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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Open-Wheel Open-Door

The Southern Nascar sky is falling! Open wheel drivers are taking over! There is no room left for the good 'ol Late Model racer! People panic and think it's the end of the world because drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, AJ Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jr are coming to Nascar.

Of course it's all ridiculous and overhyped.

Would baseball be better off without Japanese players? Has the NBA self-destructed with the influx of European players?

Some of the world's best drivers want a part of stock car racing. This is a good thing; it only makes the talent pool greater. It brings more respect and credibility (and yes, dollars) to the sport. Where's the fire?

"But what about our roots in Late Models? The sport is ignoring them!", cries the guy who still wants to race back to the line on cautions, wants to abolish the Chase and thinks Rockingham will be on the '07 schedule.

Plenty of teams still use Late Models as a good proving ground. DEI, Gibbs, and Roush have all found drivers in Late Models. Chevrolet just had an high-level driver development tryout with Late Models drivers like Joey Lagano, Marc Davis and Jeffrey Earnhardt. Lagano is considered one of the premiere prospects in the pipeline.

It is still a legitimate feeder for future drivers. One difference now, is more drivers have Nascar as their goal rather than IRL or Champcar. The talent pool is greater, and as a result, so are the variety of paths to make it to Nascar.

With more owners with open-wheel connections, it only makes sense that more open-wheel drivers feel comfortable making the leap to stock cars. Ganassi, Penske and Red Bull all have strong ties to open-wheel racing. These owners have a history with certain drivers. They have a better idea of how they interact with sponsors, their talents and weaknesses, and likewise the drivers know what kind of operations the respective owners have. That history erases many of the unknowns about prospective drivers. Like other sports, Nascar is much more than pure talent.
Let's say Roger Penske needs a new driver. He could scout the Late Model ranks, even hold a Gong Show, and probably be able to find a good young prospect. Or he can look at his open-wheel connections and find a driver that he has an established repoire and history with like Sam Hornish. Both paths could reap a top notch Cup driver, but Penske would probably be more comfortable with the IRL route.
Dale Earnhardt Jr or Kevin Harvick may take the opposite route to field a driver for their Busch teams. Neither method is wrong. They are both looking for a driver that can go fast.
It doesn't stop at open-wheel drivers either. Ginn Motorsports(formerly MB2, formerly Valvoline, but no relation to OSU WR Ted Ginn) recently signed motocross starRicky Carmichael to a development deal.

There is no guarantee that a driver from any background will succeed. Look at Adrian Fernandez, Paul Tracy, AJ Foy IV, or Michel Jourdain. However, in an age where sponsor money rules, an established star from another series is more attractive.

I have not seen any drivers complain about the "open-wheel invasion". Many drivers have reached out to Montoya and are excited that a Formula 1 driver wants to take part in their series. Increased talent only enhances Nascar's worldwide credibility as a premiere racing series. Why wouldn't current drivers embrace that?

Further, why shouldn't fans embrace that?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Da' Bris

First, as disclosure, I didn't watch the race. I listened to most of it on the radio, so I never saw the video of Robby Gordon and the alleged roll-cage padding incident. Whether Gordon did it intentionally or not is too hard to figure out. Even if Nascar inspected every car, as Jeff Burton suggested, the padding may not have come from actual roll cage in the car. Someone could have had an extra piece hidden in their car, much like Macho Man Savage used to hide foreign objects in his tights. Suddenly the circumstances get desperate and out comes the padding. Burton has a right to be mad about an ill-timed and unnecessary caution. It wasn't however unnecessary because someone tried to throw debris on the track. It was unnecessary becuase with the technology available to Nascar, they should be able to decide what is actually debris.

If High Definition TV can pick up doodoo on Kenny Rogers' hand, it should certainly be able to differentiate foam padding from a tire, spring rubber, brake rotor, hot dog wrapper or Budweiser can. Of course this is the officiating body that flew a green flag while an entire safety crew was still on the track at Lowe's.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but as long as there are great inconsistencies like this in Nascar, people will wonder. David Poole wrote an excellent column today pointing out the large conflicts of interest in Nascar.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I'm Working on it...

Writing is hard work. It is even harder when it is not your job nor get paid for it. Writing everyday is my ultimate goal, but not simply for adding new content. If I'm going to post something, it needs to be worthwhile, not just regurgitating something you could find on Nascar.com. They cause enough vomiting as it is. I also don't want to strictly link to other articles. If I am going to write, I want it to be original, thoughtful content that requires research and time.

So this blog is kind of similar to Robert Yates Racing at this point. Until this summer I wrote on a pretty consistent basis and at least turned out quasi-quality content. Then I fell off the pace and am slowly trying to dig out again.

Until last June, the Yates organization was a threat to win races and make the Chase. Then they fell off the pace, ultimately losing drivers, sponsors and their status as an elite team in Nascar.

I was never elite nor had sponsors to lose, but I am intent on getting back to writing consistently, and with the hope to eventually write in a freelance capacity. In the meantime I am loving the Chase, have plenty of ideas and opinions on what's happening and have some things I'm working on. I hope to finish a few things before the end of the year that can get me rolling into the offseason, because I do want this to become a regular thing again.

A few things that may show up here in the future:
-Revamping Nascar's point system: Seperate points for the Chase would be a great mistake.

-The huge impact of owner's points for next year: Some sponsors are not going to enjoy the ride next year.

-Nascar's future drivers:How can Busch rookies get experience if they can't even last a full season in their rides?

-Car Of Tomorrow (insert your own joke): Like the shorter spoiler in '05, some team is going to hit a home run immediately, while others struggle.

Enjoy Atlanta, maybe I'll have something substantial to say next week.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Fuel Mileage Silliness

Oops, Kansas was supposed to be the boring race in the Chase. It is a flatter 1.5 mile track where it was presumed, most of the Chasers would finish near the front and the points wouldn’t change much. Instead there was racing all day long, several Chasers had trouble and only four finished in the top ten. It was so crazy that Denny Hamlin struggled all day, spun out, got penalized for speeding, finished 18th and moved up two spots in the points.

When a team wins a race on fuel mileage, it is often referred to as a stolen win. I disagree. A stolen win would be a team doing something illegal to win. Outsmarting, outlasting or outdriving the competition is what racing should be. Hypothetically, let’s say Greg Biffle leads 168 laps at the February race in California sponsored as the Auto Club 500. After dominating the majority fo the race, he loses his engine with 22 laps to go. Biffle was easily the best car in the race, but no one would dare say he was robbed of the win. Matt Kenseth wins the race and is rightfully considered the winner. Why is good fuel mileage considered a cheap win?

At Kansas Sunday, Tony Stewart was in the top ten most of the day, and at the end of the race he was a top 3 car. The fact that he was able to conserve more fuel than the rest of the field is a coup. It resulted in a win and no one at Joe Gibbs should apologize for winning and futher, no one should complain about thievery. The amount of time, money and research that goes into building reliable and economic engines deserves credit.

The same thing happened for Jeremy Mayfield last year at Michigan on fuel. At the time Evernham Motorsports was struggling on intermediate tracks. So they spent time improving their fuel mileage. As a result they won a race they had no business winning. It isn’t stealing. They deserve credit for properly preparing. It also makes sense that if you can’t beat a team in flat out speed, you had better find a different way to beat them.

Other Notes:
-After three cautions in the first 19 laps, I feared a tire problem. How else could you explain cars spinning out for no apparent reason? I never heard an answer to the spinouts, but the tires were obviously fine.

-After leading the early laps of the race from the pole, Kasey Kahne never threatened the top five again. He still had a top ten car, but running out of fuel plus a spinout on pit road killed his chances. Not to mention any visions of a top 5 finish in the Chase. All three Evernham cars qualified well, but all finished in the bottom ten.

-Jamie McMurray has now qualified worse than 30th in the last seven races. While qualifying is kind of overrated, it still shows how off the 26 team is. How can a team with the resources of Roush Racing not be able to find more speed than the Chad Chaffins and Kevin LePages?

-Thankfully the Banquet commercials with Tony Stewart were a one-off deal. The first time was entertaining, especially considering the dire lack of new NASCAR commercials during a season, but by the end of the race I wanted nothing to do with Pot-Pies. It must have aired 10 times.

-David Gilliland had his best Cup finish in his young career. He was on the lead lap most of the day before finishing 22nd. To the delight of Yates' fabricators, he also brought it home in one piece for the first time this year.

-After the crazy finish, NBC did a lousy job reporting the final results. Stewart crossed the line, Bill Webber said Casey Mears was second, but didn’t announce anyone else right away. It took quite a while before the results were posted. Not a major issue, but it’s a simple thing that escapes NBC.