Thursday, December 6, 2012

Indy Hot Stove

Pretty crazy that we are already in December, isn't it? Hard to believe that in just over three weeks it will be 2013, and while that still leaves a while to go before St. Pete, at least we will be getting to the point where we can see it from here.

As a baseball fan, especially one who spends his summer with a minor league baseball team that usually finishes up around Labor Day, I'm familiar with a long off-season. Not to say I like it or get used to it, but this long, almost 200-day haul from one game (race) to the next is made bearable only because of a flurry of activity that happens on a few occasions over the winter.

With baseball in its Winter Meetings this week, which gives fans a few things to talk about, IndyCar is sort of doing the same, as some happenings this week seem to be shaking up some of the doldrums.

So in no certain order, here's what I've got:

Smoke Watch 2012 is over. As expected, Tony Stewart turned down Roger Penske's offer of a ride for the 2013 Indy 500, but left the door slightly open to maybe driving for him someday down the road. So ends a fun five days that left a lot of people wondering the possibilities of Stewart running the 500.

Stewart said he has a "full plate" and just doesn't think he has the proper time needed to prepare to drive the DW12 and be competitive.

"(IndyCar) is so competitive now, you're not going to just show up like drivers used to do in the past and be competitive," he told the Associated Press. "These guys don't leave anything on the table there. You're not going to stroll into the Indy 500 with these guys who race every week and be as competitive as they are."

He is right. This isn't the series he was competing against when he did the double a decade ago, it is deeper and much more talented. While I think a driver of his overall skill (the best among his generation), combined with the resources of Penske Racing could pretty much flatten the learning curve, as competitive of a guy as Stewart is he wouldn't be happy unless he felt like he had a very probable chance to win the race.

So ends the chase, but it was fun while it lasted.

RHR to carry the No. 1 next year. Andretti Autosport unveiled its liveries, and Ryan Hunter-Reay will indeed carry the coveted No. 1 on his car in 2013. You know me, I'm not into the good old days being always good, but I'm very happy to hear about the news. This is where I indeed embrace tradition, and love that the national champion will be carrying the No. 1 on his car. Growing up, I used to look forward to going to Indy and seeing that number on the reigning champ's car (or the reigning 500 winner if they wanted to use it). I saw guys like Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Al Unser and Emerson Fittipaldi carry that digit, and I felt like there was such an honor and prestige in doing so.

Of course, times have changed, and now often a number is part of a driver's identity and brand, which is why the switch to No. 1 isn't done as frequently. Add that to the fact that the No. 28 is a number that is near and dear to RHR's heart (the 28 is dedicated to his late mother and the 28 million people worldwide living with cancer), and it would have been understandable had he continued to race the 28. But if you look closely at his livery, the 28 is integrated into the No. 1 and while it can only really be seen from up close, it does have a position of honor on the car.

RHR said he made the switch as a reward to his team and sponsors and that they deserve that. I agree.

AA also announced that Marco Andretti will be switching to the No. 25 next year, after claiming the No. 26 he had been driving for the last seven years is all of the sudden unlucky. Really? I thought it was a result of blatant underachieving. Look, the car doesn't know what number it has on its side, and it doesn't know what color it is. All the car does is it responds to the guy (or woman) holding the wheel and operating the pedals. Hopefully an attitude adjustment comes with this change as well because that is what will make a difference for Marco next season.

Driver moves. Oriol Servia became the lastest driver to solidify his status for next season when he re-upped with Panther/DRR next year. That was almost a given but when you look at the difficulty many drivers and teams have in getting sponsor dollars, it's only set in stone when the contracts are signed.

Still, it's good to see him once again get a consistent ride after bouncing around for several years despite his solid talent and credentials. A couple of years back I questioned why he always seemed to be looking for a team despite doing a solid job every time he was called upon. If they improve on their qualifying efforts this year, don't be surprised if he sneaks onto the podium a couple of times, and might even steal a race on an oval, where he has been pretty fast, especially at Indy the last two years.

One move that sounds intriguing is the rumor that Takuma Sato might be heading to drive for AJ Foyt. Should it pan out, it would mean Taku would be taking his considerable talent to a third team in three years, after driving for KV Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan the last two seasons. Someone is going to get this guy figured out and tap a lot of that potential someday, aren't they? When (or if) that day comes whatever team has him could be onto something special, but until then be ready to spend an awful lot of money.

Foyt also announced that Conor Daly will be in the seat for a test drive at Sebring next week. I always liked Conor's dad, Derek, when he was a driver (must be the fact I'm mostly Irish) and it's good that a young driver is getting the chance to see what he can do in the car. It would be nice if it led to something, perhaps a drive at Indy?

Triple Crown. Randy Bernard (RIP...well, at least as IndyCar CEO) came up with the idea of $1 million going to the driver who wins Indy, Pocono and Fontana in one year ($250K if they can win two of them), and like many of his great ideas (ahem) they are keeping it in place for next year. Yesterday Fuzzy's Vodka stepped in as the title sponsor of the Triple Crown, no doubt hoping they can keep it in-house and give the phat cash to Ed Carpenter, who they sponsor full-time during the season.

It is crazy-tough to win one 500-mile race -- ever -- let alone two 500 milers and a 400 miler in one season, so equalling the accomplishment of Al Unser, who in 1978 won at Indy, Pocono and Ontario (RIP, for real) will be a tall task. Still, several drivers, most notably Foyt, Mears and Gordon Johncock, won two of them in one year, so that would be some good company to run with if someone can take the checkered flag twice.

Whether one driver wins both Indy and Pocono, or one driver wins Indy and another Pocono, the bonus is guaranteed to be in play at Fontana in the fall. Either way that should bring a bit of buzz into the finale, which is a good thing. Speaking of Carpenter, as crazy as it sounds, do you put him up as one of the favorites to cash in? His team steps up and approaches certain tracks, like Indy, Kentucky and Fontana, with a much deeper focus. If you can't win a championship -- and ECR won't so long as Ed is driving the twisties -- the Triple Crown (or 2 of 3) is a nice consolation prize. And a very profitable one.

The awards banquet is tonight in Indy, so safe travels to everyone attending, and enjoy the evening. For all of the crap that went down this year, celebrate the good stuff, because there was lots of it.

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