Tag Archives: jimmie johnson

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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Filed under Indycars, Junior Formulae, Nascar, Rally, Touring Cars

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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Filed under Indycars, Nascar, Superbikes

Trevor who?

 

Yarborough won in a red and white Wood Brothers Ford wearing a Gold number 21 when Bayne was minus-23 years old (pic thehenryford)

After four hours of seriously intense racing the Daytona 500 was won by Trevor Bayne – a rookie who turned 20 the day before the race. The biggest question wasn’t how he’d done it, the question on the fans’ lips was who the hell is this Trevor kid? He had just snatched the biggest trophy in stock cars from under the noses of Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards – all drivers of some repute that are yet to tame all 500 miles.

 

The Wood Brothers, the oldest team in Nascar, ran the youngest driver in the field to the biggest moment of his life so far; quite a story. Jeff Gordon’s record of winning the Daytona 500 age 25 has been smashed and it wasn’t the only record to tumble at the beach today. A 17 car crash in the early going was just one of the record 16 cautions while 74 lead changes topped the previous best that was set way back in the 1970s.

 

The race started smoothly with two-car tandems quickly forming through the first 12 places while the rest raced as a pack. On lap three Daytona fell silent, except for the howl of 43 race cars of course, in tribute to the tenth anniversary of the loss of Dale Earnhardt. I proudly held aloft three fingers at home, shivers going down my spine as the 150,000 strong crowd did the same.

 

Plenty of bravery, nerve and speed were on show as the two-car tandems that have defined Speed Weeks led to nothing but bumper-to-bumper racing. The downside was that constant contact between cars allowed for very little flair to shine through as any hustling was often brutally punished, although Robby Gordon and Kyle Busch both dealt deftly with some serious cases of the oversteer blues. Still, it was fascinating hearing the drivers chatting to their rivals over the radio as they raced, the spotters on top of the stands who help the drivers avoid trouble were making deals from lap one right until the final restart.

 

In his early career Trevor Bayne ran the number 24 in deference to his hero Jeff Gordon, with whom Bayne teamed up with on Thursday in the Duels and in the early laps of the 500 before Gordon was caught up in the Big One, along with fellow Hendricks big boys Johnson and Martin, although the latter bounced back to contend for the win. During the course of his impeccable race there were plenty of elder statesmen who recognised Trevor Bayne’s potential and sought to lock fenders with him, in the end the youngster was pushed at the front on the final restart by old-timer Bobby Labonte – 26 years Bayne’s senior.

 

The race concluded with two green-white-chequers and it was the first of these that caught out Bayne’s drafting buddy David Ragan who was black-flagged for making his move across the track to team up with the 21 car before reaching the green flag. This left Bayne leading when a crash that took out fan-favourite Dale Earnhardt Jnr provided one more restart to contend with. Edwards and Gilliland pushed Bayne hard on these final, frantic laps and relegated Labonte to fourth, while Montoya and the Busch brothers were shuffled out at the last moment in a thrilling finish. All week we’d seen the leader passed on the final turn of the race but Bayne in his near-pristine motor held off the battered and bruised veterans that swarmed on his bumper.

 

After the race he was congratulated on the radio and replied by saying, “You’re kidding me? Am I dreaming right now?”

 

This new style of Daytona racing had drivers making friends with each other on the airwaves as they sought a buddy to draft with. Now everybody will want Trevor Bayne to be their best pal, although without a full-time ride for this new hero they may not get too many chances to dance with him.

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