NOW, IT’S A STREET RACE! NASCAR fans may want to turn away and therefore not read this, but you have more in common with road and street race fans than you think. First of all, the races at Texas were a Festival of Tire Strategy, Nationwide especially. This year Nationwide teams get five sets of tires (one set on the car at the start, four sets in the pits). In general fresh tires are more grippy and allow you to go faster. On some tracks (Texas) the difference between fresh tires and old tires is huge. So the challenge is to save a set of tires for the end when you need them, as everyone did late in the Cup race.
The ESPN booth posse talked about tires so much I thought I was listening to an F1 race at times. Not saying this isn’t interesting. I am saying this is a lot of the same kind of talk that I hear when I watch road races. (Sample tire talk here.)
I’m OK with tire strategy playing a pretty big role, but then again I’m OK with road and street races. All NASCAR needs now is to adopt is …
- The alternate tire rule
- Push-to-Pass (push the button, get more horsepower for a brief time)
- KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System that provides horsepower boosts on F1 cars)
- DRS (Drag Reduction System that opens the back wing on F1 cars for increased speed)
(Note: I KNOW IndyCar doesn’t do alternate tire rules on ovals. Loosen up on me a little, OK?)
Second of all, Kyle Busch won the Cup race from the pole and used a cat-quick pit stop to pass Martin Truex Jr. in the pits under yellow with 19 to go. Truex said as soon as Busch beat him out of the pits, the race was over. With fresh tires Busch proved uncatchable. Sounds reallllly streety to me.
What isn’t road-race-like are these crazy phantom cautions NASCAR seems to have really often, especially at places like Texas. Truex had a big lead when a “debris” caution struck late at Texas which killed his lead. Was it really for debris or not? Truex tweeted: "Debris huh????" Only NASCAR knows for sure if it was legit or PHANTOM.
It just seems to me that the same chunk of “debris” that isn’t a big deal on lap seven becomes EVER MORE MENACING if we stay green until lap 47. It’s almost as if they use this formerly harmless “debris” as an excuse later in the race to throw the yellow. I can see someone in the spotter stand scanning the track with super-high-powered binoculars, race director screaming over the radio “FIND ME SOME DEBRIS, GODDAMN IT, WE’VE BEEN GREEN FOR 50 LAPS.” Binocular-man: “WEIRD-SHAPED GRAY BLOB OUTSIDE TURN 2!!!” (Yellow comes out.) Cautions just to ramp up the drama? NASCAR? NAAAAAH. Never happen.
Again, I may (and often am) be full of shit and 100% of these “debris” cautions are legit (some are obviously legit), but, ah, I have my doubts that are reinforced by a lot of lack of showing said debris on TV.
ANYWHO, there are no phantom debris cautions in road racing, especially F1, which doesn’t go full-course yellow unless there are visible parts of cars scattered across the track.
But before we get TOO righteously indignated over this, check the debatable drama ramping techniques discussed in the F1 blob below.
I listened to Johanna Long on the scanner in the Nationwide race. Her car started out kind of crappy and then she lost four laps under yellow with a “broken axle cap.” Not sure even what that is (I’m kind of new here) or if that was caused on the track or during a tire change in the pits, but it cost her any shot at a decent finish. From there out it was pretty unremarkable for Johanna.
Speaking of unremarkable races, Danica was looking good Saturday in the belt buckle she got from her squeeze Ricky Stenhouse Jr. while at Texas. Ricky is from Olive Branch, Mississippi, and likes to wear the western duds, including the extra-large belt buckle like rodeo cowboys wear.
Danica got her buckle as a reward from Ricky last season for helping him get more Twitter followers. As first reported long ago by Danica confidant Nate Ryan of USA Today, Danica just asked for “a belt buckle” in return for helping him, but Ricky got her a super blinged out buckle, with Danica’s logo in the middle and her car numbers, 7 (Nationwide 2011) and 10, outside of that, encrusted in diamonds and stuff. Back then it was almost like a “promise ring,” a “promise buckle.” Danica makes about every fashion look good, so she was sporting around her buckle and cowboy boots at Texas (see gratuitous photo above).
I guess rodeo cowboy groupies are called “buckle bunnies,” so insert several media stories here about Danica being Ricky’s buckle bunny (and rainbows!). It seems only fair to me that Danica set Ricky up with some sharp Armani or whatever the equivalent men’s wear is from the high fashion stuff she’s into off track. They could look like a couple from The Matrix.
Unfortunately on the track there was no bling-bling for Danica, who struggled with a looooose car early and ended up P28 and three laps down. Similarly unremarkable to Johanna’s, minus the mysterious damage to the car. Ricky had a worse race, losing control and bashing the wall, losing about 35 laps.
Danica said her car was twitch and unsettled early. It seemed her car got better later, but by then she was already several laps down and in “make laps and learn” mode (that’s different than “get up there and win” mode).
The good news was that nobody started screaming at each other on the pit-to-driver radio despite the frustration. I heard maybe one an F-bomb (I am convinced someone is censoring Danica’s radio channel, cutting her off when she starts a profane rant), but for the most part everyone stayed calm. Danica’s teammate, Tony Stewart, didn’t exactly rip the world up at Texas finishing P21 and a lap down. Stewart Haas Racing didn’t have it right at Texas.
Another notable thing from the Cup race … Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski’s cars failed inspections and had some rear-end housing parts and pieces confiscated. We’ll see if the NASCAR Tribunal metes out punishment for the violation. Logano came through all that, which included his car being VERY late through inspection before the race, and finished fifth, which was impressive.
The always low-key* (*denotes sarcasm) Keselowski riffing on NASCAR post-race with accusations of persecution, etc. He even said “The things that I've seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything that I believe in, and I'm not happy about it. I don't have anything positive to say, and I probably should just leave it at that." Read all of what Brad said here: http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2013/04/14/keselowski-furious-with-nascar-after-parts-confiscated-from-car/. I have no idea what a possible motive for NASCAR persecuting Penske could be, so I’m skeptical of Brad’s wailings.
Audi in IndyCar? -- Autosport.com posted this story that talked about German automaker Audi maybe expanding its racing involvement in America, including maybe IndyCar, Daytona Prototypes and DTM America. Autosport’s posting set off a Festival of Stories quoting it. Volkswagen and Audi were part of discussions that led to the current IndyCar engine formula (2.2 liter V-6 turbocharged) introduced for 2011.
Natürlich (“Naturally” in German!) IndyCar fans are a-froth about this (well, the hardcores are) because 1) the more engine makers the better and 2) Audi doesn’t show up just to get a participation medal, they show up to win, which would push everyone. Audi is a luxury brand that has really made some sales gains here in the U.S. in the last few years. Plus I just like saying “Audi.” Give at that “ah-ow-dee” flavah.
OK … get those black helicopters airborne and flash back with me to the IndyCar race at St. Petersburg. Remember when Chip Ganassi made his super-rare extended public statements, holding court for Jenna Fryer of the AP, Nate Ryan of USA Today and Brand James of ESPN? Remember how he bagged pretty heavily on his engine maker, Honda? I’m thinking “why would Chip bag on Honda if he had to work with them for the foreseeable future? That’s not Chip-like.” And you KNOW if Chip is talking so openly to the media he has a reason, and it ain’t “to be a nice guy” or “to inform the fans.” It’s “to benefit Chip.”
Consider: could Chip have been putting a shot across Honda’s bow because Audi has talked to him? The deal is already done with Audi so he can pop off at Honda because it’s fun and to set up his leaving them? Put on your night vision goggles and think about it.
F1 in China -- the race was before the crack of dawn Sunday (1:30 a.m. Central or some such) so I caught it on the DVR. Not bad. Again, it was mostly about tyre management. Fernando Alonso popped into the lead on the first lap and won.
The quandary in F1 seems to be this: There is drama in the races. For example, in China although Alonso won by 10 seconds, not uncommon in F1 races, the drama was between Kimi Räikkönen in P2, Lewis Hamilton in P3 and Sebastian Vettel in P4. For a time Kimi and Lewis were battling for P2. But then Lewis faded a bit from that battle, only to be caught up from behind by Vettel, who pitted for fresh tyres with about six laps to go and cranked off some qualifying-speed laps (sending Mr. Sector Times, Steve Matchett into a joyful frenzy) to come within a second of Lewis before, you guessed it, Vettel’s tyres started to go off.
So the ends was drama, but the means was the option tyres with the softer option lasting about six laps and the harder option lasting maybe triple that. Not everyone is impressed. Here’s a blurb from The Guardian (U.K.):
This was a race dominated by the different demands of soft and medium tyre strategies but for the spectators the best strategy of all would have been to remain at home. Perhaps the one consolation was that boredom has seldom been as frenetic as this. There was a certain energy in the ennui. But while a lot of people were moving quickly, like wind-up toys, very little was actually happening.
Ouch. Read it all here.
This debate has been raging at various levels in F1 for a while. Take away the KERS, DRS and alternate tyre rule and the race tends to become (that doesn’t mean always becomes) the hardest-core kind of road race: 90% about where you qualify, very little on-track overtaking, pit strategy becomes ultra important. Bunch of riding around hoping the guy in front of you screws up so you can overtake.
Apparently F1 believes the audience won’t watch that in sufficient numbers, so they have all these other things like DRS. The last 10 laps held my interest. I kept watching the gap (which F1 coverage shows on the screen) hoping Kimi would stay more than a second ahead of Hamilton. The rule is in order to use your DRS you have to be within one second of the car in front of you.
(Recap: DRS is a device that opens the back wing plane to eliminate drag causing the car to gain about 5 mph. Every race has a “DRS” zone -- usually on a long straight section -- in which the driver can flap it open and get the boost … IF he is within one second of the car ahead of him.)
Then, once Kimi was consistently more than a second ahead of Hamilton and I was no longer concerned for Kimi, we had Vettel going about three seconds a lap faster than Hamilton coming from about 15 seconds back to see if he could get third. The booth posse was ALL OVER THIS late drama. Festival of exclamations! Vettel just didn’t have quite enough to get there.
So is that “entertainment” or “gimmickry?” The debate rages. See the Guardian article for the gimmickry argument.
Well, that’s the lot. We got F1 at Bahrain, NASCAR at Kansas and IndyCar at Long Beach this weekend. Rest up.