Monday, August 31, 2009

Sorry Bobby Labonte Fans, But Your Guy Can't Get The Job Done Anymore

The news today that Erik Darnell would be replacing Bobby Labonte in 7 races this season didn't come as a complete shocker, but it looks like race fans are reacting pretty negatively to the news. I hate to tell the Bobby fans this, but like the title says... your guy can't get it done anymore.

Believe me, I've thought a lot of Bobby Labonte over the years. I thought he could have saved Petty Enterprises. That didn't work out so well. I thought the deal to Earnhardt Ganassi would have been good. That didn't pan out in the end. On paper, it seemed that the Hall of Fame/Yates deal would be an attractive ride. Sponsorship came from and they were a new sponsor that had really committed to NASCAR. The results, though, just haven't been there. I'm sure you'll hear people bitch and complain about the equipment, but this is where HoF was running last year and the year before.

As for Bobby himself, he has one top 5 finish in the last 3 years. That was this year at Las Vegas in a fuel mileage gamble. His last win came in 2003. If you're looking at those numbers objectively, is that a guy you want driving your cars? I didn't think so. There comes a time when a driver just can't compete at the highest level anymore. The only exception seems to be Mark Martin these days. People said the CoT would be benefit drivers like Labonte. That hasn't proven to be the case. I understand Bobby's pride in staying in Cup. He won the championship in 2000. It's just time for him to look at moving down if he wants to keep racing. He could retire today and be a hall of famer down the road. His career speaks for itself.

This is a good opportunity for Erik Darnell to get some Cup experience. I think since Jamie McMurray appears headed to the #1 of EGR Darnell might inherit the #26 team when parts of it move to Yates. Darnell and Paul Menard will likely be the drivers of the Yates cars in 2010. HoF is supposedly looking to move on from Yates.

Friday, August 28, 2009

NASCAR Changes

Going off that title, it could be anything inside the post. What I mean by that in this case is I'm finally going to post bits and pieces from a Word document I've been adding to, tinkering with, and adjusting since probably mid-January. In it is my personal changes to NASCAR that I think will be for the better and will carry the sport to the place we thought we were going years ago. One thing I kept in mind was this had to pretty realistic, in that it could conceivably be talked about in Daytona by the France family. You won't find a scrap the Chase or a go back to North Wilkesboro rant. I think just by saying that I'll make a lot of people mad, but grow up and come to reality. Neither one of those will ever happen so don't waste time on it.

My two main points of emphasis are going to be 1.) adjusting the points system and the Chase composition and 2.) overhauling the schedule.

So, what are my ideas? You'll have to stay tuned. Let's just say if I had my way, the 10th Chase spot would have a big bullseye on it right now.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kyle Makes It Interesting

With 2 races before the Chase cutoff, Kyle Busch did what he does best, and made the battle to get in the top 12 that much more interesting. He edged Mark Martin in the final laps to take his 4th win of the year (although first since May) and put himself firmly in the hunt after falling out a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Checking In On The IRL

The IndyCar Series has 4 events left in their 2009 season. This weekend's race at Infineon will be the final road course event of the year.

The points standings shake out like this:
1. Scott Dixon 460 pts.
2. Ryan Briscoe -3
3. Dario Franchitti -20
4. Helio Castroneves -101
5. Danica Patrick -139
6. Marco Andretti -153
7. Tony Kanaan -166
8. Graham Rahal -171
9. Dan Wheldon -172
10. Justin Wilson -190

The only contenders for the title are Dixon, Briscoe, Franchitti, and maybe Castroneves. In other words, the same way it's been for the last several years with Ganassi and Penske yarding the rest of the field. Even with Castroneves missing the season opener he still has a shot, although he'll need to win more than once and hope the other teams stumble. What should be interesting is the entry of Penske driver Will Power in this race. Presumably this may be his last start of the year. He won at Edmonton a few weeks ago and could very well be a threat in this race. Power may take valuable points away from some of those guys.

After Infineon, the series heads to Chicagoland, followed by Twin Ring Motegi and Homestead for the finale.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Big Win For Red Bull Racing

Certainly a rewarding win for Red Bull and Brian Vickers today. They carried the water from day one for Toyota in Sprint Cup and finally got the reward - at Michigan no less.

This race also closed up battle for 12th in the points as Vickers moves up to 13th and just behind Mark Martin. Kyle Busch still has to be considered a factor, although seemingly less so after a lackluster run today. Somehow, Clint Bowyer has engineered a run for the Chase after his impressive early season run and then the fall of the cliff with the rest of RCR.

It's now on to Bristol, or the track that used to be Bristol. BrisDull might be more fitting now.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Save The Trucks? Here's An Idea

The Camping World Truck Series has produced great racing nearly every year since it's inaugural season. Many enjoy the series because of the feel - it feels like a throwback to short track racing and to the way racing was in the 1980s. Veterans, young drivers, drivers just making a living doing what they love. Yet despite stronger TV ratings this year than in previous years, the Truck Series has a dearth of quality sponsors, a greater percentage of start and park efforts, and have rarely gotten a full field since the beginning of the year. Manufacturers have pulled their support from the series and left the advances to the teams. The saving grace, and what makes this series worth saving, is something that is essential to racing. The Truck Series has great racing! I've come up with an idea that I think will help the series maintain healthy interest - and in the process elevate the focus on both Sprint Cup and Nationwide at the same time.

Here is my idea for the Trucks: End the season at Richmond in September.

The Truck Series currently runs a 25-race schedule and it appears it will do the same next year. My idea to shorten the season comes from the idea that "minor leagues" in other sports end before the top series. The Truck Series is, after all, a minor-league series. In baseball, minors end in time for teams to call up its best players in September. Even in football, the college season ends around the same time as the NFL regular season does. The helps the NFL have sole focus on their playoffs by giving football fans their undivided attention. Hey NASCAR, wouldn't having one of your three national series finish before the Chase begins be an asset?

For a series that consists of 25 races, 10 less than Nationwide and 11 less than Sprint Cup (13 if you count the two non-points races) it doesn't make sense at this point to start the year in mid-February and end the year in mid-November. Keeping the schedule more compact will be less of a strain for all parties involved. By contracting the amount of time spent on each season, no longer will we have ridiculously long breaks between Truck races. Consider the beginning of the year: Daytona, California, week off, Atlanta, 3 weeks off, Martinsville, a month off, Kansas, and then another 3 weeks until Charlotte. In 4 months, the series runs a total of 6 races. Is there a certain reason why this is the way it is? I think it's a case of poor planning.

So by accepting this premise, let's look at the races after Richmond that will be cut out: Gateway (currently the same week as Richmond), Loudon, Las Vegas, Martinsville, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix, Homestead.

These races can be moved fairly easily and still fit into the schedule. Flip flop the combo races at Loudon so that the Trucks go there on the Sprint Cup Series' first visit, and the Nationwide Series takes the current spot. Same could even go for Talladega, Texas, and Phoenix. That leaves Las Vegas, Martinsville, and Homestead. From a fan perspective, these races can be moved to any point of the schedule and I'll still watch. I most other fans of the series will as well. Why not put a race at Martinsville on July 4th weekend? This would be shortly after the Memphis races, two short tracks in a row. Since the rumor is the series won't return to California (Auto Club Speedway) the Las Vegas date is open. That leaves a date at Homestead. I think if this idea were to gain traction, we could find an agreeable date.

That's my pitch to make the series more compact and just as interesting and fun to watch. Crown a champion in Richmond, see ya in February next year. Continuity is important and I think this move would deliver it big-time. Also, it helps NASCAR's top 2 national series at the same time, which is a win all around.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stewart Wins Again, Watkins Glen Needs SAFER

The second consecutive rain delayed race produced a fun one, with Tony Stewart winning for a 5th time at the New York road course. Appropriately, he called The Glen "his house" from victory lane. Much will be said about the latest win and Chase momentum for the #14 team, as well it should.

The biggest thing I'm taking away from the race is the need for the SAFER barrier at the road courses. Sam Hornish, Jeff Gordon, and Jeff Burton are all lucky to walk away after their crash that red-flagged the race for nearly 20 minutes. For reference, here's the crash:

Also, let's not forget, Jason Leffler took quite a hit as well in the same area:

In 2009 in these series, SAFER needs to be outside of these high-speed turns. You just never know what's going to happen. We got lucky this weekend. It's a benefit to have crashes like this expose something that can be fixed. Let's hope Watkins Glen does the right thing and installs the barriers. We might not be as lucky next time.

Friday, August 7, 2009

American F1 Team Gets Major Sponsor(s)

Best Buy and YouTube have been linked as primary sponsors of the USF1 team, reports the website F1-Live. The YouTube angle is exciting as it would appear someone is willing to sink a lot of money into making this program respectable. This might just be worth keeping an eye on for a while.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Farewell, Lowes Motor Speedway

The first racetrack naming rights deal is now over after 11 years.

Welcome back, Charlotte Motor Speedway!

That is, unless Bruton sells the name to somoene else... stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Return Of The Ringers: Watkins Glen

Some names that should make Watkins Glen interesting, at least during qualifying:

#04 - P.J. Jones
I still rememer, to this day, the effort of P.J. in the old A.J. Foyt #14 Conseco car several years ago. He finished the race 4th with smoke pouring off the tires that were rubbing. Yet he still threw the car all around the course.

#08 - Boris Said or TDFKA (The Driver Formerly Known As) Terry Labonte
Obviously Boris is the only one that would actually be competing, so I'm hoping there's no weather. The Glen is more of a Boris track than Infineon, since you can count on Boris to knock at least 3 or 4 guys off course. That hurts him much less here.

#09 - Ron Fellows
Expectations for Fellows have been lowered with his age, but the old guy can still get it done. The #09 is one of the Hendrick cars so this will be a real effort and not a start & park.

#13 - Max Papis
Papis has to view this as his best chance to make a name so expect to see him make things exciting here.

#43 - Jacques Villeneuve
Ah, Jacques is back in Sprint Cup. It should be interesting to see what he does in this car. No one should expect miracles but come on, Reed Sorenson would have put this car in 34th at best. At least Jacques has the talent to race his way to a respectable finish.

#55 - Patrick Carpentier
He had an impressive finish at Infineon and this track probably suits him better. Still though, he'll be hard-pressed to top that finish of 11th. He had a lot of good breaks back in June.

#71 - Andy Lally
Lally has competed at Watkins Glen more times that he could count and is making his Sprint Cup debut. He competed in Montreal before and was actually pretty fast. Could me make some noise in this car? We'll find out Friday.

10:35 PM - Oh well, scratch Villenueve. Pencil in 34th for Sorenson.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ESPN's Sorry Race Coverage

Most NASCAR fans have tolerated the ESPN coverage of racing since their re-entry into the sport. The complaints, however, have grown from a slight buzz to an overwhelming roar. NASCAR fans are the edge of revolt. Uniformly, they agree something needs to be done with ESPN's presentation of the sport and perhaps even the people presenting each race.

The clear majority of fans would like someone - anyone, at this point - to take the play-by-play role from Dr. Jerry Punch. In just 2 races, he has made fans pine for Ralph Sheheen, Mike Joy, and even Bill Weber. Most of these fans would like to see Allen Bestwick, regarded as one of the best in the business, moved back to the booth. Bestwick excels in whatever role is given to him, so that works. I'm fine with Bestwick going back there. I also think that the Andy Petree experiment needs to come to an end. This is ESPN's third year with the sport, but Petree, in my opinion, still sounds nervous at times and the broadcast doesn't flow as well as it should. Maybe that's not the way everyone feels, but the chemistry isn't there the way it is with the FOX and TNT teams.

ESPN has been at the sports broadcasting business long enough that they have a certain way of presenting their broadcasts. The problem with that is NASCAR broadcasts don't follow the same flow of stick-and-ball sports. ESPN wants their play-by-play guy to ask questions of and solicit comments from the analysts while they call the action. With Punch, he overloads the first part of that and as a result we end up watching a four-hour interview. Jarrett and Petree both do more calling of on-track action than Punch. Why is this?

As a quick aside, Punch used to be able to do play-by-play. I've been fortunate enough to get some cool DVDs over the years, and Punch has done play-by-play. He did the Winston 500 at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt's last Cup win. The booth consisted of Punch, the late Benny Parsons, and Ned Jarrett. The calling was excellent. The broadcast was excellent. I was on the edge of my seat knowing the outcome beforehand.

Punch used to be a competent play-by-play man. He isn't anymore.

Going back to the ESPN way (ESPNification), their other broadcasts make use of a pre-game, halftime, and post-race show. In much the same way of the race broadcast, analysts are asked questions, they answer, and maybe we learn something new. This also doesn't translate into their vision of the races. We get Bestwick, Rusty Wallace, Ray Evernham, and Brad Daugherty from the pit studio at random times, often while the green flag is out. Then at other random points, Tim Brewer appears to give a 10-second description of something that Petree, Evernham, or a trained dog could answer. FOX and TNT have usually been much more judicious in their use of the pit studio. TNT excels in this, as Larry Mac is able to run to a car, talk to the booth, or handle things just fine on his own.

The pit reporters have their good and bad moments, particularly bad for Vince Welch and Shannon Spake this past weekend. Dave Burns is able as is Mike Massaro. All in all, they are less noticeable by comparison.

So, what's the solution? It isn't just moving people around to new places. That would be a start, but as John Daly points out in a way few can, it's the overall race presentation that has been horribly done. Somehow, as fans, we've got to make sure ESPN hears us and gives us a broadcast we can watch. Otherwise, the folks at MRN and PRN will call the rest of our races as we listen in to them in our driveways.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Something To Think About During A Monday Race @ Pocono

This race could go to a track like, say, Iowa. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch had a terrific duel for the lead in the inaugural event for the Nationwide Series Saturday.

Anyway, enjoy 500 miles for a second time at Pocono. Try not to fall asleep.