1. NASCAR’s ‘Have At It, Boys’ philosophy is out of control
2. There’s just no stopping Vettel, is there?
3. Bountry placed on Pruett, Rojas; other results
Regan Smith from the little Syracuse-area town of Cato, N.Y., won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Saturday night but the post-race display of carelessness by Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch is what everybody was talking about afterward. Harvick and Busch are lucky that Harvick's driverless racing car didn’t hit and kill somebody.
Meantime, it might be a little early to compare Sebastien Vettel to some of the all-time greats of Formula One but he sure is the class of this generation. His victory in Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix was almost automatic; it’s what he did earlier that really impressed people.
Finally, the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series has put a bounty on the Ganassi Racing team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, who haven’t been defeated this season. And there was lots of other racing going on this weekend, too.
1. NASCAR should suspend Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch
Whether NASCAR Sprint Cup cars should still be racing at Darlington Raceway is open for debate.
An oval that’s a bit more than a mile in length, the first and second turns are somewhat wide and sweeping while the third and fourth turns are smaller and tighter, giving the track the shape of an egg.
Opened in 1950, Darlington was built for stock cars that were hard-pressed to go above half the speed that modern cars run. Ergo, when the Sprint Cup cars race there these days, the drivers are up hard against the outside wall all the way around and frequently brush it and sometimes bump right into it.
And each other.
Regan Smith of Cato, N.Y., won the Southern 500 there on Saturday night and it was a popular victory because Smith hadn’t won a Sprint Cup race before and he drives for a small operation when compared to Hendrick Motorsports or any of the other top teams.
Carl Edwards finished second and Brad Keselowski was third (full story here).
Toward the end of the race, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer came around the fourth turn three-wide, which is impossible at a place like Darlington. Bowyer lost control and went head-on into the inside wall and, as the two survivors drove side-by-side down the main straight, Busch turned Harvick into the outside wall.
As you can imagine, everybody was browned off at everybody else. But, you know, it’s Darlington: what does anybody really expect?
After the checkers Harvick pulled into the pit road behind Busch. Then, he pulled around and stopped in front of him, forcing Busch to stop. Harvick then scrambled out of his car and ran back to Busch’s and tried to punch him.
Okay, NASCAR told its drivers last year to "Have at it, boys." It wants feuds. It wants some violence (in the form of the odd shoving match, or mild fist-fight, or the odd crash on the race track). It considers that sort of thing good for business.
But there’s a difference between getting angry and deciding to pop somebody on the shnozz and being in such a blind rage that you lose complete control of yourself.
And Kevin Harvic’s blind rage on Saturday night very nearly had tragic consequences.
He was so angry that when he jumped out of his car, Busch reacted by pushing Harvick's car out of the way. (I originally wrote that the car took off on its own.) It turned left and – thank goodness for this – crashed into the inside pit wall.
What if it had continued another 25 or 30 yards before turning? It would have mowed down a whole bunch of people standing there in pit lane, completely unaware that a driverless car was coming right at them, that’s for sure.
That car with no driver in it could very well have killed somebody.
I’ve seen stupid things done at race tracks – Carl Edwards driving the wrong way along pit road last year at Atlanta, for instance – but this is the worst and if NASCAR, upon reviewing everything that happened on Saturday night, doesn’t suspend Harvick and Busch, then they have no business officiating a tiddly-winks contest, never mind a car race.
2. When Vettel’s out there, everybody else is racing for second
When he flashed across the finish line at the Grand Prix of Turkey on Sunday, Sebastien Vettel radioed his crew and said this:
"Yes – that’s what I’m talking about . . . full control, from beginning to end."
And everybody watching knew exactly what he was talking about. From the second the lights went out to start the race until it ended, Vettel was in first place.
It was no contest. His Red Bull-Reanult teammate, Mark Webber, was second and Fernando Alonso finished third in his Ferrari. (Full story here.)
But never mind the race – yes, it was exciting, as all the Grand Prix races have been this season – but what was most spectacular actually happened on Friday and Saturday.
During first practice on Friday, when it was raining, Vettel was pushing a little too hard and went off, hammering the guardrail and doing serious damage to his racing car. He was not injured.
The car was too badly damaged to be repaired in time for second practice, so Vettel – who leads the world championship by a wide margin over second-place Lewis Hamilton (93 points to 59) – had no practice before qualifying on Saturday.
So he went out and won the pole – his fourth of the 2011 season.
Just like that. No practice, a wrecked race car, and another pole position. And it was the fastest qualifying lap ever recorded at the Turkish circuit.
His season would be perfect, except for that second-place finish at China three weeks ago behind Hamilton. So, so far in 2011, he has four poles but only three wins. Bummer.
I hear frequently from readers who email me directly and one in particular sent me this on Sunday afternoon:
"Have to think that Vettel is something special. At that age. Gifted. A Jim Clark, Schumacher level."
I think I have to agree. He’s the youngest world champion and he’s just about unbeatable. How can he not be included?
Before going to my notebook, here’s who else made it into the top ten Sunday: Hamilton was fourth in his McLaren-Mercedes, Nico Rosberg was fifth in a Mercedes and Jenson Button (McLaren) was sixth. Nick Heidfeld (Renault) was seventh, Vitaly Petrov (Renault) was eighth, Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso-Renault) was ninth and Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari) was tenth.
All of the front-runners made fourth pit stops (except Button, who got to the finish on three) during a race that featured plenty of passing and multiple pit stops (according to reports, there were 80, in all, during the race).
Hamilton’s race was compromised when the McLaren crew had trouble attaching his right-front wheel during one stop and then he was held in the pit for additional seconds because a Ferrari was heading for the pit directly in front of him.
And Felipe Massa messed up on a stop when he didn’t have the clutch engaged and his foot on the brake and the crew couldn’t get a wheel on because everything was still turning.
There is now a two-week break before Spain and then Monaco is only a week after that.
And, believe it or not, the Grand Prix of Canada is only five weeks away, on June 10-12.
– Michael Schumacher was either running into people all over the place at Turkey or else people were running into him. This prompted the following witty exchange between announcers Martin Brundle and David Couthard:
COULTHARD: "He just doesn’t know when to give up . . . "
BRUNDLE: "You mean on his career? . . ."
– A racer is a racer, and Lewis Hamilton is that. After a race-long scrap with his teammate Button, Hamilton had fresh tires following a late-race fourth pit stop and was stuck behind Button, who’d only stopped three times.
"Easy, Lewis," his team radioed him. "There will be ample opportunity to pass Jenson toward the end of the race (as his tires deteriorate)."
So Hamilton waited two corners and then passed Button.
– I suggest Massa won’t be back with Ferrari in 2012. He’s still got fire in his belly, so far as racing is concerned (he didn’t back away from a scrap at any time on Sunday) but the brain fade when he was in the pits and didn’t have his foot on the brake is going to give Ferrari the excuse it needs to dump him. That's just one example; there are others. They add up. Yes, I know his contract runs through 2012, but F1 contracts are made to be broken.
– Entire grandstands of empty seats, plus the F1 squeeze play (doubling the sanctioning fee going forward) would indicate that the Turkish Grand Prix won’t likely be around much longer.
3. ‘Ganassi Gang’ under attack; eastern Canadian Karting results
Chip Ganassi runs teams in NASCAR, IndyCar and the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series and his team in the latter series is as unbeatable as Sebastien Vettel and Red Bull Racing are in Formula One.
So, borrowing a page from short-track racing, the Grand Am series has placed an official "bounty" on the "Ganassi Gang" of drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, who are unbeaten in the last six Rolex races going back to last season.
The team that finally beats the Pruett-Rojas combo will be paid an additional $25,000 as a reward.
One of the teams that will be trying to cash in will be the AIM Autosport of Woodbridge duo of Mark Wilkins of Toronto and American Burt Frisselle. They’ll get their first chance next Saturday at Virginia International Raceway. That race – the Bosch Engineering 250 – will be live on SPEED at 5 p.m.
Said Ganassi: "I think it’s a great idea and a great promotion. I just hope they don’t get to pay it out for awhile."
Meantime, Peugeot cars took the first two places in the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 km race for the fifth straight time. Alex Wurz, Marc Gene and Anthony Davidson arrived home first, followed by Franck Montagny, Nick Minassian and Stephane Sarrazin. Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Alan McNish were third for Audi.
At Goodwood Kartways north of Stouffville, the Eastern Canadian Karting Championships were held this weekend (see previous preview post) and here are the results. My thanks to Jason Holland for sending them to me.
Rotax Max Senior: Saturday – Marco Di Leo, Kevin Monteith, Austin Milwain. Sunday – Marco Di Leo, Michael Vincec, Kevin Monteith. Rotax Max Junior: Saturday – Cameron Morrison, Samuel Fontaine, Miles Tyson. Sunday – Zachary Claman-DeMelo, Jesse Lazare, Cameron Morrison. Rotax DD2: Saturday – Stefano Romano, Christophe Boisclair, Pier-Luc Ouellette. Sunday – Pier-Luc Oullette, Stefano Romano, Christophe Boisclair.