Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Brisoce Back at Penske (?) And A Couple of Other Musings

After reading a couple of stories today that indicate Ryan Briscoe could be back at Penske Racing next year, I was once again reminded of why it is called "silly season".

A few weeks ago, it seemed like he was auditioning for his job, whether for Penske or anyone else, and if that was the case he did respond really well by winning at Sonoma and finishing second at Baltimore before earning a front-row start at Fontana.

Still, that didn't seem to be enough to save him and the rumours were flying that he would be going elsewhere, perhaps in Graham Rahal's old seat at Ganassi B. Now comes word today that if financing is found for a third Penske car that Roger wants him back.

From an Associated Press piece: Right now we are just trying to get a third car lined up. We've got commitment with Helio for another year and obviously with Will, so it's a matter of sponsorship," Penske said. "I am either going to have one or I am not, and I don't know at this point."

Should a third car develop, would Briscoe be in the seat?

"I sure hope so," Penske said.

Doesn't sound like someone who is completely out the door. I could imagine Briscoe being told he could pursue new opportunities, but I'm guessing he is waiting until it was absolutely necessary. Nothing "better" is going to come along so why not hang out and see what the future holds. Because when Roger Penske wants you it's best not to wave at him and say, "you know, Captain, thanks for the offer...but I'm good!"

Outside of Andretti Autosport and Ganassi A any move is neither a step up or even a lateral one.

In the end, I wonder how crazy things can get. I wonder if we are going to be disappointed because this isn't really the time and place to make career changes. In the end I'm predicting that outside of Graham Rahal driving for his dad and one of several drivers filling his seat with Ganassi B that that particular move will represent the end of the madness.

That doesn't mean a good seat isn't out there. Maybe not great, but good. I'm talking about the AJ Foyt entry that is open since Mike Conway walked away from the car at Fontana. Larry Foyt (AJs son and a super nice guy who I interviewed once) said as many as 20 drivers have called about the ride.

They have a couple of different options: 1) bring in a name driver to run the season; 2) bring in a rookie from the feeder series (which they don't want, unless they can add another car and a veteran mentor); 3) bring in two drivers -- and Conway could be one -- to split the driving on the No. 14 car.

It's good to see Mike didn't burn any bridges with his decision (in fact it was highly respected throughout the paddock) to turn away from ovals, because there are a couple of plans that could use his services. He is an above-average twistie driver who can get results if you give him a car. It will be interesting to see who they choose but I would think they would want an experienced driver with the money they are putting into the team. AJFR has had a couple of tough seasons and I'm sure feel like they need to move up the standings in 2013.

With no IndyCar races to talk about...I'm going to talk about Dega. Last weekend was a restrictor-plate race, and as usual stupidity or awesomeness (depending on which side of the aisle you sit) reigned.

Heading to the checkered flag to end a green/white/checker finish, Tony Stewart was leading and in a desperate move to stop a train being led by Michael Waltrip from passing him, started a 25-car melee that led to Stewart ending up on his lid and over a million dollars of perfectly good race cars wrecked.

Call me not impressed. Don't get me wrong, one of the appeals I find in occasionally watching NASCAR is that the cars can lean on each other and bang around a bit. Unfortunately that leads to a lot of wrecked cars and yellow flags, which are boring and a waste of time.

I don't dump on NASCAR all that much because as I mentioned in a post back in February, I no longer compare it to the IndyCar series and when I am interested in watching a race I do, and when I'm not, I don't. Simple.

But I will dump on NASCAR here because more and more it seems like the appeal to a seemingly larger portion of the fanbase are the crashes, because green-flag racing with great passing and intriguing strategy is boring.

Those fans want to see crashes and the want to see the "big one", because it's cool and like thrill ride where all of the cars come to a stop and the drivers climb out and live to fight another day.

I've read a few blogs who have covered this topic, and Steph over at More Front Wing just absolutely, totally nailed it, so I'm going to use a quote of her's, although you can read it here.

The quote:

"It’s a very sad situation for NASCAR that it’s built its entire brand around giving a home to the we-watch-racing-for-the-crashes crowd. For some reason, it’s become okay in NASCAR circles to ignore that there are living, breathing human beings driving these cars — sons, husbands, fathers — and watch solely for the purpose of waiting for them to risk injury or worse for the entertainment of others" 

The line "ignore that there are living, breathing human beings driving these cars..." is the most chilling of the entire piece. We all watch racing for the danger, of course, and the drivers are more than willing to accept that element too. They understand the risks and the knowledge that lots and lots of things could go bad at the wrong time.

But at what level does that risk become unnecessary, and is pack racing approaching that threshold? As Pippa Mann so wonderfully explained to me at Milwaukee, pack racing in open wheel cars is beyond that threshold. When you have a grasp of their concerns from a technical side, you get it. They want to go fast and they want to race hard, but there comes a point where it is stupid and crazy and that's where it has to be pulled back.

Unfortunately it took the death of Dan Wheldon almost a year ago to hammer that point home. As I've said before, NASCAR's become part of the leadership when it comes to safety, and I commend them for it. But at the same time, it's reached a point where everyone has become a bit too comfortable with the car they have built, and how long it's been since something really bad happened.

Sound familiar?

It's near bulletproof, but the car isn't immortal, and neither are the drivers. If you keep rolling those cars out there four times a year and put them in 500-mile crashfests, someone's number is going to come up someday. That's just how this stuff works. Wheldon, and the other drivers in the series, raced thousands and thousands of miles in packs safely, but it took one fateful wobble from one car to change everything.

I have seen the Dega clip a couple of times, and 30 years of watching racing has giving me the instinct to know something is coming. I was about five seconds into that clip when I knew there was going to be a lot of sheet twisted metal. I actually got butterflies in my stomach because the cars were packing up four-wide and no one was going to give an inch. It's similar to the feeling a got as the laps clicked by at Vegas last year.

Man, something has got to be done about this. The drivers hate it...Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that if they had to race that way week after week he'd find another job. And this comes from one of the better plate racers in the business.

The problem is that there are enough fans that want it to keep it, and in the NASCAR world where everything is Disneyworld, no one in the media wants to take it on because they would crush you like a grape. If you don't think that NASCAR controls what the public does and doesn't read, think again.

As a writer, I wouldn't want to take them on, they have muscle and aren't afraid to flex it. Heck, remember back in the day when they wouldn't even let ESPN on the grounds? Kind of funny now. Maybe a guy like Ed Hinton can, and he has before, but it only gets louder when others chime in, and that ain't gonna happen. People aren't going to put their livelihoods on the line to champion a cause.

It's bad for the sport and is bad for the reputation of the sport. And with a championship on the line it shouldn't be left to luck and the roll of the dice. Matt Kenseth didn't win Sunday because he had the best car, he won because he was able to avoid the mess and get across the line first. Lots of plate races are "won" that way.

I don't have the answer on how to fix it, but as Earnhardt said, there are some engineers that do. They need to get to it...and soon. Someday this won't end well.

1 comment:

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