Category Archives: Nascar

Don’t have at ’em boys

I’m a big fan of Kyle Busch, although sadly after Friday night even I have to admit that he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. To this Limey he is up there with Lewis Hamilton as the most exciting racer at work in the world today. Every lap Kyle drives is a thrill-ride, there is nothing more entertaining than seeing the number 18 being hustled round by the 26 year old; bouncing off walls and pulling off last gasp wins are his trademarks. Sadly he is also known for crashing, moaning and getting into off-track punch-ups. With nicknames like Wild Thing and Rowdy you know what you are getting, but on Friday night he became stock car racing’s public enemy number one with a shocking display of petulance that would be bad at any time let alone after two weeks of analysing the dangers inherent in racing.

Early on during the Camping World Truck Series race at Texas the arch-villain Kyle Busch was roughed up by a clumsy Ron Hornaday, the veteran meant nothing by the rub and by Nascar standards it was barely even a tickle. In the ensuing caution period Kyle did the unthinkable, pushing himself and Hornaday into the wall with frightening speed. It was enough to damage not just the truck but also the engine in Hornaday’s machine. Worse than that, it took lost Ron a chance at the title. Both Hornaday and his team owner Kevin Harvick had strong words for Busch and rightly so, but instead it was Nascar officials that took it upon themselves to sort this one out. They duly parked Busch for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races, effectively ending Kyle’s quest for the premier title.

This isn’t quite an unprecedented punishment, but it is certainly an unusual one. Nascar has employed a ‘have at ’em’ rule that goes beyond ‘rubbin’ is racing’ and opens up the possibility of on-track revenge being exacted. Leaving the officiating of driving standards up to adrenaline-pumped young men and women is a disaster for safety but a hit for at least some of Nascar’s many fans. The flaws of one driver hunting down another at 190mph does not need explaining, except to the people who run the sport, or so it seems.

I personally believe that it’s the ‘have at ’em’ rule that should be parked along with Kyle Busch. The list of Nascar racers who have taken revenge using their cars or their fists is a long one, the list of those punished for such actions is somewhat shorter. At Talledega in 2009 Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski came together in the most almighty shunt that scattered debris into the crowd. Was this a warning that even fans were in being placed in danger by over-aggressive driving? Not to Nascar it seems, they proceeded to let Carl and Brad carry a grudge onto the racetrack on more than one occasions since then, including this massive airbourne wreck last year. A totally unacceptable state of affairs.

If we hadn’t have had such a horrid few weeks for motorsport I suspect Kyle’s stupidity wouldn’t have been punished by anything other than Ron Hornaday’s fists. However much I enjoy seeing the Wild Thing at work, I’m glad Nascar has taken a stand. I just hope that some sensible rules are drawn up that outlaws racing revenge all year round. If that doesn’t happen then we are just counting down the days until somebody does something that they truly regret. In such a litigious country I would picture that Nascar could find itself in a massive legal case if a non-accidental wreck results in casualties, which despite SAFER walls and HANS devices it could very well do. Now it is up to Nascar to make bans such as Kyle’s a standard punishment for all drivers, not just the ones playing the role of ‘baddie’ and nor should it just be a card that is played in sensitive times. No matter how large or small the wreck is, whether it is behind the pace car or under green, this cannot go on – it may come to threaten the entire sport.

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A smashing way to win in Nascar

After posting about a peculiar Formula Ford finish last week I didn’t think I’d be watching the same thing happening again quite so soon. This time around the oddness was courtesy of Nascar Nationwide from Iowa Speedway and our two protagonists are Ricky Stenhouse Jnr and Carl Edwards.

After some rough stuff earlier in the race the two Roush Fenway teammates were already spoiling for a fight. At the final restart Ricky Stenhouse pulled off some blinding moves to take the lead. While dueling hard with Edwards for the win Stenhouse resisted giving him a dose of payback as the team pleaded with each driver to keep calm after an evening of pushing and shoving. Once Stenhouse decisively took the top spot the Roush crews must have thought they had avoided trouble and it was time to celebrate a first and second place for the team, instead they were presented with two mangled Fords along with their winning trophies.

Coming into the final turn of the race Stenhouse’s engine blew spewing out oil and water as he glided in to the finish line. Like James Bond throwing off the bad guys, the engine blow inadvertently created sent Carl crashing into Ricky just as they crossed the line. Miraculously they still delivered a Roush one-two as Stenhouse was propelled over the line and into the wall while Edwards cruised back with a lot shorter race car than he had when he took the white flag. There was no car to present in victory lane, just its driver – the exciting Ricky Stenhouse Jnr. As his senior teammate and dance partner Carl Edwards says, this guy will be around the sport for a long time to come. But however many victories Ricky may take in the future surely none will out-weird this one.

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Danica and Nascar set to get hitched

Danica is a big name

Half driver, half marketing dream - Danica is huge in the States. (LuRoGo)

AP is reporting that a deal is on the table for Danica Patrick to make the full-time switch to Nascar in 2012. The plan, according to insiders, is for her to run full time in Nationwide with the Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports while Tony Stewart will also be fielding an extra car in the premier Sprint Cup series for the world’s fourth highest paid female athlete. Considering the lengths to which Danica went to in her early career to escape oval racing this is clearly a money move – something that does her no favours in the eyes of the non-believers.

This long-predicted move to tin-tops is a blow to Indycar, but that series has far more pressing concerns as it still struggles to return to its brilliant best. They can console themselves with the fact that winning the Indy 500 remains a priority for Danica – she looks set to disrupt her Nationwide season by missing three races to try to finally fulfill the promise she showed when she came back from a crash to lead her debut race at the Brickyard back in 2005, only losing out in the dying laps.

I for one have been positive about Danica Patrick, if only for the fact that it was refreshing to see a female driver receive some proper support. Ford, BMW, Rahal and Andretti are amongst the big names who have backed her and now she has become involved with Dale Earnhardt Jnr and Tony Stewart – about the two most popular racers in Stock Cars. I remember watching her in Formula Vauxhall Junior and Formula Ford back in the late 1990s as she failed to shine in either. The one rather huge exception to that was her second place to teammate Anthony Davidson in the 2000 Formula Ford Festival – the best finish in this prestigious event for both a woman and indeed an American. Despite this I didn’t think she was much cop at the time if I’m brutally honest, but I’m happy to say I was wrong.

Between these early days and her jump up into Indycar in 2005 she was guided by Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, although a second season of Formula Ford was curtailed by not wanting to waste her sponsorship on the year-old car that was available to her. Instead Rahal lined her up to drive in British Formula 3 just as his paymasters at Jaguar removed him from their racing programme and the deal collapsed. This left Danica to race in unfamiliar tracks in an assortment of machinery back in the USA having failed to crack the European elite. During her junior career she never drove in a series for more than one season and didn’t truly settle until she took Indycar by storm in Bobby Rahal’s squad that he co-owns with David Letterman.

What was so remarkable about Patrick’s Indycar baptism was that it was her first time on ovals. Danica took to the 230 MPH challenge like a fish to water as she claimed pole positions and led races. Her performance as a rookie at Indy was startling; gamely battling for the win after a bruising spin, something that endeared her to many. Eventually she claimed her first victory at Motegi in 2008, a savvy fuel-saving final run that was typical of Danica who often out-smarts the boys even though she doesn’t appear to have the ultimate edge over them in traffic. This was her only win since a successful karting career, with the exception of a victory in a race for celebrities – a tag that applies to her more than any other driver today. At one point she was signing more autographs than all the other Indycar drivers put together – something that her rivals once threatened to strike over!

It has always seemed baffling that Danica struggled on the road courses after her upbringing on the twisting racetracks of the UK, although her petite frame wasn’t helped by the lack of power-steering on an Indycar. I actually believe that an F1 car would be more forgiving in this respect, but once Patrick makes the leap to Nascar it will be game over for her ever performing on the world stage.

This move will unquestionably be a boost for Nascar, but over in the States it could barely be any more popular as it is. Danica has performed as well as any other rookie usually does in Nationwide during her sporadic appearances this year and with the emphasis nearly 100% on ovals Nascar should be a happy hunting ground for her. Of course a few more fans may watch her progress, though the world’s most attended spectator sport is not short of all-American heroes as it is. Neither Danica nor Nascar need this deal, though both will want it. Patrick needs a fresh challenge and Nascar will gladly provide it.

This neatly opens up room for the exciting Simona de Silvestro to become the top lady racer in Indycar, expect her to get a decent seat in the new-look formula in 2012. It seems likely that Simona could deliver more wins than Danica in the future, although the US likes its homegrown heroes so don’t expect the young Swiss racer to appear in every second advertisement on ABC any time soon.

Good luck to Danica on her mission to infiltrate the Good Ol’ Boys of Nascar, she has already set new standards for female racers and there is no more testosterone-laden arena than Stock Cars. If the little lady from Indiana can continue to fight with the big boys after the switch it could be the much needed cultural catalyst that sees more girls take up racing in the future. There are many wonderful aspects of this sport of ours, women competing with men on an equal basis is something to celebrate so I will continue to cheer for Danica and Simona no matter where their careers take them.

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A smokin’ hot start to a race

Before each and every Nascar race we the fans are blessed with an often spirited rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before some Z-list celeb gives the command to “start your engines” and of course we are also treated to a local pastor reading a prayer. To European ears these pre-race rituals seem a little bizarre, though they add to the charm. On my visit to Daytona a Good Ol’ Boy sat within earshot declared at the end of the anthem, “every time I hear that song I get a lump in my throat” prompting those around him to nod sagely and give him some pats on the back. You have to see this passion to believe it, even if like me you struggle to feel it for yourself.

Like eating my annual sprout, at Christmas I’ll watch the Queen’s speech and my appetite for patriotic pageantry is abated for another 12 months, so you’ll excuse me if I struggle to keep a straight face when witnessing the manner in which US racing begins each and every week. Secretly I think most nationalities wish they were as proud of themselves as a great many Americans are. Sometimes even a sceptic such as myself can get into the spirit of things; the command to start the engines at the Indy 500 often brings tears to my eyes – skip to just over 5 minutes into this clip and watch how dramatic this moment can be, the TV direction is perfect. The sheer expectation of the spectacle ahead mingles in my mind with thoughts of all the drivers who have paid the ultimate price to be one of the 33 gladiators in the running at the Brickyard. As for Marvin Gaye singing the Star Spangled Banner, that is enough to make you crave a green card.

Last Saturday the Nascar Nationwide series was running in Nashville where Concrete Carl Edwards was the winning driver who took home the coveted Gibson guitar, but it wasn’t the Ford driver who got people talking. Instead it was Pastor Joe Nelms who stole the show with the hilarious invocation you can see above.

In a series with a car sponsored by Jesus a passionate prayer is not unusual, nor is thanking God for everything the France family has brought to us – but this appeal to a higher power was truly remarkable. I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard it on Saturday night, judging by the laughs from the crews and drivers it seems I wasn’t alone. Boogity, boogity, boogity – Amen!

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The man they love to hate

Kyle Busch racks up 100 wins

100 not out - Kyle rules, OK? (pic bristolmotorspeedway)

Over here in Europe far too many sneer at oval racing. If only more petrolheads from the Old World would go to see a Stock Car or Indycar race – stand next to the fence as 30 or 40 cars hurtle past at 200mph and all your preconceptions are shattered. They may only turn left, but give it a fair chance and you’ll witness bravery, precision and determination in abundance. There is so much talent in US racing and the points systems are often so confusing and contrived that it can be hard to spot the cream of the oval crop, but occasionally a driver emerges who shines through even to the untrained eye. Kyle Busch is just such a driver.

The driver of the number 18 machine has just clocked his 49th Nascar Nationwide win, tying Mark Martin’s all-time win record, after a thrilling finish at last night’s New Hampshire race. This is also his 100th race win in Nascar competition, which is half of King Richard Petty’s total. He is already a team owner too, it was Busch whom Kimi Raikonnen turned to when trying to find a fast ride for his Nascar debut this year. The man known as Shrub, Rowdy and Wild Thing has even had a little interest from a few people with vision in F1, although his chances with Toyota and USF1 both came to naught. All of that is great, but here’s the really impressive fact: Kyle is merely 26 years young.

You don’t need to know the astonishing stats to realise just how special Kyle is. There are few drivers in the world who can glue you to a TV screen like the younger Busch brother can. Kyle is forever saving slides, kissing walls, defining his own racing lines and overtaking where others fear to. On the super speedways he seems to be the only driver who can keep his head above water at restarts without a car pushing him in an era of two-car-tandems and non-stop bump-drafting. His road course game is solid and on the short tracks he hustles like few others can. If he was born in Rio or Kent he would surely be a superstar Grand Prix driver with the world at his feet. As it stands he is little known outside the US and A where he is just as famous for his tantrums as his triumphs. Out in cyberspace he is fast gaining the name of ‘Kryle’ due to his propensity for radioing in to his crew chief to tell him the car is un-drivable – shortly before he takes it to victory lane anyway.

Racing from 13 years old in Legends where he picked up 65 wins in only three seasons or so, Kyle made his debut in Nascar competition at sweet 16, leading in only his second start. Since then he has raced in all three of Nascar’s top-tier series often all on the same weekend. Last August at the fearsome bullring of Bristol Motor Speedway he became the first driver to win all three races at a Nascar meeting; he was also the first to win two in a weekend only the year before. Busch’s start-to-win ratio in Trucks is a staggering one win in every three starts where he is usually pitted against 40 or so other drivers in near-equal machinery.

So how does Rowdy Busch compare to the greats? Racing evolves so fast that it is always hard to compare eras. All of Richard Petty’s wins came at the top level yet Nascar had less strength-in-depth back then. The King took until he was 32 to clock his first 100 wins though he started his career three years later than Busch’s prodigious rise. In the fullness of time it may be that Dale Earnhardt is a closer match for Busch, at least in terms of sheer determination on a racetrack if not in personality. Wild Thing is already 24 wins ahead of The Intimidator although he’ll never overtake the great man in the popularity stakes. Having said that I remember a time when Dale divided the fans just as Kyle does today. Whether Busch will win wider affection is in his hands – if he drops his Rowdy image he may endear himself to more people even if it means we won’t be treated to him smashing up hand-made guitars or flipping the bird at race officials.

Now a married man he has proclaimed himself as “the new Kyle Busch” but he has still found himself on probation this season. Lewis Hamilton would sympathise I’m sure. This new Kyle Busch has already received a black eye at the fists of team owner Richard Childress earlier this season and even hit the European news for his citation for reckless driving after clocking 128mph in a 45mph zone when driving his company Lexus. Back at the track he still gets more than his fair share of boos from the crowd and sometimes has a few empties thrown in his direction.

Despite all this success and infamy Kyle is yet to claim a Sprint Cup title – which could be viewed as a bad reflection on the consistency of Joe Gibbs Racing and the lack of emphasis that the Nascar scoring system places on victory. However it does show starkly just how much talent is at work in modern stock car racing, in any other era he would surely have clocked up a title or two already as his older brother Kurt did back in 2004. It has taken until 2011 for the younger Busch to look like matching this feat. He currently leads the Sprint Cup standings deep into the 36 race season although The Chase has never been kind to him come season’s end. The Daytona 500 has also eluded him so far as he finds himself competing in an era where the super speedways are carnage-strewn lotteries. Few can tame restrictor plate tracks as The Intimidator once did, although Kyle has led the most laps at the 500 twice in his career so far.

So here’s to Kyle Busch. When it pays so well to win in the States then Europe may never know just where this kid rates amongst our heroes, but in Stock Cars he is already a genius of the finest kind – a flawed one. If 100 wins is half what The King managed then Kyle has just been crowned the Prince of Nascar. The throne awaits.

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Great racing wherever you look

Plato rolls, Conway wins and Nascar entertains (pic Rob Dunckley)

F1 provided the race of the weekend from where I was sitting, but there was so much good motorsport going on that it was hard to keep up with it all. We had a four-wide finish at Talladega, the closest World Rally ever, a new and truly heroic winner in Indycar and the BTCC boys bent some metal. If I don’t get a chance to watch Superbikes from Assen or my beloved Aussie V8s on a wet street track then I know there was a lot of rubber being burnt around the globe…

First up was Talladega with the Sprint Cup race that anybody could win which was taken by Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the previous five championships. It may not be the ideal result for the fans or the title race, but it was certainly spectacular as the leaders finished four-wide after the tandems we saw at Daytona returned. Clint Boywer was a mere two thousandths of a second behind the winner, but I still can’t truly enjoy the bump-drafting. Nationwide saw Kyle Busch get involved in the ‘big one’ before driving his battered machine back to the front just as the race was halted for yet another big wreck. If anything the relative unknowns in the ARCA race provided the best and cleanest racing at ‘Dega, their cars aren’t built to run the whole race nose-to-tail and the extra space between them made for some far more satisfying racing that saw Ty Dillon edging out Frank Kimmel at the flag.

Astoundingly the WRC was very nearly as close and every bit as thrilling in the dust of Jordan. Sebastian Ogier continued in his winning ways, beating Latvalla by a mere 0.2 seconds – the closest World Rally to date. The event was shortened  after political and logistical problems, but it was still remarkable to see a smaller gap between the leaders after two days rallying than we saw in F1 after a mere 15 minute qualifying segment. It seems that Ogier is the real deal.

Another young driver with a very bright future is Britain’s Mike Conway who scored his first Indycar win at the Long Beach Grand Prix last night. Most Indycar viewers will know Mike best for his bone-breaking Indy 500 shunt that could so easily have taken his career away just as it started. Now recovered and driving for Andretti Autosport he drove a sublime final few laps to blast his way up from sixth place at the final restart to the lead. Conway endured a troubled pit-stop and had to dodge the now-predictable crashes to take the fight to Ryan Briscoe’s Penske that led for so much of the day. Long Beach is one of the greatest street tracks in the world and Mike Conway knows a thing or two about racing around cities after taking wins at Monaco in GP2 and Macau in F3; he’s certainly in the right series for somebody who excels at racing inches from concrete walls.

The walls aren’t quite so close at Donington Park but the BTCC boys still managed to find them. The races were won by Matt Neal, Andrew Jordan and crowd-favourite Matt Jackson, but the talking points were the slew of accidents including a roll for champion Jason Plato.  The racing was good and luckily everybody survived their crashes with nothing more than financial damage, although Plato said he “tweaked his manhood” as his Chevy Cruze rolled three times. Amazingly the RML boys got Jason’s car going again for race three and he even managed to score good points with the roof still squashed! The Craner Curves are a fine place to watch a race and for those stood by Starkey’s Bar they will have witnessed Plato’s accident, a multi-car crash in race three and a fast shunt for Neate’s Ford Focus on the final lap of the day along with a scary ride down the hill for Rob Collard too.  Wish I was there.

I will be heading to a race next week as British F3 heads to Oulton Park, just down the road from here. The F3 season is already underway at Monza where Felipe Nasr won twice for Carlin and cemented his status as championship favourite. Rupert Svendsen-Cook took a win too but it’s Nasr who everybody will be focusing on when British F3 heads back to Britain.

The best junior category in 2011 looks set to be Formula Renault 3.5 where there is some serious talent on show, not least of all is Red Bull’s test driver Daniel Ricciardo. He was absent from round one at Arragon, so whoever emerged on top from the two races on Spanish soil would likely become his main challenger for the season. It was Lotus-affiliated American hot-shot Alexander Rossi who took a win in a spectacular race one, his racecraft was top drawer as he diced with Move and Wickens in a very entertaining battle. He followed it up with a second place in the Sunday race just behind Kevin Korjus – the youngest driver on the Renault grid and a very surprising victor. Expect a bunch of these guys to follow fellow Renault World Series graduates Vettel, Kubica and Kovalainen into F1 very soon, there is a rare amount of talent on that grid this year.

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Jorge goes for his annual dip

Jerez is Lorenzo's land. (pic Fiat Yamaha)


Bernie may want rain to spice up F1 races but in Moto GP a little precipitation often does the opposite and ruins the fun. This Sunday was a little different though, the rain in Spain allowed for heroics from some and made headaches for others, it all added up to a spectacular race for the hundreds of thousands of moto-mad fans that make Jerez one of the best Grand Prix of the year. It was race of the week from where I was sitting, so it must have been something else trackside.

The substantial crowd may have been cheering Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi but Casey Stoner was hoping to spoil the party after claiming pole position. The Honda rider was the man to beat at Losail and could have done the same on Spanish soil were it not for the rain and an out-of-control Valentino Rossi. During the thrilling early laps The Doctor blasted through from his poor grid spot to trouble Stoner, Lorenzo and Simoncelli at the front until the Ducati rider fell into the path of the Aussie star sending both into the kitty-litter like skittles. While the marshals rushed to Rossi’s aid they left Stoner frustrated and unable to push-start his still race-worthy Honda. Casey lost his championship lead and had a few choice words for Valentino afterwards including the oldie-but-goodie “you ran out of talent” along with some criticism for the race officials themselves.

The two champions weren’t the only ones to visit the gravel; three of the top nine finishes had all spent time on their bums during the Grand Prix before recovering. Simoncelli was perhaps the most unfortunate, after taking Lorenzo and Stoner on successive laps he wobbled his way out of an impressive lead and onto the floor leaving Jorge Lorenzo to take another win at Jerez. And yes, he dived in the pond again although this time he was already soaked by the relentless drizzle. Pedrosa made it a Spanish one-two while Nicky Hayden got the third spot on the podium, a position that nobody else seemed to want including Ben Spies who even got as high up the order as second before falling off.

There were plenty of great rides throughout the Moto GP weekend but it was the paperclip track at Martinsville that provided my racer of the week. Kevin Harvick picked up his second win on the bounce in Sprint Cup competition after shuffling past Dale Earnhardt Jnr in the last couple of minutes, consecutive wins are a rare thing in Sprint Cup especially on such wildly different tracks.

Although Harvick has to be racer of the week, Johnny Sauter deserves a shout for taking a win in the Camping World Trucks on the micro-oval. The presence of Harvick and Busch in Trucks makes a victory in this series so much more valuable to the few who can break their stranglehold. Expect the Kevin and Kyle show to resume next time out though, it’s not often those two get beaten in a Truck and both of them are driving better than ever in 2011. Watch and learn Mr Raikkonen.

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