1. Franchitti wins championship but Danica wins respect
2. Chase tightens but all eyes are on Kyle Busch's antics
3. Petit Le Mans, World and Canadian rally sport, and lots more
IZOD IndyCar Series
The night-of stories were expected, and the day-after ones too, but it’s now two days after the final IZOD IndyCar Series race of the season and it’s time to focus on the real story of that joust, which happens to be Danica Patrick.
Granted, the fact that Dario Franchitti won his third championship in four years is a pretty good tale, as is Scott Dixon’s drive to victory in the Cafes dos Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (full story here).
But that Danica Patrick scratched and clawed and flat-out raced her way to second place after many fans, most media and just about everybody inside the sport had written off her season is really front-page stuff.
Anybody who says they watched the last 10 laps of that race Saturday night and yet still has the nerve today to say that Patrick isn’t a race-car driver of the top rank couldn’t possibly be telling the truth (or, if they really had been watching, they must have been drunk).
For 10 laps, Patrick and Tony Kanaan were side-by-side, going 200 miles an hour, their wheels only inches apart. Neither one of them blinked; neither one of them lifted.
With three laps to go, Patrick dropped back slightly and dipsy-doodled around behind Kanaan in an effort to fake him into moving up the track to block her, which he did. When he literally wasn’t looking (he said later he hadn’t seen her), she shot down low on the inside and held that groove through to the checkers.
She also could have been trying to get him to use his "push-to-pass" button (which boosts an engine’s horsepower for 18 seconds; each driver starts a race with 15 pushes and must wait 10 seconds after each push for the system to reset; a push can be used to defend against a pass as much as it can be used to attempt a pass). Kanaan had started those last 10 laps with six pushes remaining while Patrick only had three.
Whether Kanaan used his last pushes to fend her off or whether she was on the button too, they were dead even starting the last lap and stayed that way all the way around.
She took second-place from Kanaan by 0.0111 seconds – about the thickness of the paint on the snout of her car.
It was her second storming second-place finish in IndyCar this year (she finished second in the Texas race in June) and it moved her into the top ten in the final standings (she’d finished in fifth place a year ago).
The rest of her season has been so-so, however, and had led to criticism of her for trying to drive in the NASCAR stock-car Nationwide Series at the same time she was driving Indy cars.
If nothing else, then, her performance Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedwayl will go a long way to prove that if she’s given a fighting chance in a good racing car, she can battle it out with – and beat – the best of them.
Franchitti is one of the best Indy car drivers of this generation. You don’t win three championships in four years, including two Indianapolis 500s, and not know what you’re doing.
But he couldn’t learn to drive a NASCAR stock car. World of Outlaws King Steve Kinser couldn’t either. Sam Hornish, a whiz in an Indy car, has struggled in the big stockers.
Whether Patrick ever gets the hang of NASCAR is still a question. But she sure showed on Saturday night that she can drive an Indy car.
IndyCar notebook jottings:
– There was nobody at this race. It was embarrassing to actually see how few people bothered to drive the 40 km south of Miami to watch what was a pretty thrilling showdown in person.
Homestead-Miami Speedway can hold 80,000 people. It has four sections that can hold 20,000 each. Three sections were closed entirely. The section near the fourth turn was open and was half empty – or half full, whatever.
I wrote a column for Toronto Star Wheels on Saturday, saying IndyCar has to take drastic action if it wants to stay in business. I got some nasty feedback from fans of the series but my point was made when the TV came on Saturday night.
There are those who will say that the race was held at a track owned by NASCAR (true) and that there is never any promotion there (also true).
But that is a cop-out. People living in south Florida are not stupid. There were stories about that race in the papers and on radio and TV. They just weren’t motivated enough to bother going. The product, for one reason or another, isn’t good enough to get people to go out and buy tickets and that is what IndyCar has to address – and fast.
(In fact, it was reported last night that Andretti Autosport has lost a major sponsor. The 7-11 convenience store organization will not sponsor Kanaan’s car next season and one look at that grandstand - and the dismal ratings on a U.S. cable channel that few people get or even know about - will tell you why.)
As I said in my column (and which the people who wrote to me seemed to have missed) is that I like Indy car racing. I like the drivers and I like the competition. But millions of people don’t and if that series wants to survive, it has to make changes.
– Franchitti defeated Will Power by five points to win the title. He trailed by 12 points going into the finale in Florida.
Right from the get-go, the Scot took it to his Aussie opponent. He’d won the pole on Friday and just took off when the green flew on Saturday. In fact, he led the most laps before easing off toward the end of the race, eventually finishing eighth.
And why did he ease off? Because Power got careless on Lap 134 of the 200-lap race and drifted up into the wall, doing damage to his rear suspension. Although the Team Penske crew made repairs, Power wasn’t comfortable going 200 mph in a damaged car and parked it.
Franchitti had to finish 10th or better at that point and was comfortable finishing eighth.
His teammate, Dixon, took the lead when he dropped back and wasn’t really challenged for the win.
His margin of victory, although only two seconds, could have been smaller if Patrick and Kanaan had ganged up on him instead of battling each other. Their argument, of course, was over who should have been the principal chase-er.
– Danica Patrick "interviewed" the new CEO of IndyCar, Randy Bernard during the pre-race show. It was softball stuff but she did get in a zinger: "How long is your contract?" meaning, how deep is his commitment to Indy car racing.
And he wouldn’t answer.
I’ve been around long enough to know that if anybody – politician, newspaper editor, hockey coach – is in for the long haul, they will take whatever action – sometimes radical action – they think is best for the company or the country.
If they’re just there for the short term, they won’t rock the boat. And he doesn’t appear to be rocking any boats.
– At 7 o’clock Saturday night, TSN had auto racing (Indy car). TSN2 had auto racing (NASCAR) and the Speed Channel had auto racing (the ALMS Petit Le Mans). I’d like to see the numbers for all three and add them up. I bet the total would be north of 500,000, which would put auto racing ahead of the CFL, which typically attracts 400,000 or so (except for the Grey Cup, of course).
– Patrick was the best of the five women in the race. Sarah Fisher (who’s dropping hints she might retire as a driver to concentrate on running her team; she should hire Paul Tracy) was 22nd, Simona de Silvestro was 23rd and Milka Duno and Ana Beatriz both crashed.out while running near the back and finished 24th and 26th respectively.
– There were 18 lead changes involving eight drivers, including Canadian Alex Tagliani, who led one lap and eventually finished 14th.
NASCAR Sprint Cup
When NASCAR President Mike Helton urged the company’s drivers to "have at it, boys," there’s really only one driver who took him literally – Kyle Busch.
Sure, there have been others who periodically got themselves a little excited – Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski come to mind – but only one driver has consistently acted in an anti-social manner all season and that driver has been Busch the younger.
His older brother Kurt, an arrogant elitist in his own right, seems downright genteel when compared to Kyle.
At one point this season, Kyle Busch threatened – over the radio, to his crew – to kill another driver. Of course it was probably in the heat of the moment, and nobody should have expected him to really do it, but a threat is a threat in any discipline or language.
His employer is Joe Gibbs, a successful football coach and racing team owner who is also a God-fearing man. As he did in pro football, Gibbs leads his team in a prayer before and after the race. I would not be surprised if he asks for strength to deal with Kyle Busch.
Busch’s bumper got him into trouble twice during the weekend, and he came out on the short end of the stick both times.
In Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway, he had a solid second locked up when he tried to nudge Joe Logano out of the way in order to maybe win. He missed, and had to check up before he ran into the wall.
In that split second, Brad Keseklowski blew past him on the low side to take second and drop Busch to third.
Kyle Busch is in the running for the Nationwide championship. Those points he lost when he pulled that little stunt could come back to haunt him before the season’s finished.
Yersterday, early in the Sprint Cup race that was eventually won by Greg Biffle, with Jimmie Johnson second (he’s now leading the Chase for the Championship) and Kevin Harvick third (full story here), Kyle Busch’s chrome horn got him into trouble again.
Following David Reutimann through a turn, he just couldn’t help bumping into Buzzi’s kid and sending him backwards up the track and into the wall. Kyle advanced one position and Reutimann was wrecked.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Kyle Busch is in the Chase and when you’re in the Chase you want to be able to collect as many points as you can in as many of the 10 races that you can and the last thing you want to do is get somebody angry at you.
So here comes Reutimann. He runs into Busch and walls him enough that Busch has to go to the pits for repairs. He eventually finished 21st but could have been a lot higher.
Busch said some interesting things about the situation. In short: he admitted hitting Reutimann but Reutimann’s not in the Chase and how dare he retaliate against a guy who’s in in the Chase when he could have waited till the regular season races next year to do it.
You know, when you’re in the Chase, you’re royalty. At least, that’s what I think Kyle Busch was saying. When you’re not in the Chase, you’re a peasant – apparently.
That’s why nobody likes Kyle Busch. Nobody ever liked Dale Earnhardt either, except they really did.
But not Kyle.
(P.S. Kyle, all you had to do when you hit Reutimann was get on the radio to your crew to run down to Reutimann's crew and say sorry. Right then and there. But no-o-o-o-. He should have waited till next year to deliver his payback. Hey, Kyle: have you ever waited?)
NASCAR notebook jottings:
– Except for the tiff between Busch and Reutimann, it was a quiet race. The full house at Kansas Speedway undoubtedly enjoyed the spectacle, because that speedway is a lovely facility and the weather appeared to be gorgeous, but there wasn’t that much to really get excited about.
– The last time I was at Kansas Speedway, the tornado sirens went off (the sky got as black as ink) and I was huddled, with about 500 other guys, in a men’s washroom in the infield that was made of concrete blocks.
The sirens react to barometric pressure and their wail as the tornado skipped around just outside the race track struck fear in my heart. They would be almost silent and then would get louder and louder until they were almost shrieking as the twister came ever closer.
And then it was over. The sun didn’t come out but after the emergency it was just another cloudy day.
– As the camera panned the cars going through turns three and four, you might have noticed a water tower in the distance. There’s a plaza over there that includes a Ted’s Montana Grill – a restaurant chain that serves beef and bison that Ted Turner raises, now that he’s not married to Jane Fonda anymore and doesn’t have CNN to play with.
The tornado sirens started up again when we were in there, too.
– I tried, but I couldn’t get myself too excited about the ALMS finale, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. I’m not sure that endurance racing lends itself all that well to TV, particularly after dark.
In any event, the Peugeot team of Stephan Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Pedro Lamy led a one-two sweep for the French manufacturer whose No. 2 entry piloted by Anthony Davidson, Marc Gene and Alex Wurz finished just ahead of the Audi entry driven by Allan McNish, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen.
The Audis might – might – have finished second but when Capello left the pits late in the race he found that his balaclava had somehow slipped down inside his helmet and he couldn’t see. So he had to pit to get that little problem sorted out and that ensured the Peugeot team the sweep.
David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti (Dario’s brother) won the LMP2 class (and won the ALMS prototype championship again). In GT2, the Ferrari driven by Gianmaria Bruni and Tony Vilander ran out of petrol two corners from the finish, handing the victory to the Corvette team featuring Oliver Gavin, Jan Magnussen and Emmanuel Collard.
I think that was the first victory for Corvette since they parted ways with Ron Fellows, and it was a fluke at that.
Kyle Marcelli of Barrie was the most successful of the three Canadians in the race, finishing 24th overall in the prototype challenge class. Mark Wilkins of Toronto had some mechanical difficulties and was 34th while Toronto’s Tony Burgess was on a team that wasn’t running at the finish.
– Sebastien Loeb won his seventh straight World Rally Championship title when he won the Rally of France yesterday. It was his 60th career victory in the series and his sixth this season for Citroen.
Kimi Raikkonen had not one crash but two on Saturday, driving for the Citroen Junior team, and it is no wonder he is trying to get back into F1 where he might get some respect again. He’s crashed so many times this year in the rally sport that he’s become something of a joke.
– Speaking of rallies and success, Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard of Ste-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., won the Pacific Forest Rally this weekend to take the lead in the Canadian Rally Championship by two points over Pat Richard of Squamish, B.C., and Allan Ockwell of Toronto.
The rally was the fifth event of the national championship series, presented by Subaru and supported by Yokohama. One rally – the Tall Pines at Bancroft in November – remains.
– James Hinchcliffe of Oakville was second by an eyelash in the Indy Lights preliminary to the IndyCar finale at Homstead-Miami Speedway on Saturday. "Hinch" finished the season in second place in the championship and is looking to move up to the IndyCar series in 2011.
Philip Major of Ottawa finished eight in that race.