Monday, March 13, 2006

Las Vegas--Whew!

I woke up Sunday morning, my day off, at the same time I would get up for a work day. I normally like to sleep in on my off days but not Sunday. It was the start of the Formula I racing season, in Bahrain.
Though NASCAR is my favorite form of auto racing, I am a fan of all motorsports. F1 is a lot of fun to watch, when the cars are allowed to race. Last year, with rules which included no tire changes from practice through qualifying and the race. The team had to use the same set of tires for the entire event. Needless to say, Formula I was boring last year. Except for two or three races, it was mostly a parade of very expensive, pretty cars driving around a road course.
If Bahrain was any indication, those days are gone. Once again, tire changes are allowed during the race. Also, in the interest of safety and competition, the ten cylinder engines previously used have been replaced by eight cylinder power plants, reducing the horsepower from 1000 to around 700 hp. So, the racing might be a little slower, but it is much more exciting than the first race of last season at Melbourne. It is definitely more fun to watch those beautiful high-tech cars race wheel to wheel all the way around the track. After all, these are supposed to be the best drivers in the world, why not let them race? Also new this year is the aptly named Scott "I wish I could change my name to 'Max'" Speed, who drives for the team formerly known as Menardi, now referred to as "Red Bull, Jr." The name of the team is Italian for "Red Bull," not to be confused with the Red Bull team. Scott Speed is the first American driver to race in Formula 1 since Michael Andretti in 1993. He finished 12th in his very first Formula 1 race, quite impressive, considering who he is up against.

Speaking of wheel to wheel racing, the NASCAR Nextel Cup race in Las Vegas, Sunday, was a great example of everything stock car racing should be. From the green flag to the very close finish, the racing was hard and competitive thoughout the field. There was three wide racing the entire race, and NASCAR didn't even have to have restricter plates to create it. Maybe NASCAR should look at what FIA, the sanctioning body for Formula 1 has done to make better racing, to apply to the restricter plate tracks (how's that for a segue?). If NASCAR could figure out a way to reduce the speed without reducing the torque at Daytona and Talledega, the racing at those tracks would likely be better as well as safer.

The racing in the Daimler-Chrysler UAW 400 at Las Vegas was the best NASCAR racing so far this season. I probably would have been happier if my driver had won, and I was rooting for Matt Kenseth to beat Jimmie Johnson at the very end of the race. But in the end, I felt very satisfied about the race. For many drivers, it must have seemed like Bristol or Martinsville. With the TV on mute, and listening to the PRN commentary on the radio, I heard about a lot of good racing that wasn't shown on television--for nearly the entire race, from 12th position on back, there was a constant tooth and nail battle for position among fouteen or fifteen cars. The only time we saw that on television was when the leaders began lapping traffic.
Love him or hate him, nobody gets the fans fired up like Tony Stewart. Watching the Speed TV program, Wind Tunnel, I saw that the anti-Stewart fans were already out in force. Somehow, it didn't matter that there was beating and banging going on thoughout the field. Tony, in the minds of many fans was driving rough and over aggressively. "I don't know what I did to get Tony mad at me," said Kyle Busch in a post-race interview, "In my mind, it was just good, hard, clean racing."
During nearly all of the last half of the race, Stewart and "Shrub" were indeed racing hard, side drafting and banging figurative doors all the way around the track. The rule is that, if you have a good car in which you can have a good finish, you don't pull over and let another guy pass just because he is being aggressive. The fans who complain about this type of racing don't seem to understand that stockcar racing, from the Saturday night circle burners to the NASCAR Cup level, is all about contact. No other form of auto racing has this extra dimension of competition. I would suggest to these fans that they go to a local track, and learn as much as they can about stock car racing, or, perhaps they might feel more comfortable watching OWCCS, IRL, or F1 racing.
"Kyle (Busch) should watch a tape of the race so he could see what he was doing wrong," commented Jimmy Spencer on Speed TV's Victory Lane. I would agree with Jimmy on that one. In addition, The Shrub should watch and study tapes of Mark Martin, so maybe he could learn the proper technique of side drafting. Also, he should wait a few days before he talks to Smoke, as he promised he would, so that Stewart could discuss the problem rationally, maybe even without slapping the kid around a bit.

It seems a shame that this was the last race at Vegas with the track in its current, nearly flat, configuration. Track owner Bruton Smith wants to repave the surface, and in doing so, reconfigure the track to have higher banking and narrower turns, making what he thinks will be better racing. It will make the track faster, but faster doesn't always mean better. One can only look at what happened at last year's Lowe's Motor Speedway, another Smith owned track, after it was "levigated" to make it faster. The fall race was a disaster, resulting in multiple tire problems and crashes from cars going too fast. The race at Las Vegas will be a completely different one from the one we saw Sunday.

Before I close, I have to give some recognition to Robby Gordon, the owner/driver of the #7 car. After a really bad and disappointing season last year, Robby has shown determination and is showing the world that there is still room in the top tier of stock car racing for an owner/driver team. If only because it is a great "underdog" story in the world of corperate racing team ownership, I wish Robby Gordon the best of luck in his endeavor.
So, it's on to Atlanta Motor Speedway, another fast d-shaped oval with a tradition of exciting races. Although I wasn't unhappy to see Jimmy Johnson win, I would really like to see someone else win next week. I know who I want that "someone else" to be.

No comments: