The weekend’s racing roundup is one post down. So, with the results out of the way, the Monday Morning Review (appearing this week on Tuesday because of the Canada Day holiday) has evolved into a column of opinion on the pressing issues of the day facing racing.
This week’s two subjects:
1. See what happens when you try to stage-manage racing?
2. When racing needs a publicity boost, attack Danica
1. So imagine waking up one day to read that Major League Baseball had decided to change some rules because they wanted to make the game more exciting.
No longer would there be "three strikes and you’re out." Now there would be four strikes. And instead of four balls, there would be five.
You can imagine the reaction.
And yet that’s what’s happened in big-league car racing in recent years.
NASCAR has "lucky dogs," in which racers get back on the lead lap without doing anything, and green-white-checkers finishes that are insanely dangerous (it was one of those that ended with 30 spectators injured and a car nearly in the grandstands at Daytona earlier this year).
Indy car racing has "push-to-pass" horsepower boosts that allow less-competent racers to make passes like the good drivers and "red" and "black" tire-use requirements that must be fulfilled during races (as if anybody understands, or cares).
Formula One has been out of control in recent years. Its most recent, insane, stipulation – that tire supplier Pirelli include obsolescence in the design and construction of the racing rubber – rose up and bit the sport in the butt at the British Grand Prix at the weekend when five – count ‘em, five – left-rear tires blew out.
It’s kind of hard to build a fast and safe racing tire when the people who run the sport say to you: "We want the tires to wear out really quickly so that the drivers have to make more pit stops. We want you to build ‘degradation’ into the tires."
Well, Pirelli did a really great job on the degradation front at Silverstone on Saturday and Sunday (there were four blowouts during the race and one during practice). Such a good job, in fact, that I wonder how many people in the world are going to go out and buy their product this week?
In fact, this has turned into such a PR disaster that I doubt if Pirelli is going to want to return to F1 under these conditions and if Pirelli bails, what other tire company will take a chance on bidding for the next contract because who knows what kind of looney-tunes instructions they’ll get?
Formula One would be wise to say hold, enough, and quit trying to micro-manage everything.
Pirelli as the tire supplier should build the best hard-rubber tire they can, the best soft-rubber tire they can and the best wet-weather tire they can. And the teams and drivers can then decide which tires they want to use in the conditions and circumstances they face.
All hard tires? All soft? A mix? Who cares? So long as it makes for good, safe and exciting racing.
What's going on now is dangerous and stupid.
2. Last week, for no apparent reason that I could see, other than that the Sprint Cup is heading back to Daytona for the Pepsi 400 next weekend, NASCAR commentator Kyle Petty hauled off and ripped into Danica Patrick. He said she was a good qualifyer but that she wasn’t a race driver.
"She can go fast, and I've seen her go fast," he said on Speed Channel’s NASCAR Race Hub last Thursday. "She drives the wheels off it when she goes fast."
But then he said: "But she's not a race-car driver; there's a difference. The King (Richard Petty) always had that stupid saying, but it's true: ‘Lots of drivers can drive fast, but very few drivers can race.’ "
Kyle Petty knows of what he speaks when he said that last bit. He sure couldn’t race. He started something like 850 Cup races over a 30-year career and won eight. Patrick has fewer than 30 under her belt so I think she has some time. If she gets to the 850-race mark and hasn’t won eight or more races, I’ll write another column and say Kyle Petty was right.
But in the meantime, the question is: why did he say it? Aren’t we over that crap? Earth to Petty: the world has moved on, please try to catch up.
Danica Patrick is not a woman race-car driver. She’s a race-car driver. She drives, along with 43 or so other race-car drivers, on the Sprint Cup circuit. Every week, 42 of those drivers are losers and she is among them. So what?
Here is the bottom line: NASCAR racing is not as popular as it was five years ago. Maybe not even as popular as it was a year ago. None of the races sell out any more. Speed Channel is a niche channel that has steady viewership but not network numbers. I don’t know how many people watch NASCAR Race Hub but I guarantee you that the number is far from overwhelming.
So how to get some attention? Hey, how about tearing a strip off the most famous and popular of all those NASCAR race drivers? (Yes, Danica Patrick, in the world, is better known than any other NASCAR driver because she goes beyond racing.) How about saying something insulting about her because then it will be in the papers (which still count more than anything) and in People magazine and on Entertainment Tonight and many, many more people than those watching Race Hub will know about it?
For her part, Patrick brushed Petty’s comments off by saying that she gets mail in which people say they wish she was dead, so nothing he or anybody else can say about her driving ability is really worth bothering about.
Patrick will now return to the scene of her greatest triumph to date, the place where she won the pole for the biggest stock car race in the world, the Daytona 500. (I don’t think Kyle Petty ever did that, did he?)
And because of what Kyle Petty said, perhaps many more people will tune into that race next weekend just to see if she can stick it right back at him.
Which, as I mused about above, is probably what he (and the people who might have put him up to saying it) had in mind all along. . .