For those of you who emailed wondering where I was, my real newspaper job sometimes gets in the way of my fun newspaper job and the fun newspaper job (this) has to take a back seat.
So, after a week’s absence, here are some random thoughts about the state of the sport following a weekend of ho-hum racing (at least the offerings on television).
1. The people who run Formula One have outsmarted themselves once again. To make the sport more exciting – they didn’t really have to do this; it was exciting enough – they ordered the one tire supplier, Pirelli, to build degradation into the product so the drivers would have to make more pit stops.
Now, everybody is either up in arms (if you’re a fan) or "concerned" (if you’re one of the people in F1 who thought this stuff up) because the tires are coming apart faster than anybody expected.
Most teams had to make four (count ‘em, four) pit stops during Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix (click here for story and results) and critics (including 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve) were making fun of the spectacle rather than marvelling at the skill of the pit crews in getting the tires changed so quickly.
Said Villeneuve: "At this rate, F1 is going to become a pit-stop contest with a few race laps thrown in."
Every time anybody in any sport starts monkeying around with the thing to make it more "appealing" or more "exciting," they are just inviting trouble. Has baseball gone to four strikes to enable more hitters to reach base? Or moved the mound back a foot? Has hockey gone to four quarters instead of three periods? Of course not.
But F1 now has tires that disintegrate and drag reduction systems and kinetic energy recovery systems and, as a result, except for the opening laps there is very little racing going on any more.
Memo to F1: Stop this.
2. See second last paragraph above. The first lap of Sunday’s Spanish GP was edge-of-your-seat stuff with everybody reacting so quickly to lights out that analyst David Coulthard suggested at least one driver had jumped the start.
And although Mercedes pole-sitter Nico Rosberg held the lead to the conclusion of that first lap, everybody else was either charging to the front or sliding back.
Eventual race winner Fernando Alonso went from fifth to third in his Ferrari and passed two cars on the outside of one corner. Lewis Hamilton, who started second for Mercedes, dropped to fourth. Kimi Raikkonen, who went off third for Lotus-Renault, dropped to fifth. Three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel moved from third to second in his Red Bull-Renault and Felipe Massa went from ninth to sixth in his Ferrari. But the best of all was Adrien Sutil rocketing from 13th place to eighth in his Force India-Ferrari and that, ladies and gentlemen, was an incredible example of car control and balls.
Oh, before I forget, Mark Webber had his usual crappy start and dropped out of the top ten from his seventh starting position and – I ask you – why should we be surprised? I suggest they put Webber in the simulator for a week and not let him out until he can make flying starts in his sleep.
3. In winning the Grand Prix, Alonso joined Vettel as two-time winners this season. Raikkonen is the only other winner, scoring his victory at Australia. Rosberg has now won two poles on the year but both times, in Bahrain and again at Spain, he faded out of the top five. He finished fifth in Spain and ninth at Bahrain.
And Esteban Gutierrez was the best of this year’s rookie crop, finishing in 11th position for Sauber-Ferrari and beating his more experienced teammate, Nico Hulkenburg, who was 15th. More impressive was the fact that Gutierrez qualified 16th but was penalized three places for blocking Raikkonen during qualifying. Racing from 19th starting position to 11th earns him the McDonald "Hard Charger Award."
Elsewhere this weekend, Carlos Muniz – an Indy Lights driver – was fastest of the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers who went out to practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the track opened for practice and qualifying leading up to the 97th Indy 500 in two weeks.
Muniz recorded a speed of 223.023 miles an hour Sunday (it took him 40.3545 seconds to drive a lap of the 2.5-mile speedway; click here for details). James Hinchcliffe of Oakville was sixth fastest of the 23 drivers who turned time, recording a lap of 220.907 mph. Qualifying and bumping (if any) is scheduled for next weekend.
Speaking of Hinchcliffe, I was pleasantly surprised last Monday afternoon when, while driving home, I heard everybody’s favourite afternoon drive sports talk radio show host Bob McCown wax eloquently about James’ victory the previous afternoon in Brazil (which he won on the last corner of the last lap).
I haven’t heard McCown talk about car racing before, although I’m sure he has at one time or another. He simply said he’d tuned in the race to check it out with 15 or so laps to go and Hinchcliffe was running fifth and that he "had a feeling" and stayed till the end.
He went so far as to call the finish one of the most exciting moments in recent live sports television history (or words to that effect).
He brought it up with a couple of his guests – neither had been watching, by the way – and opined that he would be keeping an eye on young Mr. Hinchcliffe, whom he later interviewed (although I didn’t hear that).
Now, I realize that Bob McCown works for Sportsnet, and that Sportsnet is televising this year’s IZOD IndyCar Series races as well as the Indianapolis 500 and some "cross-promotion" is to be expected.
But I honestly think McCown was impressed with the finish (who wouldn’t have been!) and saw the potential that Indy car racing and Hinchcliffe both have. Good stuff.
One last thing: he said he didn’t like cars racing on ovals because ovals are for horses. Then he hesitated, and mused: "I wonder how horses would do on a road course?"
1. That Matt Kenseth won was the perfect revenge for Joe Gibbs Racing, which had been put through the wringer in recent weeks by NASCAR over nothing. I hope Kenseth wins every race between now and the end of the year and that Joe Gibbs rubs NASCAR’s nose in it when he stands up to accept accolades at the season-ending banquet.
Joe Gibbs is a religious, God-fearing man. NASCAR, which cast the first stone, should brace itself for what’s coming.
2. NASCAR loves to go around penalizing and fining drivers and teams enormous amounts of money in order to show them who’s boss. I think it’s time Kyle Busch was fined something like – oh, off the top, I‘d say – $200,000 for having a snit yet again because he didn’t win a race.
All the others losers of the Southern 500 – all 41 others – made themselves available to TV and other reporters after the race because that’s what they’re supposed to do as representatives of the sport of stock car automobile racing.
They are on the top of the mountain and they owe it to their fans and sponsors to address the media after the races, win or lose. Kenseth won the race but Jimmie Johnson went on TV, as did Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick and a couple of the others.
But not Kyle, because he was off somewhere having a hissy fit. He was only too happy to talk on Friday night, after he won the Nationwide Series race, but not Saturday because he lost.
I can remember several years ago everybody making great fun of Danica Patrick stamping her feet in anger after being edged out of a win in the Indy car series. But after she did what competitive people do - which is to work out their frustrations and then take a deep breath and calm down - she went to the post-race press conference and answered questions like a true professional.
But not Kyle and I think it’s time NASCAR brought him to heel. Every professional sport demands its performers be accountable to the media. Win or lose, the hockey players and coaches have to talk to reporters. Baseball managers and players are contractually obligated, and so on.
The next time Kyle Busch doesn’t win and then pulls one of his disappearing acts, he should be hit in the pocketbook.
And told to grow up.
Other racing: Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf won the American Le Mans Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday. Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia were first in GT, with Marino Franchitti and Scott Tucker first in P2. Mike Guasch and Luis Diaz won the Prototype Challenge race while Nick Tandy and Henrique Cisneros were first in GT Challenge.
Ryan Briscoe finished fourth overall and second in P2 before heading off the Indianapolis where he is among the favourites to win this year’s Indy 500. Townsend Bell also raced in ALMS before flying to Indy.
Kyle Marcelli of Barrie was eighth overall and fourth in PC. Kuno Wittmer of Montreal didn’t do all that well this weekend and was well back.
Okay, I have to say it: sometimes sports car racing doesn’t make any sense. We all know that all the classes – five of them this season – all go out and race together. And that the first three finishers in every class make it onto the podium, which means 15 or more drivers can sometimes be on the podium in a sports car race.
Saturday evening, I got an email that trumpeted "Delta Wing car on podium in ALMS race in California." Hey, I thought. That’s damn fine. And Katherine Legge, who’s been run out of Indy car, must be feeling pretty good about making it onto the podium in her first ALMS race.
Then I looked at the results. There were 36 cars in total in that race Saturday and the Delta Wing finished 32nd. I don't care about rules or tradition. That is not a podium.
The Southern Ontario Sprints will start their 18th season next Saturday night at Brighton Speedway. Lee Ladouceur of Alexandria will try for his third consecutive championship this season. Other top runners expected to be on hand include Glenn Styers, Keith Dempster, Chris Jones, Adam West and Warren Mahoney. I betcha Warren's Dad, Dick Mahoney, will be out there too.
Indy car driver and partner in the Schmidt-Petersen Indy car team, Davey Hamilton, won the supermodified feature at Oswego Speedway on Saturday night. At Merrittville Speedway outside Thorold, Erick Rudolph and Kevin Knapp scored their first 2013 wins in the Bobcat of Hamilton 358 Modified and Hoosier Stock Divisions respectively. In Lucas Oil Weekly Racing Series action, Kyle Pelrine, Josh Sliter and Brad Rouse won in the Turn 4 Collision 4 Cylinder, J&S Heating and Air Conditioning Modified Lites and the Rick’s Delivery Sportsman Features.
Most southern Ontario oval facilities will be in action next weekend and the Victoria Day Speedfest is on tap at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park but that’s not all. Attention all you drag racing fans out there. Toronto Motorsports Park near Cayuga has got a monster lineup scheduled with 300 mph jet dragsters, the Pro Modified Racing Association, the Quick 32 top dragsters and sportsman plus pro bikes and sleds. They get going out there on Friday night and plan to blast all the way through till Sunday. Go to torontomotorsportpark.com for more info.
Speaking of "most southern Ontario oval facilities," if you head on out to Peterborough Speedway, it won’t cost you anything to sit in the grandstand. Country 105 radio station is picking up the tab for the season-opener. For info, go to peterboroughspeedway.com.