Juan Pablo Montoya IS the Best Racer of his Era

Immediately after the 99th Indianapolis 500, Jeff Olson proclaimed Juan Pablo Montoya to be the best racer of his era. I guess that proclamation isn’t totally off base and some would say it’s probably spot on. Olson also admits that Tony Stewart is in the running because of his victories in open wheel, sprint car, and stock car. To be clear, I’m 33 and the era we’re talking about is from about 1995 until 2015. 20 years is probably a good and fair window to define an era. INDYCAR and NASCAR fans are – for whatever reason – always at each other’s necks about which form of racing is better. There are plenty of cases for both and each is unique in its own special way.

Up front, I have to say that I think Juan Pablo Montoya has been a better racer over the past 20 years than Tony Stewart. Montoya has participated in CART, Formula 1, INDYCAR, and NASCAR. Montoya boasts two Indianapolis 500 wins, one Monaco Grand Prix win, and three 24 Hours of Daytona wins. In addition he has seven Formula 1 wins, two NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, 10 ChampCar wins and four INDYCAR wins.

Montoya, along with Jacques Villenueve, are the only two active drivers who have won two legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsport (Indianapolis 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans, Monaco Grand Prix).

Jacques Villenueve - Wikipedia

Montoya’s missing achievement – and probably what would put most people over the top in his favor – is an oval win at a NASCAR track. Many will argue NASCAR is the most difficult car to drive in sports. Others will argue NASCAR is easier because you can bump n' grind your way around other cars. Bumping and grinding in INDYCAR or Formula 1 might net you a R. Kelly-type rape charge.

NBC’s Dustin Long makes the case for Jimmie Johnson. He’s quick to point out that he’s only talking about American racing, which I think is purposely disrespectful to Montoya because he ignores all the work Montoya has done in other places. A fair point about Johnson that Long mentions is that over the course of Johnson’s six Sprint Cup championships, NASCAR changed the rules many times (read: every year) to keep the championship closer and "more entertaining". I read that as NASCAR did everything to make sure someone different won the championship and Johnson overcame those odds.

The biggest detractor for Johnson is unless he decides to drive in another type of car after he retires from NASCAR, we’ll never know how well he would have done racing somewhere else. Sure, Johnson’s six Sprint Cup championships are nothing to sneeze at, but the resume isn’t nearly as complete as fellow NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.

Even when we look at Tony Stewart’s career over the extended course of 20 years there’s nothing to compete with the likes of Montoya. Stewart has raced the Indianapolis 500 five times, has never won and his best finish is fifth. Stewart’s participated in 18 Daytona 500’s with no victories and his best finish is second. To his credit, Tony Stewart does own USAC’s Triple Crown, winning all three national championships in one season (1995). J.J. Yeley is the only other driver to win the Triple Crown in one season.

[Bowman: Monaco, Indy 500, and Coca-Cola 600 Predictions and Storylines]

Stewart does have three Sprint Cup championships and across both NASCAR championship formats. In 566 wins, Stewart has won 48 races and 298 top-tens. Don’t forget Tony Stewart is also the 1997 IndyCar champion.

I think we can break this down two ways: If you’re looking only at American racing it would be hard to not say Tony Stewart isn’t the best driver of his era, but when looking at motorsports overall denying Juan Pablo Montoya that crown would be stupid.

When your resume spans multiple forms of racing, and your arguably two biggest motorsports wins (Indianapolis 500) come 15 years apart and in the middle you raced a completely different type of car and won two races, it’s tough to argue that you aren’t the best.

So, what do you think? Who is the best driver in this era?

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

Monaco, Indy 500, and Coca-Cola 600 Predictions and Storylines

Today is what some call, motorsports’ biggest day. Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix, IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500, and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. As a fan of almost any type of motorsports, I find it tough to disagree on how special today is. Some of the traditions that surround the month of May, and this weekend are still foreign to me, but as a very young 33-year-old, it’s tough to ignore how special the month of May is. Growing up watching the Indy 500 made it easy to fall in love with the sport, the types of fans, and the speed of the cars, but on the day before Memorial Day, some say that Indy is only one of three races on a very special day. I disagree, but let’s talk a bit about each race, some of the traditions, and some of this years’ storylines.

Monaco Grand Prix

This is probably Formula 1’s most famous race. Monaco is one of the few races that attracts dignitaries from all across the world and really gives the rest of the world an idea of how significantly richer Formula 1’s fans are than everyone else. You’ll see some of the biggest yachts in the world, people with the whitest teeth ever, and mostly people who know absolutely nothing about Formula 1. Anything wrong with being rich? Of course not, but remember – “Mo Money Mo Problems” – though I think I have a ton of problems for a poor dude.

The racing circuit is nothing less than beautiful and the chances your favorite driver can win are super abundant. Hell, this is the first year Lewis Hamilton will start on the pole. It’s always tough to pick to against what seems like F1’s current flavor of the month (or past few years) but because I hate going with everyone else, I’ll go with Nico Rosberg. The German won Monte Carlo in 2014 and though things are a bit different in his life right now, I’d love to see him win two years in a row.

My sentimental pick is Kimi Raikkonen. It’s tough not to enjoy Kimi. Sure, he’s brash – super brash – but that’s part of the appeal. Unfortunately for this Raikkonen this weekend has been a disaster for him and in 2015, he’s the only driver to have not out-qualified his teammate at least once.

Indianapolis 500

I’d call this the, “Grandaddy of them all” but the Rose Bowl people would probably sue me. To me, there isn’t a sporting event with the prestige, history, and pomp and circumstance like the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. I _believe_ I’ve been to Indy to Indy about 10 times. Some would say it’s sacrilege to not know the exact number, but remember, I’m old and life’s events get in the way sometimes. To those of you who’ve been to Indy every year, I’m jealous. In fact, I’m super jealous.

The state of Indiana, 16th and Georgetown, the Coke Lot, the Snake Pit, Gasoline Alley and the Purdue All-American Marching Band make up some of the best traditions in sports. I would be remiss if I didn’t include my all-time favorite Indy 500 tradition: “Back Home Again in Indiana”.

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2014 was the last year Jim Nabors sang the song, and I get the feeling the folks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will rotate this among some qualified artists until John Cougar Mellencamp (he’s back to three names, right?) finally agrees to do it, but make no mistake: this is one of the MOST popular traditions in motorsports, and until IMS gets this right, there will be boos.

The story line in 2015 is easy, It’s the 99th running of the 500 and only one person in the field can set true history this year. Only one person has the chance to join three other men who’ve won the race three times. Helio Castroneves. The thought process here is that if he wins his fourth this year, he becomes the automatic favorite to win his fifth at the 100th running in 2016.

What a story that would be: first person to win five at IMS at the 100th running.

The problem for Helio is that his car was one of the three Chevrolet’s that went backwards and flipped during practice this month. Since that time, his car hasn’t been close to the top of the speed charts. He finished 10th on Carb Day with a speed of 226.674 mph, while teammate Will Power topped the final practice at 229.020 mph.

The safe pick in today’s race IS Will Power, and the pick that fans would love is always Tony Kanaan. Kanaan won his first 500 in 2013 on what some would say were last lap shenanigans, but hey it isn’t his fault his best friend, Dario Franchitti, crashed at just the right time to bring out the caution and help him win, is it?

Oh, right.

My pick for the 99th Indianapolis 500: Takumo Sato. The 38 year old from Japan is starting 24th and is best known for his 2012 last-lap attempt to pass Dario Franchitti. I like it when anyone is willing to throw it all on the line like that at the most famous race in sports. Sato has had a very productive May in 2015 and on top of that drives for one of my favorite people, A.J. Foyt.

If Sato wins the place will go crazy, not like the speedway did for Kanaan or like it will for Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti, but the high number of Japanese fans who attend the race will certainly make their presence known.

Coca-Cola 600

This race is a bit of an enigma to me. I know this is supposed to be NASCAR’s endurance race, but now that all the drivers are pretty good athletes and the cars are so even, it doesn’t make sense for this race to be held in such high regard. To be clear, the only people who hold this race in such high regard are NASCAR people. I never understood why NASCAR’s “most important” race – Daytona 500 – wasn’t the longest of the season or why NASCAR feels the need to devalue Charlotte by forcing fans to watch three races at the track per year.

NASCAR could try and make the Coca-Cola 600 special by rotating the All-Star race to other tracks and more importantly moving the fall race to another track. I know most of the teams are based there, but there’s nothing special about 600 miles in Charlotte after watching Formula 1’s shortest race in Monaco and watching IndyCar’s most prestigious and funnest (just made that word up) race in the Indy 500.

All that said, the favorite for today is easily Jimmie Johnson who has six victories at the track. There was a stretch where it felt like Johnson was winning every race at the 1.5 mile track. What helps Johnson, or anyone else who gets in front, is that NASCAR racing has been so “average” this year that passing is a significant problem. As in, no one can pass.

The problem for anyone in front is that the race is still 600 miles. That extra 45 or 65 (G-W-C permitting) minutes are a killer. I guess that’s why this is an “endurance race,” huh?

My personal pick for this weekend isn’t based on anything other than the fact that I drew him in a fantasy NASCAR league. He’s having an average season on what appears to be an average team.

The South Bend, Indiana native has 8,847 laps at Charlotte, but has no wins, four top-five’s and 11 top-ten’s. So, there’s a chance. Newman, ranked 13th, could certainly help his Chase position by popping his Charlotte cherry today and help me move from the bottom of my fantasy NASCAR league to somewhere near the middle.

The sleeper pick at Charlotte is Kevin Harvick. He’s kind of the default pick anywhere except Charlotte.

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

IndyCar: Consistently Leading From The Back of the Field

Over the past several days IndyCar nation has been rocked with spectacular crash after spectacular crash, the most recent sending James Hinchcliffe to Methodist Hospital for surgery and a visit to the Intensive Care Unit. We old timers would say – and some still do – that if this were the 80s and 90s this wouldn’t be a big deal. For the most part, I agree with that. But as we all know, the perception of IndyCar as a sport right now isn’t high, and having its most popular and successful drivers suffer high profile accidents at its highest profile track will do nothing to change perception.

In the past, three cars flipping through the air would barely make the news outside of the racing community. In 2015, where unfortunately social media and 24-hour news cycles rule, anything that might come close to resembling Dan Wheldon’s 2011 crash will be the biggest story coming out of Indianapolis.

“It’s amateur hour, they’re throwing darts at a board,” said a former IndyCar champion of the process.

Casual fans forget that IndyCar, and its open-wheel; open-cockpit cousin series’, are inherently more dangerous than stock car or drag dracing. Most drivers assume the great risk for the greater reward and the show it would provide.

Fine. I get that. Cars will go 234 [check] miles per hour and there will be accidents. I’ve been around motorsports long enough to know that accidents happen. Comparing Hinchcliffe’s accident to those of Castroneves, Newgarden and Carpenter is in poor form.

[Why Helio Castroneves' car flipped – Marshall Pruett/RACER]

I’m not smart enough to speculate on the technical issues of what happened with the first three crashes, but I am smart enough to know that there needed to be some type of oval testing before the cars arrived at IMS. Or, at the very least, more time in practice before qualifying. I believe it’s unreasonable to have expected engineers and IndyCar to have actually tested the car going backwards to see if it would flip. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have an idea that cars could flip while going backwards. To that end, I can’t see a driver in their right mind volunteering – no matter what the amount of the check – to test that theory.

My single and only issue: why, if IndyCar has never tested these new aero kits on ovals, would the first place this testing happens is at Indianapolis in a compressed schedule? I’ve been largely silent on this issue, but as good (me: bad) as the Grand Prix of Indy has been, these accidents show that race is held in the wrong part of the season.

There is no reason to have the Grand Prix in May at the expense of expanded practice and testing time for the oval race. This thesis is proven further when IndyCar fails to schedule any oval races before the Indianapolis 500.

Was IndyCar right in reducing the boost in Honda’s cars as it did in Chevy without evidence of a cross-manufacturer problem? I don’t know, but I would guess that it was more a liability move than anything else. Robin Miller spoke with one driver who said, “We look like a bunch of pussies,” and that point is hard to ignore when you consider how many accidents drivers have endured in open wheel racing.

Drivers know what the risks are when they sign up to race in any series. Those same drivers understand that open wheel is probably the most dangerous because of the open cockpit, high speeds, and high G-forces they face on every lap. On the other side, sometimes someone has to protect drivers from themselves. In this case, I don’t agree with forcing the Honda teams to reduce boost and qualify in race trim. It makes the series look like it has no control over its car.

So, what are the results of Sunday’s qualifying changes? The obvious: qualification speeds were down 3-5 mph, and the resulting hype and expectation was completely erased.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the qualifying format they used, but the Fast 9 should have been retained instead of the Last Row battle. I don’t think Indy needs two days of qualifying anymore, and I know that traditionalists won’t like that, but doing all of the qualifying on Saturday means Sunday and Monday are rain days and can be used for practice if qualifying is done. It’s literally a win/win for fans and teams alike.

To be fair, I didn’t think I’d be in favor of this format until I heard Kevin Lee and Curt Cavin talk about it on Monday’s Trackside. I was sold on it as soon as they brought up the potential to have two rain days if needed.

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Sunday will be the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, but it would be ignorant of IndyCar to ignore the issues of a compressed May schedule. IndyCar cannot afford to have the national media ignore cars posting speeds of 234 mph because accidents that can’t be explained are happening multiple times in one week. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and IndyCar Derrick Walker need to lead from the front when these issues arise instead of reading the tea leaves then making a decision.

Honda won’t say it, but they were done wrong by IndyCar this weekend. I’m not a fan of making up the rules as we go, and I’m not a fan of the appearance of IndyCar shenanigans.

But for some stupid reason, I’m still a fan of IndyCar.

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

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.

March Madness: Can We Skip a TV Timeout or Six?

I have to admit, opening weekend of the men’s NCAA tournament has been the best I’ve seen in a long time. While I’m not a fan of how many games were “scheduled” after 9:30p on the East Coast, I’m much happier with the ability to watch every game versus only having CBS and having them and the local affiliate designate our primary game.

On Doug Gottlieb and Jim Nantz

Speaking of CBS, let’s talk announcing for a second. I have to say I don’t watch a ton of basketball during the regular season – everyone knows I see enough of it anyway – but I want to say how impressed I’ve become with Doug Gottlieb. His comparisons to tournament basketball and AAU basketball are a bit over the top, but he’s prepared and did an excellent job with Ian Eagle from Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Speaking of Nationwide Arena, if you’ve never been there, that place is very nice. I still think Value City Area is a smidge better, but both facilities are easily the best in the entire state of Ohio.

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.

Forget the cost, NASCAR should mandate SAFER Barrier Everywhere

Like many who watch NASCAR, I was under the impression that all immovable racing surfaces had been mostly covered by SAFER barriers. Turns out Daytona International Speedway isn’t, and last week we found out Atlanta Motor Speedway isn’t either. Then we found out, most tracks don’t have all of these surfaces covered by the system designed by engineers at the University of Nebraska and first implemented at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. NASCAR says individual tracks are responsible for the installation of the safety system, and track owners and presidents say installation is time-consuming and expensive. Drivers want SAFER installed everywhere, and as a matter of consequence don’t really care who installs them as long as they’re present.

On February 21 during the Nationwide race at Daytona, Kyle Busch broke his left leg and right foot after his car went head first into an unprotected wall. There’s been no timetable for Busch’s return, but according to all the medical experts his recovery could take a significant part of the season.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZBLnKkWgQw

Then, last week at Atlanta, both Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin crashed into an unprotected wall at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Thankfully, neither were hurt, but the angle of Gordon’s crash was particularly unnerving, and likely destroyed his car.

"I knew it was a hard hit; I didn't expect it to be that hard," Gordon said after being checked out and cleared from the infield care center. "I got out and I looked and I was like, 'Oh, big surprise, I found the one wall here on the back straightaway that doesn't have a SAFER barrier. "I don't think we can say anymore after Kyle's incident in Daytona. Everybody knows they've got to do something and it should have been done a long time ago, but all we can do now is hope they can do it as fast as they possibly can and get it done.”

At least they can replace the car.

The solution to missing SAFER barrier is easy: NASCAR should mandate that SAFER barrier be installed on every surface a car can come in contact with while racing. Financing the cost of installation is expensive for track owners, especially if they only host one event per year, but reward far outweighs the risk in this situation. NASCAR should also take it upon itself to subsidize the installation of the system at every one of its national tracks.

This will be expensive, and it will hurt their bottom line, but what’s worse is if a driver becomes severely injured or dies as a result of crash that could have been easily prevented.

In the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona in 2001, NASCAR required all drivers begin to use the Head and Neck Restraint System developed at Michigan State University and first adopted by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). That device has saved countless lives.

“We’ve always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous sport. We assume that risk, but it’s hard when the fans get caught up in it.” Tony Stewart – February 23, 2013

IndyCar and CART developed a wheel-tethering system only after spectators were killed and seriously injured at Charlotte and Michigan this after years of watching wheels separate from cars and go bouncing down the track or outside of racing facilities like the tragedy of Wilbur Brink in 1931.

As humans, we’re slow to change anything until we’re forced to do so either by active desire, death, or legal action.

Today, many insist that danger and risk are the best parts of racing, and I agree. As an American, I always want to see cars go as fast as they can, hell, that’s been the bedrock of the Indianapolis 500 for 99 years, but don’t be stupid about safety. If all the great, or even good, drivers are concussed to the point where they aren’t allowed to drive, or are dead and cannot drive, then what do we have left in motorsports?

The expense of installing SAFER barriers is high, but so is the risk that a driver will be significantly hurt or worse, dead. And when that happens, all PR isn’t good PR. NASCAR should do the obvious and mandate that SAFER barriers be installed, and do the right thing and fund that installation if needed. The sanctioning body has more than enough money in the bank to handle this, and can have the tracks reimburse them through sanctioning fees.

Feature image courtesy of Brian Cantonl/Flickr.

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

Wednesday Wheels - November 12

Hi, it’s been a long time since I’ve written in this space. I’m back. Back when I started this site last year, my goal was to write here at the very least three times per week. Then life and the rest of the network got in the way. For now, I’ll start with trying to write every Wednesday and we’ll go from there. I don’t have a name I like for this column, but I’ll come up with something. If you’ve ever read any of the “College Quickies” we do at the College Football Roundtable, this will have a similar feel.

NASCAR: Touching is racing. Finale should be Stupendous

Let’s get the full disclosure out of the way right now: I’m not a fan of NASCAR’s new Chase format. In fact, I’m not a fan of the Chase at all, but writers have already wasted enough words on it, so the 32 I just wasted was more than enough. While we’re getting things out of the way, I’ll say this: most fans' commitment to one driver has blinded their objectivity about racing. What’s that mean? Stock car racing is about driving, and when someone is in your way, it’s about moving that person out of the way. If you’re interested in racing where no one touches anyone, and the racing is actually about speed and grace, then open-wheel racing is for you.

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

Make sure you watch and listen to that video. It’s from Richard Childress Racing, and it’s great. Yeah, Childress owns Newman, so there’s some bias there, but the message is the same.

I love open-wheel racing, but stock car racing isn’t open-wheel. I get that many Jeff Gordon fans are upset about Ryan Newman moving Kyle Larson to advance to the Championship 4 (terrible name, btw) this weekend at Homestead, but it is what it is. NASCAR is built on the ability of its cars and drivers being able to take a punch, either by car or fist, and all Newman did is what racers in the sport have done for years.

Yes, I’m a Gordon fan, and I’d love to see him get a Cup Championship so everyone can shut up about how he can’t compete and how old he is, but it isn’t happening in 2014. Finishing 29th at Texas didn’t help his case. He did what he needed to do, but Ryan Newman gets paid millions per year and he did what he needed to do, too. Newman did more than Gordon.

So, I’ll bring in the oldest analogy NASCAR fans of sick of seeing: If Dale Earnhardt, Sr. had done same thing under the same circumstances, would anyone be complaining?

Didn’t think so.

Homestead will be great, and the brawl after will be just as exciting.

IndyCar Needs To Move Beyond 500

I love the Indianapolis 500. It’s my birthday gift to myself every year, and it’s truly IndyCar’s most important event. It’s so important, that I have the feeling IndyCar is sacrificing the rest of the sport to prop up one month.

Last year, IndyCar decided they didn’t want to compete with the NFL, so it no longer has any races after Labor Day. There was a small glimmer of hope that would change in 2015, but it isn’t the case. IndyCar shuffled the deck chairs and moved the schedule around a bit, but did nothing significant to improve its schedule.

I’m sure New Orleans will be great, finding a way to stay in Baltimore and Houston while adding NOLA would have been more impressive. Sure, I’d take another oval or two, but as I’ve said before, for the sport to survive it has to bring in more road races and street circuits. The die-hards want speed, and the casuals want to look at more than cars going in left-hand circles.

That’s the harsh reality of IndyCar right now. It does itself no favors by seemingly propping up the month of May as the only thing the sport can stand on while the rest of the schedule languishes. A few weeks ago I suggested they return to Cleveland, and I’m not stupid enough to think that would ever actually happen, but it should find a way to extend the season beyond Labor Day.

As George Phillips wrote Monday, the series could first start by being a better promoter of itself. I can’t speculate if the marketing dollars are there or not, but yeah, putting an IndyCar at or near every NFL stadium would probably get NFL fans a little more interested in IndyCar.

I promise they’d at least take the time to Google Image search the funny looking car that doesn’t look what Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drives. If they do that, and they land on IndyCar’s webpage, then marketing dollars are worth it.

I live in Cleveland, and Mid-Ohio is in the middle of August, and I see almost no local advertising for the race. When I wear Mid-Ohio gear, non-racing fans ask me where the track is, and when racing happens there. That’s the fault of IndyCar AND the folks down at Mid-Ohio. Again, not suggesting that Mid-Ohio does all of IndyCar’s advertising, but you should probably at least lock up your back yard.

So, what’s IndyCar’s solution? I don’t know, and finding the proper balance isn’t easy. Making traditional fans happy won’t happen if they hope to draw in casual fans. Traditional IndyCar fans would riot if IndyCar tried to do an elimination-based playoff system like NASCAR is doing. But would that bring in casual fans? Probably.

Would effectively ripping up the schedule and starting from scratch to include places like Road America, Watkins Glen and Kentucky work? Probably. But, how many different races can you have in the Midwest and East Coast before the market is oversaturated and all races suffer? That’s the problem IndyCar needs to solve with its scheduling.

IndyCar is no longer a mainstream sport enjoyed by millions. All the mainstream interest went away when the series split in 1996, and it isn’t coming back. So now IndyCar is a niche sport, and if that’s the case, why do you care if you’re competing against the NFL? I get TV ratings are important, but if you’re getting 1.1 ratings in July, then why do you care if you 1.1 in September? Same rating; different month.

If this place is good enough for Formula 1, it's good enough for IndyCar. FORGET TMS.

Lastly, IndyCar should race in Austin. Texas Motor Speedway’s Eddie Gossage will have a heart attack, and will threaten to pull his race.

Thanks, Eddie, it’s been real.

What’s that mean? He is either going to pull his race or he won’t, and if he does it’s no big loss compared to what IndyCar can gain by racing at the Circuit of the America’s. Texas’ attendance has been down year-over-year, and Houston proved that circuit racing works in Texas, just not in the heat.

Go to Austin, and if you lose Texas in the process then it looks like you have a built in date.

What do you think? Send feedback to me on Twitter at @damiEnbowman or via e-mail at damien@morethanafan.net. Thanks for reading, and we'll see you next Wednesday. Maybe.

Circuit of the Americas photo is courtesy of Circuit of the Americas.