Reviewing the past week in NASCAR competition, culminating in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kasey Kahne took his 13th career Sprint Cup win, third in its longest event, and first for Hendrick Motorsports in the event.
Sunday’s race, at three hours, 51 minutes, and 17 seconds, represented the quickest Coca-Cola 600 in race history. The race featured only five cautions for 23 laps, only one of which was for an incident, as well as two green-flag stretches of over 100 laps. The lengthy green conditions contributed to a result with only nine cars left on the lead lap at the end of the race.
Analyzing Marco Andretti’s disappointing finish in today’s Indianapolis 500. In his seventh career start at Indianapolis, Andretti began the event on the inside of the second row, only to crash out of the event on lap 188 and finish 24th.
Andretti took the lead for the first time on lap 23 and led until the first set of pit stops, reinheriting the point when the lead cycled back through the field. All told, his 59 laps led would be the most of any driver. But he pit during the third caution, handing the lead to Scott Dixon, and would not reach the front again.
Questioning whether or not Takuma Sato was wrongfully eliminated by Dario Franchitti’s defense of the lead on the final lap of today’s Indianapolis 500. Sato attempted to make his pass in the first turn, but did not have enough room to make his move.
The No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda pulled up alongside Franchitti’s No. 50 Target Honda, but suddenly Sato’s blue and white Dallara DW12 began to break loose. His wheels had hit the white paint just short of the edge of the pavement, causing him to lose traction in the same way that Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti had to cause the previous two cautions.
Sato smacked the outside wall. Race over. Franchitti wins under caution.
*This article reached 1,824 reads as of 10 PM on Monday, May 28, 2012.
Reflecting on the absence of the late Dan Wheldon from this year’s Indianapolis 500. Wheldon scored his 16th and final IndyCar victory in last year’s race, and tributes to the British driver permeated every area of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during today’s event.
It was that personality that enabled him to represent his sponsors with an unmatched level of passion. For two years, Wheldon was backed by the National Guard, despite his British citizenship. No matter—in a series of 2009 commercials for the Indy Downforce fan program, Wheldon’s stint as a drill instructor for a “lucky” fan remains one of the sport’s finest ads.
*This article reached 2,286 reads as of 10 PM on Monday, May 28, 2012.
2012 Indianapolis 500 Coverage via Bleacher Report
Here’s a list of articles to get you ready for today’s 96th Indianapolis 500. They’re all already linked on this site, but in case you’ve missed some, these should give you everything you need to get up to speed:
Recapping the first round of the 2012 Global Rallycross Championship, which took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Marcus Gronholm, Tanner Foust, and Stephan Verdier comprised the podium of the main event, while Ken Block and Brian Deegan were among those not to advance to the final.
The barrier chicanes in front of the lip on the frontstretch may have been too close for drivers to avoid consistently. Multiple times during the night we saw drivers clip the plastic barrier closest to the jump. In fact, it may have started the chain of events that led to Block’s eventual suspension failure and accident. These barriers provide moving obstacles that make the race interesting, but the setup may have left something to be desired. Not to worry: the major jump that the series promises, while not ready for tonight’s event, will be present at Texas.
Analyzing the chances of first-time Indianapolis 500 competitor Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in Sunday’s event. Newgarden qualified seventh, the lone Honda driver in the first three rows and the best of any rookie driver.
In a video from last month’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Newgarden went incognito as a fan interviewer, asking race attendees if they had heard of last year’s Indy Lights champion. Most had no idea that they were saying “no” to his face, but the young driver took it in stride. Come Monday morning, there’s a good chance that they’ll know who he is.
Ranking the top ten drivers coming into the first round of the 2012 Global Rallycross Championship at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Marcus Gronholm, pictured, leads Tanner Foust and Liam Doran on the preseason chart.
Factoring in last season’s performance (though as we’ve said, this year’s schedule is unrecognizable to a GRC fan from last season), European results (one driver shows up high on this list based on three European titles alone), X Games medals (though they’re not as important as you might think), and strength of the car, these power rankings attempt to take every possible variable into account for the upcoming season. But because the base of information is so broad, and the series so unpredictable, don’t be shocked if this list looks foolish at the end of the year.
Detailing the changes in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship schedule and track composition. While the schedule has been made public since March, the layouts of the tracks are still a mystery to the public. Driver Stephan Verdier details some of the major changes between this year’s schedule and last year’s.
Verdier noted that the new schedule also poses challenges for teams as they look to prepare their vehicles. “The big difference is, we were expecting dirt. And except for maybe X Games, and maybe another one at Vegas will be on dirt, but we don’t think the other ones will (have any dirt). We know for sure Charlotte won’t have any dirt, and it might be a work in progress with GRC to try it and slowly bring dirt back. So that was the big challenge for us, outfitting our cars for 100% tarmac.”
Profiling the eight drivers making their inaugural Indianapolis 500 starts in this year’s edition of the race. This year’s crop has made starts in Formula 1, NASCAR, USAC, DTM, and GP2, among countless other racing disciplines, making them one of the most impressive groups of rookies to ever take to the speedway.
This year’s selection of first-timers attempting to make it into The Greatest Spectacle In Racing puts most rookie classes to shame with its accomplishments. Their backgrounds span the globe, from the dirt tracks of midwestern America to every European single-seater formula. They’ve made starts from Le Mans to Monaco to Indianapolis (albeit in other series, of course). And all of them have done more than enough to earn their way here.
Recapping the second week of 2012 Season Two of the inRacingNews Challenge. On Summit Point Raceway’s Jefferson Reverse layout, Oleg Predko (Pontiac Solstice), Mitch Weatherly (Spec Racer Ford), and Petr Dolezal (Mazda MX-5 Roadster) scored overall class victories.
Introducing American race fans to the technical specifications of the cars that will contest the Global Rallycross Championship. From the Ford Fiesta to the Hyundai Veloster, these cars resemble nothing else in American motorsports, and even differ significantly from the composition of proper stage rally vehicles.
According to Marcus Gronholm, who has excelled in both disciplines, the rallycross cars have greater power than their World Rally Championship counterparts, but are thus more difficult to drive. Ken Block, meanwhile, has cited major differences in driving style that come with racing against competitors rather than the clock, meaning that rallycross cars need extra reinforcement in their bodywork to put up with the beating and banging that drivers can put on one another.
Profiling the drivers who have the best chance at stealing an unlikely Indianapolis 500 victory on Sunday. Among them, two - Josef Newgarden and E.J. Viso - made it into Saturday’s pole shootout, while Alex Tagliani won last year’s pole, and J.R. Hildebrand finished second last year’s race.
Newgarden, a rookie, and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, running its first full-time season, have established themselves as bona fide contenders, after topping the time sheet on three of the first six practice days. The team only has a one-race sponsorship deal with Dollar General, so a victory would do great things for all parties; it’d give SFHR a greater shot at attracting sponsors, it’d give Newgarden a ride for years to come, and it’d give IndyCar the competitive American start that it’s been desperately pursuing for the past few years.
Analyzing J.R. Hildebrand’s sophomore Indianapolis 500 effort with Panther Racing. A last-lap error gave away what would have been Hildebrand’s first IndyCar victory, but this year the young California native will push even harder to end Panther’s four-year streak of runner-up finishes in the sport’s most prominent race.
There’s an old racing adage that says “nobody remembers who finishes in second place.” J.R. Hildebrand would probably scoff at the notion. There’s an exception to the rule, he might argue, one that involves a last-lap pass or a really close finish or, heaven forbid, an accident coming out of the final turn to give the win away. But forgive him if he doesn’t want to talk about that last one.
Introducing fans to the Global Rallycross Championship through extensive use of social media platforms. From ticket giveaways to fan interaction, the GRC is attempting to build interest in its brand in time for the season opening round on May 26 at Charlotte. Included is a list of GRC drivers’ and tracks’ websites and/or Twitter accounts.
Some of the teams and sponsors have begun to open up their own social media platforms to better engage with fans as well. On May 17, Bucky Lasek took over Puma’s Twitter account to answer questions about the GRC, his first profession of skateboarding and whatever else the fans could throw at him. The previous day, Brian Deegan traded rides with NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Greg Biffle at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in an event that Ford Racing promoted extensively on their social media platforms.
Breaking down the new format to this year’s Sprint All-Star Race, which featured four preliminary segments and a final 10 lap sprint for $1 million. While the new setup, which rewarded drivers for segment wins by giving them first entry into the pits for the final mandatory stop, worked well for the most part, it still offered holes that led to an ultimately unsatisfying ending for some.
Of course, from this learning experience, the tweaks are simple. Extend the final segment, and force the preliminary segment winners to line up with the main pack and continue to race keep their seeding. The current rule is to stay on the lead lap; the next rule should be to maintain a certain finishing position in each segment. That, or NASCAR could just do local track-esque heat races. Hey, now there’s an idea…
Ranking the ten greatest victories in Indianapolis 500 history, spanning the entire history of the track - from Ray Harroun’s inaugural victory in 1911 to Dan Wheldon’s last-lap win last season.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a distinct personality, a special pull that makes it unique to hundreds of the world’s fastest race car drivers. Sixty-seven drivers have seen their faces engraved into the Borg-Warner Trophy as Indianapolis 500 champion over the years. Though none of their names will ever be lost in history, some wins (and winners) have been more memorable than others.
Analyzing disappointment of a different kind this Indianapolis 500 Bump Day: the inability to secure use of an engine despite succeeding at the much harder task of finding sponsorship. Both Jay Howard and Pippa Mann, 2011 Indianapolis 500 starters, will sit on the sidelines this year due to an inability to land engines for Bump Day specials.
Of course, Bump Day has brought stranger surprises before. In 2005, Felipe Giaffone was pulled out of a mall to qualify a third entry for Foyt and help fill the field. If the Lotuses qualify early in the day, and show speed far off yesterday’s low qualifying pace (Sebastian Saavedra’s four-lap qualifying average of 222.811 miles per hour ranked 24th, making him the final driver to set his time on Saturday), the series will be stuck in a strange position, with a lot of questions to answer.
Highlights of an interview with Stephan Verdier, who will drive the No. 12 Motorcity/Disney XD Hyundai Veloster in the 2012 Global Rallycross Championship. Verdier, who scored three podium finishes last season, will join Rhys Millen Racing in an attempt to win the 2012 GRC championship.
Equipped with his new car, Verdier is ready for the challenges that a new season brings, even if they include a completely reworked schedule and a much stronger field. “The other guys are great drivers and great personalities, but I’m not really afraid of them – that might be a bit cocky to say that!” Verdier joked. “But I think there’s definitely more good cars than we had last year. There were four or five top cars – now we have, what, 14 top cars? So it’s going to be tougher.”
Analyzing the numerous reasons why an Andretti Autosport foray into Sprint Cup wouldn’t make sense for the IndyCar mainstay. Besides its extensive open-wheel ownership and promotion activities, the organization, which could become Dodge’s flagship team in 2013, has limited quality options in the free agent driver market.
Wouldn’t it have made far more sense to jump into NASCAR while Danica Patrick was still an Andretti driver? When judging rumors, there are generally two options: entertain them seriously, or be seriously entertained by them. The umpteenth Andretti-to-NASCAR rumor is likely an example of the latter.
Previewing A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ Indianapolis 500 entry, the No. 41 ECat/ABC Supply Co. Honda for Wade Cunningham.
Foyt took Cunningham’s Indianapolis history into account, but has said that he was more impressed with the young driver’s performance at Kentucky last season when offering him the ride in his second car. There, Cunningham finished a strong seventh place in an AFS Racing car, but if not for getting caught out of the racing groove while trying to pass Scott Dixon with a few laps to go, he had an honest shot at a podium finish.
Recapping the first round of the seventh inRacingNews Challenge season, which took place on the short course at Okayama International Circuit. Mark Megens (Mazda MX-5 Roadster, 139 points), Chris Hughson (Pontiac Solstice, 158 points), and Niccolo Cedrati (Spec Racer Ford, 177 points) were the week’s top drivers.
Previewing Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Indianapolis 500 entry, the #39 Honda for Bryan Clauson.
Clauson and teammate Josef Newgarden were two of the best oval drivers in last year’s Lights season, and swept the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, the series’ most prestigious event; Clauson won the pole, while Newgarden won the race. Judging by the speed that both drivers have shown thus far in practice, frequently appearing towards the top of the speed charts, it won’t be a shock if Clauson has something big in the tank.
Previewing Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Indianapolis 500 entry, the #30 Office Depot Honda for Michel Jourdain.
Jourdain may be the biggest wild card in the field. Most recently, he’s been running limited rally events after a failed transition to NASCAR in the mid-2000s. RLLR has always built fast racecars, with Baguette’s performance last year and Takuma Sato’s runs this year a testament to that. But it’s hard to predict how a driver who’s spent a decade and a half away from Indianapolis is going to perform.
After a tumultuous 2011 season, Kurt Busch attempted to redeem himself in 2012 by joining Phoenix Racing. But one week after running a popular Ricky Bobby-inspired paint scheme at Talladega, Busch’s dustup with Ryan Newman at Darlington is helping revert Busch’s public perception to that of the reckless Bobby, and any shot at redemption appears to be a long way off.
In a lot of ways, Busch resembles the fictional Bobby, from the loss of a top ride to the divorce of his first wife to a less-than-stellar handle on his temper. The difference, of course, is that by the end of the movie, Bobby figured it out and put together a happy ending. Busch, on the other hand, is turning the end of his movie into a farce.
Previewing Andretti Autosport/Conquest Racing’s Indianapolis 500 entry, the #25 Ipiranga Chevrolet for Ana Beatriz.
Conquest currently fields a Nissan-powered LMP2 in the American Le Mans Series, so it isn’t as if the team has been dormant this year, but the team has yet to experience the new DW12. Working with Andretti should alleviate the growing pains, but as both Beatriz and Conquest are used to qualifying late at Indy, don’t be shocked if this car qualifies on Bump Day.
Previewing Andretti Autosport/AFS Racing’s Indianapolis 500 entry, the #17 AFS Chevrolet for Sebastian Saavedra.
Saavedra failed to make last year’s running while driving in his first full IndyCar season for Conquest Racing. He’ll be hungry to redeem himself at Indianapolis after last season’s disappointment, while AFS will be the same after missing last year’s race with Raphael Matos behind the wheel. AFS only qualified for two oval races last season, Kentucky and Las Vegas, with Wade Cunningham behind the wheel for both.
Adam Petty’s passing in 2000 inspired widespread tribute throughout the racing world and led to the establishment of a charitable camp for the benefit of terminally and chronically ill children. But on the 12th anniversary of his death in a practice crash in New Hampshire, NASCAR’s delayed embrace of major safety innovations still serves as a less-than-fitting tribute to a charismatic young man whose entire life revolved around racing.
Of course, we know now that Petty’s passing was just the start of an annus horribilis, the first of four deaths that were capped off with the stunning casualty of Dale Earnhardt from the same injury in the Daytona 500 the following February. It was also one of many accidents involving a stuck throttle during that season, a mechanical gremlin that permeated all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. 12 years removed, I’m not sure which is worse: the fact that a young life was cut short in its prime, or that we failed to honor his sacrifice by improving safety for other drivers until we lost three more lives.
Analyzing the planned Indianapolis 500 debut of Jean Alesi and Fan Force United, an unlikely 11th-hour pairing whose entry will fill this year’s 33-car field. As many are pessimistic about the team’s prospects, it’s become easy to overlook just how strong the respective pedigrees of both driver and team actually are.
In 2010, Alesi rejoined Ferrari, his former F1 employer, in the GT2 class in the Le Mans Series, and alongside fellow ex-F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella finished second in points. As for FFU, they are an Indianapolis-based team bent on breaking into IndyCar after years of Indy Lights competition. Involved is Tim Wardrop, who won the 1997 Indianapolis 500 as Arie Luyendyk’s engineer and helped Luyendyk set one- and four-lap qualifying records in 1996 that stand to this day.
Final part of a three-part series detailing Formula 1 constructors’ aborted attempts at building CART challengers in the 1980s. Both Lotus and Ferrari had major driving talent available to them in the 1980s, much of which would make it to the Indianapolis 500 in the future anyway.
Lotus’ CART ride could have also served as a stopover for the team’s test drivers, allowing them to race a full year in competitive equipment instead of spending time with mediocre F1 equipment. One driver who could have benefitted was Derek Warwick, who nearly drove for the team in 1986, only to have his signing vetoed by Senna. A full year in a competitive CART drive could have established Warwick as a consistent, winning driver, opening up better rides for him, instead of leaving him one of the most talented drivers to never win an F1 race.
Part 2 of a series profiling Formula 1 constructors’ attempts at joining CART in the 1980s. This one, the Ferrari 637, came much closer to seeing the racetrack than the Lotus, with Bobby Rahal and Truesports nearly launching the program for the 1987 season.
Depending on who you ask, one of two things happened: either Ferrari backed out at the last minute after a change of intent, or the team had never intended to race in CART at all, simply using the program as a very serious ploy to gain F1′s attention. Originally, the plan had been to enter a one-off entry at Laguna Seca in one of the final races of 1986 (a race that Rahal won) before campaigning the full 1987 schedule, but the car withdrew at the 11th hour.
First of a three-part series documenting aborted CART efforts by Formula 1 teams during the 1980s. The first details the history of the Lotus 96T, which future McLaren F1 chief designer (and engineering pariah after the Spygate scandal) Mike Coughlan helped design.
The 96T had a serious shot at dominating the series, given the strong pedigree of those behind it, but it wasn’t meant to be. CART, a series formed by the activism of team owners, wasn’t particularly excited at the prospect of a “works” team with any sort of factory support. In response, sponsorship failed to materialize, and drivers weren’t willing to risk their careers to join the new team.
Reviewing the past week of NASCAR competition at Talladega Superspeedway. Joey Logano took Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 in the Nationwide Series, while Brad Keselowski scored his second victory of the season in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Aaron’s 499 by unhooking his draft from Kyle Busch on the final lap.
Kurt Busch had his own busy week, as Furniture Row Racing general manager Joe Garone told multiple sources that he wanted to add Busch as a teammate to Regan Smith in 2013. He remains at Phoenix Racing for now, however, and debuted a popular scheme for this weekend; he ran Ricky Bobby’s “Me” car from the movie “Talladega Nights,” complete with a picture of Karen the cougar on the hood and an opportunity to donate money to the Armed Forces Foundation. (Patricia Driscoll, Busch’s girlfriend, is the organization’s head.)
Breaking down the move that helped Brad Keselowski win Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Coming out of turns three and four, Keselowski moved his car slightly out of his draft with Kyle Busch, unhooking the two cars and allowing him to take the victory relatively unchallenged.
"I had this whole plan if I ever got in that situation where I was leading; I thought about it and thought about it, dreamed about what to do, and sure enough, going into (turn) three, it was just me and Kyle," Keselowski told reporters after the race.
But coming out of turn four, Keselowski had opened up a significant advantage. His margin of victory, .304 seconds, was the second largest at Talladega since NASCAR implemented electronic scoring in 1993.
Slideshow documenting the drastic changes that have taken place at Michael Waltrip Racing over the past few years. These adjustments, from a greater reliance on manufacturer Toyota to new driver and crew personnel, have taken MWR from a second-tier organization to a serious contender to put at least one car in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
According to Waltrip, it was early last year that the organization finally pushed for greater support from the manufacturer itself. The team spent all of last summer building new cars with the help of Andy Graves, vice president of Toyota Racing Development’s chassis engineering wing, and began to introduce them to races late in the year. Almost immediately, the move started to pay dividends for Martin Truex Jr., who scored his second-best finish of the year by coming home third in the season finale at Homestead.
*Personal note: I don’t know why certain Bleacher Report editors frequently decide to add a line break after every sentence. For now, I’ll let it be, but the philosophy somewhat baffles me; in my opinion, it sacrifices the quality of the writing for something that doesn’t make it much easier to read, if at all. The fact that I’ve been having this debate for years suggests that maybe it’s just me, but owing to the careful structuring of my work, and my decision to use line breaks when they fit organically with the writing (i.e., in case of a shift in topic or as a way to show change over time), I don’t think I’ll ever agree with it.