HAMLIN WINS PHOENIX NASCAR RACE; TROUBLE IN FERRARI-LAND
This popped into my email inbox the other day, courtesy of racing PR rep Mike Kitchel:
"The National Guard Panther Racing team completed its first day of oval testing with the IndyCar Series’ new chassis at Phoenix International Raceway . . . and came away with two resounding conclusions: The DW12 chassis development is improving significantly and IndyCar needs to return to Phoenix’s newly-resurfaced one-mile oval – soon."
I love enthusiasm, even if it’s misguided. I suffer from it myself. I’ve wanted to do all sorts of things in my life that were, in hindsight, really dumb ideas. Going back to race at Phoenix is just that, a really dumb idea.
Panther is not alone, by the way. The media cheerleaders who focus primarily on the IndyCar series have been beating this particular dead horse for years. I have no idea why.
The last thing the IndyCar series needs to do is to keep putting on races at facilities where there are no spectators. And ever since the mid-1990s, the Indy cars have drawn flies every time they have gone near the Phoenix International Raceway.
The last time the Indy Racing League was there, they said the attendance was 30,000. I was there. To get 30,000, they had to have counted all the arms and legs that were attached to every head. The true figure was maybe a little north of 10,000. For a facility that has room for more than 100,000, it was a disgraceful turnout.
Now, I love the Phoenix International Raceway. I love oval racing. I like oval racing more than I like road or street racing. I am an oval guy. I went to Phoenix back in the 1980s for the Copper Classic (a weekend of midgets, sprints and supermodifieds). I went there when CART raced (and when they used to have crowds). I went there for every one of the IRL races, so I I know of what I speak.
For whatever reason, open-wheel racing on ovals has lost its audience. Except for the Indianapolis 500, there is no interest – zero interest – among the general population in watching Indy cars go around in circles. Stock cars, yes; Indy cars, no.
I keep reading (and hearing) that all Indy car oval-track racing needs is a good promoter. Well, they had a good promoter at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last year and nobody showed up. Nobody attended when they went to Milwaukee last year. (Michael Andretti is taking a crack at it this year and good luck.) Eddie Gossage is the best speedway promoter in the world and even he has a hard time getting to the 50-per-cent-seats-sold mark at Texas Motor Speedway.
(Don’t write and point to Iowa Speedway because they only have 25,000 seats there and, if they can’t fill those, they might as well give up.)
The season-ending race at Las Vegas was promoted all year long. Never mind the $5 million bonus promotion; the fact of the matter is that anybody who bought a ticket to any race in 2011 got a free ticket to the Vegas race. If you rented a hotel room from certain hotels during race weekend out there, they threw in a free ticket. On the weekend of the race, they closed down part of the Strip and the Indy cars went out and put on a demonstration and tens of thousands of people watched. Everybody said it was the most wonderful thing they’d ever seen. So what happened?
Although the death of Dan Wheldon overshadowed everything, the truth of the matter is that only a few more than 20,000 people bothered to show up for the race that was held in a facility that can hold nearly 140,000.
And now they want to go back to Phoenix?
Are they kidding?
Except for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IZOD IndyCar Series would be wise to stop going to oval race tracks. Period. Frankly, it’s embarrassing to watch a race in front of thousands upon thousands of empty seats.
I mean, what message does that send to sponsors and, particularly, potential sponsors?
I know that IndyCar, like CART, markets itself as the only series in the world that features road courses, street circuits, short ovals and superspeedways. Which might very well be true – that it’s the only series that features all four disciplines.
But times change and tastes change and CART was then and IndyCar is now and people just don’t care about the short ovals anymore.
It’s not news but it is reality.
Instead of trying to reinvent the past, which is always a mug’s game anyway, IndyCar would do well to plot out a future that includes the oval at Indianapolis but no others.
One place I’d like to see an Indy car race held is the new and improved Mosport International Raceway, now officially named Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
I had a chat with race car driver and co-owner Ron Fellows at the weekend and he said he’d like to see an Indy car race there, too. After all, Mosport is where they held the first Indy car race in Canada way back in 1967.
"But we’re not in the business of going out and trying to take anything away from anyone," Canada’s most successful road racer stressed. "The Honda Indy is a downtown Toronto race and will remain a downtown Toronto race until such time as the people who control it decide they don’t want it any more. Then, we would be prepared to step in."
Fellows said that, with the exception of Formula One, there isn’t a race sanctioning organization in the world that Mosport – er, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – hasn’t talked to, and that includes every one of them, from NASCAR to the World Sportscar Championship.
He said he hoped that by next September there would be some exciting announcements made about racing at the track north of Bowmanville in 2013.
I can hardly wait.
Bad news for Ferrari fans. Technical chief Pat Fry says he doesn’t think the team is competitive enough to reach the podium at the Australian Grand Prix, which will kick off the 2012 Formula One season at the end of the month.
Anybody who pays attention to F1 knows that if a team starts the season behind everybody else, that’s where they usually are when the season ends. It’s almost impossible to catch up once racing starts because every team is evolving, not just the also-rans.
That doesn’t mean Ferrari isn’t going to be right up there. But to really take on McLaren and Red Bull for race wins and consistently high finishes, they have to go into the season opener even and that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix at the weekend after second-place finisher Kevin Harvick lost fuel pressure and fell back near the finish. Greg Biffle finished third, with Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski fourth and fifth. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin (he won the pole for the Subway Fresh Fit 400) and Joey Logano rounded out the top ten.
Juan Montoya was 11th but will have to finish higher if he wants to hold onto his seat. There are indications – primarily fuelled by Ganassi Racing partner Felix Sabates – that there will be a change if results don’t improve dramatically. Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart finished 22nd.
Full results here
Saturday, Elliott Sadler won the Nationwide Series race. Brad Keselowski was second and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. third. Danica Patrick was 20th. Full results here.