Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Wishes for 2013!

So here we are, at the end of 2012. While I am excited for the future, I have to say that this past year was one of the best I have had in a long, long time. I met a lot of great people and had some awesome experiences, and am happier than I have been in, well, years.

I have a lot to look forward to in 2013, but everyone does. The best part of starting over is that the sky is the limit, so hopefully you get there in the coming year.

With 2013 upon us, I'm going to throw out a few wishes for the next 365 days. Hopefully a few of them come true.

IndyCar: You know, it was a tumultuous 2012...the on-track product was the best but the series, to quote an old football coach I used to cover, "shot itself in the foot so many times they ran out of bullets". Hopefully that ends in the future. I don't need any miracles, I just want to see things get better. I want to see some stability, some better decisions, and a better working relationship between the front office and the owners, not to mention a bigger commitment to the fans!

4-time: We enter this year with something rare, with two three-time Indy 500 winners, Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves, looking to take that final step into legendary status and join AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as four-time winners. Truthfully, I think both of them will get there before the end of their careers, but at the same time, there are several drivers who raced for their fourth wins and never got there. And considering Dario, Helio and Dan Wheldon have won eight of the last 12, and there isn't another multiple-winner in the field, if they retire without winning a fourth, it may be a while before anyone gets this close again. It would be great to see one of them get into Victory Lane next year.

Tony Kanaan: Speaking of Victory Lane, if Dario or Helio don't get there, hopefully TK does. I've seen some great days at the Speedway, but TK winning would be one of the greatest. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay: RHR was one of the biggest surprises of 2012, winning four times and the series championship. He is on the cusp of becoming a true superstar and drove with so much confidence at the end of the year that he is primed to go to the next level. There is more than enough room in the series for another superstar, and an American one at that (for those people who think that matters).

Will Power: My wish for him is simple, to figure out the ovals. Then again, once he does, he becomes pretty much unstoppable, and that might be boring!

Marco Andretti: 2012 was a total implosion for him. I hope he gets his attitude in order and approaches next season with a true passion for his job and for winning.

Hinchcliffe, Oriol Servia, Simon Pagenaud and Alex Tagliani: Just win, baby!

The fans! Here is my biggest wish of all, that every one of you enjoys the 2013 season. Just have fun, stop spending so much time worrying about the "impact" of every single move the series makes, the impression it leaves on others and how each and every thing "moves the needle". Honestly! I'm not a kittens and rainbows guy, you all know that. But dammit, the guys (and ladies) drive their asses off for our enjoyment. They have a car that lets them put on a thrill show almost every weekend, and as I have harped on before, we are approaching a golden age where the competition could be the best it's ever been.

Still, I spent most of last year reading blogs and Twitter posts of people who are seriously holding on too tight (me included). Enjoy the series for what it is, because if the worst happens and IndyCar goes away, our lives won't end. We'll all find something else to do and hopefully we have great memories to take with us.

My son Matt ran in the Illinois state cross country meet a couple of months ago. If I viewed the experience as most people do IndyCar, I would've spent the last two months dwelling on his off day (he finished 170th after sitting in the top 60 after the first mile), why it happened or how it affects his college prospects. Are you kidding me? Pardon my french, but holy shit, outside of the day he was born it was one of the biggest thrills of my life. It was incredible, despite the fact that no one on his team ran well. At that point, it just didn't matter, because everything that went with it was amazing.

I'm going to try to take that attitude into next season, and you should too. Life is too short, and the seasons too few, to sit around doing some of the things we do. Do what makes you happy, because in the end that is what all that matters.

That's not to say we should care about the series or its future, but instead of worry about what everyone else is doing or thinking, take care of what you can control. Watch the races, follow the sport and encourage people you know to do the same. What happens from there, happens.

I took a bit of a break from blogging and Twitter(ing) because it had stopped being fun. A lot of the stuff I read and people's reactions to things that were posted had just gotten so negative I just didn't want a part of it.

I'm hoping to return with a better attitude and while I don't want to ignore the bad stuff that is going on, because I'm as concerned about the future as anyone, I don't want it to become the center of my fan-dom either. I hope the same for you too.

Lecture over. To all my friends, family and readers, I hope you all have a blessed and happy new year.

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.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Double Talk

 I don't know if Roger Penske is a drinker, but I wonder if he was a bit tipsy at the NASCAR season-ending awards banquet in Vegas tonight when he said he would enter a car for the Indy 500 for Tony Stewart if Smoke was so inclined.

As Jenna Fryer reported on Twitter, Penske said Friday: "If he wants to do the double, I'd put him in it. We've talked about it before, I guess I've made it official tonight."

Stewart couldn't be found for a comment, but Fryer did file a follow-up story. Further proving I was wrong when I ripped some of her writing back in the spring. Consider this my apology, Jenna.

Anyway, from the story, another quote from The Captain:

"Where's Stewart?" Penske asked during his speech accepting the Sprint Cup trophy during NASCAR's season-ending awards ceremony. "How about doing the double at Indy this year? You available?"

I'm actually surprised a guy like Penske, who is normally pretty guarded in his comments, would make such a public statement, but the idea works for everyone. Penske gets one of the best all-around talents of his generation, Stewart gets a ride with the most successful owner in Indy 500 history and IndyCar gets a ton of publicity.

I don't care what Tony Stewart says, he hasn't ever been able to quit the Indy 500, and though he has won the Brickyard 400 twice, I don't think it's enough. When he was driving a wrecker past the Speedway every day when he was younger, he didn't dream of winning the Brickyard 400. There is little the man has left to accomplish, but I still think Indy is on his bucket list.

If he did jump back in the car and attempt the double, it would be his first time doing so since his epic day in 2001, when he finished 6th at Indy driving for Chip Ganassi then followed that up with a third-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte later that night.

Stewart eschewed any further attempts at running the double, saying he needed to focus on his team and his quest for a championship. Well, now he owns his own team, he's won three championships, and the fact that he brought a truck race to his track at Eldora shows he has some serious clout. He's at the point in his career when he can do it.

And besides, outside of Sam Hornish and Danica Patrick, Stewart is the only other driver in NASCAR who I think could jump in a DW12 and go fast right away. As much as I'd love to see a guy like Jimmie Johnson (who wants to do it, BADLY) try it, the learning curve to run up front -- which would be the only reason to try -- would be too massive without plenty of testing laps, which they just don't have the time commitment to do.

I'd like to see it happen, because as someone who considers himself a fan of Stewart's, I'd love to see him compete in and win the race. Not because of what it might mean to IndyCar, but it's unfortunate to see him not have a win in the 500 on his resume, or a win at the Daytona 500, for that matter.

Yeah, it would also be a good thing for IndyCar. Can you imagine the coverage that would come with this? It would be a huge story that would probably lead to some pretty big ratings on race day. Stewart is a needle-mover, it's that simple.

The hardest thing, and Penske did bring this up as well, is getting the two series together to work this out. NASCAR and IndyCar are like two political parties, and NASCAR isn't all that interested in helping IndyCar in any way, shape, or form. There would be a lot of pieces in this puzzle, and NASCAR would have to be a willing partner. Who the hell knows if that would happen.

Now, I posted a farcical story a couple of years ago about Stewart losing weight to try the double, and judging by what I have seen lately, he would have a lot of work to do to get into the type of condition it would take to run both races. It's been 12 years, the rigors of running both races is tougher, and as I can personally attest, you can't do things at age 42 that you were able to do at 30. Preparing for what the day would do to him physically would be harder for him than getting comfortable with the car.

Still, if everybody is all-in on this one, I'd love to see it happen. Besides, it's the middle of winter and it's fun to talk about, so why not?