Tag Archives: daytona

What’s the point?

 

BSB riders give chase - new points systems are all the rage (pic MSV)

In the past you needed to be Watson the supercomputer to work out who scored what in a Nascar race, now the Sprint Cup has adopted a new points formula that should be easier to comprehend for those like myself whose brains freeze when faced with any more than a couple of digits. So it’s 43 points for the win, a solitary point for last and you can guess the rest. Throw in a point for leading a lap (always a great incentive for action) and another point for leading the most laps (always a well earned point) and there you have the new system. Simples.

So things are easier to follow, but the Sprint Cup is only claimed after the season’s ending series of 10 races known as The Chase. Played out on dull ‘cookie cutter’ tracks, the top 12 drivers have their points almost equalised and only these chosen few can race for the title. Not so simples.

Jimmie Johnson has claimed the last five straight Sprint Cups, timing his push to the top 12 perfectly every time while other stock car superstars are left fighting over the scraps. So can Jimmie still win under this new system? Of course he can, he’s the complete driver with a shrewd crew chief and the best team in the business, but at least we may see some more representative results for strong drivers who have missed the Chase in the past such as win-a-holic Kyle Busch or King of Concrete Carl Edwards.

Last year British Superbikes adopted their own Chase-style system, branded as The Showdown, that saw Riuchi Kionari taking the crown at a thrilling final round at Oulton Park. Nobody doubts the quality of the Japanese rider, so it’s certainly worked for the BSB and looks set to stay. It’s also a hell of a lot better than Bernie’s silly medals idea he keeps going on about ever since he took his little trip to Beijing with the Blairs back in 2008.

For what it’s worth I’m not a fan of a Chase format that freezes out riders and drivers. It’s nice to see a championship develop over the course of a season. But what do I know, I’m still stuck with the opinion that the only proper points in F1 are the top six.

The Chase seems fairly popular on the Nascar scene, so the current talking point is the weird scenario that the top three series are all being led by drivers who didn’t win during Speedweeks as it was part-time interlopers Waltrip, Stewart and Bayne who struck gold. Only giving points to regulars was a response to Sprint Cup drivers scooping the honours in feeder series, such as Brad Keselowski’s title success in Nationwide last year.

I think it’s a truly wonderful thing that Nascar has drivers guesting across its various formulas – it gave us a truly feel-good story with Trevor Bayne’s big win last Sunday. It provides feats to marvel at such as Kyle Busch winning more races in one year than you could count on your fingers and toes. Some of the greatest races on two wheels have been ridden by wildcards, I only wish that F1 would lighten up and allow a Rossi or a Loeb to join the grid once in a while.

Today Indycar announced a massive prize-fund for their Las Vegas season finale to encourage some series-swapping, a move in the right direction for the new management of the series. A cheque for $5 million will be given to any guest driver who claims the win; what price Mario dusting off his overalls? “Oh boy,” tweeted Marco Andretti, “if my grandfather finds this out we will be a 5 car team!”

The Nascar debate about guys who finished second and third leading the way is a moot point – it’s great that they have guest drivers competing in the first place. And the fact we can even have this discussion without picking up a calculator is a success for the simplified points system.

After Nascar hits the desert in Phoenix and Vegas over the next couple of weeks the charts will doubtless look a little cleaner and those sensitive souls who are troubled by the scoring anomalies thrown up by the thrilling events of Speedweeks will have forgotten the current odd look of the tables. However the memorable feats of Waltrip, Stewart and Bayne will be imprinted on the minds of the fans forever.

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“I came here to celebrate his life, I didn’t come to celebrate a win.”

February the 18th 2011. It’s 10 years to the day since Dale Earnhardt lost his life chasing the Daytona 500. The winner that fateful day was Michael Waltrip, his first 500 victory overshadowed by the death of his car owner. Waltrip has taken a win in the 500 since, but he truly exercised the ghosts of 2001 by claiming victory in the Camping World Truck series at Daytona on the tenth anniversary of what must rank as the most bitter-sweet day of his career and indeed his life. Earnhardt Jnr always has the eyes of the fans on him, but Mikey Waltrip has shouldered some of the burden of Dale Snr’s loss too, “Someone said, ‘I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.’ I said, ‘Well, I can. I live it every day.'”

 

During the pre-race show Michael was reliving the events that changed Nascar forever, musing with his brother Darrell Waltrip about their roller coaster relationship with Earnhardt that went from feuding to friendship. Darrell spoke of Dale, by this point a seven time champion, putting his arms round him and offering his former nemesis help with a career in terminal decline. The younger Waltrip poignantly added with reference to the win his boss never saw, “I kept waiting for that hug.”

 

Dale Earnhardt may not have lived to see his driver win his first race after 463 attempts, but the fans have lived with the memory of February 18th 2001. Ten years on and Michael Waltrip gave them a beautiful moment at the end of a brutal race. Having never taken victory in a Truck race before, Waltrip’s steed for this race was black in tribute to The Intimidator and it proudly carried the number 15 on its flanks, the digits he took to Victory Lane for Earnhardt Inc. at the Great American Race.

 

The stars were aligned, but Waltrip had to survive not one, but two ‘Big Ones’ that left only five cars without damage. Elliot Sadler led the race on the final restart but Waltrip held his nerve, calmly slotted in behind him and then hustled his way past on the final dash to the flag to claim as emotional a win as we’ve seen at the Speedway. And they’re all emotional wins there.

 

Waltrip may have been aided in this dramatic last-second charge by his rear wing partially collapsing on the final lap to allow him slightly more top speed, but he was always at the sharp end and it would be churlish to suggest he couldn’t have done it otherwise.  Maybe it’s one of those new-fangled movable wings from F1! Expect a fine and a slapped wrist, but don’t expect Nascar to write him out of the results.

 

Meanwhile Dale’s grandson Jeffrey claimed seventh, the best of his short career, the cherry on the cake. As the familiar Waltrip and Earnhardt names rode high and turned back the clock, there was a reminder of just how much Nascar has changed this past decade as Jennifer Jo Cobb finished 6th, a landmark result for a lady racer. Danica Patrick lines up fourth for today’s Nationwide race at the Speedway, so we could see that new record for female stock car drivers broken within 24 hours.

 

The commentators in the booth included big brother Darrell who spoke on the radio to his little brother within seconds of the flag. “I’m just thankful,” Michael said tearfully before modestly adding in Victory Lane, “I came here to celebrate his life, I didn’t come to celebrate a win.”

 

It was less a fairytale, more a Shakespearian tragedy, although the universe did what it could to tidy up the mess left behind when Nascar’s shining star lost his light on the biggest stage of the sport. Daytona is a story in itself written over 60 years, a page turner that never fails to enthrall. The next two chapters will be written tonight and on Sunday, make sure you catch it. If you didn’t see it live make sure you watch the magic that unfolded on February 18th 2011 in the video above.

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Next in line to the throne?

 

Zac Brown in action

Who better to replace a racing wheeler dealer than a racing wheeler dealer?

We all assumed that only the Grim Reaper could tear Bernie from his throne, but now it looks like the long arm of the law could be his eventual downfall. Plebs like myself find law a little bit baffling (which is probably the idea) so I’ll defer to the likes of the excellent Joe Saward for coverage of the case of the missing 50 million, but I did come across a fascinating profile of a possible apprentice for Emporer Ecclestone.

 

We don’t know how Ecclestone will leave the sport he has helmed for so long, but we know that one day Formula One will inevitably find itself searching for a new leader. It seems that The Guardian has found one in American advertising-ace and part-time racer Zac Brown.

 

Zac Brown was last seen contributing to his United Autosport team’s remarkable fourth place finish in the Rolex 24 at Daytona alongside oldie-but-goodies Mark Brundle and Martin Blundell (Murray’s words circa 1993, not mine). He’s also been campaigning his garish Audi R8 GT car (pictured above at the luscious Lodge corner at Oulton Park).

 

Indeed, the launch of his GT3 challenger saw Bernie himself in attendance – the lowest down the racing ladder that Ecclestone has appeared since his own F3 days. It seems that Zac Brown is very well connected indeed, it was akin to seeing Sepp Blatter cheering on the touch-lines for Southport FC.

 

Read the Guardian’s piece here.

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Wish you were here

Daaaaayyyyytona! Let's fly away! (pic by Janine)

As I’ve said in the post below, there is nothing like Speedweeks to kick off the season in style. A few years back my family and I were fortunate enough to find ourselves in Florida during February, so we made it our mission to go and see the action by the beach. Not what the average English holiday-makers get up to in the Sunshine State, but it’s an experience I’d recommend to anybody who loves racing.

Our own Speedweeks experience had begun with the ARCA race. The Speedway is slap-bang on a high street, with Target Stores, 7-Elevens and all the happy shoppers going about their business literally across the street from the daunting stands. It was all a far cry from driving down the leafy lanes to the majestic seclusion of Oulton Park. We parked our rental car on somebody’s lawn for a fee and bought our tickets from a guy with a cowboy hat, a gun and a big red truck. That also doesn’t happen at Oulton Park.

We could hear the cars firing up in the distance so we hot-footed it to the grandstands, running straight through to the fence just as the green flag waved. Nothing prepares you for being a few feet away from 43 stock cars, it remains my most frightening and vivid of racing memories – 30,000 horsepower, 180 mph, bumper-to-bumper, ground-shaking, ear-splitting – and all with no warning whatsoever as we hadn’t had chance to so much as look at a stock car in person before a whole pack of them were unleashed in front of us.

By lap two we were already climbing higher in the stands as we really didn’t fancy being up against that fence when the Big One happened. From our perch up in the Gods we could look down on the roofs of the cars, but I’m glad that we initially scared ourselves by rushing to get as close as possible to them. That moment has made watching Nascar on TV that bit more exhilarating. It may be a cliche, but you have to see Nascar in the flesh to really get to grips with it.

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Boogity boogity boogity!

 

The wraps come off the 2011 season at Daytona (pic by 359)

Racing is the most thrilling pursuit in the world bar none, so reading reports of meaningless F1 lap times at dull tracks is hardly a fitting way for the European season to start. Moto GP has a better idea by televising the Barcelona test and giving the fastest rider a BMW M3 as a prize, although that’s still not as exciting as a curtain-raiser should be. What we need is a pair of blue riband races sandwiching a whole month of motorsport all played out in front of hundreds of thousands of people. What we need is Speedweeks.

I always get excited about the new season once the beach at Daytona is echoing to the sound of rumbling V8s. It’s the same each year as the Rolex 24 starts the festivities of Speedweeks. This year the endurance classic was just that; a classic encounter that really sold me on the current Grand Am rulebook for the first time. Has it always been this good?

Tonight there has been more racing as the grid for the 500 was settled in the Gatorade Duels. Last week saw the Bud Shoot Out produce some of the weirdest racing I’ve ever seen – 206mph tandems that effectively made for eight-wheel race cars, the Duels were much the same. The smoother track surface may make things look a little less edgy, but the high speeds and the necessity for two cars to stay tied together conspires to create some wacky racing.

It says a lot about Nascar that they have already put rule changes into place to try to change the racing. I know things aren’t quite so simple in F1, but Nascar shames them when it comes to the ad hoc management of the regulations. Ditherers need not apply in Nascar. There could be further alterations to the cars between the Gatorade Duels and the main event with Sprint Cup series Director John Darby saying as late as Wednesday “We’ve got a long way to go until Sunday. The goal is to get everything under control so that we can put on the most exciting Daytona 500 that everybody’s ever watched. We’ll do what we have to do to get there.” Now that’s the spirit!

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Since I last wrote…

You wait 15 years for Lotus, then four come along... (pic by bobaliciouslondon)

Back at the end of 2009 when I last posted on Race of Two Worlds we didn’t even have Lotus in Formula One, now we have Loti. A great deal can happen in a year or so of racing and I missed the lot in 2010! I’m down a lap, so now it’s time to make up the gap and blog myself silly for the rest of 2011.

With a bit more time on my hands than before I can now afford to ponder, muse and wonder about the racing world. After dipping my toe in the water back in 2009 it’s now time to take the plunge.

I’ll be writing about racing as I see it, which is from my living room. That means I have no insider knowledge to draw on, just a lifetime of shouting at the TV and standing at the top of the Craner Curves as the odour of bacon butties mixes with the smell of burning rubber.

The story of the day for both the motorsport world and the wider press is the unrest in the Arab world, but I’m steering clear of that as I know little on the subject. Instead I’ll be focusing on the start of the Nascar season which gets the green flag at Daytona this weekend. Start your engines!

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