Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stuff for a Wednesday

Midweek again, but heading towards a race weekend, so it's not a bad thing. I've got a few things to say...continue reading if you'd like.

Graham Rahal. I was about to give the gift of this post to the world when I saw this piece from Marshall Pruett at Speed that said that Rahal is leaving Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the year. His two-year deal with an option for a third needed to be picked up by today and it wasn't. Shocker!

I truly didn't see that coming. After scrambling for sponsors for a couple of years, he finally found a good partner in NTB/Service Central and it appears they will come with him. There aren't a lot of seats with Honda powerplants, so you have to wonder where he will go.

Would he jump to Rahal Letterman Lanigan and drive for his dad? That appears a possibility that wasn't a couple of years ago. Graham wanted to do this on his own and I respect that. But he's done it on his own, so going back to drive for his dad would be more a decision based on merit that bloodlines. They seem to be pretty close, could they make that move?

Push to Pass. I heard today that there will be an alteration to the push to pass feature at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Apparently there will be a delay that once you hit the button it will be a minimum of five seconds before the extra horsepower kicks in, ramping the horsepower up to the level it was at before the detuned the engines to install P2P.

So far on Twitter, I'm getting the idea the drivers love it. Sarcasm. I think they will get used to it, they are just ticked because they weren't consulted before the idea was implemented. I don't blame them.

This new function kind of reminds me of a previous life when I had a job that required me to repossess stuff. I once had to take back a 1980 Trans-Am (thankfully they gave that back voluntarily), a pretty sweet car that had a serious carburetor problem. As in, you hit the gas and nothing happened for a couple of seconds.

So I am driving it back to the office, and I decide to see what she will do. So I mashed the gas, the engine gurgled for like two seconds, and then the motor unleashed some fury that pushed me back into my seat and took me from 50 to 100 in about a quarter second. Or at least it seemed that fast.

Why am I telling that stupid story? Because it's an example of how I find P2P a stupid idea and I wish it would go away. Why don't we just give the drivers more horsepower and let them sort it out instead of relying on electronics to do it for them?

Wow. Never realized how strongly I felt about it until I typed those last few paragraphs.

Track alterations. On a more positive note, IndyCar did announce that changes would be made to Sonoma and Baltimore to add some more passing zones. This I am behind. The more passing the merrier, especially at Sonoma which hasn't had a lot of action the last couple of years.

Baltimore will lose that bizarre chicane on the straightaway, and the turn that sits at the end of that straight will be widened by about 10 feet to add more passing chances. Work will also be done to turns 5 and 6 per the driver's recommendation.

Sonoma will see turn 7 altered into more of a hairpin and the exit out of turn 9 has been widened by 10 feet. The biggest change occurs at turn 11, which will see the straightaway lengthened by 200 feet to give the cars a bit more time to execute a pass.

Sub! Last week's Mid-Ohio test resulted in one casualty as Charlie Kimball fractured a bone in his right hand after crashing into a tire barrier. Giorgio Pantano, who competed in three IndyCar races a year ago, will step into that seat in what looks to be a one-off effort. The 33-year-old Italian finished 17th as Sonoma, 26th at Baltimore and 16th at Motegi in 2011.

Brickyard. Not a lot of good stuff has come out of NASCAR's trip to Indy over the weekend. Neither the Nationwide or Cup race was very well-attended, and TV ratings took a hit to the tune of 17 percent compared to last year. NASCAR is blaming the Olympics for that one, and that had an effect, but I don't think that much considering the NNS race only dropped .1 from 1.6 to 1.5.

Obviously the race makes a lot of money or neither side would continue the partnership. And I like NASCAR at Indy because as the Racing Capital of the World it should host events of all disciplines. I wish they could do more -- although there should be only one IndyCar race there, that's for sure!

I think NASCAR really screwed up moving the Nationwide race over from Lucas Oil Raceway. That was a great niche race and to have it on Saturday night before the big race was cool. Plus it was great short-track racing and people love that.

The estimated attendance was 40,000 but it looked like the race at Chicagoland the week before had more people. I kid, but there wasn't 40K there, no way -- just like there wasn't 20,000 at Chicago either. Still, why mess up a good thing? Oh that's right, they probably felt like they could make more money moving to the Speedway, and that trumps all.

I thought the Cup race was decent. Not "exciting" but not a snoozer either. Jimmie Johnson led 99 laps en route to his fourth win to tie Jeff Gordon for most NASCAR wins at IMS.

Notice I mentioned Gordon's name only. I think there are some who believe that winning the Brickyard four times equates winning the 500 four times. It doesn't, sorry. Thankfully both Gordon and Johnson have enough respect for the Speedway to acknowledge that fact. It doesn't take away what they have accomplished but you don't mention the 500 and the 400 in the same sentence, just like you don't equate winning the Daytona 500 with the Coke Zero 400. Maybe it's the same track, but it is two different events and that needs to be kept in mind because it applies here.

I am glad that Gordon and Tony Stewart did get the chance to win a race at the Speedway given they had grown up dreaming of winning the 500, but both have a good perspective of what winning the 500 means.

Not to mention the fact that the Brickyard has been run 19 times, and almost half of them have been won by two guys, from the same team no less. Anyone who has won the 500, even once, can tell you it's the hardest race of their lives to win. When one team has racked that many wins in a race's short history, it doesn't add up.

I got into a discussion on Twitter with soemone who said that Johnson's win made him arguably the best driver ever at IMS, along with AJ Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser and Gordon. Well, if you are going to base it on total wins, I guess Michael Schumacher would be since he won there five times.

But the discussion of "greatest" starts and ends with the 500, and the rest fall into line. I make this argument for two reasons: 1) the 500 is the centerpiece of the track and 2) they have been racing there for 100 years, you are counting a lot of guys out if you go just solely on wins.

I mean, I look at the drivers I've followed over the last 30 years and several of them could be in that conversation as well. I mean, how is Mario Andretti not in the discussion? What about putting Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves or Al Unser Jr. in the discussion? Or even Dan Wheldon? Or one of my favorites, Emerson Fittipaldi? In a six-year stretch, Emmo led 493 laps, won twice and came a blistered tire (1990) and a stupid decision (1994) away from winning two more times.

Look, the "greatest" three (Foyt, Unser, Rick Mears) did enough to separate themselves from the rest. They are the only ones who should be in that discussion. Everyone else is racing for fourth place.

One controversy Johnson did cause was his burnout on the bricks at the start/finish line after winning. I am on the fence about that one. Burnouts and donuts -- a tradition mostly started by the beloved Alex Zanardi, by the way -- are how drivers celebrate wins. Was it poor form to do it on the bricks? Yeah, I'll give you that. Lesson learned for next time, but we don't have to burn him at the stake for it.

After all, like I mentioned last week, some of the best racers of all time won just one out of every 10 starts, so if it were me I would celebrate every single one of them like it was 1999. I mean, let's set our biases aside, if Tony Kanaan wins the 500 next year and does donuts until the tires wear down to their rims, including over the bricks, would we harp on him about it? No way, in fact, I'm going to start a campaign that when he wins we storm the track like they do in college football and basketball. TK deserves that!

AJ Allmendinger. Been a tough few weeks for Dinger, as a failed drug test after the Kentucky Cup race led to his being released from the Penske organization today.

First of all, I salute NASCAR (and IndyCar) for having such policies and that the system worked. I don't think anyone likes the result, but we have to accept the decisions and move on. Dinger has already begun the Road To Recovery program, which could lead to NASCAR resinding his suspension in the next several months.

Where will this leave Allmendinger's career? Who knows. There is some hope he comes back to open wheel racing, and maybe that is a good idea given the success he had in Champ Car several years back.

If he gets a ride, someone will be taking a big risk, and will have to decide if it is worth it. I think the first thing he needs to do is start mending some fences, beginning with full disclosure to any team and owner exactly what triggered the positive test.

I know the public wants that answer as well, but in the end I don't really care. He is still just a person like the rest of us and it is a private matter that should stay that way. Some have argued that his fellow drivers should know as well. I'll put it this way, so long as he keeps passing subsequent tests that doesn't matter. I would hope he isn't stupid enough to put himself into a situation where he fails another.

Plus, he's got to get back into the good graces of the media and fans, because I don't think his manager, Tara Ragan, did him any favors whatsoever with her speculation and spin doctoring. Taking the high road would have made him look much better. They failed a test and they knew exactly what had been detected in that test. How that got in his system and whether it was deliberate or on accident, is a whole different discussion.

They tried to play ignorant and it jumped up and bit them. Toeing the line and letting the process run its course would have been better, because they way they approached it they seemed like they had something to hide. AJ should have taken a little better control of the situation.

Senna. ESPN2 aired the unbelievable documentary about the life and career of Ayrton Senna Sunday night, and counting my first viewing last December I have now seen it four times. It's just an incredible piece of work, and if you haven't seen it, get If you have but not in the last couple of days, watch it again.

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