1. Danica Patrick shows she’s got balls; Simona’s close escape
2. Canadian Grand Prix returns to Montreal next weekend
3. Denny Hamlin wins NASCAR; Kennington wins Canadian Tire opener
Normally, because Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race is usually the most recent, this Monday morning report would focus first on the stock cars.
But because of two important news stories that came out of Saturday night’s IZOD IndyCar Series race in Texas, we have to start there.
First, although Danica Patrick didn’t win the Firestone 550 – she finished second to Ryan Briscoe, with Marco Andretti third – she showed maybe for the first time that she can race with the best of the drivers currently in competition.
She started seventh, dropped back to tenth in the early going, and then started her march for the front literally blowing past Andretti and Scott Dixon – among others – in the process.
She took the lead when all the leaders pitted under green near the end of the race (you could hear the cheers of the spectators over the engines) but had to give way to Briscoe - who’d crashed at Indianapolis last week and was driving like a racer possessed on Saturday night – when he got back up to speed.
But nobody else was going to catch her, or get past her, on this night and her performance throughout the entire race went a long way toward removing the stigma that she’s just a pretty face and that the one victory she recorded was a fluke because everybody else botched their fuel mileage calculations.
Even winning car owner Roger Penske was quick to give credit when it was due. “I take my hat off to Danica, she was terrific tonight,” he said.
One driver who might not have been impressed was her teammate, Tony Kanaan. She chopped him off when he went to pass her low during the first third of the race, dropping him all the way back to 17th, and he didn’t recover – eventually finishing sixth.
But who knows if she saw him, of if her spotter told her he was there? At least one of several accidents during the race – when Mario Moraes and Helio Castroneves collided – happened because of poor radio communication.
Whatever, except for Briscoe, she was the best on this night and her performance should do away with the catty criticism that has followed her around much of her career.
Now, the second piece of news out of Saturday night’s race is much more serious. The inadequate response of the IndyCar safety team to Simona de Silvestro’s accident and fire was astonishing.
And the league has to take a serious look at safety measures in and around the cockpit because if a driver can’t get out of a car by himself or herself in an emergency, something is seriously the matter.
Here’s what happened.
De Silvestro’s car drifted up out of the grove and hit the wall, bursting into flames as it careered along the speedway. Flash fires are commonplace in racing car crashes and usually go out quickly but it became apparent pretty quickly that this was no ordinary fire.
The driver, De Silvestro, was trying to get out of the car as the safety crew arrived but this is when it got scary: it did not appear that anyone had a portable extinguisher and a hose carried by one that presumably was connected to a water supply didn’t work.
The fire was expanding by this point and she was getting frantic because she couldn’t seem to push or pull off the “horse collar” safety device that is pushed down into the cockpit once a driver is strapped in. (This “horse collar” and the HANS device are designed to protect the head and neck of the driver in case of collision.)
A member of the safety crew finally waded in, pulled off the horse collar and literally yanked her out of the car. He was burned on the face and she was burned on her right hand, which is miraculous considering the danger.
Oh, and somebody finally got a fire extinguisher to work and they got the fire out. But De Silvestro’s team was not amused and very vocal in their criticism of the safety crew’s performance.
It is expected – not hoped, expected – that the Indy Racing League will undergo a thorough review of safety procedures in case of fire as well as the ability of a driver to get the “horse collar” off.
Auto racing is dangerous enough without a driver having to put up with incompetence – accidental or systemic – or having to depend on outside help to get out of a burning car.
- I know that I cite this speedway and these people often but it’s because it (and they) are the best when it comes to racing safety. The safety crew at Oswego Speedway in northern New York is the best in the business and could give lessons to the IndyCar people.
There was one incident, in particular, that illustrated perfectly how good those guys are. In 1999, early in the annual Budweisser Classic 200 for supermodifieds, there was a God-almighty crash up in Turn 3. One driver was trapped (he caught his arm in his safety harness trying to get out) and there was a methanol fire.
I was on the No. 1 safety truck (I was trackside announcer at Oswego for years) and I heard the safety truck driver yell to all aboard: “There’s a fire . . . water and foam.” And before the truck had come to a complete stop, those crewmen (all Oswego city firemen or volunteer firemen from the district) were off the truck and literally running into the fire.
They had the trapped driver out and the fire knocked down within a minute. It was poetry in motion and it’s a pleasure for me to salute them.
- Charlie Johnstone, vice-president and general manager of the Honda Indy Toronto, told me in an interview earlier this spring that promotion for this year’s race (at the CNE July 16-18) would start as of the Indy 500 and be a full-court press right up till race weekend.
I’m pleased to report that Honda Indy ads are front and centre on the Fan 590 and I caught one on the NASCAR Pocono broadcast Sunday afternoon. That, plus the Free Friday announced by the Honda Dealers of Ontario, should go a long way toward solving last year’s attendance problem.
- There have been whispers for several months that Canadian Alex Tagliani’s FAZZT Racing Team was in financial trouble. There was an announcement late last week that one of the people who helped put the team together, Jim Freudenberg, had resigned. Let’s hope this reorganization gives Alex and the Fazzt team the stability it needs to go forward successfully.
2. Grand Prix of Canada returns next weekend
The Grand Prix of Canada, following a year’s absence, will be back at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve next weekend.
Team McLaren, coming off a one-two finish at Turkey last weekend, would seem to have the upper hand going into Montreal but you can’t dismiss Red Bull’s drivers, Mark Webber and Sebastien Vettel, both of whom have points to prove.
Isn’t it interesting that Red Bull is saying it wants Webber to continue with the team next year but that Vettel will be its driver of the future? Won’t that spur Webber on to want to crush his much-younger teammate, if possible, and then sign a long-term contract with another top team? (I’ll leave it to your imagination to guess which one. . .)
Meantime, the winningest Canadian Grand Prix driver, Michael Schumacher, is showing signs of coming to grips with his Mercedes and is there anyone who knows the Montreal track better?
And then there is Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. I can hardly wait for this race.
Two things to look forward to this week as we head into Montreal: on Wednesday at wheels.ca, I will review my Top Ten best Canadian Grands Prix and then, heading into the weekend, I will record a special Canadian Grand Prix preview podcast with Canadian F1 expert Gerald Donaldson.
It will be on the wheels.ca website next Friday afternoon, soon after second practice. Gerry will have all the up-to-date information at that time as to who’s hot, who’s not and everything else having to do with F1 in Canada.
3. NASCAR down there and up here
What’s happened to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series?
Only 45 cars showed up at Pocono Sunday and the two drivers who failed to qualify are not exactly household names – Terry Cook and Ted Musgrave. And guess who got to start? Geoff Bodine (I kid you not) and J.J. Yeley.
Dave Blaney qualified 34th, Joe Nemecheck started 30th and Max Papis was 20th and all three are usually back-of-the-pack guys. Two, in fact, are usually classic start-and-parkers.
Anyway, Denny Hamlin won the race with Kyle Busch second and Tony Stewart third.
It was kind of a dull affair. Because of a passing storm, it took them about 90 minutes to get it going and then they had to delay a bit more because there was a pothole (yes, another one) that had to be fixed.
All the excitement happened at the end. Kevin Harvick and Joey Logana got together going into the third turn and that brought out the yellow for a green-white-checkers finish. Then Kasey Kahne somehow wound up on the grass on the backstretch, either because A.J. Allmendinger blocked him or else Kahne misjudged his closing speed, and by the time the smoke had cleared about 10 cars had piled up.
Just one notebook jotting on this one:
- Joey Logano was browned off at Harvick because of the spin that he thought was Harvick’s fault and, in the pits after the checkers, got out of his car intent on confronting the other driver. A member of his crew was there to calm him down but who should show up and egg his kid on but Logano’s father, Tom!
What is with all these Little League fathers (and mothers) in car racing? Everywhere you turn these days, there’s a mom or a dad around. Don’t these drivers ever grow up and leave home? Or maybe mommy and daddy won`t let them. . .
I mean, do Steve Nash`s mother and father attend every basketball game he plays? I doubt it.
Kennington wins Canadian Tire Series opener
D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas won the Keystone Light 200 at Delaware Speedway Saturday night, the first race in the 2010 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1.
`This is a great way to start the season,` said Kennington, who held off second-place finisher J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge.
Fitzpatrick is back to running a full schedule in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series after making just a handful of starts a year ago while juggling starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He is scheduled to make some NASCAR Nationwide Series starts this season but the dates work out better than they did in 2009, NASCAR Canada's Shon Sbarra reports.
“We’re back to win the championship and this was a solid way to start,” he said.
Jeff Lapcevich navigated his way to a third-place finish.
John Gaunt and Pete Shepherd III finished fourth and fifth. Pierre Bourque, Derek White, Ron Beauchamp Jr., Kerry Micks and Jason Hathaway rounded out the top 10.
The Keystone Light 200 will air on TSN next Saturday at 2 p.m. EDT, right after F1 qualifying.
Meantime, the Canadian Tire Series will be in action next weekend at Mosport International Raceway for the .first of five road-course races on the 2010 schedule. Practice and qualifying are scheduled for next Saturday with the running of the Vortex Brake Pads 200 on Sunday.
Elsewhere: Driving the AIM Autosport of Woodbridge Pacific Mobile and BioSign Ford Riley Daytona Prototype, Mark Wilkins of Toronto and American Burt Frisselle finished fourth in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at Watkins Glen on Saturday. . . . Top Canadian in the supporting Continental Tire race was Kenny Wilden of Oakville in seventh. . . . Chip Ganassi was the big man on campus last weekend with an Indy 500 and nearly a Coca-Cola 600 victory. Roger Penske was the big dog this weekend with Briscoe winning the IndyCar race and Brad Keselowski finishing first in the Nationwide race. His driver, Sam Hornish Jr., nearly pulled off an upset in the Sprint Cup race at Pocono but faded to 11th at the finish.