Saturday, March 9, 2013

On Dinger, Hornish and Hamlin

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway held a presser Friday, which was attended by Penske's Tim Cindric, Izod head guy Mike Kelly and driver AJ Allmendinger. The trio announced that Allmendinger will drive for Penske Racing and carry Izod colors (and the No. 2 by the way) at the Indianapolis 500 and next month's race at Barber Motorsports Park.

As I mentioned a while back, I'm pretty positive about this news, for nothing else than it adds another quality driver to the IndyCar fold. No doubt Allmendinger can wheel a single-seater very, very well, and his lap times in his test at Sebring last month weren't far behind teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

His talent, coupled with the resources at his disposal, make him a guy to watch this season. One thing I doubt is that in the end this will be just a two-race deal, or will be just for 2013. It sounds to me like the race at Barber (and Long Beach has been mentioned as well) is a tryout for other events, and if he does well at Indy, adding ovals like Texas, Pocono and Fontana won't be a big deal given he has raced at those tracks in Cup.

I listened to the presser online and was impressed with much of what was said, and I especially appreciated Dinger's candor when responding to questions about his failed drug test last year. He screwed up, and he knows it -- the best thing to do is move forward and try to keep focused on the future, which is all we can control.

I don't know the length of Dinger's drug use -- for all we know it may have been the one-time thing he describes. But as the son of someone who had his battles with alcohol (but was sober the last 28 years of his life), I try to give peeps the benefit of the doubt if they man up and accept responsibility for their actions. It's actually something I will forever respect my dad for doing. Once he got hold of his problems and refocused his life he became a really amazing man.

Allmendinger sounds excited to tackle IMS in an IndyCar, and could do well. I know the money in NASCAR is hard to turn down (I saw one report where while driving for Red Bull he was making at least $3 million a year), but open wheel might be where it's at for him. He can make a legacy in open wheel racing, and in Cup, not so much. Hopefully this signals a shift in his career back to IndyCar and not just a stopgap measure to repair his image so he can return to Cup down the road.

Of course, the 800-pound gorilla in the room was that if Dinger got a ride with Penske, using Izod sponsorship, why not Ryan Briscoe? Trust me, I wondered the same thing, especially when Cindric said that Roger Penske's loyalty means that "once you are in the family, you are in the family".

Curt Cavin clarified that in his Indy Start piece, and it's what I suspected. This was in principle the deal offered Briscoe and he and his agent felt they had better opportunities out there. It's clear that leaving was Briscoe's decision, he wasn't pushed out the door. While I feel bad that his chances for a ride have dried up, it was a calculated risk on his part, and it didn't work out. He will get a one-off for the 500 for sure, so we will see him in a car this year.

For Briscoe, it should be a teaching point. Agents...hire an accountant to manage your money and a lawyer to look over your contracts, and make decisions yourself.

(Sidebar: I went to a reception at a high-end car dealership the other night, and got into a conversation with a sales guy. He said they sell cars to pro athletes, but only if they are dealing with the athlete and not their agent. Hmmm...)

*Speaking of loyalty and hanging in with someone. It's pretty amazing in the competitive world of NASCAR that Penske has been as loyal to Sam Hornish as he has been. After winning the Indy 500 and the last of his three IndyCar championships in 2006, Hornish jumped straight to Cup after the 2007 season, and in three full seasons he could only muster two top-5 finishes and had a best finish of 28th in points.

For many people, that isn't the recipe to keeping your job, but Penske has hung in there as they moved back to the Nationwide Series to try and regroup and build up his confidence. He picked up his first win at Phoenix at the end of the 2011 season, and after finishing fourth in points last year is at the top of the classification three races into 2013 after a dominant win at today's Sam's Town 300 race at Las Vegas.

Sam led 114 laps and easily pulled away from Kyle Busch during the last restart with less than 10 laps to go and now leads Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott by 19 points in the standings. It's a long season, but he has run well on three completely different tracks (Daytona, Phoenix, Vegas) so he just might be in for the long haul.

While I wish he would have stayed in IndyCar, I continue to root for him because he is one of the sports good guys. His attitude and talent are a couple of reasons why Penske has hung with him for so long, and believe it or not, he doesn't turn 34 until later this year, so he still has the chance to make a Cup career out of it.

For some guys it just takes a while. Dale Jarrett, a big favorite of mine, didn't win his first Cup race until he was 34 years old and was 36 when he finished in the top 10 in points for the first time. The next 10 years of his career then became Hall of Fame-caliber. So with a guy of Hornish's talent, you never know if he can somehow pull it all together.

*Denny Hamlin and his $25K fine. Hamlin had the audacity to speak negatively about the Gen-6 car at Phoenix last weekend, and is a little lighter in the seat to show for it. Actually, I found his comments pretty benign, but NASCAR didn't, hence the tax deduction he will get this year.

All Hamlin said was that the car wasn't as good as the Gen-5 car (or Car of Tomorrow, or Flying Brick, or whatever you want to call it) but taken in context he said that everyone understood that it's going to take some time.

Which it will. The Gen-6 is still in its testing phase, and it may be a while before it gets as racy as the fanbase wants it to. But it will. I remember just over a year ago people were gnashing their teeth over the development of the DW-12. How'd that work out for us?

Anyway, I don't agree with the fine. Like many have said before me, if NASCAR (or any other organization) wants to have their athletes show a little color or personality, you give them some leeway to do that. Of any sports organization in the world, NASCAR is the one who tries to control the message as much as possible. Last year I heard a couple of very eye-opening things that NASCAR mandates of many of its media members, and what I heard (I'm not going to violate the trust of the person who told me such things) didn't surprise me.

NASCAR is like the NFL...they are big enough to bite back, and no one wants to get bitten. That would be a poor career choice.

Props to Denny who went around all of the usual PR rabble and posted his own statement on Twitter that basically said, "the fine sucks, I don't know why it happened and I'm not going to pay it". While his fighting spirit is admirable and has won him a lot of new fans, ultimately he will cough up the money.

He isn't going to win this battle, but he did succeed in kicking NASCAR in the shins a little bit, which is kind of fun to watch too.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Mike. Your old pal Ross B. here. Did you know we live in Birmingham now. Saw your tweets; were you at the Barber test??? I have lost your email. Get in touch with me if you still have contact info. Keep the faith...