As I write this, the racing season has begun in earnest. The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona is swirling by on lap 19 with 23+ hours to go and the Flying Lizard Motorsports DP car driven at the moment by Jorg Bergmeister is in the lead. This is the race that for me marks the start of the racing season at Daytona. Last year Ganassi was nudged out at the end by Action Express Racing, and the Ganassi BMW/Riley DP cars are currently running 3rd and 5th with Scott Pruett and Scott Dixon at the helm respectively. Several NASCAR drivers are in the field….Juan Pablo Montoya and Jaimie McMary, of course….along with Jimmie Johnson, A.J. Allmendinger, Kenny Wallace and Brendan Gaughan. 24 hours of non-stop racing. I would love to do it someday.
Instead, I dream on along with the rest of y’all, eagerly awaiting the the new 2011 Racing Season. I’m not quite sure what I’m feeling about the upcoming season to be honest. I don’t have a Daytona 500 countdown clock up, as in past years, that’s been ticking down the days, minutes and seconds to the start of the Daytona 5oo. Instead, my current countdown clock is ticking down the days, minutes and second to start of the upcoming Chelsea v ManU tilt at Stamford Bridge on March 1st. For first time in forever I didn’t put the clock up per usual within hours of the checkered flag dropping at Homestead. Last year, NASCAR and the damned ability of Jimmie Johnson drained a good bit of enthusiasm out of me. I’m hoping to get some of that enthusiasm back this season, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhilst, there are some big changes coming to NASCAR, and to F1, and even IRL has some team shakeups…Tony Kanaan has left Andretti Autosport and is replaced by Adam Carroll, who will race some races in the last half of the season. So I’ll get to it then, and soldier on through, and yes, we might even discover the whereabouts of Kimi Räikkönen.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you KNOW what to do, without me even telling you….
…START YOUR ENGINES!!!!!
Dreams start by believing, yes. And in NASCAR’s case, they start by believing in which of the 3 series you believe you stand the best chance of winning a championship. That’s new for 2011. You can run Sprint Cup and Nationwide and Trucks all you want, but your points only count in one of those series. For example, The Carl can no longer race for BOTH the Sprint Cup Title and the Nationwide Title. He has to choose which one he is racing for. Now he can continue to run all the races he wants to in Nationwide, but this year, his points there no longer count other than for owner’s points; even if wins every race, he can no longer win the Championship there. Ditto for The Carl’s buddy from hell, Brad Kesolowski. Brad is the defending Nationwide Champ, but in 2011 he can’t defend his title unless he forgoes a shot at the Cup Championship and the Chase. Not bloody likely since his new sponsor is Miller Lite.
I like this new rule since it gives up-and-coming and developmental drivers a better shot at winning a championship without Buschwackers dropping down and hoggin’ their glory. It’s going to make for more compelling racing and storylines in the Nationwide Series as the season develops, and will give young drivers like Justin Allgaier and Trevor Bayne and Steve Wallace a chance to really shine. It will mean less Cup drivers dropping down a series and it will give the young drivers more seat time that they need to develop their skills. I think sponsors will realize that they will get as much publicity with Nationwide regulars as they did when Cup regulars were hogging those rides.
One interesting result of this new rule is the case of Wisconsin’s very own Travis Kvapil. Last season, Kvapil piloted the #34 Long John Silver Ford for Front Row Motorsports to a relatively obscure 33rd place finish. Front Row is not a top shelf team by any stretch, but they’re not mere field fillers. It will never be a top ride, but Kvapil got them into the owners points, so they don’t have to worry about qualifying the first 5 races this season. And amidst a bit of fanfare, it was announced that Kvapil will drive the 34 fulltime in 2011. Then on Friday, it was announced that Kvapil will compete for 2011 Camping World Truck Series Championship. He will be driving the #5 Toyota for Randy Moss Motorsports ((yes, THAT Randy Moss)). In the Truck series, Kvapil’s points will count toward the championship. In Cup, his points will only count for owner’s points….a smart move for Kvapil since, I hate to say it, he has absolutely no chance of qualifying for the Chase in Cup, let alone winning the damn thing. In Trucks, he has a golden opportunity to secure his 2nd Championship.
“Gee whiz Mr. Helton….I can’t even count from 43 backwards when I’m sober!!”
A new, simplified points system has been put in place for 2011. It replaces the up to now current one that was scribbled on a cocktail napkin in some Daytona Beach tavern over a brace or three of very dry martinis, shaken, not stirred, back in, what, 1973? Something like that. Anyway, the new points system is deceptively simple, really. There’s 43 cars in the field, so the winner gets 43 points and 2nd gets 42 points, and so on down to 43rd place, who gets one point for showing up and driving around the track a few times before heading to the garage. There’s 3 bonus points for the win, 1 point for leading a lap, and one extra point for leading the most laps. Simple, yes?
There is only one problem with it that I can see. It still doesn’t keep Jimmie Johnson from winning a 6th straight Championship.
The other minor complaint is that it still doesn’t, intuitively and without much thought, allow a driver to know precisely where he stands in the points at any given moment while toodling around the track at a brisk 185. The Carl broached that point earlier this pre-season when changes to the points system were first bring considered. Doing thew math is still not as easy as it looks…I mean, if you are in 19th and have led a lap, just how many damn points IS that?? ((It’s 26 points for those of you keeping score in Waterlooville, Hampshire UK)). So why not go a for scoring system more like golf, where the LOWEST score wins. It would be even simpler, and everyone would know at any given second where they stand in the standings w/o giving it a second thought. Same basic system, 1st place is 1 point, 2nd place is 2 points, and on down the line to the field filler in garage, checking out his “vibration”, at 43 points. -3 points for victory, and -1 for leading a lap, and another -1 for leading the most last laps. It’s so damned simple. Now let’s say The Carl is toddling along in 19 place and has led a lap, he’s know straight off that he’s got 18 points and it’s easy to figure where he’s at in the standings.
Now all we need to do is toss 48 bonus points Jimmie Johnson’s way for winning 5 straight, and then we can have at it!
NASCAR will introduce a few more changes this season. The one I like has to do with qualifying. First off, qualifying will no longer be a random draw. Instead, it will be based on the practice speeds, from slowest to fastest. Secondly, if qualifying has to be canceled in the event of inclement weather, the starting positions will be set based upon practice speeds, fastest to slowest. ((of course, if practice is rained out as well, then by owners points)). I like this new rule since it will level the playing field in the event of bad weather. It will make for more interesting racing, AND practice sessions.
NASCAR is going to a closed fuel system this season. No catch can anymore. It makes sense, and I wonder why they didn’t implement this years ago. But I WILL miss the stunning spectacle of stupidy of a car, say The Carl’s #99 Aflac Ford toodling off pit road and onto the pitch with a that catch can hanging out the back end. It’s always funny when that happens, no matter how many times you see it ((unless it happens to YOUR favourite driver, of course)).
Again, none of this works in the disfavour of the evil mechanations of Chad Knaus or the damned ability of Jimmie Johnson.
A lot of NASCAR teams this season could do with the marvelous intervention of magical girls. Even some of the top teams, especially some of the top teams. If I had my way, or if I was a magical girl ((wait, WHAT??)), I would do my best to fulfill to first fulfill the wishes of the Roushketeers ((yes, even The Carl)). I would make sure that Jimmy Fennig remains Kenseth’s crew chief for the entire season and that his consistency coupled with key victories wins the day and Championship. Hard fought with Biff and The Carl and going right down to the final lap at Homestead next November. Now admittedly, it all boils down to being consistent…but it also has a lot to do with the Roush-Yates engines. They NEED to get those up to speed, quite literally. Too often last season, great driving was not rewarded because the engines didn’t stack up.
I would also intervene on behalf of Richard Petty Motorsports. Not that the King would have much to do with magical girls, but I can work behind the scenes w/o him ever knowing. And it should be done. It’s a sad thing that’s happened to Richard Petty’s empire. Today, RPM is a mere shadow of it’s former self….and it only exists thanks to the King himself dredging it up from the ruins last season….as his former partner, George Gillett left it in financial ruin. Yep, that’s same George Gillett who took Evernham Motorsports nearly destroyed it before merging it with Richard Petty Enterprises; the same George Gillett who most recently, brought the Liverpool FC to same brink of debt and ruin; In Liverpool’s case it was rescued by John Henry and New England Sports Ventures ((yes, the same john Henry who is co-owner of Roush Fenway)). As it stands, RPM is stripped down operation, but they’ve got two good drivers in A.J. Allmendinger in the #43 Best Buy Ford and Marcus Ambrose in the #9 Stanley/Black&Decker Ford. Yes, you read that right. Petty is a Ford man now. I really want them to do well.
I will also intervene on behalf of The Captain, Roger Penske and his boys. Not that I’m a fan of that Miller Lite swill, but it’s a perfect match for Bad Brad who will be toodling around in the #2 Miller Lite Dodge. Kurt is switching to the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge….so now when you top off at yer local Shell station you’ll see Kurt Busch’s dopey grin instead of Kevin Harvick’s smarmy smile. I’ve always liked Kurt Busch, and I’m curious to see if Brad keeps a #2 car tradition going when he wins, The Polish Victory Lap.
And speaking of That Lout Kevin Harvick, if I were a magical girl….well, his wife Delana, who wears the firesuit in the family would probably just pinch me and say, “Why…aren’t YOU just the cutest little thang…!!” So no need to go there I guess, but he will be touting for his new sponsor Budweiser this season. Just thought I’d mention that in passing.
Instead I’ll use the last bit of my magical powers for the day to bring better results for Ryan Newman and his boss Tony Stewart. Especially for Newman who just hasn’t been the same since parting ways with his ol’ crew chief Matt Borland back in 2006. When Borland left, the magic seemed to gradually go away. Time for some new magic, starting now.
And finally, I would want to bring all the magic I could to Junior and Junior Nation. But unfortunately, that’s beyond the scope of my magical girl abilities. Even if Kyle Busch was transformed into a magical girl and he and I joined forces with me, it still would fall short. What Junior needs will take intervention by some higher power. And unfortunately, that higher power is…..
…the Evil Mechanations of Chad Knaus!!
Hendrick Motorsports announced a big shakeup during off-season. Crews were switched around, and also teams switched garages. That is, That Homo Jeff Gordon, and Junior, switched garages. Now, Junior and his team will be in same garage and under the watchful eye of Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson. Junior’s team is now guided by Gordon’s former crew chief, Steve Letarte. This could and most likely will be a good move for Junior. Knaus’s evil mechanations will surely rub off on the #88 team. Knaus is less tolerant of divergence and slacking off and so on, and I think the move was made with the implicit thought that Knaus could help whip Junior and his team into shape.
I hope the ploy works, and I also hope it drains a bit of energy away from the #48 team in the process ((as much as Knaus would no doubt not stand for that)). Junior could start off the 2011 season winning the Daytona 500…which would have a bittersweet poignancy to it that I will not dwell upon here, but you surely know where I’m coming from when I say that. I hope this move goes well. I’d love to see Junior in the Chase duking it out with Matt and boys.
Dear Danica Patrick,
We love you very much and wish you the very best season in the IRL this season. I know the loss of Tony Kanaan as a teammate must hurt you on some level, but it’s probably for the best since now Michael Andretti doesn’t have to spread his resources quite so thin. Your new guy, Adam Carroll is only gonna run a few races later in the season.We’re looking forward to your continued success in the IRL this season and are hoping that you win the Indy 500. That would be one of the greatest motorsports victories of all time! Bring home the championship!!!
We were wondering what you thought of the new restart rules that IRL has implemented. Double-file restarts on all oval tracks!! That should be exciting for you over there.
So take heart, Danica, we love you very very much, and even though we know you won’t be saving NASCAR anytime soon, we’re anxious to see you race in the Nationwide series this season. At Daytona, of course and we’re especially excited about you racing at Bristol this season. We now it’s only a partial season in the #7 GoDaddy Chevrolet, but we know you’ll make the most of it.
So know in your heart we love you, Danica!! You’re the best!!
Your NASCAR Fans
Yes, you read that right. Passing, or in the F1 parlance, over-taking. It’s the one big thing that will be new, wild and different in F1 for 2011. The drivers will have a rear wing that they can adjust on the fly, from their steering wheel, when they are about to over-take someone. It will be telemetry monitored and electronically governed and all that, so it’s not quite the Have At It, Boys approach I’d wish F1 would adopt ((but then again, it’s F1, and Europe, so that sort of Have At It Boys mentality is a bit alien, except ofcouse for soccer Ultras, but I digress)). But it’s a step in the right direction. So now, Narain Karthikeyen can get that little boost he needs to leap past Michael Schumacher into 13th postion in Curve Paul Frere at Spa this summer, for example.
As for the teams, well…a bit of a shuffle and a few new faces. But the top teams are set and ready to keep Sebastian Vettel from repeating. Vettel’s biggest challenger besides team-mate Webber, will always be himself. If he can stay consistent, he could repeat. As for me, I’m pulling for Lewis Hamilton to get his second championship. But I hate to say that Fernando Alonso is probably the odds-on favourite to win it all. He’s got a real red ass after last season….actually, he’s had a redass ever since his ol’ teammate Hamilton beat him out for the Championship in 2008. Alonso has been pissed ever since, so this year he must just might win his 3rd putting him in some pretty elite company with Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, and Jack Brabham. Not bad company to keep. But I hope not, not just yet.
The curious and confounding thing about F1 is that Michael Schumacher has a ride….toodling around the tracks in his Mercedes on the fumes of his glorious past and finishing far enough down the grid to be increasing irrelevant, and yet former F1 champion Kimi Räikkönen is for the 2nd F1 season in a row, without an F1 ride. Very odd, and a little confounding. It would be far more exciting if Räikkönen was in the mix. But no, he’s gone missing.
Well…not exactly. After being snubbed by F1 the past two seasons, Kimi Räikkönen has found a bit of success (along with the usual learning curve) in the other racing series I’d love to have a go at, even more so than the Rolex 24 at Daytona ((which, btw, as I finish this piece, is also finished, and as I had a hunch, Ganassi swept the top spots)). And that’s the World Rally Championship. Räikkönen is starting his own rally team for 2011, ICE 1 Racing. He has sponsorship for 10 of the 13 rallies this season, and I wish him the best. He was a great driver, in F1…in WRC, it’ll take awhile for him to get to the level of Sebastien Loeb. Sebastien Loeb is just too damn good in WRC. But if Räikkönen jumps from 10th place to 5th this season, that would be almost as good as winning it all, especially for a new team.
And now that Kimi Räikkönen has been found, I’ll drop the checkered flag and bid you all farewell for now. Congrats to Chip Ganassi and his boys for their 1-2 finish today at Daytona. It’s time for a beer at my favourite pub.