Tuesday, August 29, 2006
The Formula One Turkish Gran Prix was one of the real gems of the season, and it didn't even have to rain to make it good. Fernando Alonso, the reigning champion, and on his way to a third straight world championship, finished second to first time winner Filipe Massa. This is the second race in a row there was a first time Formula One winner--at the Hungarian Gran Prix three weeks ago, Jason Button got his first win.
Massa, the Brazilian driver for Team Ferrari, started from the pole, and managed to hold the lead for the entire 57 laps. There was, at the end of the race, some real racing going on behind him. Alonso, who was ten championship points ahead of Michael Schumacher going into the race, was running in second, while Schumacher was running in third. Kimi Reikkonen, who had won last year's Turkish Gran Prix, was out of the race, tire problems causing him to wreck. Schumacher had been running in second, when there was a foul-up in the Ferrari Pits, as the team had failed to communicate whether Massa or Schmacher was to pit first, and Schmumie had to pass through without pitting, losing over four seconds. He overcame the setback, and with three laps to go was on Alonso's tail. Schumie certainly had the faster car, but Alonso excels at protecting his position. Schumacher fell behind several times after having runs on Alonso which failed, as Alonso successfully blocked. The maneuvering the two cars were performing in the battle for second place was exciting to watch. Several times, through several turns, Schumacher persisted in trying different strategies through the corners, and Alonso persistantly held him off. At the end of the final lap, Schumie made his final charge, and was just passing Alonso at the finish line. Alonso beat him by just one-quarter of a car length.
Still the celeberation for Massa was genuine, and the second and third place finishers made sure to congratulate each other on a race well run. In a demonstration that crossed team boundaries, Alonso and Schumacher lifted the jubulant Massa high upon their shoulders.
Stateside, IRL rookie sensation and third generation driver Marco Andretti became the youngest Indycar driver ever to win an IRL race, as he led the field across the finish line at Sears Point (Sonoma, CA). Proving that the racing blood still runs strong in his famous family, he took the lead three-quarters through the race, and held it, winning on pit strategy and a fuel mileage gamble. I am happy that the IRL has included some road courses in its schedule, and it is certainly good racing.
A first time win in any series for any driver is a momentous time in any driver's life. Congratulations to both Filipe Massa, and Marco Andretti in their first victories in their respective classes.
Monday, August 28, 2006
I hope everybody had a great weekend. Matt Kenseth sure did. If there is any track on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit where a driver may prove his mettle, "it's Bristol, Baby!"
Kenseth didn't exactly dominate the race. Jeff Burton did a pretty good job at that. It was, as expected some real racing. Lots of passing went on, and, for Bristol at least, it was a clean race. But in the end, Matt Kenseth had the car and the cajones to take the checkers.
Some of the drivers who were expected to do well didn't--happy as I was to see Matt and his "Killer Bees" win, I wasn't happy that my favorite driver, Tony Stewart, didn't have a good night. Try as they might, the number 20 crew could not find the all-important set up that is so necessary to do well at Bristol. If you don't have a fast car, you are in for a long night.
For those who are not familiar with the "Killer Bees," that is the nickname for crew chief Robby Reiser and the #17 pit crew for Matt Kenseth, due to the yellow and black uniforms they wear.
Elliott Sadler also had a disappointing night. It wasn't really expected for Sadler, or "Esad," to do well his first few times in the #19 Dodge Charger, but he finished tenth at Michigan, and started out real well in the Bristol race. But the Bristol finger of fate picked on Esad, and he had two run-ins with the wall--accidents not of his doing.
But, to take a look at all the good stuff that went down, there was plenty of excitement and great racing. Dale Earnhardt, Jr, whose first race at Bristol was probably one of the worst experiences of his life, can usually be expected to do well at that track lately, and he did. He led some laps early in the race, much to the delight of the crowd, and he got a much needed third place finish. Jeff "Darth Vader" Gordon, also was the focus of much excitement. With seventeen laps to go, running in fourth place, he was being seriously challenged by Scott Riggs in a very fast #10 Dodge Charger. Now, Riggs is another of my other favorites, and I was yelling, "go get him, Scotty!"
Of course, Gordon wasn't about to let Scotty by, even though the Everham Dodge was clearly the faster car. If the situation had been reversed, Gordon would not have thought twice about spinning Riggs for the win. As the laps ticked down, time and time again Matt tried to pass Gordon, but Jeffy is a master at blocking, and protected his position well. Finally, in the last lap of the race, Scott got inside of Jeff and completed his pass. It wasn't exactly clean, but it was done, and nobody wrecked.
Denny Hamlin was amazing. Never underestimate Denny Hamlin. This is his first year in Nextel Cup cars, and he drove Bristol like an old pro. He was also charging on Gordon in the last turn of the last lap. He didn't make the pass, but he did finish in sixth place, an excellent finish at Bristol for a rookie.
This was Matt Kenseth's second win in a row, his third if you count Friday night's Busch race. He is also the first driver since Dale Earnhardt (Sr) to win two consecutive night races at Bristol.
Matt is on a roll, with another well deserved win, and, although my man Smoke finished 22nd, two laps down, I saw some real racing, and it was good.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
If you missed the Food City 250 at Bristol, Friday night, you missed one of the greatest pass moves in racing history. Near the end of the race, Busch Series points leader Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth were racing for the lead. Harvick was in front, protecting his lead by staying close to the bottom of the track, which, at Bristol, is a good strategy, the bottom being not only where the traction is, but also the shortest route around the turns. Kenseth went up on the high side, and drew up beside Harvick going into the turn. Normally, for Harvick, this would be no problem. Usually, the car on the outside would have to fall back at this point, having to slow for the turn and having a longer distance to traverse. This didn't happen. Kenseth held his line, exhibiting excellent car handling, and passed Harvick on the exit. A few laps later, which included several caution laps, Kenseth won the race. It was clean racing, no bumping or getting lose, and was the ideal pass in any race. But, at Bristol, clean racing is nearly impossible, which makes Kenseth's move extrordinary.
It wasn't as if Kenseth was passing a slower car. Harvick and the #21 team proved, as they often do, that they were the car to beat, as Harvick made his way from the rear of the field to the front not once, but twice--no mean feat, as the traffic between the rear and the front is absolutely terrible at Bristol, as was illustrated by the number of cars spinning and crashing.To get through the melee unscathed is quite an accomplishment.
To those of you who are perpetually complaining about the presence of large numbers of "Buschwhackers" in the races I ask, "When was the last time racing was this good?"
Think about the experience the development drivers are getting racing the top notch drivers. Think about the revenues the Busch series is getting from the increased exposure precipetated by the presence of these drivers. Because of this, Busch series regulars, both owners and drivers, will have better equipment to work with in the future. The level of competition raises the level of experience in the development drivers. The Busch series lifers, such as David Green, Stacy Compton, or Kevin LePage, get to hone their own skills while racing these guys, and the only result in the future is that the racing will be better and the prize and sponsorship money will be greater. Even the independent team owners who felt left out from the benefits of higher quality racing will profit from it in the future, because it makes the series more popular, which means more sponsors for everyone.
Now, I'm really looking forward to tonight's Cup race. It should be absolutely thrilling.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
One could say that Mark Martin is the most underrated driver in NASCAR. We may ask how he could be underrated when he is quite possibly one of the most popular drivers in the sport, has a total NASCAR win record of 85 wins--placing him fifth on the all time wins list--and has peranually been a strong contender for the Cup Championship? The thing is, he has never won a championship, in Trucks, Busch, or Cup Series. Yet, he has won more races than any other currently active driver.
Wednesday night, at Bristol, he won his fourth Craftsman Truck Series race this season. It was only his seventh race in that series this season, so you can see his percentage is pretty high. Martin says that he will be racing full time in CTS next year, that is, if he isn't needed in the Cup Series to drive for his boss and friend Jack Roush. I believe we can look forward to some very good racing in the Truck Series next year.
Bristol is a great track, an oval short track with high banking all around. It is by far the most popular venue on the NASCAR circuit, and, for the Cup Series, nearly impossible to get tickets for. The high banks account for higher than usual speeds for a short track, and the close proximity of other cars ensures that there will be plenty of contact. The key to winning will be driver skill and temper control. Aerodynamics will not be a factor, which doesn't matter, because the cars will be very beat up anyway. There may be some tire issues, but whatever happens in the pits has to be flawless. It is very easy to go one or two laps down at Bristol.
There should, however, be plenty of cautions. The race at Bristol earlier this year had 18 of them. Cautoins mean that the first car not on the lead lap is allowed to gain one lap. This is for good reason; not so long ago when there was a caution flag due to an incident, debris, or TV commercial, the drivers could still race for position to the end of the lap. This was extremely dangerous, as any car stopped on the track could be hit at full speed by cars racing to the start/finish line. That practice was stopped by "freezing the field" at the time of caution, meaning that no one could gain position once the yellow caution flag was out. This also prevented drivers who could race their way back to the lead lap, by passing the car leading the race, from doing so. The free pass, or "lucky dog," came about as compensation.
Still, I don't care much for a race that has more laps under caution than actual racing laps, though it does make pit strategy a factor. Pitting for position, as in refueling or fresh tire change in a different sequence than the rest of the at Bristol is not a good idea anyway, as any advantage would be negated by the next caution. If the drivers are as skilled as they appear to be, and tempers are held under control, there don't necessarily need to be so many cautions.
The driver does, however, have to be agressive enough to take advantage of any situtation. Reflexes have to be even faster than usual. Because anything can happen on any lap at Bristol, the race has the potential of producing a surprise winner. But often, it is as specialized a race as the road races are, and only the drivers with the most adabtable skills are usually consistant here. There are the usual suspects--Stewart, The Gordon, Elliott Sadler, Robby Gordon, Martin, Jeff Burton, either one of the Busch brothers, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick--who can be expected to come out in front of the field. Dale Earnhardt, Jr has also been competitive at Bristol, as has Kasey Kahne. But, there are also other drivers who may "guts" their car through the field, such as Scott Riggs or Dale Jarrett, who could be a surprise winner. Thus, I have a ghood excuse for not picking a winner for this race.
All in all, it should be a good race, a blood and guts Saturday night free for all. I'm sure we'll have a good time watching.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Is it just me, or is the racing this year frakking excellent? The GFS 400 at Michigan started off with a bang. At the start, many of the race drivers drove as if they were in the final lap. It seems as if each week, the competition is even more intense than it was the week before. This is understandable, partly because the cutoff for the championship chase is only four races away, and there are still a few drivers who can make it into the top ten. Only two drivers, Sunday's race winner, Matt Kenseth, and points championship leader, Jimmie "Lucky" Johnson, are mathematically locked into the top ten. Positions three through ten are still up for grabs, and five through ten could all change in the course of one race. So the points race is tight, and that makes the racing exciting.
Another reason is that, with the veterans finally getting a handle on the new aero package--and I'm including the #8 team as one of the veterans--and the rookies and younger racers gaining experience, the competition level is high. Kasey Kahne, for example, has finally gotten a taste of what it is like to be a winner this year. If he could hold the edge he has at the beginning of a race throughout the entire event, he could be unbeatable. Drivers who have recently made changes--or, more accurately, teams that have changed drivers--seem to be justifying the changes. For instance, Elliott Sadler, having switched from the Yates Racing #38 to the Everham Racing #19 team, finished in the top ten in his first race with his new team. Consider this: Sadler has never driven a Dodge in a NASCAR race. The aerodynamics and handling characteristics are different from the Fords he has been in his entire career. You wouldn't have been able to tell that from his performance Sunday.
Jeff Burton's switch from Roush Racing to Childress Racing has also been very lucrative. Childress didn't even have a team that could make the top ten for the championship chase last year or the year before, but just the presence of Burton on the team not only improved the performance of the driver and the #31 team, but Kevin Harvick in the #29 has been inspired and is also pretty much in the top ten. Coattails can be long in NASCAR--by that I mean that, though Harvick doesn't lack talent, he needed inspiration, and Burton's inspiration definitely took hold. Credit should also be given to team owner Richard Childress, who made the decision to step up his program and become more competitive.
Other owners have stepped up their programs successfully. Team Ganassi, the partnership which once featured Sterling Marlin as the lead driver, has long had a policy of blaming the driver, not the equipment. Felix Sebates, the original owner of the team, and still the car owner, held the range until just over a month ago, when Chip Ganassi announced the signing of Formula One driver and living legend Juan Puablo Montoya. As Ganassi stepped in, an immediate improvement in the team could be seen. The highly talented Reid Sorenson has suddenly become a strong contender in several races this year. Though we won't see real results until next season, the level of competition in the Ganassi drivers has increased noticeably.
Michigan International Speedway is one of the great fan-friendly venues on the Cup Series circuit. Three and four-wide racing is enabled all around the track, even in the turns. Side by side, wheel-to-wheel racing always makes the race more exciting, and nobody I know was disappointed by the constant racing action that took place in Sunday's race. We all got what we wanted--Earnhardt, Jr racing Jeff Gordon, who raced Jimmie Johnson, among others. We got to see the #48 team do what they do--that is, overcome an early race set back to finish in the top ten. Tony Stewart and the #20 team also reminded us that what they do is come from a start deep in the field and finish in the top five. We witnessed the genius of Mark Martin, and Matt Kenseth as they did what they do best.
Even though there was attrition early in the race, due to mechanical problems and tire issues, it was entirely a clean race. Threatened retribution did not materialize. The tire issue spoiled any plans to make it a fuel mileage race. Spontaneous changes in pit strategy are another element of racing that makes it exciting. This is the "chess match" element of NASCAR racing, where the crew chief has to outthink the other crew chiefs, while the driver is trying to out-drive the other drivers. Yes, racing is exciting in every aspect.
Even though, on television, we saw more commercials than racing, I have to congratulate the TNT/NBC crew on their excellent camera coverage. For once, we can tell the race we are watching on TV is the same race to which we are listening on the radio. The camera coverage is showing racing everywhere on the track, and a serious attempt is being made to deliver the feeling of the speeds at which the cars are racing.
Racing is good.
Controversy is a big part of any sport, and we NASCAR fans seem to love it in ours. In football, baseball, basketball and other sports, the controversy may be either an officiating call that changes the outcome of the game, or something that happens away from the field, such as a player's personal life, player trades, and player rivalries. In NASCAR, it all happens right there in front of us. Controversy is a large part of what drives us to talk about our sport, it gives us something to get fired up about, aside from the racing itself, and to post articles such as this one.
Take, for example, the closing laps of the Buch Series race at Michigan on Saturday. Dale Earnhardt, Jr wants to win races, but he also wants to live up to the "Good-guy" image his fans have of him. It wasn't as if Earnhardt was going to give up a victory for the sake of a clean image, however, because he is, foremost, a race car driver. At any rate, his act of moving the slower car of Carl Edwards out of the way, would have been just racing to most of us fans. It came, however, as a shock to many Earnhardt, Jr fans, simply for the fact that their perception is that Jr doesn't do that. Controversy! Carl Edwards is also perceived by his fans as one of the "good-guys," and those fans were appalled and outraged. It doesn't matter that their driver has done the same thing in similar circumstances. It doesn't even cross their mind that Edwards more than likely would have done the same thing if the situation were reversed. It doesn't even matter that that is how racing is done in NASCAR. What matters is that their driver was wronged, that Edwards' victory was stolen from him by a driver who is supposed to be another one of the "good-guys." And that was only the beginning, for after the Checkers flew, and Jr was declared the winner, "Cousin" Carl came out of the pits on four flat tires, and expressed his displeasure with Earnhardt, slamming his car into the side panel of Junior's during the cool down lap. That still wasn't enough. Edwards actually walked into Victory Lane, and confronted Junior while he was celebrating his victory. Controversy!
We know that we haven't heard the last of this--NASCAR will definately hand some kind of penalty to Cousin Carl, and conversations will continue as to the severity of the penalty and whether it was fair or not. But that will be anti-climatic compared to what we saw in front of us, and there is also the anticipation that Edwards will retaliate in some future race. This is NASCAR and we love it!
This is the good stuff that not only keeps us going between races, but keeps us going even during the off season. We'll all be talking a long time about this incident, about Kyle "The Schrub" Busch's record number of "Lucky Dog" passes, about Kurt Busch's hard luck penalty at Watkins Glen, who Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon or someone else booted to win the race, and countless other issues that have developed over the season. Controversy is fuel for our love of the sport.
When you wrap it all together--the drama of racing, the drama of rivalries, the individual battles and arguments--it is all about one thing to the average NASCAR fan--"That's racin'!"
Saturday, August 19, 2006
I wanted to do something special for my 100th post on this blog, but, it didn't work out that way. Instead, I'll just pass along some news I found.
JV: NASCAR a Viable Option
Jaques Villeneuve is the son of the late Gills Villeneuve, Canada's most famous Formula One, Indy, and Champ car driver. In this article Jaques says, not only that he thinks NASCAR is his best option, but that NASCAR is not a step down from F1. Very interesting, imformative read.
Just a few more observations before Sunday's race:
Elliott Sadler looks good in red--It's going to be hard getting used to Sadler in the #19 car, for the fans, not for the driver or the team. Sadler is a championship level driver, and early indications show that all he needed was good equipment. He qualified second for the race in a car that had had lackluster performence while being driven by Jeremy Mayfield. Although qualifying doesn't show how the car will do in a race, the fresh start for the team does a lot to improve attitude. Mayfield isn't a bad driver--and he will be in a car sooner than later--but he seemed to be stagnating with Everham, and perhaps he, too needs a fresh start.
The new Candyman. Don't expect immediate results from David Gilliland in the #38 car. He has proven that he can race with the big boys, but he does not have the experience in the heavier, more powerful Cup cars to produce immediate results. Gilliland is an investment in the future for Robert Yates Racing, and arguably a wise investment. The team needs to rebuild, and rebuilding from the ground up with all new assets may be all the team needs.
Friday, August 18, 2006
I haven't done an update on the quirky, freaky, geeky reality program "Who Wants To Be A Superhero," so I will do one now, and somehow tie it in to this week's race at MIS (Michigan International Speedway).
Last week, my favorite, "Monkey Woman," got eliminated, because she got tripped up and tricked into admitting that she was a professional actress, which didn't sit well with Stan Lee, especially since she had misrepresented herself to join the competition. Honesty is an important quality in a superhero. On the same program, Tyviculus, a character based on the Roman Gladiator, was eliminated, for just not being honest with himself. Cell Phone Girl also got eliminated somewhere along the line, just because she didn't have the guts to compete in the challenges. That was all for the better, because I just couldn't see myself, or anyone for that matter, buying a comic book based on Cell Phone Girl.
So, going into this week, we are left with Major Victory, Creature, Lemuria, Fat Mama, and Feedback. Honest, I'm not making this up; this is an actual TV show. These five are all very down to earth, but as the show has progressed, so have their characters, which are probably what Stan the Man is looking for, anyway. And, we have gotten to know them better. Major Victory, a man who apparently had early mid-life crises, had abandoned his wife and daughter to become a male exotic dancer. He has now given up that life also, and is trying to get back to "normal" life. His participation in this competition is to help him regain some self-esteem. He was actually one of my early favorites, because he played the role of superhero so well from the very first installment, and is a lot of fun to watch as he stays in character through the challenges. Creature, whose character is a defender of nature, is a real life rainbow child, who wanted to create a different kind of superhero, one who is a real hippy chick. Naturally, she played her role very naturally. Unfortunately, by means of one of The Dark Enforcer's entrapment videos, she was exposed as being somewhat of a hypocrite, because she could not be a defender of nature and a litterbug at the same time. She was the next to be eliminated, but she took the elimination graciously, having served the purpose of creating the character she wanted to be. Lemuria, a character I never really got, is an extremely attractive woman, a realtor in "real" life, managed to make it this far without doing or being anything spectacular, aside from being one hell of an eyeful. Still, she had developed a bonding with the others, another quality Stan Lee was looking for, yet she had to be eliminated, because, try as she might, she just wasn't good at completing most of the challenges.
None of the challenges were easy but this challenge was particularly difficult. The contestants had to interact in one way or another with an incarcerated convict. These convicts may have been real, or they may have been actors, but, if so, they were very imposing figures. One was a large, very angry woman, and a very large, very angry man. They were quite convincingly pissed off. They were pissed off because of the TV cameras, pissed off because they were on work detail, pissed off because they were in manacles, and pissed off because they had to deal with these funny looking people in funny looking costumes. If they were in fact actors, they were very good at it.
So, poor, sweet Lemuria had the challenge of sitting on the large angry woman's lap. Not once, but three different times. The woman didn't even want to talk to her, to be near her, and when Lemuria tried to approach her, the woman shoved her violently away, and the guard had to step in. For Lemuria, the challenge was impossible. Her draw for the challenge was just plain bad luck.
I've gotten this far and I haven't mentioned racing yet, so to make a long story short, Major Victory, who had to rub the very large angry man's shoulders three times, Fat Mama, who had to brush the hair out of the large angry woman's eyes three times, and Feedback, who had to hug the large angry man three times, all demonstrated the right kind of compassion to enable them to complete their challenges.
Feedback's encounter was by far the most compelling and emotional, for he managed to learn from the man that he had lost his father at an early age. Feedback, a radio personality by trade, revealed that his father, too, had been killed when he was young. So well did he connect with the convict, that he convinced the guard to take off the man's handcuffs, which is all the man really wanted. Of course, they hugged.
My money is now on Feedback, for what it's worth, because I am a sucker for compassion. I am, quite possibly, the last of the SNAGs*.
*SNAG is an 80's acronym for Sensitive New Age Guy.
Okay, here comes the segue:
Unlike most reality shows, where the contestants get more at each others throats as the competition nears the end, the final three contestants in "Who Wants To Be A Superhero" draw closer together, strengthening comradery and partnership. Because of the type of track MIS is, partnership and teamwork are what it will take to be a winner in Sunday's race. It takes driver's skill, because the two-mile oval has long straight-aways and wide, flat turns, which means car control, throttle control, and some brake control are all-important. This also means that the crew chief is going to be busy, and pit strategy is every bit as important as driver skill.
Ryan Newman and his crew chief, Matt Borland, are a proven team at balancing these skills. In fact, if it comes down to fuel mileage, they are probably the masters at tracks like Michigan. Actually, there is only one other track like Michigan, and that's the California Speedway in Fontana, CA--it seems easier for me to mention this, than it is to polish my writing skills.
Anyway, luck seems to be more important in racing this year than I can remember in recent years, and if anyone is due a change of luck, it is the number 12 team of Newman and Borland.
A team which may not be due a change of luck, but certainly needs one is the number 16 team of Greg Biffle and Doug Richert. Even if you don't know much about racing, you probably know these guys from the very entertaining Subway Restaurant commercials in which they are featured. They are very much as likeable as the three finalists in "Who Wants To Be A Superhero." But, if likeability isn't enough to get them a good finish at MIS, Richert's experience and Biffle's skill are. Richert may not be the fuel mileage expert that Borland is, but Biffle is definitely a very good fuel mileage driver. Still, his track record at Michigan could be better.
Kurt Busch is on a tear. He is likely out of the race for the top ten in points, but, like him or not, it won't matter. He still likes to win races, and he is a highly skilled driver. We can only hope that, if he does win, he comes up with some celebration other than the snow angel. I'm drawing a blank on the name of the crew chief on the number 2 car, and am too lazy to look it up.
I do know who Mike Ford is, however. He is the crew chief for Denny Hamlin, this year's Wonder Rookie, and the number 11 team. Ford has the experience and the know-how to do exactly what is right at MIS. Lack of experience will not prevent Hamlin from doing exactly what is right with the car. He is that damn good, and it would be no surprise if he actually won on Sunday.
The top two Childress Racing teams, Kevin Harvick's number 29, and Jeff Burton's number 31, have been very consistent so far this season, and really don't need a top ten finish Sunday to stay in the top ten in points, but my money says both will finish the race very well. Harvick is on a high, coming off of his victory at Watkins Glen last week, and he could very well carry that momentum to a victory this Sunday.
The number 17 team of Matt Kenseth and Robby Reiser is one of the tightest in NASCAR Cup racing. Kenseth is another one of the very consistent drivers, and is also one of the top three when it comes to skill. Locked into the top ten finalists, for all practical purposes, he probably feels he is due a win, and is very likely to get one Sunday.
Another top ten team which is legendarily tight is the number 20 team of Tony Stewart and Greg Zippadelli. Of course this is the tem I will be rooting for to win Sunday, but, if they don't, I wouldn't be unhappy with a second place finish. Stewart sometimes gets frustrated at Michigan, though, and his frustration is often a factor. I want to agree with him though, that he has already red-lined his frustration, a few weeks ago when his frustration at the Brickyard got Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer very angry at him. Hopefully, because he took full responsibility for wrecking the two of them, they won't pick this race to retaliate.
I would like to mention the team of Juniors, as in Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Tony Eury, Jr in the number 8 car. They need to stay in the top ten, and will need to finish very close to the front to do so. Earnhardt has had problems with the aerodynamics of the cars over the last two seasons, and aerodynamics is very important at Michigan. It will take Eury's cleverness in pit strategy, and a lot of brute determination on Earnhardt's part to get a good finish Sunday.
I really hope that all the teams I mentioned finish better than the points leading number 48 team of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Not because I don't like the team, because I do. But they already lead in points, and a finish outside of the top ten could give someone else a chance to get into the top ten.
Well, this has been a very long post, so now I will say, mute the TV, tune the radio to PRN/MRN and enjoy the race.
Monday, August 14, 2006
First, a correction. When I said that The Glen only had nine turns, I failed to count the inner loop, or "bus stop," which means in consensus reality that there are eleven turns. I have to remember that my personal reality is often removed from consensus reality.
That being said, in my personal reality, there has been some absolutely fantastic racing this weekend. Beginning with the Rolex Grand Am race at The Glen, the intensity was incredible. The Rolex race, a two hour "sprint" race featured only the Daytona Prototypes (DP's), and from the start, it looked like these guys were mad at each other. Grand Am is often the closest to NASCAR when it comes to contact between cars, and there was plenty of contact during the race. The problem is, much more fatal damage is done to the sports cars by contact than is done to the much heavier stock cars. It was an intense race, all the way to the finish, which was won by Scott Pruitt just ahead of a very hard charging Max Angelelli.
Then came the Busch race at the Glen. I wasn't home when the race started, but I was home in time to catch one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history. Neither Kurt Busch nor Robby Gordon had anything to lose, as neither is in the Busch points race, and only the win to gain. Both drivers are stubbornly determined to accomplish their goals, what you might call all-or- nothing drivers. They showed it in the last lap, going through the bus stop, when Gordon tried make good an opportunity to take the lead. Contact ensued several times as the cars banged side panels again and again. Both cars went into the grass, but in an excellent display of car control, neither car crashed, and Kurt Busch prevailed. That was racin'. Kurt has to come up with something other than the "snow angels" victory celebration though. That is really lame.
Then there was that CTS race at Nashville. The Craftsman Truck Series is probably the closest of the "upper tier" NASCAR divisions to the Saturday night circle burners, because the action is always intense. There is normally much more passing in the truck races, because blocking is not an option. Sure, the drivers try to block, but if the overtaking truck is faster, the blocker usually ends up in a spin, at least. With the championship points race tightening up, the racing is even more intense. Witness what happened on the last lap. Mike Skinner was winning, but championship points leader Todd "Onion" Bodine was moving up fast. Skinner tried to block him, but Bodine moved right through him. Obviously incensed, Skinner forgot that he was trying to win the race and retaliated against Bodine. While those two trucks were clashing, Johnny "Shemp" Benson shot up from fourth to first and won the race. This is important to race fans--Benson's racing style is very similar to that of Mark Martin's, in that he will not spin a competitor to win a race, but if given an opening, he will take it before anyone else can react. So congratulations to Johnny Benson, a personal favorite, on his fourth win in the CTS this season.
The real treat on Saturday was the airing of the Knoxville Nationals. This is a very intense form of racing and a must see for true speed junkies. I won't go into it here--I posted a separate article on Knoxville.
So we come to the weekend's feature, the NASCAR Cup race at Watkins Glen. It did not disappoint me. From the very first of the race, the guys were racing hard, perharps too hard for the beginning of a race where saving the brakes and transmissions are very important. Nonetheless, the start was wild, with Kasey Kahne trying to beat polesitter Kurt Busch through the first turn. Again, as in the Busch race, both drivers demonstrated excellent car control and the race continued.
As can be expected in a road-race, especially one which starts with so much intensity, mechanical attrition was high. Many of the drivers were racing as if it was the last ten laps, not the first ten laps, and Terry Labonte, in the #96 car, and Kyle Busch, in the #5 car, both had suspension and gear failures which put them in the garage for repairs.
We got to see some of the best of the best race against each other wheel to wheel. Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon and everyone--all the kind of match ups we love to see. Most notable were Elliott Sadler and Ryan Newman, both of whom had troubles early in the race and had very respectable finishes. There could have been a better top four vying for the win in the closing laps of the race, but not much better. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Robby Gordon, a surprising Jamie McMurray, a very strong mix of competitors who raced each other hard and clean. McMurray is especially notable, because he is a driver who has been stuggling to prove his worth, and, with a third place finish in both the Busch series and the Cup series at the Glen, he showed that he could race with the best. To see him hold off Robby Gordon the way he did was very impressive.
Stewart and Harvick made the finishing laps exciting. Nobody goes into the turns harder than Smoke, and Happy Harvick knew that, so he had to figure a different tact. He did, realizing that he had a faster car and could beat Stewart out of the turns. It was an exciting finish and a well deserved win.
I wouldn't blame Kurt Busch's fans--the two or three that exist outside of Busch's team and family--for being angry. The penalty did seem harsh, considering that it put one of the strongest cars in the race back in traffic, where things did not bode well. But, if NASCAR officials had made an exception to the closed pit lane rule, that wouldn't have been fair either, for someone else would eventually take advantage of that. The warning system needs to be fixed, perhaps with radio warnings by NASCAR officials, because if the #2 team had known that pit road had closed, Busch could have passed through without pitting and avoided the penalty. It is hard to place blame on this incident--someone on the team, the crew chief or the spotter, for instance, could have realized that if there was a caution that pit road was probably closed, and waved Kurt off of the pit stop, thus avoiding the penalty. But, in the heat of battle, while trying to repair damage, that is not what is on the minds of the crew. Every sports fan knows, in every sport that the officiating is as much a part of the outcome of any event as the players themselves, so, in the end, this could be considered just another racing incident.
I used to be a regular patron of Rocky Mountain Raceway Park, near Boulder, Co, where one could see Midgets, Modifieds, Late Models, Sprint Cars, Winged Sprints, and anything else that races on dirt. Unfortunately, RMRP was closed last year, due to "moving in next to the airport" mentality. The new neighbors couldn't stand the noise, so the local government shut it down. I have been going through withdrawal ever since.
The Knoxville Nationals is the Superbowl of sprint car racing, the Superbowl being the Daytona 500 of professional football. For those who aren't familiar with the winged sprint cars, these are 850 hp engines in an 1100 pound car. Needless to say, with that great a power to weight ratio, these cars are fast. Combine that speed with a 1/2 mile dirt track and a lot of downforce, and you have real racing. I have mentioned before on this blog that there should be some kind of national television coverage, and those who watched the Nationals Saturday night on Speed know why. It is very entertaining and exciting racing. These cars are nearly constantly in a slide as they tear around the short track. It is also dangerous--first impressions will tell you "these guys are crazy."
James King, a second generation winged sprint racer and an up and a rising star, lost his life due to head injuries suffered in an accident during the Wednesday night preliminaries. It is a tragedy whenever one of our heroic racers die, even with the safety technology being as advanced as it is. Most of us realize that racing is a dangerous sport on any level--that is part of the thrill of racing--but none of us want to see fatalities. For many of us, the thrill is to see the drivers get out of a tough situation, and avoid a crash. Every death or debilitating injury, such as those suffered by Christiano Dematta, Ernie Irvin, or Jerry Nedeau, is a tremendous loss to the entire sport.
Every driver knows that his or her life is on the line whenever he or she is on the track. It is not a thought foremost in the mind, but one that is relegated deep in the subconscious. But every racecar driver has a strong personal initiative to win, so taking chances is the foremost element in racing.
Thus we see the extremely high level of emotions in racing, resulting in fist fights and on-track retaliation. Perhaps King's death was formost in the minds of the Knoxville Nationals participants as the opportunities to qualify for the final "A" main dwindled. During the "C" main, from which only the top two finishers would advance, Brian Brown, Danny "The Dude" Lasoski's nephew, spun Lasoski while he was trying to pass him. Keep in mind that these cars are going 140 plus miles per hour around a half mile track, and are very light open wheels, so any contact is extremely dangerous. Lasoski, skilled driver that he is, stayed in the race, however, and retaliated against his nephew during the caution. After the race, tempers among the family members exploded. George Lasoski, Danny's father and Brian Brown's grandfather, got into a shouting and shoving match with his son, in a tussle that very nearly came to blows. Thus was the level of intensity that prevailed Saturday night.
Still, the racing was extrordinary. There is nothing like watching these cars race, with lap times of less than eight seconds, and every racer on the move. So high is the intensity that thirty laps can seem like three-hundred. It is the best open wheel racing you could ever see, or, if not the best technical racing, at least the most exciting and entertaining. If you haven't seen a winged sprints race, treat yourself to one. Support your local dirt track, because, believe me, you will miss it when it's gone.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
I am almost sad, this week, for Watkins Glen, home of my very very first Grateful Dead concert, is also the last of the road course races this season. Jerry Garcia, more than a guitarist and singer to the Dead, passed away 11 years ago on August 9. His music, and the joy of his music will always be with me.
This weekend’s racing at The Glen also mark the end of an era, because the next road course race, at Sears Point (Sonoma, CA), will feature the “Car of Tomorrow,” a cross between the Grand Am Rolex DP cars and the Craftsman Truck Series trucks. That’s right, folks, this will be the last road-course race for the cars we and the older drivers are finally getting used to. Well, it’s not all that bad--the Busch Series cars will remain as they are.
I like NASCAR road racing so much, I really wish there were more than two. It would be alright to see a race in the chase at the Daytona road course, or maybe Road Atlanta, but that would mean they would have to pull a location off the schedule, and that would piss a lot of people off. Still, they could rotate the last ten “chase” races every other year--how’s that for a proposition? One year, for instance, replace Talledega with a road race, then the next year go back to Talledega and replace Louden, and so on.
I could be on to something here. With all the tracks that ISC is trying to build, with talk of going to Canada, Mexico, and maybe even Europe, with no one seriously thinking about pulling any of Bruton Smith’s tracks off the schedule, NASCAR will soon find itself having to choose between two options to be able to satisfy all the venues. The first option, to increase the number of races during the season, is out of the question. Even though, up to 1971, there were fifty races scheduled in a season, only Richard Petty and a very few others ran in every race. Now with the costs in both time and money to the teams in drivers, it would be impractical to make a longer season--no matter how badly we want it to be year round. The other option would be to split the Cup series into two divisions, which is the idea that's been thrown about for a few years. This is not a good idea for many reasons, among which is that the fans want to see all the top stars race against each other The quality of the racing would deteriorate, because the difference in experience between the top veteran drivers and the field fillers would be so great that there would be very little racing. The problems for sponsors and sponsorship would be pretty obvious. So, although there would be more locations at which to see Cup Series races, and more races in all, it really wouldn't be the same.
My proposal represents a third option, one which I haven't heard anyone else suggest. Some of the tracks that are doubled could give up one of their races--the ones that have the lower attendence figures--and replace it every other year with a venue which doesn't currently have a Cup race. For example, one year, there could be a race at the Milwuakee Mile, rather than the first race at Dover. Maybe one of the races at TMS could be replaced with a race at Kentucky. But make it a rotating schedule, changing every other year.
Speaking of changes, we old time NASCAR fans are notoriously resistant to change. Any change in rules or racecar specs, and we whine like The Gordon, myself included, and have to be dragged kicking and screaming into acceptance. However, being a fan of all kinds of racing--a true speed addict, if you will--it doesn't matter to me if there are Italians, Brazilians, Canadians, or Columbians in NASCAR. This form of racing will remain uniquely American, and the American drivers will remain prevailant, if only because of the unique stock car racing experience. What I'm saying is this--NASCAR, soley because of its nature, and the type of racing it is, will not become like Champ Car, an American open wheel series which features only one American. The international diversity in NASCAR is actually good for the sport and for the fans. We can see how our drivers stack up, face to face, against internationally reknowned drivers. I say "NASCAR, bring 'em in."
By the same token, Toyota is just as much an American company as Daimler Chrysler. More Toyotas are built by Americans than are Fords. Ford will soon be building the majority of their cars in Mexico and Canada, with parts made in Japan. I say bring them in.
Well, I should get around to the preview. I could just point the way to Larry Mcreynolds' or Clance's previews which say pretty much the same things I would say. Tony Stewart, The Gordon, Robby Gordon, Boris Said, and Scott Pruitt are the usual suspects one would expect to see running up front in a Cup Series road-race. Kurt Busch, in the #2 car, is definitely getting the hang of turning right. Kevin Harvick has always done well at Watkins Glen, and we hope to see him up front for most of the race. Ron Fellows, my favorite Canadian, is another road course specialist who should be watched. And, I can't say this enough, never underestimate Denny Hamlin.
Watkins Glen is a faster track than Sears Point, with only eight turns compared to Sonoma's eleven. There is usually more wheel to wheel racing at The Glen, and the race is always exciting. There will be some beatin' and bangin' and there will be some flying tempers.
I can't get enough of it. Tune in your radio to MRN or PRN, mute the TV, and enjoy!
Monday, August 07, 2006
First things first. Speaking of Superheroes, racing great Benny Parsons, having been diagnosed with lung cancer--a type of which has a 20% survival rate--showed up for his commentator job at NBC looking and sounding good. I am backing Benny 100% and pulling for him with everything I have, prayers, faith, spirit--anything it takes to help him pull through and beat the odds.
Also, I hope we are all pulling for Bobby Hamilton, who is in the midst of radiation and chemo therapy, and helping us feel positive about his recovery from head and neck cancer by showing up at the track to get back into whatever he is able to do concerning racing. Attitude is 99% of recovery, and Hamilton, another true Superhero, has an excellent attitude.
Congratulations to Jeff Burton on his--correct me if I'm wrong--third pole this season. I have a lot of faith in this man, for he has really given RCR, including his teammates, a step up.
I like IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park)--I refuse to call it O'RP, even if it sounds Irish--and the Busch and Truck races there are always exciting there. The CTS races are normally pretty exciting anyway, but Friday night's race was exceptional. It's a .667-mile oval, and the racing there is reminiscent of the Fair Grounds races of my childhood, except with higher-powered cars. I didn’t matter to me who won, in the end, for both the Busch and the Truck series races were outstanding. I love short track racing, but IRP is really cool.
The Brickyard (Allstate) 400 is another of the best races on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit. As I write this, there are less than fifty laps to go in what has been a very good race. But, I have to say it; I'm kinda hoping that Jimmie Johnson doesn't win this one. Matt Kenseth, one of my favorite drivers, and probably the most underrated driver in the field, has been leading, and Igor just passed him. Still, thirty laps is a long way at the big, 2.5-mile squarval. Johnson's final pit stop, under green with 34 laps to go, was flawless, though, and after the green flag pit stops, he continued to lead by 2 seconds. The tension is high. "Come on," I scream. "Somebody catch that man!"
It's what Jimmie Johnson does. With the luck he has, you just can't put a jinx on him. When he has problems early in the race, he just comes back stronger at the finish. You have to admire that.
Earlier in the race Johnson had tire rub problems and fell back in the field. Chad Knaus, his crew chief is a genius, and they fixed the car during the race, and there he is going for his first Indy win.
I feel so sad for Elliott Sadler. This poor guy just can't get a break, unless it's his car that breaks. Very early in the race, that's what happened, and Elliott, one of the best of the best, finishes last. Damn, I hope he gets a better ride next year.
My favorite Frank Zappa look-a-like, Boris Said, also had some bad luck in the first part of the race, and lost the rear end of the car. It was one of those hard crashes where you are just happy to see the driver walk away. Said can be a good driver--he's doing well with a single car team when he can qualify, and with some more experience as an oval driver, he could do well in the future.
I also feel bad for Jeremy Mayfield, another good driver who can't seem to buy good luck. He hasn't officially announced that he is leaving Everham, but it is pretty much a consensus that he will. I hope he gets a better ride next year, too.
Kasey Kahne looked like he could be a winner. He matched Jeff Burton, who led the most laps, pretty well through most of the race. He had a fast car, and the talent, but toward the end, some bad adjustments and bad luck in the pits set him back. On the last lap, he crashed, and did not even finish. It was a hard hit, head on to the wall, and we held our breaths as we waited for Kahne to get out of his car and walk away, which he did. Too bad for the cute little guy--who deserves an Indy win--that he didn't finish.
I would rather have seen Matt Kenseth win, but it's The Brickyard, and whoever wins, deserves it.
The Gordon drove a car with a paint scheme that matches what I think his image makeover should be. Black with a yellow splash on the hood. All he needs is, at least, a black cape, and maybe some shiny black over-the-calf boots. He also needs some better luck, if he is to make the top ten by the cut-off, five races away, for he had some bad mechanical problems throughout the race. I might actually like him better if he goes for the out and out bad guy image.
I was cheering for Dale Earnhardt, Jr, there near the end of the race, even though I knew he was going to lose the lead on old tires, because almost everyone else had a faster car. Still, he pulled out a sixth place finish, which is very good considering his up and down season.
So Jimmie Johnson takes the victory, and I am actually happy for him. Damn! The beer throwers have made it into the Hallowed Halls of the Brickyard. That's sacrilege. Not only is it bad sportsmanship, but also they are throwing The Sacrament on the ground, and profaning a Shrine. They should be banned. Forever. We don't need race fans like that. Simply booing would be just fine.
It's actually cool how Jimmie "Igor" Johnson reacted to the beer throwers. He stopped the car on his victory lap, dropped the checker flag, and got out of the car to retrieve it. It was almost as if he was daring the Infidels to hit him. I like that attitude.
All the other drivers and teams are happy to congratulate Johnson--Tony Stewart's crew even went up to Johnson's to do so, with Zippy Zippadelli, Smoke's crew chief, telling him this was a "special day." The Brickyard is simply awesome.
Even though ninth place in the point’s standings is still a precarious position, I have no doubts that Smoke will make the cut. Next week is Watkins Glenn, a road course, and I will not risk jinxing Stewart by saying anything else here.
I will now go to the "pornolizer" and use it to reread this post and have a good laugh.
"Go, Monkey Woman, Go!"
How to make Formula 1 racing more exciting:
1. Let it Rain
2. Have Kimi Raikonnen lead a few laps
3. Have a first time winner
Formula 1 uses rain tyres (tires are for NASCAR and tyres are for open wheel) and the race goes on during rain, unless the track is flooded, of course. It changes the racing drastically, for the cars are going a little slower and subsequently race better, as in more passing. As the weather and track conditions change, so does pit strategy, as the teams switch between rain, intermediate, and dry condition tyres. The handling characteristics of the cars change depending on which tyres they are using.
It was wet most of the time at the Grand Prix of Hungary this weekend, and it was actually some exciting racing as Formula 1 goes. There was more racing than usual. It may not actually be better racing, because the drivers make a lot of mistakes when they have to pass each other, but it was certainly more exciting.
I don't understand why Kimi Raikonnen hasn't won a championship. He is as good a driver, if not better than, seven time F1 champion Michael Schumacher or current champion Fernando Alonso. Maybe its the kind of luck he has. Like in this race, after leading most of the seventy laps, his suspension broke, with only seventeen laps to go. It always seems to happen--Raikonnen leads the race, but something happens to the car. I hope Dr Z doesn't read this, but could it be the mechanics of the car? Anyway, whenever Kimi leads a race, the racing behind him seems more intense.
Kimi wasn't the only driver to have mechanical problems. F1 whiz kid Fernando Alonso lost a wheel toward the end of the race, and didn't finish. With one lap left in the race, Michael Schumacher experienced instant karma for cutting through a turn, twice, when his steering mechanism broke, while he was running in third place. In the end, the young Englishman, Jenson Button took the victory. It was special--he had started in fourteenth place, and the odd sequence of events during the race brought him to the front. He had a very fast car, and took his career first F1 victory at the Hungaroring circuit.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Sandmonkey, with the help of one of his constituents, has turned his readers on to this very interesting site. The Pornolizer will turn any site into adult material. If you don't mind foul language, check it out. It is done in a separate windo, and does not affect the actual site. Try it on your own site, it's hilarious.
I don't watch many "reality" shows, except for racing and the Barrett-Jackson auctions, but the Sci-Fi geek in me burst out of the closet when I started watching Stan Lee's "Who Wants To Be A Superhero" on the Sci Fi Channel. The eleven contestants on the show are genuine freaks--grown men and women with imaginary "super powers," in home made costumes and trying to stay in character as they negotiate the challenges. The prize for the winner is a new Marvel Comics series and a Sci Fi original movie based on his or her character. That's it; no million dollars, no new car, no dream vacation. Fascinating stuff.
The show has its bogus moments--one contestant, the "Iron Enforcer," not only didn't fit in with the others, but he just seemed too stereotypical. You see his type everywhere, the bar bouncer who is pumped full of steroids and his own ego, the bullshit war stories, the Hulk Hogan tone of voice, and, basically, a Soldier of Fortune cover boy. My suspisions were confirmed when he obviously took a dive in the second challenge, was susequently eliminated from the competition, and then enlisted by Stan Lee as a supervillian.
The aforementioned second challenge provided enough drama to get me hooked on the show. The challenge was to climb over a fence, cross a yard patrolled by two vicious attack dogs, and reach the back door of the house. Of course, the contestants were provided with full dog armor to keep them from getting too badly hurt, and were told to give the command "uncle" if the dogs became more than the contestant could handle. Two men, "Major Victory" and "Feedback," literally carried or dragged the dogs to the back door in twenty-five seconds or less. The rest of the contestents, except for one woman, called "uncle" after twenty-five seconds or less. "Monkey Woman" was determined not to fail. As soon as she entered the yard, the two dogs hit her simultaneously, and she was knocked down so brutally it jarred my bones, just watching it. Mauled, dragged, stretched out, and literally tossed around by the dogs, Monkey Woman refused to call "uncle."After nearly ten minutes of truly heroic struggle, she finally made it to the back door of the house. To witness such fortitude and courage was truly awesome.
The NASCAR Nextel Cup is all about heroism. (Admit it--you were waiting for this segue, weren't you?) One fan's superhero is another fan's supervillian, but all of the drivers are heros of one sort or another. Every driver has the ambition, courage, and fortitude of Monkey Woman to win the race, the main goal being the thrill of winning. The prize money is secondary, if even important at all to the drivers. This weekend's race, The Brickyard 400--I won't call it by the sponser's name, just out of respect for tradition--takes place at a venue of superheroic proportions; the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Legends are made at IMS. The drama is provided by the Nextel Cup Championship structure--only the top ten drivers in points can compete for the championship in the last ten races of the season--and there are only six races left before the cut off.
Jeff Gordon--a superhero to many fans and a supervillian to just as many--is already a legend. arguably one of the greatest race car drivers of all time. If he were to win the Brickyard, the legend would grow, for he would tie the Great Dale Earnhardt in total Cup Series wins at 76 victories, and tie the phenominal Formula One driver, Michael Schumacher, for the record 5 wins in a single series at IMS. A win by Gordon will be greeted with as many cheers as boos, and Jeff considers the boos a compliment. In my opinion, he should go for the supervillian image with all his gusto. He should change his name to "The Gordon." I would like to see him wearing a black cape and a black helmet and visor. I would like to see him complete the image by flipping off the fans who boo him. But NASCAR really doesn't need that kind of hype, so it is only a vision I have in my twisted mind.
Jimmie Johnson, the current points leader in the Cup Series, has not yet won a Brickyard. He certainly has the team and the talent to do so. Time and time again, he has come back from seemingly insurmountable odds to win races, or finish in the top five. He is always there. Still, as The Gordon's "Igor," he also fits into the supervillian category as much as he fits the superhero category. Johnson deserves a championship, and he will probably get one, possibly this year, but The Brickyard is a difficult race. It is not his kind of track, and, though he will have a top ten finish, I still don't see him winning.
Last year's Brickyard winner, and the Nextel Cup reigning champion is Tony "Smoke" Stewart, my personal superhero. Of course he is seen as a supervillian to many, but not at IMS, which is his home track. Last year's win was one of the greatest emotional moments in sports history, as Smoke realized his boyhood dream of winning at IMS, to the unanimous acclaim of over two-hundred thousand fans present at the event. Infamous for his on track temper, he hit what he refers to as "the red line" at Pocono, an angry reaction causing him to "ruin the day for two drivers," in his own words. In true superhero fashion, he not only apologized to the two drivers, but took the entire responsibility for the wreck. His temper has been his major adversary thoughout his career, but, with the intensity and determination of Monkey Woman, he can beat it. He is another driver who can be considered among the greatest, and a repeat win at the Brickyard this year is very likely.
Kasey Kahne, who finished the Brickyard second last year in a tight race with Smoke, is absolutely seen as The Knight In Shining Armor by many race fans. There is nothing villianous about the cute little guy, and he is another driver who would achieve unanimous acclaim from the fans if he were to win. He is the winningest driver so far this year, with four victories. There is no doubt that he has the fortitude it takes, and the talent, for he is driving a car that has been considered an underdog in many races, especially on the long tracks like IMS.
His partner, Scott Riggs is an underdog, but he can be very surprising. Missing the Daytona 500 due to poor qualifying time, he has refused to give up, and has had a few top ten finishes this season. He had some good practice times Friday, and should be considered a contender. It would be a surprising win, but it would begin the making of another Legend.
Speaking of Legends, stamina, endurance, and fortitude, there is Mark Martin, who has never had a win at IMS. In spite of his retirement last year, he is still racing full time in the Cup series. Many, many fans see Martin as a superhero, and he deserves the reputation. It is really fun and exciting to watch him race other drivers door to door, and I can truly imagine the reaction of the crowd if he were to take the Checkers. If this is really his last full time season in Cup, a Brickyard victory would be a good thing.
And there's the Rookie Wonder, Denny Hamlin. Already legendary in his first year in the Nextel Cup Series, with two wins and many top ten finishes, The Kid is a natural superhero. He is driving the same car in which he one the two races at Pocono this season, and that is one great steed to ride. His crew chief, Mike Ford is an experienced winner at IMS, so don't be surprised if Rookie Wonder puts another notch in his belt.
The biggest surprise could be Ken Schrader, who has been retired longer than Mark Martin, but is still driving full time in Cup. He could be considered the Master Mentor, although his winning record has been sparse lately. He procured Ernie Irvan's first sponsor in NASCAR Cup back in 1992, which happened to be Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet. And more recently, he encouraged Carl Edwards to promote himself to the NASCAR team owners. The venerable Schrader lives to race--he knows nothing except racing. A win for him, at the legendary brickyard, in the legendary Wood Brothers Racing's legendary #21 car, would be truly legendary.
Well, it's shaping up to be a super weekend, and it should be great fun watching the Brickyard 400. Good luck to all the fans and their favorite superhero drivers.
And, oh yeah, Go Monkey Woman, Go!
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Without a Nextel Cup race, last weekend, I had to find some other things to write about. Yes, there was still plenty of racing, and I enjoyed watching it, but I do enjoy other forms of entertainment as well.
There was once, on Fox, an excellent science fiction program called Firefly. The story was unique, and had a loyal fan base. Produced by Jos Whedon, of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame, the character developement was captivating, the story lines enrapting, and the show had a fairly large, and very loyal, fan base. Unfortunately, because the show's Friday night ratings were not quite up to what Fox expected, and because Whedon's style takes time to develop the action, Fox pulled the plug, in a move which many of us felt was premature.
Recently, I checked out from the library a DVD set of Firefly: The Complete Series, as well as the companion movie, Serenity. I'm still hooked on the show, and it's unrequited love.
It's a Western, it's Science Fiction, it's two genres in one. There is an elaborate socio-political structure in the future world of Dragonfly that is presented by subtle implication. The Chinese have taken over the world and many of its extraterrestial colonies. Everyone speaks Manchuran as fluently as they speak English, and the Feds are seen as a benevolent, yet oppressive governmet. While the core worlds of the Federal Union have all the futuristic technologies one would expect, the fringe worlds, those which the Feds have ignored, are cut off from that technology and live in the 19th century. Thus the dual genre.
The people of the fringe worlds depend on starfaring privateers like Malcom Reynolds. Reynolds, or "Mal," as he is called by his friends and crew, for vital supplies and trade. Reynolds wsas a soldier in the resistance movement, fighting for freedom from the Feds. (As a Libertarian, I find this theme very enticing) After the defeat of the resistance, Mal procures a "Firefly" class cargo spaceship and goes into business for himself. He gathers a crew, consisting of his second in command from his resistance unit, her husband, a rogue outlaw from the Fringe, a "Shepherd," or pastor, a professional Companion, a fugitive doctor who rescued his sister from the sadistic experamental phsyc labs of the Feds, that sister, and a girl-next-door. The interaction of Mal and his crew of misfits is what the show is all about.
Mal is a leader who likes to run a tight ship, no easy task considering the outcast nature of his crew. He is tough, but compassionate; selfish, yet humanitarian. In one episode, commisioned by a sadistic black marketeer who tortures those who fail him, Mal and his crew heist a train cargo, from under the noses of a Federal platoon which is on board the train. When the crew discovers that the stolen goods are much needed medication for the world they are on, Mal returns them to the people of the world, risking the wrath of the kingpin who hired him.
The show was rich in characters--all the fringe world people Mal has to deal with are out for themselves, and the trade business is extremely risky. There are no alien races, everyone is somewhat human, although the behavior of some is quite alien. Take the Reavers, for example. The Reavers are a horde of spacefaring berzerker barbarians, whose only purpose in life is to "rape you to death, skin you, eat you and kill you, in that order." The Feds deny the existance of the Reavers, but the crew of Serenity has a few run ins with them. The secret origination of the Reavers in revealed in the movie, so I will not give it away here.
There was eye candy galore, for any gender, and the action would satisfy fans of both Western and Sci Fi shoot-em-up fans. That is the type of show it was.
To understand the movie, Serenity, you would most likely have had to seen at least three episodes of the show--no matter which episodes, any three would do. It fills in the gaps which were left out of the truncated twelve episode series. It is definitely a cult experience, and if it hadn't been curtailed, it would have been as big as Star Trek.
I would have liked to see the show continue on and on, but unfortunately that wouldn't happen. I'll just have to settle for watching the original twelve episodes over and over again, and enjoy it.