Norris McDonald's Auto Racing Blog has moved to wheels.ca/news-category/wheels-blogs/.
Norris McDonald's Auto Racing Blog has moved to wheels.ca/news-category/wheels-blogs/.
The second high-profile team in just a few days has pulled up stakes and won't run in this year's first edition of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship but, as one door closes another opens and a championship-winning Grand Am team from a year ago - a Canadian team at that - appears poised to get back into the sport.
First things first.
Level 5 Motorsports, which won the GT Daytona class at the recent Rolex 24 at Daytona, won't run the next race in the SportsCar championship, the iconic 12 Hours of Sebring, according to the team's manager, David Stone.
Here is an edited transcript of the media conference, as provided by the IndyCar Series:
Q. Jacques, why come back now after so long being away? I think it will be the longest period between starts for any driver?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: There's a few reasons. The first one, it's also a question of opportunity. The opportunity came about with Sam Schmidt. We started talking not long ago, actually a few weeks ago. It all went fast. The discussions happened at the right time because I'd been watching the IndyCars last year, and it looked extremely exciting with the new cars, to the point where I was angry and jealous that I wasn't racing. So that got me going again.
I've been active ever since leaving IndyCar in '95, anyway, with Formula One. I did some NASCAR racing, some other forms of racing, in Australia, different places. I just wasn't considering going back to something I'd already done mostly because there's been a few dark years for IndyCar.
But the whole group behind the series have been working really hard and done a tremendous job because it's getting back to the glory days with the races exciting and also the field of drivers is becoming more and more impressive every year again.
Q. Jacques, over the years you weren't a big fan of the old IndyCar. When was it that you decided this new model and the way the series was set up was going to be leading them out of their 'dark days,' as you called it earlier?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I guess it started when they started going back to road racing, going back to a mix of tracks, going back to the IndyCar that I knew basically. They saw it was time to react, and they did.
Then came this new car, which was quite a surprise with the spoilers and everything. I was dubious until the first time I saw it racing, then I realized how amazing it was, how close the racing was, open-wheel racing that was never heard of. It wasn't accepted anymore in modern days. That's how racing used to be.
When I started seeing that last year, I started getting excited again, just because the racing was amazing, the cars looked fast and aggressive, it looked hard on the drivers, and the battles were fierce, which is all what I love about racing.
Q. You mentioned earlier that things happened pretty fast. You're not young by a racer's standard. You have young kids now. You haven't been in an IndyCar for 20 years. Talk a little bit about the things you considered when you were making this decision to go back to Indy.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Just that it is the biggest race in the world and that it was exciting. It was a great opportunity. It's a great team, a great car that will be well-prepared. It was a chance to do something good.
You say I'm older in racing, got kids, and actually that's another drive. I'm a racer at heart and I will always be. That's what keeps me going. That's what keeps me alive.
I don't want to be for my kids just the guy that used to race that they can see in books. I want them to see and live what I've already lived, to see it through my doing it actively.
It's actually a positive effect to have kids.
- NORRIS McDONALD
Posted at 08:00 PM in American Le Mans Series, Auto racing, Ferrari, Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Indy 500, Jacques Villeneuve, Racing, Sports, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
There is something more important going on in the world of motorsport than Jacques Villeneuve's decision to return to the Indianapolis 500 - which we will get to in a moment.
But a story broke Monday on racer.com that was mind-numbing. It is the equivalent of Roger Penske shutting down his IndyCar team for a year, or Rick Hendrick closing up shop.
The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team, which won two Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series championships starring the longest driver pairing in the Daytona Prototype class, Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney, announced it would sit out the rest of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season.
Fogarty and Gurney were released from their contracts and the team was shut down. The decision came a month after a devastating crash early in the Rolex 24 at Daytona that destroyed the team's Corvette DP and nearly killed driver Memo Gidley.
"It is with great regret that we will have to suspend operations for the balance of the 2014 season," Stallings said in the racer.com story. "Since Daytona, priority one for us has been on Memo's recovery. Everyone on the team has been focused on his care and comfort, and it has meant the world to see such support from the fans and the racing community at large.
"Even though Memo has a long road ahead, the worst is behind him, and it has allowed us to step back and take a look at the program at large. With both the personal and economic strain this has put on us, we feel it's in the best interest of everyone to sit out this year, with a firm focus on a return in 2015."
The real story behind this decision - and the lesson - is unknown. There will be no speculating in this corner. But it's a real shame that one of the storied North American sports car teams and its two legendary drivers won't be in action again this year - unless, of course, another team with sufficient funding offers Fogarty and Gurney (and their support staff) employment.
Meantime, the IndyCar Series has been seriously promoting a media conference scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in which Schmidt-Peterson Racing will announce a driver and sponsor to contest the 2014 Indianapolis 500 in May.
The hot rumour - unconfirmed, by the way - is that Villeneuve will be in the seat and the first two words I thought of when I heard the news were "Jean" and "Alesi."
Jean Alesi drove in Formula One until 2001. Then he announced he would try to race in the Indy 500 in 2012 - eleven years after he last raced a single-seat car. Indianapolis was a disaster, in that his Lotus-powered car was so slow that he was black-flagged after less than a dozen laps.
Alesi was not a winner in F1, so although the Indy experience might have been embarrassing for him, it wasn't exactly surprising.
Villeneuve, however, was rookie-of-year at Indy in 1994 when he finished second in the race. In 1995, he came from two laps down - he was five miles behind - to win the 500. He also won the CART championship that year before moving on to Formula One with Wiliams. In 1997, he became World Champion.
That is an incredible legacy.
But as any singer will tell you, you're only as good as your last hit record. Villeneuve - I believe - hurt his reputation by staying in F1 way past his "best before" date and then trying - and failing - to be a winner again in all sorts of other racing series and classes.
In NASCAR, for instance, he has contested races in Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series, the Truck Series and the Canadian Tire Series and won none of them. He's tried Speedcar, V8 Supercars and something called Top Race V6 and had similar results.
Now, eight years after he last raced a single-seat car (F1-Sauber), Villeneuve has apparently decided that it's a good idea to return to the scene of some of his greatest triumphs - 20 years after the fact.
It is not a good idea. In 1994 and '95, he was the Golden Boy who couldn't miss, his place in Indy 500 and motor racing history secure. Now he's risking his reputation and his record - and for what?
When I learned that Rogers was dropping the Speed Channel as of March 1, I wrote a column saying that if you wanted to watch the 12 Hours of Sebring you should call Bell.
That still stands, but if you want to see the 24 Hours of Le Mans, you'd better either fly to France or else cross the border into the United States and rent a motel room that has Fox Sports 1 on the TV because Bell is dropping Speed as of the beginning of May.
Speed has not existed in the U.S. since last summer when Fox Sports 1 started and took over all its live racing programming. Fox Sports is blocked from broadcasting on cable and/or satellite systems in Canada because of our protectionist laws that only allow us to watch all-sports channels like TSN and the various Sportsnet channels. Speed continued in Canada, I imagine, because of contracts that were in place prior to the Fox takeover. The contracts are now up, apparently, and I hear - unofficially - that Fox really jacked up the price to keep Speed going in Canada and Rogers and now Bell said sayonara.
This means, of course, that although we will still get to see all the Formula One races, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races and all the - according to Rogers - IZOD races (you really have to wonder how some people get jobs, don't you?) we will not be able to see any sports car racing, the classic long-distance races like Le Mans or any Camping World Series truck races (except for the one on Labour Day at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park).
If you don't care about motorsport, your reaction could very well be "so what?" But if you are a fanatic like I am, and - presumably - many of the people reading this column, this is officially a Sad State of Affairs.
I continue to see Rogers as the villain of the piece.
When Speed first started, it was on Rogers Channel 48 and part of basic cable (or whatever they call the first 60-or-so channels). When the Turner Classic Movies channel came along in 2006, Rogers put it on Channel 48 and bumped Speed up into the stratosphere where you've had to pay a premium ever since to keep receiving it.
Over time, I imagine Rogers made a lot of money off people like you and me because we paid extra to get that channel (I could care less about some of those other sports specialty channels I'm forced to take). So if Rogers had any kind of a corporate conscience, knowing full well that sports-car racing, truck racing, Moto GP racing et al will no longer be available because of the demise of Speed, they would ensure that Sportsnet found room on one or some of their many channels to show those races.
Yes, I know those are separate divisions within one huge company but they could do it if they wanted to.
Last Lap: The owner of Panther Racing in IndyCar, John Barnes, has sued all sorts of people over the loss of his National Guard sponsorship to Bobby Rahal's team.
I don't know who's right or who's wrong. What stopped me cold was the sums of money reportedly involved.
Barnes made a pitch for $17,219,658.47 to run a one-car team for a season that will start in March and end on Labour Day. Rahal's deal is worth $12,693,967.47, also for one car. Oh, and that includes hospitality . . .
Am I in the Twilight Zone? Somebody sure is.
- NORRIS McDONALD
Posted at 11:08 PM in Auto racing, Camping World Truck Series, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Indy 500, IndyCar Series, Jacques Villeneuve, NASCAR, NASCAR Canadian Tire, Racing, Sports | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
On or about 10 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday night, or on or about Lap 143 of the the 200-lap Daytona 500, take your pick, Fox Sports 1 play-by-play announcer Mike Joy mentioned that there hadn't been any crashes in the 2014 edition of the Great American Race.
As if on cue, the first of many "Big Ones" that turned the last quarter of NASCAR's marquee event into a survival-of-the-fittest crashfest started happening in Turn Four of the Daytona International Speedway.
An even dozen cars were involved in that one - six were eliminated - and before the checkers flew over the No. 88 car of winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., there were four more including one on the last corner of the very last lap.
As is always the case (it seems), none of the drivers involved was injured although some feelings were hurt, including those of the two drivers who finished second and third.
Denny Hamlin was second to Earnhardt Jr. and it was the first race he lost at Daytona this winter, finishing first in the Budweiser-sponsored exhibition race last weekend and first again in one of two qualifying races held on Thursday. That he hadn't landed in Victory Lane again was evident on his face as he answered questions in a post-race interview, suggesting he hadn't been able to hear his spotter and that that handicap had contributed to his loss.
Brad Keselowski finished third in the race that started at 1:30 Sunday afternoon, was officially over at 11:18 p.m. Sunday night and featured a record rain delay of six hours and 23 minutes. The Penske Racing driver is a fierce competitor and the fact that he hadn't won was evident in his demeanor. He wasn't rude but he sure didn't have his PR face on.
Winner Earnhardt was ecstatic - it was his second 500 victory - and he took off his helmet while still in the car before pulling a u-turn in order to salute the crowd with a driver's-side drive-by of the main grandstand.
In Victory Lane, he hugged every member of his pit crew individually before saying that winning the Daytona 500 "gives you the greatest feeling you can feel in this sport."
Making reference to the changes NASCAR made to the 2014 points system, in which winning is just about everything, he said that the victory means "we might be in the Chase."
Many of the crashes were caused by three-wide racing - usually when the driver in the middle lost control. In the first ka-boomer, for instance, Kevin Harvick on the bottom moved up and tapped Brian Scott who moved up to hit Aric Almirola and the carnage commenced.
There's nothing that can be done about this sort of thing - except to get rid of the restrictor plates that govern horsepower and that ain't gonna happen - so expect Big Ones to continue to be a staple at Daytona and the other plate track, Talladega.
There is one more thing, however. As is the case in virtually every other sport - where to talk about something momentous happening is considered a trigger for bad luck (hockey goalie shutouts, baseball pitcher no-hitters, etc.) - it is hoped that the next time there aren't any crashes, Mike Joy keeps his mouth shut.
- Last summer, I was talking to a guy in government - federal, not provincial or municipal - about the length of time it now takes to get anything done these days. We were talking about oil pipelines, specifically.
"Regardless of whether it's going south from the north, or west from Alberta or east to Montreal, it's a 20-year process now," he said.
"You just have to be prepared to wait it out."
That's how I'm feeling right now about the Daytona 500. Whether it's rain, or potholes, or drivers crashing their cars into jet dryers, the Daytona 500 seems to take forever to finish these days.
Since 2008, there have only been two races that were completed without interruption - 2011 and 2013. Matt Kenseth won the 2009 race that was red-flagged for rain; in 2010, there was the famous two-hour delay for potholes; in 2012, they finally got the race going after nightfall only to have Juan Pablo Montoya run into a jet dryer; now this.
- When the red flag flew after 38 laps Sunday afternoon, Kyle Busch was the leader, followed by Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin. Only Hamlin was really able to stay in the hunt after the restart.
- It was a strange race leading up to the delay, in that if a driver somehow lost his or her "tow," or "draft," they were at a severe disadvantage and other drivers suffered, as a result.
At the green, a lead pack of about 30 cars (out of 43 that started) broke away, leaving two other packs falling further and further behind. A number of drivers, including Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Truex Jr. and Danica Patrick, had been sent to the back of the field because of engine changes, wrecked primary cars and so-on and were hung out to dry when the "towing chain" was somehow broken.
Normally, those drivers are at or near the front and it was somewhat disconcerting to watch them fall way, way back. Only a spin caused by a deflating tire on rookie Kyle Larson's car, which brought out a yellow, allowed them to catch up.
After dark, this phenomenon didn't appear to be a factor.
- For what it's worth, Michael Waltrip said Danica Patrick would beat Richard Petty in a match race because the cars have evolved so much that the King would be at a disadvantage. Earlier, his brother Darrell opined that he hoped it never happens.
- NASCAR just can't seem to help itself. Phrases like, "It's the biggest race in all of motorsports," were just a little over the top (what about the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indy 500?) while Darrell Waltrip called the Daytona Speedway, which only opened in 1959, the "birthplace of speed" (please).
- Matt Kenseth went into the pits for a stop and spun his car, winding up in his pit box but with the car pointed the wrong way. His crew serviced it anyway because, as was pointed out by the Fox TV crew, there is no rule that says you can't do that.
- Fox seemed terribly unprepared for the rain. They have pit reporters who could have been interviewing drivers about the delay but opted to show repeats of filmed segments that had been telecast during the pre-race show. They eventually went to a recording of the 2013 race to kill time.
I wrote at the time Sunday that I sure hoped they kept flashing that it was a film of last year's race or there could be a problem. I told the story of a guy I once knew who sat down on a Saturday afternoon and turned on his TV and a film of the previous year's Grey Cup game was on. It didn't say that, though. He wasn't a football fan but quickly became enthralled by the back-and-forth game action and the great plays. He was flabbergasted to find out later that it hadn't been the real thing.
As it turned out, people tuning in late didn't realize the race that was on was a recording and saw the 2013 winner, Jimmie Johnson, win again. They Tweeted him congratulations, which he thought was extremely amusing.
Memo to Fox. The next time - if there ever is a next time - how about running a crawl at the bottom that says the Daytona 500 is delayed and that you're watching a tape of a previous raced? Might help ward off the confusion.
- As a result of those previous paragraphs, you will know that I did not sit around all Sunday afternoon waiting for the 2014 race to resume. I imagine a lot of others either went out or changed channels. When that sort of thing happens, would it not be better for the TV people to say, "We're in for a four-hour rain delay, folks. How about tuning in again at 5 p.m.?" instead of pretending it will stop raining at any second?
Truth be told, according to the Internet, a severe weather situation was in effect in the Daytona Beach area and a tornado was possible. Which explained why there were no people in the grandstands.
As a consumer, and a fan, I would much prefer that Fox (or whoever) be honest about the situation so that I can go and do something else and then come back to watch the race later.
- NORRIS McDONALD
The ball is now in Danica Patrick's court - an ironic analogy if ever there was one, considering the last time two high-profile athletes got into an "anything you can do I can do better" exchange, the woman tennis player handed a whuppin' to the man.
The challenge this time is not about a tennis match but a match race between two high-profile NASCAR stock car racing personalities, Richard Petty and Danica Patrick.
Petty said Friday that, sure, he'd take up the challenge and come out of retirement to race Patrick in equally prepared stock cars provided by her employer, another legendary NASCAR character, Tony Stewart.
Whether it will happen remains to be seen but you can bet that NASCAR would love the publicity such a head-to-head matchup would bring, because, although the racing series is still No. 1 in North America, it has been experiencing declining television ratings and noticeable numbers of empty seats at live events.
The war of words started during a media scrum at the Canadian Motorsports Expo here in Toronto two weeks ago. Petty was a special guest and was questioned by Raceline Radio's Erik Tomas, Toronto Star Wheels motorsport writer Stephanie Wallcraft and me. I got to ask the last question, and said:
"The question must be asked: can Danica Patrick win a race in NASCAR Sprint Cup?"
And Richard Petty (now famously) replied, "Only if everybody else stayed home."
I wrote the story and posted it that night and it went - as they say - viral.
Petty stuck to his guns and stood by his quote. He had to, of course. The interview was recorded and you can listen to it by clicking here. And his son, Kyle Petty, had said much the same thing last year and didn't back down from those statements either.
For her part, Patrick - when asked about it during the lead-in to this year's Daytona 500, which will go to the post Sunday at 1 p.m. - said everybody was entitled to their opinion and that people had said the same thing before and would undoubtedly say the same thing again.
Patrick, who is a lightning rod for controversy just about every time she gets into a racing car (she won a race in the IndyCar Series and always finished well in the season points race; her NASCAR career has not been as successful, although she won the pole for the Daytona 500 last year which is more than many of the men racing in the series can boast), drives for Stewart, who has a four-car team in the series.
Stewart was interviewed on Performance Racing Network this week and said Petty - who won 200 races in his storied career - should back up his words with action: take on Patrick in a match race.
"I think that (a race) would pretty much settle it once and for all, maybe get him to shut up a little bit, too," Stewart said. "I will supply the cars. If he wants to race her, I'll make sure they have exactly the same setup in the car and give him the chance. He can drive one of my (number) 14 cars. I don't care."
And then he added that if Patrick won: "If I were her, I'd take (the checkered flag) over there and cram it up his (butt)."
Petty was being kidded about this on the show "Fox & Friends" on Friday and, out of the blue, said he'd accept the dare.
"I'm 76 years old, okay?" Petty said, grinning (Patrick is 31). "It's been 25 years since I've been in a race car. But I'll take that challenge. When is this going to happen?"
This is reminiscent of 1973 when retired tennis champion Bobby Riggs, who was 55 at the time, said publicly that the women's game was inferior. He challenged Billie Jean King to play him but when she declined, Margaret Court - who was 30 and the top women player in the world at the time - accepted the challenge. They played on Mother's Day and Riggs won.
King, 29, then felt she had to defend the honour of women tennis players and told Riggs she would play him. The Battle of the Sexes was an international television hit when the two met in September at the Houston Astrodome. King won handily and the publicity gave tennis a major boost in popularity.
NASCAR needs some help and this could be the publicity it needs because - as was the case with the tennis match - non-racing fans would undoubtedly tune in to watch.
The Daytona 500 pre-race show will start on television at noon Sunday. I suggest Danica Patrick will wait till then to say - one way or the other - whether this race will happen, or not.
Record ratings could result.
- NORRIS McDONALD
Last year, Chip Ganassi and Theresa Earnhardt reached the conclusion that Juan Montoya wasn’t getting the job done in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing and so they fired him. He started 253 races and won two and you wondered what took them so long.
I wrote a column and said there were another dozen (or so) drivers in NASCAR’s top series who had been wasting everybody’s time for years, cruising around on Sunday afternoons, not doing much of anything, and that they should be pink-slipped too.
There is good news today, and bad. The good news is that NASCAR’s top series is welcoming eight rookie drivers to the Sprint Cup Series this season . The bad news is that most of the slugs who were still taking up valuable seat space in competitive race cars last season are back for yet another kick at the can.
Now, with NASCAR’s new approach to the sport — win, or go home; the only way to make the Chase is to get there via Victory Lane; and so-on — you would think that most owners in the series, not to forget the sponsors who are forking over millions of dollars for people to participate, would be looking for drivers who could either get to the finish line first or bust their butts trying.
Apparently not, because we will still have to put up with the likes of Casey Mears (380 starts, one win), David Gilliland (258 starts-0 wins), Dave Blaney (466-0), Marcos Ambrose (191-2), Michael McDowell (147-0) and David Ragan (254-2).
(This critique only includes drivers with more than 100 starts, by the way.)
Gone, thank goodness, are Travis Kvapil (great name; too bad the talent didn’t match), David Reutimann, David Stremme and Scott Speed — although one or all could make a guest appearance or two over the course of the season.
With those last four sidelined for the moment, however, here’s hoping the preceding six names will soon get their walking papers because there are all sorts of ambitious, talented and flat-out hungry young drivers in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series who — you can bet — are just chomping at the bit to get their shot at a Cup ride.
Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon — hey, even Canadian Cameron Haley (who’s profiled on Page W22 in Saturday's Toronto Star Wheels section) — are all willing and able and deserve a shot before any one of those above-mentioned losers turns another lap.
The rookies this year are a healthy crop. Austin Dillon (yes, he’s Richard Childress’s grandson but he still had to drive and race the cars he was handed) has worked his way up the ladder and will start from pole in Sunday's Daytona 500. He’s carrying No. 3 on his car, the first time that number has been seen in Sprint Cup competition since the man who made it famous, the late Dale Earnhardt, was killed in the Great American Race in 2001.
Can he carry on in that number’s tradition? We’ll see — but probably.
Others who are sure to make their marks this season include Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman (pictured, he takes over from Kvapil as driver with best name), Cole Whitt, Justin Allgaier (a close second in the name category) and Michael Annett.
Good luck and Godspeed to them all. It’s about time there was a changing of the guard. Let’s hope this Class of 2014 quickly makes us forget all of those posers who, yes, could legitimately say they were NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers but sure couldn’t ever say they were winners.
The Canadian International Auto Show has taken up a lot of my time and energy this past week, so this column will be a bit of a catch-up.
The big news at the weekend, though, was rookie Austin Dillon winning the pole for the Daytona 500 in the No. 3 car made famous by Dale Earnhardt. Martin Truex Jr., who was kicked out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup last fall because of the shenanigans that went on at Michael Waltrip Racing, will start beside him driving for the one-car Furniture Row team.
I mean, what a Cinderella story. The No. 3 car hasn't been seen in Sprint Cup competition since Earnhardt died in it at Daytona in 2001 and Dillon, grandson of Earnhardt owner, mentor and friend, Richard Childress, takes it out for the first time in his Sprint Cup career and promptly plants it on the pole for the biggest NASCAR race of the year! I mean, it doesn't get any better than that, does it?
Now, I know the conspiracy theorists will be all over this one, just as they were a year ago when Danica Patrick won the pole (she turned 25th fastest time Sunday). According to those folks, NASCAR gives certain drivers a little extra horsepower to ensure they will win the pole (or the race, whatever) and ensure that NASCAR gets the maximum amount of publicity, as a result.
The only difficulty with that scenario is the 47 other drivers who were out there Sunday, giving it their all. Does anybody, for a moment, think that Jimmie Johnson or Kurt and Kyle Busch or any of the others would stand for manipulation like that? Of course not. Yes, they're all in business together but not one of those forementioned drivers (think Brad Keselowski for a moment) would sit back and zip their lips if they really thought for a moment that pole runs or race finishes were fixed.
So Dillon and Truex will share the front row for next Sunday's 500; the rest of the field will be set Thursday night after the qualifying races are held.
I watched for awhile (although I kept switching channels to the Canada-Finland game at the Olympics) and there is no doubt that single-car qualifying continues to be about as exciting as watching paint dry. Which explains why - again - the Daytona International Speedway grandstands were as empty at they are when the Rolex 24 is on.
For the rest of the races this year, NASCAR will go to knockout-type qualifying, in which there will be multiple numbers of cars on track at the same time and over the course of the session some will be eliminated while others will continue on to the next round.
Formula One has been doing this for a number of years, as has IndyCar. It is much more entertaining than single-car qualifying and it keeps the fans awake.
Now, if this works, I wonder how long it will be before NASCAR (or the announcers that promote the series) takes/take credit for inventing knockout qualifying. Don't laugh; the tendency for revisionism in the World of NASCAR can sometimes be frightening.
We all know NASCAR invented SAFER barriers, don't we? Never mind Tony George, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the University of Nebraska. Yes, NASCAR might have become involved after research and development was well down the road but by no means was it the instigator. And yet, NASCAR has been credited more than once on NASCAR broadcasts with coming up with the idea.
The latest theft - and that's what it is, by the way: theft - occurred on NASCAR Raceday Sunday. Kenny Wallace was talking about how drivers feel about going for the pole at Daytona and he said this:
"At times like this, I'm reminded of something the great Richie Evans once said: 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.' "
Richie Evans said that? I always thought Vince Lombardi said that. But according to Kenny Wallace, one of the best-known quotes in the history of American sport wasn't uttered by the coach of the Green Bay Packers but by a NASCAR Modified Series racer from Rome, N.Y.
Okay, on to other, more important, things like the romance between Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. I see trouble brewing.
As most people in relationships know, honesty is crucial. If you screw up, you have to 'fess up. You can't fib and expect trust.
So Saturday night, during the Busch Clash (I don't care what they call it now, it will always be the Busch Clash to me), there was a pileup and Patrick went low to miss it. Expecting to go throught the grass, the car somehow got tangled in it and sent her into a spin. She kept the car off the wall and was just about straightened out when she was hammered by none other than her boyfriend, Stenhouse, putting both of them out of the race.
In a post-infirmary-visit interview, she made mention that, of all people, she had been wrecked by her boyfriend and then added, "He said he couldn't see (because the hood was up)." Stenhouse, in a separate interview, made the same excuse.
He'd better hope she doesn't see the replay that those of us watching on television at home saw. It shows him being involved in the pileup, then appearing to floor it before sideswiping her, at which point the hood on his car flips up.
The in-car camera appeared to illustrate that he could see very well where he was going on the speedway before he ran into her. Otherwise, why was he accelerating? Take a look by clicking here. Essentially, he was being careless and should have said so, before apologizing.
By the way, stand-up guy Richard Petty refused to back down from his statements made to me, Erik Tomas and Stephanie Wallcraft at the Canadian Motorsports Expo a week ago, that the only way Patrick could win a Sprint Cup race was if everybody else stayed home, but insisted he wasn't being sexist. For her part, Patrick brushed it all away by saying everybody is entitled to their opinion and she's heard it all before and will undoubtedly hear it all again.
Last, Tony Stewart seems to be a changed man. Very calm and laid back. You can tell he's absolutely delighted to be back in a racing car after that serious sprint car accident he had last summer - which, I understand, was way more serious than anybody has let on. He had a tough time healing and his career could have beeen in jeopardy. Which explains his happiness at being back doing what he loves the most. And not even a multi-car wreck could upset him.
Sebastian Saavedra is back in IndyCar, this time with KV Racing. He will race beside Sebastien Bourdais. . . . Toto Wolff isn't the only pay manager in big-league auto racing. Davey Hamilton is back as a co-owner of the Indy car being fielded for Simon Pagenaud by Schmidt-Peterson Racing. Hamilton's contribution to that team in recent years was the sponsorship he brought from Hewlett-Packard but after they withdrew at the end of last season, Hamilton was out as a co-owner. Now he's back. I don't know what he brought to the table, but it's something significant, you can bet. . . . The news that Simona de Silvestro will work with Sauber in F1 this season is a bit of a puzzler. She had a pretty good minor league career in the Atlantic series but her time in IndyCar was largely uneventful (as my old pal, the late Art Wright, used to say about my racing career). She had one podium finish in four years of full-time employment and never finished in the top ten in the season standings. She was 19th, 20th, 24th and 13th. She reminds me of Katherine Legge, who got an awful lot of publicity for very little success. Sauber is a bring-as-much-money-as-you-can team, so she has her work cut out for her. At the end of the day, she has to be able to cut the mustard and while she can race in IndyCar, I just don't think she has the talent to race in F1. . . . When Alex Tagliani announced his return to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series at the Motorsports Expo, I asked if D.J. Kennington would be preparing his car. "It's (the deal) not done yet," Tag replied. There was a reason for that statement. Late last week, it was announced that Tag's race car will be prepared by three-time NASCAR Canada Champion Scott Steckly's 22 Racing team out of Milverton. They'll do well together.
- NORRIS McDONALD
Whenever Toronto sports radio gets boring on the afternoon drive, I tune in Sirius XM Radio for a dose of Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo.
I like his style.
Just before this year's Super Bowl, he was incensed that TV heavyweights Bob Costas and Chris Berman had both interviewed New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichik and hadn't asked him about "Spygate."
"Spygate" happened in 2007. The Patriots were caught videotaping defensive signals employed by coaches on opposing teams. The NFL threw the book at the team and Belichik and the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since. "Mad Dog" Russo thinks there's a connection.
"The question must be asked," he said, again and again one afternoon after suggesting the Patriots had probably warned the two sportscasters against bringing up "Spygate."
"If they had made that a condition with me, I would not have done the interview," said Russo, adding that in every case of controversy, "the question must be asked."
So last Sunday afternoon, NASCAR legend Richard Petty flew into Toronto to meet and greet thousands of fans at the eighth annual Canadian Motorsports Expo. But before he did, organizers arranged for him to spend 10 minutes with local reporters and I was included.
Erik Tomas of Raceline Radio kicked things off with a question about Petty's very first NASCAR Grand National race in 1958 at the old CNE Speedway and the conversation went on from there. The "King" of stock car racing was charming and insightful, discussing everything from the new Chase for the Championship rules to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s lack of racing success.
After 15 minutes or so, the organizers began looking at their watches. We were behind a curtain and on the other side sat about two dozen people who had paid for the privilege of meeting Petty and getting his autograph and they were becoming restless.
Tomas got the windup signal and he looked at me and said, "One more - Norris?" and I said, channeling Christopher Russo: "The question must be asked: can Danica Patrick win a race in NASCAR Sprint Cup?"
And Richard Petty said, "Only if everybody else stayed home."
Tomas, a good friend and colleague, started to laugh. "You knew what the answer would be, Norris, even before you asked it," and I replied, "Yeah, but I had to hear it."
I went home and played back the recording to make sure the quotes were accurate and Sunday night I posted the story at the Star's wheels.ca site and at thestar.blogs.com/autoracing.
Monday, it was all over the United States. Never mind the newspapers like USA Today and Internet sites like ESPN and SportingNews.com, the story even made the television NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
I don't agree with Richard Petty, by the way. I think it's quite possible Patrick will win a race in Sprint Cup, maybe even this season. She won a race in IndyCar, nearly won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and finished in the top ten in that iconic race six times, which ain't bad at all.
Who knows why he said what he did, considering that he then went on to praise her for bringing so much attention to Sprint Cup racing? Was he trying to throw her off her game, seeing as she won the Daytona 500 pole a year ago and qualifying for that race is being held this weekend? Was he trying to get NASCAR and the Daytona 500 back on the front pages? Or is he, like too many men these days, still stuck in the Sixties?
It really doesn't matter. It is what it is.
But as Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo suggested, when it comes to Danica Patrick, racing in NASCAR, and winning, the question must be asked.
I would still be kicking myself if I hadn't done it.
- NORRIS McDONALD
Petty, who visited Toronto Sunday for an appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo (for the live blog from there, please click here), answered quickly and decisively when asked if the former IndyCar star who's now a second-year driver for Stewart-Haas Racing would ever visit Victory Lane in the Cup series.
Petty spent much of the time in a media scrum discussing how NASCAR has evolved over the years from "race time" to "show time" and he acknowledged that Patrick has been good for the sport in that respect.
"If she’d have been a male, nobody would ever know if she’d showed up at a race track," said the seven-time Daytona 500 champion. "This is a female deal that’s driving her. There’s nothing wrong with that, because that’s good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport."
(To listen to the interview with Richard Petty, conducted by Norris McDonald, Wheels' Steppanie Wallcraft and Erik Tomas of Raceline Radio, please click here.)
Petty said NASCAR has grown so big that much of the attention paid to the series and the drivers these days has moved the actual racing into the back seat.
"When NASCAR Cup racing first started, it was racing," he said. "Over a period of years, with our sponsorships, what we had to do for TV, to get the fans to come, the first thing you know is that the race is secondary, because all the rest of it is buildup, buildup, buildup.
"It’s sort of like, say, watching the Super Bowl; it was a lot more exciting watching the buildup than the game. The game just happened to break out in the middle of a good party. We’re not quite that far along but in order for us to do what we need to do on race day, the sponsorship and the fan stuff, we have to do all this other stuff.
"It’s like us coming up here, there’s no racing around here right now, but we can go out and start advertising our sponsors. We can come to Canada and say our next race is Daytona, come on down and see us. It takes all of that to really make it work. Like I say, it's become a show-time deal."
Petty, who won 200 races in a career that went from that Toronto race in 1958 to the Hooters 500 in Atlanta in 1992, was outspoken on several subjects, including the new NASCAR Chase format that emphasizes winning (he doesn’t see why it won’t work) to Dale Earnhardt Jr. (he doesn’t have his father’s talent).
But he seemed to be more at ease while talking about some of his racing adventures north of the border.
"My daddy came up here in 1950 and we ran a race somewhere (a NASCAR race - in 1952, actually - on the old dirt track at Stamford Park in Niagara Falls) and then we came back in 1958 and ran there (at the CNE).
"You know, I ran over 1,100 races (in my career) and this was the very first one. I told them (that) they ran me clean out of my country to start my career; I had to come to Canada to start my career.
"I remember my dad came up to lap me and knocked me into the wall and I crashed. I do remember that part. He went ahead and won the race, so that kinda made up the difference."
Reminded that NASCAR was the support race on a supermodified show that night, Petty - who was known as Dick Petty in those days and who finished 17th in his first race - said:
"You have to figure that in 1958, NASCAR was really a southern sport. I mean, we went from Virginia to Florida and from Florida to Texas. It was all down below the Mason-Dixon line. We came up here and it was lucky that anybody had ever heard tell of us.
"It’s about 500-600 miles from here to my home, which is right in the middle of North Carolina, so we were really off the beaten path. At that time, we just knew we had a race, we came and ran the race and then we put all our junk on the trailer and took it back home."
Petty and his son Kyle ventured north in the 1980s to run a Kawartha Cup snowmobile race at Peterborough for sponsor STP and it was so cold they had to call off the races because "the ice was coming up (off the track) in sheets." Quipped the seven time Winston Cup champion:
"The guys in the grandstands were throwin’ beer cans on the track and I thought, ‘Hey, this is just like home.’ "
- NORRIS McDONALD
I'm live-blogging from the Canadian Motorsport Expo this weekend - got going a bit yesterday but had to make a pit stop (my daughter is in the process of giving birth) - and will be back out at The International Centre in Mississauga later this morning to keep up with the news.
If you want to stay current with what's happening, please click here.
Meantime, there were several announcements of note (and of significance) Friday:
- Tagliani Autosport, a new auto racing brand and entity formed by veteran Canadian IndyCar, NASCAR and SportsCar racer, race winner and Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Alex Tagliani, officially announced a new entry to return to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series for the 2014 season.
Sanctioned by CASC–Ontario Region, the promoters are bringing back to life an amazing series that played a significant role in driver development in Canada during the 1980s and '90s.
“The series will be well-organized, well-promoted and provide a cost effective series for experienced formula car racers and young drivers alike,” Sharpe said, adding that the plan is to start small with four races this season and then expand nationally as the series evolves.
I'm particularly interested in this initiative. I've been talking on and off in recent years with people experienced in launching and promoting auto racing about a national open-wheel series - Canada's racing heritage is open-wheel, open-cockpit from coast-to-coast - and couldn't be more pleased to see people like Sharpe and Dale take the bull by the horns and get something going.
More about this, also, as the racing season gets closer.
- The Canadian Touring Car Championship announced that Continental Tire Canada has extended its presenting partnership for three more years.
John Bondar, founder and president of Canada's premier professional sports car racing series, said the key advantage of the partnership is the Continental ExtremeContact race tire, which will continue to be the official and exclusive tire of CTCC.
The tires have proven to be able to handle the extreme challenges of touring car racing and the drivers have come to rely on their performance on the track to give the fans the best racing experience, Bondar added.
- There is lots to see and tons of people to talk to at the Expo, which is in Hall 5 of The International Centre. Hall 5 is around the back, so when you enter the property off Airport Road, just keep going.
Here's a brief summary of everything going on today. And don't forget - there are dozens of exhibits and exhibitors at the Expo.
10:45 to 11:45 a.m. (on the Inside Track Stage) - Stock Car Promoter Panel featuring Mark Dilley (Sunset Speedway), JP Josiasse (Peterborough Speedway), Glenn Styres (Ohsweken Speedway), Charles Priestley (Hurricane Midgets)
12:00 to 12:30 - Alex Tagliani tells the fans about his new NASCAR Canadian Tire Series team and sponsorship, which was unveiled Friday at the CME.
12:45 to 1:15 - NASCAR Sprint Cup star Ryan Newman will take to the CME stage for a Q&A with the fans. Newman will drive for Richard Childress Racing in 2014. Next weekend, he’ll take part in qualifying at Daytona in search of his second career Daytona 500 win.
2:15 to 3:00 - The Road Racing Panel Discussion featuring Robert Giannou (Targa Newfoundland), Rob Reeves (Castrol Raceway), John Bondar (Canadian Touring Car Championship), Perry Iannuzzi and Gary Wood (CASC-OR), and Jason Sharpe (Toyo F1600 and the newly announced Canadian F2000 Championship).
3:15 to 4:30 - The Meet the Media Panel. Hosted by Todd Lewis, participants Norris McDonald (Toronto Star Wheels - that's me), Angie Skinner (SiriusXM’s NASCAR Radio), Erik Tomas (Raceline Radio), Michele-Marie Beer (Open Wheel World), Tim Miller (Hamilton Spectator/Inside Track Motorsport News/Toronto Star Wheels) take part in an always-spirited discussion about timely racing topics.
4:45 to 5:15 (In the Aviation C Seminar Room) Hosted by Gary Wood, an exciting new motorsport event will be unveiled by the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs, Ontario Region (CASC-OR). Called the "Ontario 1500 Motorsport Adventure," the event is for up to 60 teams, comprised of two to four drivers, who will share a street legal sports/performance car.
Taking place over seven consecutive days, the teams will test their skills at some of Ontario’s top road courses and drag strips (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (2x), Calabogie Motorsport Park, Shannonville Motorsport Park, Picton Airport, Toronto Motorsport Park and Grand Bend Motorplex, the teams will be challenged by eight Time Attack, four Autoslalom and two Drag Race event stages.
Sounds terrific, doesn't it?
- NORRIS McDONALD
Posted at 09:23 AM in Auto racing, Auto shows, Canadian Motorsports Expo, Indy Racing League, IZOD IndyCar Series, NASCAR Canadian Tire, Ontario Formula Ford Challenge, Racing, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)