1. Bayne’s Daytona 500 victory confirms sport’s youth movement
2. ‘Great American Race’ was, to be frank, boring
3. Formula One can’t go to Bahrain. Just can’t
1. NASCAR’s great story
It’s official. The kids have taken over big league auto racing.
Close on the heels of 23-year-old Sebastien Vettel, of Heppenheim, Germany, becoming the youngest champion in Formula One history (he’d become the youngest driver to do just about everything first in F1 earlier), 20-year-old Trevor Bayne of Knoxville, Tenn., became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 when he captured the 53rd annual "Great American Race" on Sunday. Full race story here
Bayne turned 20 on Saturday and celebrated his birthday in style, holding off Carl Edwards at the checkers. David Gilliland was third, Bobby Labonte was fourth and Kurt Busch, who’d won last Saturday’s Budweiser Shooutout and the first of two Gatorade Duels at Daytona on Thursday, finished fifth.
Bayne, in only his second Sprint Cup start (the other was last year at Texas Motor Speedway), was driving for the Wood Brothers, who haven’t had a car finish first at Daytona for 10 years.
As delightful as this latest accomplishment is, Glen and Leonard Wood will still be best remembered for two other achievements: inventing the choreographed pit stop (this changed NASCAR racing back in the early 1960s and they were so good at it that they were hired to service Jim Clark’s Indy 500-winning Lotus in 1965) and owning and operating the "21" team that utterly dominated the sport in the 1970s with David Pearson driving.
Bayne, who started racing go-karts when he was 5 and was signed to a Nationwide Series driver development contract by Roush-Fenway Racing only a year ago, wasn’t contracted by the Wood Brothers (who get their chassis from Roush-Fenway) for a full Sprint Cup season.
As NASCAR drivers are only allowed to race for points in one class, Bayne opted to run for the championship in the Nationwide Series, which means he wasn’t awarded points for his big win on Sunday. So Edwards leads the Sprint Cup standings with the 46 points he won for finishing second.
Bayne, a religious youngster, thanked God almost from the moment he stepped out of his car.
Unlike Vettel, who wagged his little finger at his rivals from the podium in Abu Dhabi last fall after winning the world title (a signal questioning the size of their you-know-whats), Bayne was gracious when talking about his opponents and his team.
He joked that he didn’t know what to do when he won.
"I keep thinking I’m dreaming," he said. "It just shows how powerful God is (that he won)."
He had trouble finding Victory Lane and had to be flagged down.
"I didn’t even know where to go," he said. "I’ve never been to a race track with so many people before."
The previous youngest winner was Jeff Gordon, when he was 25. He reportedly told Bayne to enjoy the day because hard as it is to think this way now, victories in major races don’t come along all that often.
The only other driver to win the Daytona 500 on his first attempt was Lee Petty, who won the very first one in 1959 when the France family opened the Daytona International Speedway.
Bayne will drive in the next four Sprint Cup races, starting next weekend in Phoenix.
2. ‘Great American Race’ was boring.
It’s a good thing for NASCAR that they had a storybook ending, with 20-year-old Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday, because otherwise, it was – if you’ll pardon the pun – very close to being a crashing bore. Lap-by-lap report here
NASCAR, fans and TV viewers became very disenchanted with the sport three years ago in 2008 when the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in Indianapolis had competition yellows thrown every 10 laps or so because the tires that Goodyear had taken to the race kept blowing out.
So yesterday, the tires were fine (and have been fine, for the most part, since that 2008 disaster) but the Siamese-twins style of racing adopted by just about everybody in the field (where two cars hooked up in a draft that let them both go faster) resulted in numerous cautions.
To be fair, the one-dog-sniffing-another’s-butt-style also led to a record 74 lead changes among 22 different drivers.
The 16 yellows that were thrown were a record for the Daytona 500 and led to it being the second-slowest race in the event’s history. Which meant – much like the Allstate 400 – they’d throw the green and then anywhere from ten laps to 15 laps later, there’d be a caution because of a wreck – the most serious coming on Lap 29 when Michael Waltrip spun David Reutimann and before the smoke cleared nearly half the field was involved, including many of the favourites.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that parts of the race weren’t enjoyable, because they were. It takes an amazing amount of skill – and an enormous amount of trust on the part of the driver doing the pushing, because he can't see a thing – for two cars to go blasting between a couple hooked up down low and another two glued to each other up high.
But a race is supposed to be that – a race – and not a survival of the luckiest.
I watched the 1981 Daytona 500 on ESPN Classic last Friday night and that race was great stuff. No restrictor plates, drivers passing each other high and low and the winner, Richard Petty, gambling with 24 laps to go when he pitted and opted to stay with the tires on the car and just get fuel. He held off Bobby Allison and Ricky Rudd, but barely.
– The anthem singer, Martina McBride, sang the Star Spangled Banner the way it’s supposed to be sung. It’s an anthem, not a blues. She also remembered all the words, unlike Christina Aguilera at the Super Bowl. Blame the "interpreting" of that song on Jose Feliciano, who did it the first time at a World Series game in 1968. It nearly killed his career; now, it happens frequently. But good for Martina.
– Now, instead of cheering for one driver in the race, you have to cheer for two. This could get confusing.
– Talking about confusion, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s spotter nearly piled him up early in the race when he was so busy talking to the other spotters, making deals for pushing-pulling and all the rest, that he missed seeing a yellow. Junior went below the yellow line rather than punting the car in front and gently ticked off the spotter.
However, since when did racing become so complicated? (See reference to 1981 Dayton 500 above.) And now we have Formula One drivers talking about so many buttons being on their steering wheels that they fear they’ll push the wrong one.
What’s going on here?
– Where is Jimmy Johnson? I mean, yes, he was caught up in the Big One on Lap 29, so we know he was out there. But this is the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and he didn’t stand out during practice, he didn’t qualify well, he didn’t draw any attention during his Gatorade Duel race and he wasn’t really doing anything spectacular in the race before being wrecked.
Is it over for Johnson?
By the way, NFL star Deion Sanders was called "Prime Time" because he was a two-sport athlete (he was a Major League Baseball player as well as a football star). So A.J. Allmendinger has started calling Johnson "Five Time" and I bet it sticks.
– After the Big One, and after any number of other single-car wrecks on Sunday, cars were taken to the garage, fixed up and sent into battle again – in some cases more than 30 laps behind.
Now, NASCAR awards a point – or points – to every car that’s in the race (with the odd exception of this particular winner, who’s only running for points in the Nationwide Series – see above). So even if a car is 35 laps behind, the driver wants to keep going as long as possible because the point, or points he picks up for finishing as high as he can, could pay dividends at the end of the season.
But is this wise? Is it safe to have cars that have gone into a wall, say, at 200 miles an hour go back out on the speedway?
Any number of times on Sunday, announcers Darrell Waltrip or Larry McRaynolds would make mention of a car’s poor handling, or whatever, because "they’d been in a wreck earlier." In fact, several cars were involved in more than one accident.
Before a car starts a race, it goes through a rigorous inspection process. But after a race starts, and a car is wrecked, it can return to the speedway and rejoin as the result of a visual inspection by a NASCAR inspector.
Something’s not right there.
– Matt Kenseth was turned into the wall and knocked out of the race. You could see the Crown Royal logo on the car, which reminds me of a story.
Last year, Kenseth flew up to Toronto in his private jet for an appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo. He was met by a volunteer from the Expo, who accompanied him back to the airport later, after he 'd met the fans and signed autographs.
Kenseth invited the volunteer aboard the plane to show off the bar, which was suitably stocked with his sponsor’s product. Then, as they were enjoying a short snort, Kenseth started complaining about the difference in the price for jet fuel in North Carolina and "Canada."
The volunteer was really taken aback. "I couldn’t believe it," he said. "He’s got a gorgeous private plane and he bitches about the price of fuel to fly it?"
– I watched the race on Fox, Rogers cable channel 28. I don’t know what happened so far as simulcasting on TSN was concerned, but I switched back and forth a few times to make sure and the commercials on 28 were different than the ones on TSN 30. In any event, the Budweiser commercials on the U.S. channel were great, as usual. Too bad the Bud car, driven by Kevin Harvick, was about the first to drop out because of a blown engine.
– The two-car tandems made for some fascinating conversation between drivers. I particularly liked the exchange between Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray – last year’s winner. Busch wanted Jamie to push him; McMurray agreed, but then said this: "Sorry, I have to go back and get Juan," referring to his teammate, Montoya.
– It was the tenth anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death in this very race. On the third lap, everybody in attendance – about 150,000 – stood and held their arms up with three fingers extended in honour of Earnhardt’s No. 3.
I was thinking of this as Carl Edwards pulled up behind Trevor Bayne for the run to the checkers. Edwards behaved himself and settled for second. Would Earnhardt? Or would The Intimidator have turned Bayne around and won the race?
I think he would have turned him around.
3. Formula One can’t go to Bahrain
ED. NOTE: The post below was published last night, before the Grand Prix was cancelled today. See story here
Formula One simply can’t go to the Kingdom of Bahrain in three weeks and race there as if nothing has happened and Bernie Ecclestone and everybody else in F1 knows it.
People were killed there in the past week. There is a lull at the moment, but hostilities can break out again at any time.
The popular uprisings throughout the Middle East are not going away any time soon (see explanation here). F1 is asking for it if it rubs salt in the wounds by even showing up in any of those countries.
F1 is symbolic of money and the power that accompanies it – the very things these uprisings seek to overthrow. In fact, on Sunday night's Speed Centre news show, a correspondent reported that protesters were focusing on the Grand Prix in Bahrain as something they never again want to see in their country.
The reason nobody has said anything officially is because of – you guessed it – money. If F1 pulls the plug and says it won’t go to Bahrain, it could be sued by the promoters. But if the organizers cancel . . .
The Sunni Muslim Al-Khalifa dynasty rules Bahrain, but the Shi'ite majority has long complained about what it sees as discrimination in access to jobs, housing and health care.
The United States and its oil ally Saudi Arabia see Bahrain as a Sunni bulwark against neighbouring Shi'ite regional power Iran. So there's lots of politics here.
The latest reports quote opposition groups as saying they will not enter into discussions with the royal family until they are good and ready and items already on the agenda include transforming Bahrain into a constitutional democracy and the release of political prisoners.
It could be a week before any kind of dialogue even starts – which would be two weeks out from the Grand Prix.
So, although the teams still seem to be putting up some kind of a facade (latest story on that here), it’s not going to happen.