1. Dover attendance shows NASCAR in big trouble
2. F1 points race getting exciting as season winds down
3. Tracy out of IndyCar final, Audi out of ALMS in 2011, other news
Before we get to NASCAR – and if the France family wants to save the business they will have to take drastic action, and soon – let’s chat for a moment about Formula One.
In a recent issue of Motor Sport magazine, Roger Penske said the trouble with Formula One racing is that it’s all over at the first corner.
They start the race, the field gets through Corner One (or doesn’t get through, depending) and then whoever’s in front at that point usually goes on to win, said the Captain.
Now, although there was plenty of action back in the pack for most of yesterday’s Grand Prix of Singapore, Penske pretty much had it right.
Fernando Alonso led from lights out, with Sebastien Vettel second, and that’s how the race ended 61 laps – or two hours – later (full story here).
Mark Webber, who qualified fifth, made it onto the podium with a fine drive to finish third. Jenson Button motored away the whole race (although you wouldn’t have known he was even in this one, he was so quiet) to finish fourth with Nico Rosberg fifth.
Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of a Grand Prix for the second race in a row (and eliminated for the third time in four races) when he tried to pass Webber on the outside and turned in too quickly. The ensuing bump between the Red Bull-Renault and the McLaren-Mercedes did terminal damage to Hamilton’s mount and, as was the case at Monza, he had to walk back to the pits.
The points chase for the world championship is getting really exciting and interesting. Alonso’s second straight victory has put him second in the standings behind Webber, 202 points to 191. Hamilton has fallen to third place with 182 points, one point ahead of Vettel. Button, with 177 points, is fifth.
With four scheduled races to go, it’s still anybody’s championship.
– Bernie Ecclestone said last week that he still wants to institute a "medal system" that would see the world championship awarded to the driver with the most gold medals.
If that system was in effect now, two drivers would be tied at the top – Webber and Alonso with four victories (golds) each; Hamilton would be second with three wins with Vettel and Button also in the mix with two golds each.
As it happens, those are the drivers in the top five now but a points system has Webber more than a "gold" (10 points) ahead of second-place Alonso.
– Bernie says F1 has to become better known in the United States. My wife says to put Alonso on Dancing With The Stars. "That’d do it," she says.
– Back in the 1970s, the dirt-track sprint car drivers in the United States invented helmet-visor "tear-offs" to enable them to see. They’ve been "tear-offs’ ever since – until Sunday, when Martin Brundle went on and on about "rip-offs."
Maybe, because of the heat in Singapore, Martin was just having a bad day. He managed to turn "disoriented" into "disorientated" at one point.
– Why does Formula One cost millions and millions? A close-up of a tire cover on Jenson Button’s car just before the start showed the word "Jenson" printed on it. Good thing; wouldn’t want it confused with just any other old tire cover now, would we?
– Sauber gives Pedro de la Rosa the boot to bring back Nick Heidfeld. Prior to yesterday, Nick had started 169 F1 races and had won exactly none of them. After Singapore, he’s now zero for 169.
De la Rosa was another non-winner taking up space in F1 but this is my question: if the team was going to give him the boot, why not bring up someone winning races in the GP2 or GP3 series? Why keep bringing back all those old retreads?
– Okay, if I’m on the stewards panel, I think I would ask the others to discuss imposing a penalty against Fernando Alonso for blocking at the start.
The way I understand the rules of F1, you are allowed one defensive move but not two. In other words, you can block once but you can’t block twice.
At the start, Alonso – who was on pole – drove straight left at Sebastien Vettel (who was in the second front-row spot) to block him beating him into Turn One. That was move No. 1.
When that happened, Vettel steered right and dropped in behind Alonso to set up for the corner and – who knows? – maybe even attempt a pass.
At that point, Alonso also went right to cut in front of Vettel and drive through the corner ahead of him. The way I saw it, that was move No. 2.
It could be argued that Alonso had to move right in order to take the corner correctly. Okay, but he still moved twice to block Vettel and that’s against the rules.
I think there should have been a penalty.
– When the safety car was dispatched early in the race because of an incident involving Tonio Luizzi, nearly everybody ducked into the pits to make their mandatory stop for tires. It looked like an IndyCar pit stop and let’s hope F1 has more of those.
– Poor Lewis Hamilton. He’s a racer and yet, when he tries to race, something backfires.
Now, the incident early in the Grand Prix at Monza two weeks ago, when he banged wheels with Felipe Massa at the second chicane, shouldn’t have happened because it was too early in the race, cars were still sorting themselves out and rather than sticking his nose in, he should have backed off and lived to race again later. But he didn’t and he was out on the first lap.
Sunday, he had a great run on Webber going into a fairly hard left-hand turn and tried to take him on the outside but they hit. Lewis’s car was damaged; Webber’s wasn’t. Some guys have all the luck – Hamilton has all the bad at the moment and Mark has all the good. Webber said afterward that his car had a vibration the rest of the race but it got him home third and he still leads the championship.
– I’m the first guy to jump all over TSN when they cut F1 broadcasts short. I want to be the first to say, "Way to go!" when they do it right.
Yesterday, they stayed with the race coverage through to the conclusion of the driver interviews – 25 minutes over the limit.
So, let me say on behalf of all the F1 fans in Canada that this was greatly appreciated.
– Michael Schumacher ran into Heidfeld at the very corner where Webber and Hamilton collided. It was not the first coming-together Schumi had Sunday, either. He finished 13th – a lap down. There were only 16 cars running at the finish.
He says, over and over, that the 2011 car is in development and it’s being built around him. This year is turning out to be an embarrassment; if he is still out of the top ten from the get-go next year, it will be a disaster and his reputation will be in tatters.
– I initially thought (as did others, I’m sure) that Heiki Kovalainen pulled the bonehead move of the year by staying out on the track and not going into the pits when his car caught fire near the end of the race.
But he calmly pulled up beside the Williams pit, exited the car, accepted a fire extinguisher that was handed to him through the fence and put out the fire himself. If he’d driven into the pits with that car on fire, someone might have panicked. Potential chaos was avoided when he stayed out on the circuit.
Which explains why he’s a Formula One racing driver and the rest of us aren’t.
– Commentators are supposed to be neutral. We know they’re not – everybody has favourites – but announcers are not supposed to be cheerleaders.
The BBC’s Jonathan Legard got carried away yesterday when Webber got a little too close to a wall. "Oh, Mark . . . keep . . . it out of the barrier," he exclaimed.
Maybe it’s this sort of thing that has the BBC brass casting about for someone to take his place in 2011.
– Start resting up now. Because of the time different, the next Grand Prix, in Japan in two weeks, will be live at 2 o’clock in the morning.
Cross fingers that TSN shows a replay at 7:55 a.m.
Oh, and don’t worry about having to watch the new Grand Prix of Korea (the one on the calendar after Japan) at 3 a.m. or something, because it’s probably going to be cancelled.
They might be able to play Little League baseball over there but when it comes to car racing, forget it. Champ Car went through this; why didn’t F1 learn something?
NASCAR needs a boost
When I turned on the Sprint Cup race yesterday from Dover (won by Jimmie Johnson, with Jeff Burton second and Joey Logano third full story here), I initially thought it had been rained out and they were showing a replay of the previous day’s Nationwide Series race.
I mean, there was nobody there. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.
Entire sections of grandstand were empty; the rest were half full. Maybe.
The bloom is officially off the rose. Crowds at Pocono and Indianapolis were embarrassing but Dover was a disaster.
Now, the 2011 schedule is out and it’s an instant replay of 2010. Same old, same old. Okay, they might have tweaked a bit here and there but the Chase will start in September and the season will start in February in Daytona and they’ll still go to Phoenix twice and Charlotte twice and so yawn.
NASCAR has to take drastic action. If it wants to save the business, it has to expand internationally and it has to do it by 2012 or it might be too late after that.
NASCAR came on like gangbusters in the 1990s, particularly in the latter half of the decade after the Indy car people shot themselves in the foot by allowing Tony George to start another series.
But even by 2000, growth had stalled and, in the words of veteran NASCAR promoter H.A. (Humpy) Wheeler, it needed a boost or it was in serious danger of failing. Wheeler said it got that boost when Dale Earnhardt was killed.
Nobody wants to see that sort of thing happen again so NASCAR has to do something else.
For the 2012 season, I say it should schedule two races in Canada and one in Europe, either in England or Germany.
The August NASCAR stop in Montreal should add a Cup race to the Nationwide/Canadian Tire Series weekend. I guarantee they couldn’t build enough grandstands on Isle Notre Dame if that should happen.
They should schedule an oval race at the new Canadian Motor Speedway just outside Fort Erie. True, they haven’t even turned over a shovel of dirt there yet but they will, and a NASCAR Cup race could be just the ticket to get that race track off and running.
And NASCAR should schedule a points race – not an exhibition race; a points race – at either Rockingham Motor Speedway in the U.K. or Eurospeedway outside Berlin in Germany.
When any business venture falters, it has to reinvent itself and then relaunch itself. NASCAR can’t assume that once the economy improves, everything will be fine.
They have to go looking for new markets. The U.S. is saturated with NASCAR racing and there’s a great, wide world out there, just waiting for Jimmie and Jeff and Kyle and Kasey and all the rest of those guys to come race in their backyards.
Those two Canadian races I suggested would be huge hits and guaranteed sellouts, as would a race in Europe. Although Bernie would scream, NASCAR has every right to race in Europe.
It’s got to be worth a chance, don’t you think?
– Johnson is definitely back in the hunt for his fifth consecutive championship. He’s now second in the Chase standings, 35 points behind Denny Hamlin with Kyle Busch 45 back.
– A.J. Allmendinger led 143 laps of that Cup race yesterday before he got a flat. He recovered to finish tenth. He’s an honorary Canadian, you know. He married a Toronto chiropractor and was a protégé of Paul Tracy’s.
– Speaking of Tracy, he was hoping to finish out the season with the Dreyer and Reinbold IndyCar team at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend but Brazilian racer Ana Beatriz is getting the start instead. Tracy drove for D&R the last two races and didn’t do anything to turn heads so they made the change.
– Audi’s shock announcement that it won’t campaign the full American Le Mans Series season next year is disappointing. It’s all very well for the ALMS to trumpet the fact that manufacturers like Audi and Peugeot will still be around for Sebring and the Petit Le Mans, but what does that mean for places like Mosport, and Mid-Ohio?
Speaking of the Petit Le Mans, it goes at Road Atlanta next Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. Speed TV will carry much of it live.
– Kyle Busch finally won his 11th Nationwide Series race of the season on Saturday, taking over from Sam Ard as the single-season race-win record-holder (say that again, fast, five times).
Danica Patrick blew a tire and hit the wall, leaving her to eventually finish 35th. In the K & N Pro Series East race on Friday, she finished sixth.
– Please see my post below for the story of D.J. Kennington winning the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship on Saturday night at Kawartha Speedway. It was really great to see him win.