NASCAR's Conspiracy Theory and IndyCar's Return on Investment

NASCAR makes it incredibly easy to write these columns every Monday. They also did a great job of making us forget what an absolute disaster qualifying is when the finishes appear to be a bigger disaster, and are obviously more important. First, debris cautions happen. Yes, drivers are part of the reporting process, so when a driver repeatedly reports debris and they’re the driver who will be the recipient of the Lucky Dog then you have to examine whether the debris real or contrived. So, when the caution came out on lap 186 and Austin Dillion happened to be the driver that benefited the most from the caution, the conspiracy theorists came out in full force.

Fox was unable to show the debris, because as Mike Joy says, “When we can see it, we show it.” And ya know what, that’s fair. It isn’t on NASCAR’s broadcast partners to help debunk any conspiracy theories. I would have liked to have seen the debris, but I didn’t, and at that point it didn’t matter to me much anymore.

Fast forward to the final Green-White-Checkered attempt, which if you know anything about me, you’ll know I’m not a fan of overtime in motorsports. I’ll go on record saying that I like that NASCAR didn’t throw the yellow flag when Greg Biffle spun his car on the frontstretch. He was able to get his car started, and drove away without leaving any debris on the track. Race on.

The next question everyone has is the consistency NASCAR has shown or not shown so far this season when it comes to cautions on the last lap. I’ll say this as a person who referee’s basketball: consistency within the same game is much more important than it is across games. That means that similar plays should have a similar results in that game we’re playing today, and in theory any good referee will have similar results across all of their games.

Is Fontana the same as Daytona? Clearly not. Did the spin at Daytona involve multiple cars or one? Multiple. Did all the cars at Daytona drive away after the incident or did they hang out? All but one drove away. We just asked and answered three questions that totally changed the circumstances from Daytona. Was the result the same from Daytona? No, because the play was different. Biffle spun and drove away, at Daytona a car was stuck on the front stretch. Average speed at Daytona: 160mph; average speed at Fontana: 140mph. I haven’t seen anything similar between the two races at all.

All that said, is there an appearance that NASCAR didn’t want Kurt Busch to win? Yes. It’s clear that there’s an appearance. Most people consider Kurt Busch to be a complete and total idiot, but many of those people would argue that Busch shouldn’t have been suspended earlier this year. A win at Fontana may have looked like egg on NASCAR’s face, but I don’t think the race was actually modified so Busch wouldn’t win.

Before the final restart, we knew Brad Keselowski had four new tires, while Busch and the other leaders only had two. As soon as the race went green, Keselowski was on the move despite the fact that Busch had the fastest car all weekend and led the most race laps. I’m not a Kurt Busch fan, but would say that I’m a supporter, and I would have liked to see him win the race. He earned it, but after only two races this season he’s already 28th in points.

Kurt Busch will be fine.

NASCAR Links:

Staying the course is paying off for Kurt Busch Blog: Money changes in NASCAR Brad Keselowski on Kyle Busch

IndyCar’s Return on Investment

We have aero kits, and we also have two teams under the same manufacturer that will likely dominate this season. Penske and Ganassi with Chevrolet. That isn’t to say that the other teams don’t have a chance, but in reality all the money and power run through those three organizations. Honda’s engines are good as are their teams (Andretti Autosport the flagship), but can you see the haves and have not’s are already formed.

Dominance is cyclical, and so in the early part of the season I expect the have’s (Penske, Ganassi, Andretti) to master their respective aero kits, but as Curt Cavin says, can you imagine a world where the Patriots and Lakers dominate the NFL and NBA just because they have the ability to outspend everyone?

The question remains, is that IndyCar’s biggest problem? Are there so many teams that have that much more in resources that the return on investment for the smaller teams isn’t there now or could go away in the coming years? Only time will tell, but over the past five years, IndyCar has been better than it’s ever been. Of course, all the teams were running essentially the same cars, and now that will change with the recently released aero kits.

So if you own a smaller team, what’s your return on investment? If you begin every year knowing you don’t have an honest chance at winning the championship, and only have an outside chance at the Indianapolis 500 because one of the power three will make a mistake, why continue to race? If you’re Honda and Chevy, why sell engines to the smaller teams when the only teams that make the investment worthwhile are already at the top?

The IndyCar season starts this week at St. Petersburg, and hopefully the smaller teams will be able to keep the first half of the season competitive while they figure out how to get the most of their aero kits.

IndyCar Links:

Exclusive: 'Dinger wants to do Indy 500/Coke 600 double The Thrill Of Seeing New Liveries IndyCar: Leaders Circle payout increased

Other Motorsports Links:

FIA confirms German Grand Prix has been dropped from calendar Ricciardo optimistic ahead of Malaysian GP despite Melbourne setback How The Success Of Women Drivers In NHRA Engages, Inspires Fans Drag racing: New benchmark set for Kiwi drag racers

Leave a comment below or e-mail me at damien@morethanafan.net.

McLaren Won't be Awesome and Vickers Impressive in Vegas Return

Formula 1

How Bad Will It Be For McLaren?

If you believe what 1996 World Champion Damon Hill says about McLaren going into the 2015 season, then all signs point to bad for McLaren. The team switched to Honda engines for the first time in more than 20 years and, as I mentioned last week, they turned barely any laps in their final open test.

'The McLaren-Honda thing has to work at some point, but Formula One is so difficult now. There is so much technology and you are taking on so many strong teams.

'I expect a modest beginning, but from whatever they start at you want to see a trajectory which is pushing to regular top sixes and a podium at the end of the season.' ~ Damon Hill

Obviously, I’m not as well-versed on Formula 1 as many are, but based on what Mercedes, Williams and Ferrari did this off-season, McLaren will probably be happy to be in the top 10. As Hill says, top 10s aren’t what McLaren expects, but after making a major change like this, challenging for a podium in 2015 is likely just a pipe dream.

What Really Happened to Alonso?

Hard to say we’ve heard the entire story about Fernando Alonso. Between the conflicting reports from McLaren and the laughing denials from Alonso himself, one can draw one of two conclusions: 1. McLaren & Alonso got caught with their pants down and are in PR recovery mode. 2. EVERYONE else has it wrong, there was no concussion, and certainly no electrical shock.

Where do I stand? I’m going with #1 – partially. I believe Alonso was concussed, and either he and his team or a combination of he, his team, and Formula 1 don’t want the bad news out. Yes, I’m going full conspiracy theory on this. It seems very odd, and unlikely, that a car as technologically advanced as Formula 1 car can get into an accident like Alonso did on February 22 and require a three-day hospital stay.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igIvPDDyRAA

Who stays in the hospital for three days unless there was some type of significant injury or the victim needed to be tested and monitored?

The other conspiracy theorists postulate that Alonso had some type of medical condition while driving the car that caused him to lose control and crash at about 134 mph. If true, Alonso could be placing the entire field in danger. I won’t speculate on what exactly the condition might be, but if it’s something that has the potential to re-occur then full disclosure is a requirement.

All we know at this point is that Fernando Alonso will miss this weekend’s opener in Australia and hopes to return for the Malaysia race on March 29.

Formula 1 links:

F1: Drivers "a perfect combination," Ferrari says Mercedes-AMG GT S and C 63 S in action for the 2015 Formula 1® season: Maximum safety, maximum performance Australian GP guaranteed as F1 season opener until 2020


NASCAR

Good at Being Consistently Inconsistent

"If charges are filed, that will change our equation, and we will look at that," NASCAR chairman Brian France said last November. "We'll stay the course, let the investigation be completed, and then we'll react."

About all you need to know about NASCAR and consistency: there is none. NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in November that the sanctioning body would wait until a decision on criminal charges had been reached before they acted on the racing status of 2004 champion Kurt Busch.

MTAF Wheels’ writer Ryan Isley believes NASCAR sent the right message about domestic violence when they punished Busch without waiting for charges. I disagree. 100%. Ryan compares NASCAR’s situation in which Busch had never been charged, to the NFL’s situation where Ray Rice had been charged and accepted diversion in a domestic violence case as NASCAR protecting itself.

In this case, it was necessary to suspend Busch to protect the sport and its governing body. Sometimes, the sport has to look out for itself – this was one of those times. After seeing the backlash the NFL received for their fumbling of the Ray Rice situation, NASCAR decided it needed to act quickly and sternly to get in front of any firestorm that may be headed its way once the commissioner’s opinion was made public.

What Ryan and many others either didn’t know, or chose to ignore, is the obvious conflict of interest held by NASCAR in this situation. NASCAR EVP Steve O’Donnell served on the board of Busch’s ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll’s Armed Forces Foundation until late 2014. Can we say that O’Donnell has no voice on any discipline that Busch or any other driver may face? We can’t. Do we know that Brian France came to the decision to suspend Busch alone? No, and if he came to the conclusion on his own then he’s doing everyone a disservice by not accepting information from multiple parties.

ESPN’s Ryan McGee says the suspension is just not because of the incident with Driscoll, but as “the sum of a much larger pile of parts.” That’s probably a lot closer to what this suspension is about. As McGee details, Kurt Busch is no saint. In fact, most people aptly describe him as “an asshole.” Look, he is what he is, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve the right to go through an established discipline process.

Missing discipline process

The process is what is missing from NASCAR at the moment. Section 12.1.a of the NASCAR rulebook essentially allows for NASCAR to do whatever to whomever whenever. That section means that when they put people on probation and those individuals violate probation they never face any NASCAR “jail time.”

Unless the drivers form a union and collectively bargain – which isn’t happening as long as drivers are partial car owners – drivers' input in disciplinary process isn’t happening.

An easier solution would be for NASCAR to appoint a commissioner who can handle such issues and take away the appearance that only person – or family – controls the sport from end to end. This also isn’t happening.

Brian Vickers impressive in return at Las Vegas

I had a feeling when we found out Brian Vickers wasn’t going to run the first two races of the 2015 campaign because of a medical condition, that 2015 as a whole would be for naught. Brian seems like an incredibly nice guy, which is the exact opposite of what people say about Kurt Busch, and based on that, I always feel like Vickers doesn’t get the most out of himself or his car. He obviously a talented driver, but seems to lack the aggressiveness or anger to drive NASCAR to the level of success of others.

His 15th place finish yesterday changed my entire thought process. Facing the adversity of being down a lap not once, but twice in the first 150 laps now makes me a believer in Vickers. Vickers raced as high as 10th place with 70 laps to go. Do I think Vickers makes the Chase this year? No, but I do think he has a very good shot at finishing in the top 20 once the season is over.

This weekend showed two surprising outcomes: 1. Brian Vickers can race consistently with the big boys, and maybe Michael Waltrip Racing has finally figured out a competitive racing formula.

Next week, Vickers races at Phoenix where in 16 races his average finish is 23rd with one top five and top 10 finish.

NASCAR links:

HAAS HOPEFUL FOR CHASE ELIGIBILITY Jeff Gordon to meet with NASCAR Austin Dillon dominates Las Vegas, wins Boyd Gaming 300


Other links:

Audi makes substantial change for 2015 WEC LMP1 R18 e-tron quattro Dusan Borkovic raced in 2015 WTCC opener against doctors' advice IndyCar teams busy 'beavering' away with new bodywork kits IndyCar: Ergonomic assessment for multiple benefits

Fulfill Your Need for Speed at the 2015 Cleveland Auto Show

Yesterday, I had the chance to walk around the Cleveland Auto Show while they were still building the floor and setting up all the fancy cars. I only shot a few pictures because honestly, you need to see this stuff in person. Shay Hazen (@Shayzen) and I (@damienbowman) will be at the Auto Show throughout the week covering various angles of, well, wheels, but here are some of the cars you can expect to see.

Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5

Developed in Hiroshima and sold not be Mazda, but by Mozsaspeed Motorsports, sells for a cool $45,000 but is ready to race. The car comes built-in with a steering wheel data screen, meaning new owners won’t have to do the conversion after purchase. This year, 100 cars will be produced and will be equipped with a full roll cage and fire-suppression system. Mazda says 80 percent of the car is stock, with the cold-air intakes and exhaust headers being two of the custom components. The street-legal ND MX-5 weighs just a tick under 2300 pounds. Here’s the review of the boring retail version of the MX-5 Miata from Car and Driver.

BMW i8

BMW i8

This is BMW’s plug-in hybrid car. It looks a bit weird, but it’s a BMW. According to BMW, the car can go from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds. I’m almost positive it takes my 2012 Ford Taurus an hour to do the same, so I’m already impressed. This car has a listed range of 330 miles, and that number may be higher or lower depending on how you drive and if you have air conditioning on or not. Thinking about a Tesla? Well, the i8 is around $136,000 and the similarly equipped Tesla S P85 comes in at nearly $94,000. The SP85 also does the 0-60 in 3.1 seconds on a ¼ mile track. From the CNET review:

"Beyond its concept-car looks, the i8 uses a completely unique drivetrain, bearing no resemblance to even BMW's own hybrid vehicles. Tucked away somewhere in the car is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine using BMW's valve timing and throttle control technologies to produce 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, driving the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission."

Here’s a full review of the BMW i8 from Jalopnik.

Alfa Romeo 4C Launch Edition

Alfa Romeo 4C - Launch Edition

I’ve never been in an Alfa Romeo, or been close to one, but now that I have…wow. Maybe I’m too easy to please, or maybe because I drive a Taurus anything that looks like this makes me want to leave the tank on the side of the road. This car starts at a cool $68,000 and weighs nearly 2,500 pounds. The 4C has a carbon fiber tub with a rear frame made of aluminum to keep the weight down significantly. It does the 0-60 in 4.5 seconds (still super impressive), and comes in your choice of two colors: matte “Carrara White” or Alfa Red (above). The red version gets color matched red stitching on the steering wheel, handbrake, mats, and sport seats. 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Launch Edition review from CNET.

Folks, there are a lot of other cars here, like the Dodge Viper pictured in the feature image, Ryan Hunter-Reay's IndyCar, and an entire Classic Car show that I haven't shown or talked about yet. If you're in Cleveland, get to the Auto Show, if you aren't stay here for full coverage and its relation to racing or your quest to get milk at the grocery.

500 miles in Atlanta makes me want to hurt someone and Mercedes’ 2015 dominance

I had to file these under something, so I came up with Monday Morning Crew Chief. To certain segments of racing, applying that name everywhere is distasteful, but I needed something catchy, so I stole the theme from all those who use Monday Morning Quarterback and applied it to racing. It isn't a big deal.

Does Atlanta really need to be 500 miles?

Two things are very obvious after this weekend in NASCAR: 1. tech inspection is a debacle - and in June no one will remember when it was a debacle. 2. the race at Atlanta needs to move to April, May or June and more importantly needs to be reduced by at least 100 laps.

This is easy: make your car fit through the template

NASCAR announced new procedures for technical inspection months ago, and notified teams, and of course no one cared until Friday. The lines to get through tech were long last week at Daytona, but because of Speedweeks and the expanded schedule many didn't notice its immediate impact. Atlanta, however, was a different story. This weekend's schedule is typical of what the other 35 races will be like. 13 cars failed to get through inspection, and as a result started at the rear. What's more troubling, is that four cars that didn't get through inspection or have a chance to qualify were sent home.

I'm not sure where the blame falls here, but to be certain it's shared by the teams and the sanctioning body. NASCAR held an open test Thursday so teams could go through tech multiple times without penalty to find out exactly what they needed to do for the weekend. How many went through? No one knows for sure, but clearly enough didn't go through. Next, it's going to take time for the officials to transition to this new system. There's no amount of practice that can be done during the off-season to prepare for the live testing of 45ish cars.

Does this really need to be an all-day affair?

What also feels long is the race at Atlanta. I'm of the personal belief only the sports biggest races needs to be 500 miles. Or laps. Or however they try and spin it so we have to sit four hours so broadcasters can fulfill their commercial obligations. I can't imagine how a bad 500 mile race must feel in person. Well, outside of that one time I sat through 500 miles at Pocono and wanted to kill myself.

Look, NASCAR should do everyone a favor and reduce this race by at least 100 miles and find a place on the schedule sometime in Spring or early Summer so Atlanta's only race has decent weather. Despite popular belief, it snows and rains often enough in Atlanta to want to avoid outdoor activities until April or May.

"I'm very frustrated by the fact that there was no SAFER barrier down there... I knew it was a hard hit and I didn't expect it to be that hard. I got out and looked, and I said, 'Oh wow, big surprise, I found the one wall here on the back straightaway that doesn't have a SAFER barrier.'" - Jeff Gordon

Two other things to note here: SAFER barriers need to be installed on all surfaces where cars can make contact with immovable objects, and Jimmie Johnson won his fourth race at Atlanta and his 71st overall. More on the barriers later this week.

NASCAR Links:

Taking in the two wheels: NASCAR stars turn out for Atlanta Supercross event NASCAR team forced to skip race after car stolen Martin Truex Jr. making huge strides from last season Matt Crafton pulls away, wins Truck Series race at Atlanta Kevin Harvick wins XFINITY Series race at Atlanta


F1 Off-Season testing now complete

Formula 1's off-season testing has concluded and the consensus winner is Mercedes. After the other teams looked great in the first few tests, Mercedes reminded everyone they were still the team to beat in 2015, and according to all involved beating Mercedes will be tougher than it's ever been before.

Once Rosberg and Hamilton switched to the super soft tyres, it was essentially over. What's crazy is that Mercedes had been so close in performance to everyone else the rest of the weekend, that once they went on the super soft compound, they blew the competition away. Is a preview of how the entire season will go, I certainly hope not. I think Formula 1 need to be more competitive in 2015 than it has in any other year.

I can only speak for the American, or at least this American, but when I see the same team dominate the sport - or any sport really - it gets old, quickly. Yes, other teams need to improve, and Williams and Ferrari will certainly keep it competitive, but F1 needs to find a balance its hardcore and casual fans can both enjoy.

Speaking of balance, how did everyone else do? Good, unless you're a McLaren fan. The team turned an average of 25 laps over the four day testing period. Hydraulics, an oil leak and a sensor problem limited their success.

“From a performance point of view, it’s clear that Mercedes is still ahead by quite a way, but right behind there is us [Ferrari], Williams and Red Bull, all very close. We will know more in a couple of weeks." - Sebastian Vettel

That from Sebastian Vettel, the four-time champion, is all you need to know about how good Mercedes will be this year. I for one am not ready to crown them, so we'll just go ahead and run the races to make sure Mercedes is that good.

Formula 1 links:

Red Bull reveals 2015 RB11 race livery Michael Schumacher's son Mick to make car racing debut in Formula 4 Tech Analysis: Camera pod legality


Other links:

IndyCar: Series reconsidering approach to electronics Sepang MotoGP test: Marquez leads Lorenzo and Crutchlow at Sepang Pirelli World Challenge: Cadillac looks ahead to ATS- V.R race debut Nitro Shots: Heroes and Zeroes 2015 BMW 428i xDrive Coupe review notes 2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 / C63 S-Model Sedan

Feature image: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR

[tl;dr] Green White Checkered is bad Racing

Last weekend I attended the Indianapolis 500 like I do every Memorial Day weekend. To say the race was exciting is an understatement. There were 68 lead changes in over 200 laps, which is a record and nearly double the amount of last year’s record setting amount of lead changes. In short, IndyCar racing is getting better. Finally. The end of the race was anticlimactic for some, but for those whom appreciate motorsports going to scheduled distance ending a race behind the pace car isn’t a big deal. NASCAR uses a gimmick they call “Green White Checkered” finishes, from David Newton:

A green-white-checkered finish signifies two laps will be run. NASCAR throws a green flag and the cars race a lap until the white flag -- signifying the final lap of a race -- is shown and then the drivers race that final lap to the checkered-flag finish.

You might ask how do I know this is a gimmick? Well, even one of NASCAR’s worse beat reporters admits it’s a gimmick:

https://twitter.com/jeff_gluck/status/338734187899129857

This is a novel idea, except for the fact that you’re extending the race. You have the potential to turn the Daytona 500 into the Daytona 507.5. Doesn’t have quite the same connotation, does it?

I understand racing isn’t generally the most exciting way to spend your Sunday afternoons, but sports should only go into overtime if at the end of regulation there’s a tie. In any form of racing (human, horse, auto) no such possibility exists. One racer will always finish before another.

So, why does NASCAR have G/W/C and why does everyone feel this year’s Indy 500 could benefit from it? No clue. Some say IndyCar needs to change its tradition to keep up with the times. Well, based on the television ratings no one was watching the race anyway, so adding a G/W/C won’t do much to improve viewership.

And to be honest, NASCAR’s ratings have been down or flat over the past few years, so it seems like people in general are just about tuned out of watching racing on television.

Here’s a few facts people rarely bring up or remember, Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 win was won under caution and no one says it isn’t legitimate, and few complained at the time that he won under caution. Secondly, each of Dario Franchitti’s three Indianapolis 500 wins came under caution, and again, no one questions the legitimacy of those wins.

The other suggestion that’s been bandied about is utilizing the red flag to stop the race and running the remaining scheduled laps. I’m not entirely on board with that strategy, but that seems a far better procedure than modifying the race. Crew chiefs and engineers measure fuel mileage for every lap, and changing the length of races throws the entire race and pit strategy out the window.

So, I leave you with these two options: red flag and finish scheduled laps under green or finish under caution. G/W/C is a gimmick employed to keep casual fans interested in racing. Neither drivers nor real motorsport fans are crying if races end under caution.

tl; dr is a tech nerd term for too long; didn’t read. the purpose of these posts is to provide a quick summary and analysis of something interesting in the sports world.

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