Before going to the nuts 'n bolts of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which was won by Tony Stewart, there are a couple of things I have to get off my chest:
– NASCAR should take a look at Formula One, when it comes to trying to make racing exciting.
Yes, I know there’s a certain anticipation/tension in watching "fuel strategy" races to see who’s going to run out of fuel in the last couple of laps but, to my mind, that’s not racing. It's gambling.
With the correct roll of the dice Sunday, anybody could have won that Chase race.
Five-time national champion Jimmie Johnson says the reason everything in NASCAR is coming down to "fuel strategy" these days is because the tires that Goodyear is making are so good that they last longer than before and drivers don’t have to pit for fresh rubber as often as was once the case.
So they stretch out the fuel to match the length of time it takes the tires to wear down.
That was happening in F1, too. Drivers were sometimes going an entire race without stopping for rubber. Or stopping once at most. So the FIA directed the tire supplier, Pirelli, to build some obsolescence into the product so that drivers were forced to go to the pits for fresh rubber. (We saw a lot of that in the latter stage of the Singpore GP Sunday in which there were frequent tire stops, many unplanned.)
So NASCAR has to say to Goodyear: build us tires that "go away" sooner so the drivers have to pit for tires. While they’re in there, then, they’ll also fuel up and voila, fuel strategy races will be a thing of the past.
(There’s irony to this suggestion, by the way. Goodyear has frequently come under fire for not making tires that will last. So now they’ve done too good a job.)
– Prediction: Kurt Busch will be out of Penske Racing and Clint Bowyer in for the 2012 season. There’s obviously a big disconnect between Kurt B. and that team. His car flunked pre-race inspection. And how often does that happen?
– A 19-year-old kid from California named Kyle Larson won the Four Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway in Ohio at the weekend. He swept the USAC midget, sprint car and Silver Crown races. He also won a World of Outlaws race this season and the Belleville Midget Nationals earlier this year.
The reason I mention him here is that this is the sort of kid who should be snapped up today by Roger Penske or Michael Andretti or Chip Ganassi and put in an Indy car. Or somebody should phone Frank Williams and tell him the next Sebastien Vettel is 19, living in California and has the talent to go to Formula One (which would get U.S. sponsors back into that series lickety split).
Of course, this won’t happen and he’ll be in NASCAR before you know it. Joe Gibbs or somebody will have him in the Nationwide series. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but an open wheel natural should stay in open wheel. Won’t happen, though.
Okay, back to NASCAR.
Now, you could tell that race leader Bowyer was in trouble Sunday when, with four laps to go in the race at New Hampshire, he asked his crew over the radio: "How many left?"
And you knew the reason he asked the question: as is the case at every single NASCAR top-tier series race these days, he knew he was running out of fuel and that he probably wouldn’t be able to make it to the end.
Two laps later, his engine coughed when the tank went dry and Tony Stewart rocketed past to go on to win the second race of the Chase for the Championship, his second straight since the playoffs began.
Brad Keselowski finished second and Greg Biffle was third.
Ironically, Bowyer won this very same race a year ago when Stewart ran out of fuel and "Smoke" said in Victory Lane later that he knew exactly how Bowyer was feeling at that moment. "It’s an awful feeling," he said.
Congratulated on the victory, Stewart – who owns his own team in partnership with Gene Haas and Hendrick Motorsports, which prepares his team’s cars and builds his engines – held up his hand: "There’s eight long weeks to go (till the end of the Chase) so I tell people not to go counting chickens."
Jeff Gordon finished fourth, Brian Vickers was fifth, Matt Kenseth sixth, David Ragan seventh, Carl Edwards eight, Juan Montoya ninth and Regan Smith tenth.
Chase racers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were 17th and 18th, respectively.
Chase standings after two of 10 races: Stewart; Kevin Harvick -7; Keselowski -11; Edwards -14; Gordon -23; Kyle Busch -26; Kenseth -26; Earhardt -26; Kurt Busch -28; Johnson -29; Ryan Newman -34; Denny Hamlin -66.
Hamlin says he's going to try to win races between now and the end of the season, an indication he knows he's out of the title hunt already.