1. Why can’t Formula One get its act together?
2. Payback wins for Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR
3. Why they love Danica and IndyCar in New England
FORMULA ONE: I still don’t understand what went on in the Grand Prix of Europe at Valencia, Spain, on Sunday but I don’t feel badly because I don’t think anybody in Formula One understands, either.
I’m not talking about the results – Sebastien Vettel won for Red Bull-Renault, followed by the McLaren-Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button – or the huge crash involving Mark Webber and Heiki Kovalainen (talk about a miracle . . . you can watch it here).
I am talking, however, about the pace car muckup that followed the big crash.
After Webber almost went into orbit, and then climbed out of his wrecked Red Bull without suffering much more than a headache (is this the second or third time, he's gone for a mid-race flight?), they sent out the safety car.
As soon as this happened, all the drivers near the pits ducked in to make their mandatory pit stop. The four leaders, however (Vettel, Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa), had gone past the pit entrance so had to do another lap.
The safety car pulled onto the track to collect those four but entered the track after Vettel had gone past.
(Shades of the Canadian Grand Prix of 1974 when a safety car was used for the first time in the history of F1 and pulled out in front of the wrong car).
The safety car pulled up beside Hamilton who said (I’m making this up), "I’m not letting some stupid safety car keep me from chasing after Vettel," so he passed the pace car. (Scott Goodyear of Toronto lost the 1995 Indianapolis 500 for passing the pace car; that is how serious passing the pace car can be.)
The safety car then pulled in front of Alonso, who was running third at the time, and Massa, who was fourth. Those two then had to follow the safety car around to the pits, where they made their stops.
Then it got really confusing (as if the above wasn’t confusing enough already).
Race control determined that it would wave around some of the tail-end cars that had exited the pits and were directly behind the safety car. This was done so the safety car could pick up Vettel, the race leader. When that happened, the guy who fell in directly behind Vettel – who was there because he broke the rules and passed the safety car – was Lewis Hamilton.
The drivers who had been running third and fourth until this screwup happened, Alonso and Massa, were now back in ninth and tenth.
And Michael Schumacher lost any number of positions when he had to stop at the end of pit road because somebody turned the light from green to red.
(How F1 avoids post-race violence in these situations, I’ll never know.)
It was an unholy mess.
The stewards (under the direction this time of retired driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen) decided a drive-through penalty was sufficient punishment for Hamilton, who went into the pits in second place and left in second place.
Oh, and then it was determined that most of the drivers following along behind the safety car had been exceeding the speed limit and so the stewards punished nine of them by handing out five-second penalties, which were about as effective as Hamilton’s drive-through (although Alonso went from ninth to eighth in the final standings and Nico Rosberg moved from 11th to tenth).
Formula One has had trouble with the safety car in two Grands Prix this season – Monaco and this one. It’s time they got their act together – and I have two suggestions:
They can either scrap the safety car (unless the circumstances are extremely dire) and go back to local yellows or else dispatch the safety car and then line up the cars behind it in the order they were running at the time of dispatch.
Otherwise, there will be no end to these controversies.
And the penalty for passing the safety car? The offending driver must restart at the back of the field. Anything less and school's out.
– Hamilton has gotten himself into trouble at least twice in recent years for lying. Why is it that he has such a hard time telling the truth? He was asked in the post-race interview to talk about the safety car incident and this was his reply: "I really don’t remember much about it."
Sure, Lewis. Sure.
Oh, and didn't you like that "Vettel ran into me" radio transmission from Hamilton?
It was the other way around, Lewis.
– The driver of the race was BMW-Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, who stayed out during the yellow for Webber’s crash and restarted in third place. He held the spot until late in the race when he had to make his mandatory pit stop. But upon rejoining, he outfoxed Alonso to take eighth place away from him and managed to pass Sebastien Buemi on the last corner of the last lap to finish a solid seventh.
– Alonso was beside himself with the turn of events. He played by the rules and got screwed; then he was flat-out outraced by a rookie. His neck was the colour of his Ferrari afterward when he accused race officials of "manipulating" the results.
That is the pot calling the kettle black. Mr. Alonso won a certain race in Singapore several years ago because Renault team principal Flavio Briatore and driver Nelson Piquet Jr. conspired to manipulate the results.
– Although the Kovalainen-Webber crash was just one of them racin’ deals, it’s F1's tolerance of blocking – oops, defending one’s position – that’s really at fault. Even though Webber was travelling much, much faster than Kovalainen, Heiki automatically put the block on him and Webber’s moon shot was the result.
– Michael Schumacher turned several fastest laps during the race. Don’t count him down and out – yet.
– Nico Hulkenberg pulled his Williams-Cosworth off the circuit because of a tire issue, calmly exited the car, carefully re-attached his steering wheel and then casually walked over to the tire wall where he just lost it.
He kicked and kicked at those tires three or four times before walking off. He was furious.
Now, will that turn up on You Tube? Will commentators be giggling about that? I don’t think so, and yet when Danica Patrick got out of her car several years ago and stamped her foot in anger and frustration, it was all of the above.
– Jenson Button said after the race that "you can’t pass around here."
Tell that to Kamui Kobayashi.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP: Jimmie Johnson didn’t wait very long to deliver a little payback to Kurt Busch in Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Three laps, to be exact.
When the dust settled, he’d won his second consecutive Sprint Cup race and fifth of the season and appears well on his way to his fifth straight Sprint Cup title.
Oh, I know: he’s only second in the standings behind Kevin Harvick. But after a slow start (for him), Johnson’s got the bit in his teeth now and should continue being his usual winning self from now until the end of the season.
Tony Stewart finished second and Kurt B. was third, with Jeff Gordon fourth and Harvick fifth.
On Lap 195, Busch edged up on Johnson and tapped the left-rear of his car just hard enough to force Johnson up the track while he fought to control his car. This opened a lane down low for Busch, who scooted into the lead.
It was a classic bump-and-run short-track move and Busch executed it perfectly.
But he couldn’t pull away from the perennial champion, who caught Busch with two laps to go. Johnson tried the bump-and-run himself and it didn’t work. He tried it again a lap later – just before the white flag lap – and it worked this time. He got Busch so out of shape that not only did he slide by but Stewart moved past Busch from third place to second, which is the way the race ended.
Busch didn’t see any problem with any of the tradin’ paint goin’ on out there. Johnson, however, was far from pleased with having to race that way.
"When that happened (when Busch tapped him out of the way), I thought, ‘I don’t care if I win this race or not, I am running into him and getting back past him one way or another,’ " Johnson said in Victory Lane.
"But I’m not very good at that stuff – usually I crash myself. So I settled down and did my job and I won."
There was lots of bumpin’ and bangin’ during that race. Juan Pablo Montoya wound up in the wall after feuding with Jeff Gordon and Reed Sorenson, and Denny Hamlin and David Reutimann argued, as did Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch.
– Kyle Busch’s anger-management classes must be having an effect. Knocked out of a top five finish by Burton, Busch actually talked to the media and didn’t threaten anybody.
– They had one stretch of more than 200 laps of green-flag racing. What is NASCAR coming to?
– NASCAR takes way too long to get races restarted after a routine caution. They threw the yellow when Kyle Busch spun after coming together with Burton and then took five laps to get going again, even though there was nothing on the track.
– All the drivers were sucking on bottles of Coke when the TV cameras showed up. Their dentists must love seeing that.
NATIONWIDE: According to Jerry Gappins, the vice-president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Danica Patrick was responsible for a 30 per cent increase in ticket sales for the Nationwide race Saturday, which was won by Kyle Busch.
She’s money in the bank, which is why NASCAR is courting her so strongly.
You listen to the NASCAR announcers, and she can do no wrong. The drivers fall all over themselves to make her feel welcome (and to stay on NASCAR’s good side). Said Jeff Burton on the weekend:
"It takes a lot of guts to expose yourself in front of millions of people, in front of all the media, in front of all your peers," he told Steve Ballard of the Indianapolis Star.
"If somebody came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you want to run Texas in an IRL car?’ I’d say, ‘Hell, no. I don’t want to get embarrassed.’ She’s doing that. I have a lot of respect for that."
They wouldn’t be saying that about some guy . . .
In any event, Danica is no different – as a friend of mine said – than Juan Montoya, Sam Hornish, A.J. Allmendinger, Max Papis. Scott Speed or Marcos Ambrose when they started their NASCAR careers.
No better, no worse.
INDYCAR: No race this weekend – the IZOD IndyCar Series will be in action next weekend at Watkins Glen and then will be here in three weeks for the Honda Indy Toronto – but the Indy cars still made news at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend.
Right smack-dab in the middle of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series weekend, Dario Franchitti drove a few laps in his Target Chip Ganassi car and track owner Bruton Smith himself made the announcement that the IndyCar series will return to the New England speedway for a race in 2011.
I just don’t get why NASCAR is being so kissy-kissy with the Indy car series. Up until two years ago, or so, the big stock car organization was intent on burying the open-wheel series. Since then, there has been a big thaw and wheelers and dealers in both camps have been frequenting the other’s races and events.
In May, it was Smith who broached the idea of awarding a $20 million bonus prize to any driver who could win both the Indianapolis 500 and the World 600 on the same day. Some in the media immediately pooh-poohed the idea but, surprisingly, NASCAR appeared to welcome it.
Could all of those empty seats at New Hampshire yesterday have anything to do with it?
Could Sprint Cup-IndyCar double-headers be out there on the horizon?
AND FINALLY: Mikhail Goikhberg of Toronto finished third in Saturday’s USF2000 race in New Jersey and followed that with a second on Sunday. Quipped the Russian-Canadian: "I was third yesterday and second today. I wish this was a triple-header!" . . . . Robert Wickens of Toronto and Guelph had an up-and-down weekend while running in the GP3 Series at the European Grand Prix. On Saturday, he was second. Sunday, he was 16th but was penalized 10 grid positions at the next race (Silverstone for the British Grand Prix in two weeks) for rough racing. Markham’s Daniel Morad was 12th Saturday and 19th Sunday. . . . Jordan Szoke of Brantford won both rounds of the Parts Canada Superbike Championship at the weekend, finishing first Saturday and again Sunday at Calgary’s Race City. He’s won three straight races aboard a Honda to open the 2010 season. Well done.