Here are this weekend’s motorsports headlines:
1. Did a "higher power" do what NASCAR didn’t and even the score for everybody vs. Kyle Busch?
2. Will Power didn’t win this weekend’s Indy car race but Roger Penske still did.
3. Ontario’s Steve Arpin won his first big-league stock car race.
Let’s start with NASCAR, which is weekend story No. 1.
Everybody knows that sooner or later, everything in life evens out. What goes around comes around. The God that most people worship, or at least acknowledge, will get you if nobody else does. Etc.
So how would you explain what happened to Kyle Busch at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend?
Friday night, during a restart late in the Nationwide Series race in which he was at the front of the outside line of cars, Busch didn’t hit the throttle when everybody else did and triggered a 10-car pileup behind him, as a result.
I know that NASCAR has pretty much washed its hands these days of refereeing the car races it sanctions, but the fact that nobody in an official capacity even wagged a finger at Busch during the red-flag period that followed was pretty appalling.
Then, when he won the race – and deigned to speak to reporters – he didn’t seem too overly concerned at all that his sloppiness (for want of a better word) had taken almost a dozen competitors out of contention and cost a whole bunch of car owners a whole lot of money.
So Saturday night, late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, Busch was ahead by a country mile and appeared a shoo-in to score his first "double" of 2010 (in which he would win both the Nationwide and Cup races on the same weekend).
As he picked his way through the tail-enders he was lapping on his way to what looked to be certain victory, Busch came up behind a car driven by Scott Riggs. Just as he went to pass Riggs on the inside, Riggs suffered a flat tire and there was a full-course yellow.
(You think that was a coincidence? Hmmm - see above.)
In any event, as happens more often than not in these situations, everybody headed to the pits for fresh rubber. And by the time the mad scramble was over and the dust had settled, race leader Busch had been shuffled all the way back to eighth starting spot and when the race resumed and then ended two laps later, he was still there.
Poetic justice, or divine intervention? You decide.
Ryan Newman, who only took on two new tires during that stop in which leader Busch and second-place runner Jimmy Johnson got four each, won the dash to the finish with Jeff Gordon second and Johnson (who was seventh on the final restart but got a great bite at the green to zoom up the inside) third.
Mark Martin was fourth and Juan Montoya finished fifth.
Johnson leads the NASCAR Cup standings with 1,073 points. Matt Kenseth is second – 36 points behind – with Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and J. Gordon rounding out the top five.
– As is his habit, Kyle Busch didn’t stick around to speak to the media after his loss. He’s a real "hail fellow, well met" guy when he wins but unlike most of NASCAR’s big stars who will always talk to reporters after a race, he was nowhere to be found in Phoenix.
His sponsors must love him.
– Speaking of doing your sponsors proud, there was Phoenix Cup race winner Ryan Newman on the Speed Report last night, being interviewed by reporter Bob Dillner and drinking from his ever-present bottle of Coca-Cola, label perfectly presented to the camera. I still won’t touch the stuff, as I explained in my newspaper column a few weeks ago.
I’m surprised that Newman hasn’t pulled out a package of Tornados snack food (his main sponsor) and scarfed down a few – between questions, of course.
– Although I haven’t talked about the Indy car race yet, I was impresssed at the emotion shown by Marco Andretti when the race ended yesterday afternoon and he’d lost. Browned right off, that boy was.
But in NASCAR? Those guys are still way too robotic for my tastes. Jimmy Johnson was running second to Kyle Busch in the Cup race on Saturday night when that late-race yellow happened. After the race ended, and he was officially third, I would have expected Johnson to have been a little teed off.
But no. Not our J.J. He talked about how pleased he was to have finished third.
Third is better than second? C’mon, Jimmy. It’s okay to be a little angry – like Marco Andretti.
– I was not in the least surprised that Denny Hamlin drove the whole Cup race Saturday night, after saying all week that he would probably need Casey Mears to drive in relief.
1. Auto racing is a tough, macho sport and nobody wants to be seen as weak. Hamlin was going to finish that race if it killed him.
2. What if Mears had taken over and won the race? Highly unlikely – but a possibility, nonetheless. Hamlin would not take the chance of losing his ride.
The reason for this charade is that Hamlin wrecked his knee playing basketball this winter. The knee is sufficiently damaged that he had to have an operation. It will take time for the knee to heal property and, meantime, it was very difficult for him to get into – and out of – the car, hence the suggestion that he might have needed help.
If he wants to drive, fine. But what if there had been an accident, and a fire, and he’d had to exit the car quickly? What if he couldn’t? What if something serious had happened? Who would be held responsible? Him? NASCAR (for allowing him to drive with a disability)? His car owner (ditto)?
It worked out fine, this time. Maybe the next time, it won’t.
Somebody has to think of these things and ask these questions.
Team Penske still the only winner in Indy car
Helio Castroneves won the highly successful IZOD IndyCar Series race Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, breaking Will Power’s winning streak at two (Brazil and St. Petersburg).
But Castroneves is Power’s teammate, which means that of the three Indy car races to date, only Team Penske has been to the top step of the podium.
Scott Dixon, driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, finished second behind Castroneves, with teammate Dario Franchitti third, Power fourth and Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti fifth.
Andretti led 58 of the 90 laps to pretty much dominate the race but was forced to pit for a splash of fuel with eight laps remaining. He had to settle for fifth and was not happy about it (see above). There’s no doubt, however, that he was the star of the race.
Castroneves inherited the lead when Andretti pitted and then held off Dixon at the finish.
Power continues to lead the points race, with Castroneves second and Franchitti third. The Indy car series will now race at Long Beach on April 18 before going to Kansas the May 1 weekend for an oval speedway tuneup prior to the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.
– The Indy Racing League used to confuse me no end and now the relaunched and revamped IZOD IndyCar Series is doing the same thing.
On the series website, in its story on the Sunday race, it says this:
"(In winning) Castroneves tied Franchitti and Tommy Milton on the all-time open-wheel victory list with 23."
Okay, but please don’t stop there because the inference is that those three are at the top of the list (otherwise, why mention it without being specific)?
The last time I looked, A.J. Foyt had won 67 Indy car races under the USAC and CART sanctions. Mario Andretti is second in all-time Indy car victories with 52. Even Paul Tracy, who’s down the list a bit, has 31.
So what is this Castroneves-Franchitti-Tommy Milton business?
– When they wave the green flag, the race is on – or should be.
Scott Dixon, who started fifth, saw the flag wave at Barber yesterday and got on the gas fast. By the time he arrived at the first turn, he was up to third.
Pretty good stuff, I said to myself.
But wait. It seems that Indy car insists that you can’t start to race until you’ve crossed the start/finish line (or something) so ruled that Dixon had jumped the start and made him give up those two positions under threat of a stop/go penalty in the pits.
It’s racing, people. It's not a parade, even at the start. Green means go.
– In the battle of the women racers, Danica Patrick finished 19th, Simona de Silvestro 21st and Milka Duno 24th. That doesn’t tell the story, though. De Silvestro was very competitive most of the race and was just outside the top ten with a handful of laps to go when she spun. Patrick was never really in the race (she started and finished in exactly the same spot) and Duno was about 100 laps behind at the finish and an embarrassment, as usual.
– In the Indy Lights race, which was won by J.K. Vernay, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville started fifth and finished fifth. Philip Major of Ottawa started 13th and finished 10th. Dan Clark, who ran two or three years in Champ Car, started 11th and finished seventh.
Ontario racer wins in ARCA (and other notes)
– Steve Arpin of Fort Frances, Ont., won his first ARCA-sanctioned race Sunday at Salem Speedway in Indiana. Arpin, driving for Venturini Motorsports, is now tied for the series points lead. (For a blog entry I wrote on Arpin's hopes and aspirations, click here.)
– Audi returned to Le Mans Series action in Europe and won convincingly at Paul Ricard in France. Allan McNish and Dindo Capello were aboard. We should start a petition to get Audi and Peugeot to come to the ALMS race at Mosport in August.
– In Saturday’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series action at Barber Motorsports Park, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won driving a BMW Riley Daytona Prototype. Mark Wilkins of Toronto and his American partner, Burt Frisselle, drove the AIM Autosport of Woodbridge No. 61 Ford Riley to an eighth-place finish, although the team did lead the race for 16 laps.
– The Formula One series moves to Shanghai next weekend for another race in the middle of the night (thank goodness TSN replays them at 8 in the morning on TSN2).
The Star’s special F1 correspondent, Gerald Donaldson, and I will record a podcast preview that will be on the wheels.ca website by noon next Friday. "Gerry" has some great insights into all things F1 and always has a surprise or two when we chat so be sure to listen in.