Friday, May 23, 2008

The clarity of rain

I was hoping to be watching LIVE Carb Day festivities shown on ESPN2 at this point of the day (2:10 EDT), but as usual this month (and typical for the sport) RAIN once again blew up the entire day. This is the first time I can remember Carb Day being shown live and, of course, we only see rain (oh, and 15 minutes of meaningless practice). C'est la vie.

Still, assuming IMS doesn't reschedule for tomorrow (doubtful, in my view), it added even more clarity to Sunday's race. Given the rain that plagued race teams all month, ANY chance the Champ Car "transition" teams had to contend literally got washed away. While they had to be careful not to wreck (given no backups), they also needed time to learn the IRL Dallara chassis as much as possible. That did not happen, so (through no fault of their own- they're FIVE yrs. behind with these cars) they cannot possibly contend on Sunday. A top 8 or top 10 would be quite good, if not great, for these teams.

Beyond that ESPN's John Oreovicz pretty much sums the whole thing up. This is Ganassi's and Dixon's to lose. They've been great all yr., minus St. Pete, and dominated May. Dixon wants this, and he's clearly the class of the field.

That said, I'm not sure how Oreo justifies putting Kanaan in Group 2, but not AGR teammates Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick. Forget starting spots (they're all top 10, and its 500 miles), but the pace they've shown all month has been solid. In fact, ever since Pole Day, TK's been frustrated by race setup, while Danica and Marco have been happy with their machines.

Furthermore, while I understand his dismissiveness towards Briscoe, I think it's a mistake. For one, when you drive a Penske-prepared machine, you're ALWAYS a threat. Two, yes he wrecked the T-car over the weekend, but Sam Hornish Jr. did the same in '06. How'd that turn out, again?

In short, 7 cars strike me as top contenders (Dixon, Wheldon, Briscoe, Helio, Danica, TK, and Marco), with perhaps three more (Meira, Scheckter and... someone else who might emerge Sunday) plausible shots. That's it, really.

Could it be boring? Well, if its a Ganassi bitchslap, yes. But, remember, a lot can happen in 500 miles.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The inevitable "Is Indy back?" articles

Ahhhhh, it's Indy 500 week again (Yeah! BTW), and the media is doing what it has done since 1996: Speculate on when (if?) Indy will be back. This MSNBC article is a nice summary of what we see, with some differences (The Danica vid references how this comes up everytime this yr.). To be sure, mergification, Rahal's emergence, and Danica's win are important new stories that might move the sport forward, but this is not a new question.

It's odd. NASCAR is obviously the media giant in this country, and with good reason. Still, I have always sensed a desire in the national sporting media to see the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar make a comeback. Some seem to root for it.

Is it nostalgia for a race long gone? NASCAR fatigue? Hard to say for sure, though NASCAR ratings have been UP all year, so the public sure isn't sick of it.

If I had to say, I DO think there is a sense of nostalgia involved and a desire, conscious or otherwise, to broaden the American motorsport landscape.

Regardless, the question is whether this time is different or not? Ultimately, that's a long-term answer. Sure, a win by Graham, Marco, or Danica would be huge, but what if DE Jr. wins Charlotte? No one will care about them 'furrin IndyCars. And perhaps the point of no return already happened.

Unlike some bitter CC loyalists (more on this later), I sure as hell hope not. I enjoy NASCAR, but I love IndyCar even more. For US motorsports to be permanently reduced to one acronym (NASCAR) would be tragic and an insult to the legends of the past.

That said, people should NOT root for someone ONLY b/c it might help the sport. I admit, sadly, that it is A factor, but, for example, I'm becoming a huge Rahal fan not only b/c his emergence could be vital, but also because I love his aggressiveness (combined with smarts) on track and a great maturity off-track. That's what the sport MUST be about again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Memo to IRL/ICS loyalists

THIS (Helio maybe going to NASCAR) is no reason to freakout over Helio and big, bad NASCAR. Look, you're bitching about ESPN (The broadcast "partner") having the audacity to dare mention this during the week of the 500, but it is NOT their responsibility to hide news you don't like.

Fact: NASCAR has become THE form of motorsport in America.

Fact: The 12-year Open-wheel split had a good deal to do with this.

Fact: Though it will HOPEFULLY be the first step in the recovery, unification is no instant panacea.

Opinion: Blame no one but the powers that be for leading the sport to this point. Blaming ANYONE/ANYTHING ELSE is foolish. Just b/c you think the 500 beats anything else doesn't make it so.