Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Race Day in America

Dario now ranks as one of the best
Indy Tops Charlotte

Race day in America.  Eleven hundred miles of racing.  Add in the Grand Prix of Monaco and you have the perfect day.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner.  For a race fan, it’s the best day of the year. 

Wasn’t always that way.  Used to be Memorial Day was on the 31st of May, no matter what day of the week it fell on.  And the 500 was always run on Memorial Day, except when the 31st landed on Sunday.  Then the race was held on Saturday. 
All that changed when the Monday Holiday Act took effect in 1971 and the 500 moved to Sunday before the holiday.   The 600 continued to be held on a different day until 1974, when both were scheduled on Sunday for the first time.  Charlotte’s starting time was later moved to early evening and in recent years the 600 has dominated the television ratings as the most watched event on Race Day.
No word yet on which race won the 2012 TV rating battle but one thing is clear, the Indy 500 was easily the best race of the day, combining constantly shifting strategy with great racing and a record-breaking 35 official lead changes (changes at the start/finish line).  There were only 31 lead changes in the NASCAR race despite running twice as many laps.  When’s the last time that happened?
After getting spun in the pits and forced to restart last, Dario Franchitti raced his way back through the field.  Then he turned back the challenges of teammate Scott Dixon, close friend Tony Kannan and finally a banzai move by Takuma Sato, to win his third 500.  In sharp contrast to Marco Andretti, who led 59 laps early but faded in the second half of the race after some questionable pit calls and plenty of whining on Andretti’s part, Franchitti said nary a word while working his way back to the front.
If there was any doubt before, there shouldn’t be now.  Franchitti is among the very best modern-era Indy drivers.  His third win in six years, along with four IndyCar championships, may still leave him a notch behind A. J. Foyt and Rick Mears – but certainly on a par with everyone else in the past 50 years, including the Unsers, Andrettis and yes – even his hero Jimmy Clark.    
Ironically, many apparently don’t even consider Franchitti the best driver at Chip Ganassi Racing.  In an announcement made over the weekend, he finished second to Juan Pablo Montoya in an online poll of voters at the team's web site for the honor.  
In Charlotte, Kasey Khane claimed his first victory for Hendrick Motorsports and his third World 600 win.  Much was expected of Khane at the start of this season, his first for Hendrick, and while he struggled initially, he was been coming on strong in recent weeks.  All four Hendrick teams were headed for the Top 10 until a late race pit mishap put Jimmy Johnson at the end of the field.  Remember, it was the Johnson’s team that won the pit stop competition prior to the All-Star race.
And at Monaco we had our sixth different winner in six races as the Formula One season continues to be more interesting that we could have ever hoped for.
So it’s come to this:  Once upon a time on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend, USA Today would run an auto racing special section (paid for by additional advertising).  Not this year.  There was a special section in sports, four pages devoted to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  Reduced fan interest is only one reason for the change.  But reduced interest in newspaper advertising is the real key.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

NASCAR: The Votes Are In...

Rusty Wallace, Hall's youngest member

The votes are in for this year’s NASCAR Hall of Fame class.  None of the new inductees were on my list, but I can’t really argue with them either. Well, at least four of the five.           
Herb Thomas, Leonard Wood, Cotton Owens and Buck Baker, were all heroes from the early days of NASCAR. That’s good. I put Curtis Turner in that same class. But Turner continues to fight an uphill battle against the NASCAR voting bloc with which he was often at odds. Hopefully it won’t be much longer. 

Fireball Roberts and Joe Weatherly could be put in the next generation of drivers.  Roberts actually finished in a tie with Baker, who won on the re-vote.  OK.  But Fireball better make it next year.  And hopefully Smokey Yunick will at least be nominated next year.  Owens was a pretty good driver, a pretty good mechanic and a pretty good car owner.  But Yunick was a great mechanic and a great car owner. 

I guess the only one I have a problem with is Rusty Wallace.  No doubt Rusty is a Hall of Famer.  His 55 wins were more than any other eligible driver not already in the Hall.  And he has a championship.  He's also now the youngest member of the Hall.  the youngest living member by a wide margin.  Would just rather see all the worthy drivers from the early years take their place in the Hall before we inductee just now becoming eligible.

To his credit, Rusty seemed to feel the same way.  No one seemed more surprised than him when they announced the winners.  And Rusty openly campaigned for Fred Lorenzen and Benny Parsons before the votes were announced. 

Next year Rusty can champion their cause. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

NASCAR: If I Had a Vote...

Curtis Turner
NASCAR announces its next round of Hall of Fame inductees Wednesday evening after a day of “discussion and debate.”  If I had votes, the first one would go to Curtis Turner.  The next two go to Fireball Roberts and Joe Weatherly.

Turner was a NASCAR original; his hard driving, hard living lifestyle epitomized the stock car circuit’s early years.   He won more than 350 races of all types, including 17 in the equivalent of today’s Sprint Cup series.  In 1956 won 25 races – driving the same car!

But Turner had more than his share of problems off the track.  He was the driving force behind the Charlotte Motor Speedway, conceiving and overseeing the building of the speedway before being forced out by his business partners in 1960.  Then he turned his attention to starting a driver’s union and this time he ran afoul of Big Bill France, who banned him for life from NASCAR.

The lifetime ban lasted until 1965 when NASCAR, desperate to overcome the deaths of Roberts and Weatherly in ’64 crashes, reinstated Turner.  And darn if he didn’t come back and win a race at Rockingham.

My sentimental – and deserving – vote goes to Fred Lorenzen.  He became my favorite driver shortly after I discovered NASCAR in the early ‘60s.  From Chicago, Lorenzen was one of the first successful NASCAR drivers from north of the Mason/Dixon line and was surprisingly well-liked by fans.  His 1963 season was one for the ages. Entering just 29 of 55 races, Lorenzen amassed 23 top-10 finishes, 21 top-five finishes, and finished third overall at the end of the season. That season he went on to become the first driver ever to earn more than $100,000 in a season. In 1965, he won the Daytona 500.Driving for Ford’s Holman and Moody team, Lorenzen ran only a partial schedule during the age when NASCAR ran more than 50 races a year.  In ’63 he finished third in points despite running only 29 of 55 races, becoming the first driver ever to win more than $100,000 in a season.  Known from then on as the “Golden Boy,” he finished with 26 wins in just 158 starts.

Lorenzen was noticeably absent from the celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500.  He was already suffering from is 1963 season was one for the ages. Entering just 29 of 55 races, Lorenzen amassed 23 top-10 finishes, 21 top-five finishes, and finished third overall at the end of the season. That season he went on to become the first driver ever to earn more than $100,000 in a season. In 1965, he won the Daytona 500.dementia and now lives in a Chicago-area nursing home.  Let’s get him in Hall now.

The final vote goes for Smokey Yunick.  What?  He’s not even a nominee!?!  Can I write-in a vote? 

Come to think of it, why don’t the fans have a vote?  For a sport that says it’s all about the fans, why not give the fans input for Hall of Fame.  Let everyone vote online.  Then let someone like Humpy Wheeler represent the fan votes during the day of discussion.
 season. That season he went on to become the first driver ever to earn more than $100,000 in a season. In 1965, he won the Daytona 500.
OK, it may not be too late.  Here's your chance to vote.  Who should be the next five?  Here’s your choices:

Buck Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Jerry Cook, H. Clay Earles, Tim Flock, Ray Fox, Anne B. France, Rick Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Bobby Isaac, Fred Lorenzen, Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Les Richter, “Fireball” Roberts, T. Wayne Robertson, Wendell Scott, Ralph Seagraves Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Rusty Wallace, Joe Weatherly and Leonard Wood.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

We Don't Bump No More

Mark it down: the 48 team is back
It was a no bumping weekend as both the NASCAR All-Star race and qualifying for Indianapolis 500 featured nary a nudge.

In Saturday’s race, Jimmy Johnson and company figured out the secret to All-Star success.  Win the pit stop competition and get your pick of pit locations.  Win the first segment and you’re the first on pit road.  Then just stay out of trouble and save your tires.  Easier said than done.  But that’s exactly what Johnson and team accomplished.

Write it down.  This is a turning point for the 48 car.  They’ve got their mojo back.

In general, the racing was good.  None of the bashing and crashing promoted heavily in the pre-race show, but that’s not what fans really want anyway.  Just some pretty good racing.  Certainly better than the All-Star shows in almost any other sport. 

At Indy, there’s a full field of 33 cars after two days of qualifying – barely.  There were no bump attempts, no car jumping, none of the drama of past years.  The final two qualifiers, both equipped with Lotus engines, were well off the pace.  The fastest lap by the 33rd qualifier, Jean Alesi, was nearly 16 mph slower than the pole sitter.   Afterward he said he thought the speed spread was “unsafe.”

There’s a move afoot to allow the Lotus engines to run higher boost levels than the Chevrolet and Honda engines.  Worst possible idea.  Will Power said the situation was “bloody dangerous” and suggested the Lotus engine should be allowed to run more boost in the race or parked.   

Well then park them.  What we need is more innovation and competition, not more managed competition. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

IndyCar: Briscoe's the Best

Ryan Briscoe, closest pole winner ever
INDIANAPOLIS – A few years back it looked as if Ryan Briscoe was the odd man out at Penske Racing.  With sponsorship dollars drying up and Briscoe going through a period of crashing cars, Roger Penske came close to letting Briscoe go and just running two cars on the IndyCar circuit.  

But Penske eventually decided to stick with the Aussie and Saturday Briscoe returned the favor, winning the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and adding to the Penske’s record of 17 Indy pole positions, more than any other team.  Briscoe becomes the first Australian ever to sit on the pole for the 500.  Penske drivers have now won every IndyCar pole in 2012.

Andretti Autosport drivers claimed the next three positions in a remarkable turnaround from last year, when the team struggled to qualify.  James Hinchcliffe gave Briscoe a scare with a warm-up lap of more than 227 mph, the fastest lap of the Top 9 Shootout.  Maybe a little too fast, too soon.  Driving the bright green Go Daddy car driven by in the past by Danica Patrick and carrying a pair of red driving gloves belonging to his hero, the late Greg Moore, Hinchcliffe was unable to match the warm-up lap and ended up just .0023 behind Briscoe after four laps -- the smallest margin ever between first and second.  

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who failed to qualify last year and had to buy his way into the field, will start on the outside of the front row.  Marco Andretti is on the inside of the second row.  Will Power and Helio Castroneves also will start on the second row as Andretti and Penske cars dominated pole day.  Ana Beatriz put a fourth Andretti car in the field in 13th position.  A fifth Andretti car affiliated with AFS for Sebastian Saavedra qualified 24th.

It was also a big day Chevrolet, sweeping the two front rows and capturing eight of the Top Nine positions.  Rookie Josef Newgarden was the lone Honda-powered car to slow the Chevy juggernaut, qualifying 7th.  The two Honda-powered cars of Chip Ganassi Racing failed make the Top 9 Shootout, a major comedown for Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. 

And it was a good day for KV Racing Technology; Tony Kanaan, E.J. Viso and Rubens Barrichello qualifying 8-9-10.  Kanaan started off the qualifying with an impressive four laps at more than 225 mph, only to discover the car was underweight, the team forgetting to replace the weight on an in-car camera that had been removed. 

After a week of practice devoid of major incidents, Saturday saw three major crashes claim the cars of Oriol Servia, Bryan Clauson and Ed Carpenter during qualifying attempts.  The new Dallara chassis proved itself as no one was hurt, but the accidents leave little margin for error on Sunday, if the race is to start with 33 cars.

Friday, May 18, 2012

IndyCar: Very Fast Friday

Marco's fast
INDIANAPOLIS – Fast Friday lived up to its name like never before at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today, as 32 cars posted their fastest times of the month. 

Of course the cars were running for the first time with increased boost levels, resulting in an estimated 50 horsepower increase over what the teams had been running with earlier in the week. 

So concerned were IndyCar officials last week that the new DW12 race car might not top the 220 mph barrier no matter what power plant it carried that they quietly announced an increase in boost levels for Fast Friday and the two days of qualifying.  And while the cars have been testing all week comfortably above 220 mph, there was good reason for their concern. 

Much of the running has been done in groups, the drafts lifting speeds by an estimated 3-5 mph.  The Andretti team, in particular, has been running together during practice.  That has helped the team post the top speeds and should help in the race, but those numbers may not translate into a coveted pole position. 

Marco Andretti posted the top speed on Friday of 227.540 mph.  It’s been an amazing turnaround for Andretti Motorsport from last year, when the team struggled to get its drivers qualified.   All four Andretti Motorsports drivers were among the ten fastest drivers on Fast Friday, Marco joined by Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Ana Beatriz. Penske Racing also was looming with late Happy Hour runs by Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves pushing their speeds to second and third on the charts.

Chevrolet continues to dominate, posting ten of the top 12 speeds, with only the Honda-powered Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti breaking into the Bow Tie domination.  But don’t count the Hondas out.  They’ve been running on their own and could challenge for the pole. 

The best guess is that the pole will go somewhere between 223-225 mph.  That’s off the four-lap qualifying average posted last year by Alex Tagleana of 227.472 mph and light years away from the all-time qualifying record set in 1996 by Arie Luyendyk, who ran four-laps at 236.986 mph.

The other question to be decided this weekend: will there be a full field for the race?  Not since 1947 has the Indy 500 started with fewer than 33 cars.  There are enough cars.  Will there be enough drivers?  Thirty-three unique driver/car combinations have taken part in practice, but the Lotus powered cars of Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvertso are well off the pace, more than 10 mph behind Andretti.  There are at least another nine back-up cars available, should the teams decide to take a chance on untested drives.     

Thursday, May 17, 2012

NASCAR: Bad Brad and the DeltaWing

The DeltaWing during recent testing in France
You gotta love Brad Keselowski. 

Well it may not be love, not yet, but he’s growing on me.  Call it a man crush.  That wasn’t always the case.  Like many, it has taken me awhile to warm up to Keselowski.  At first I thought he was an outspoken, brash kid with a fluky Talladega victory, destined to be a one-race wonder like so many other Talladega winners. 

But since then he’s backed it up – repeatedly.  And he’s done it while running basically a one-man show, his Penske Dodge competing against the multi-car teams of GM, Ford and Toyota.  What was once brash and outspoken is now refreshingly open and honest. 

Take his comments while serving as co-host on Speed’s Wind Tunnel.  Regular host Dave Despain showed him images from various racing series and asked for Keselowski’s thoughts.  He showed himself to be a knowledgeable race fan with comments on rallying, motocross and Formula One.  Then Despain showed him footage of the DeltaWing.  Keselowski dumped over it.

The DeltaWing is the radical race car design rejected by IndyCar and now headed for the 24 Hours of Le Mans next month.  It could also run some ALMS races later this year, which would give the series a badly needed publicity boost.  The car has become something of a media darling and is being heavily promoted by Nissan and Michelin, among others.  Despain has been a supporter.  But that didn’t stop Keslowski.  Or even slow him down.   

“I can’t figure this car out,” he said.  “I have no idea what everybody is thinking about.  I can’t think of any fan who wants to watch this car race.  I understand technology, I love it, but who wants to watch that car race?”

Thanks Brad. I’ve been wondering the same thing.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"This is Shelby"

Shelby (L) and Dave MacDonald (R) celebrate in
Victory Lane at the 1963 Riverside Grand Prix
“This is Shelby, what can I do for you.”

The voice on the phone was unmistakable.  Carroll Shelby.  The strength of the voice belied reports of ill health.  A friend of a friend had passed on Shelby’s cell phone number, saying just leave a message and he’ll call you back.  Right, I’d heard that before.  But there he was, less than 15 minutes after I’d left my message.  It was July, 2011. 

I explained I was working on a story about the 1964 Indianapolis 500 and wanted to get his thoughts on Dave MacDonald, a young driver who was tearing up the sports car circuits driving Cobras for Shelby before being killed that year at Indy. 

Silence.  I thought I’d lost the connection.
“I loved Davey,” he finally said, his voice much softer.  “Sure, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.  But I’m in the hospital getting some blood work done.  Let me call you when I get out.”

A couple of weeks later the voice was on the phone again.  He apologized for not getting back to me sooner, he’d been off test driving some cars since coming home from the hospital.  But he was back now and invited me over the next day to talk. 
Right up until his death last Thursday in a Dallas hospital at 89, Shelby continued to work out of the multi-building Shelby American complex in Carson, Calif., that once served as the heart for one of the largest racing operations in America.  Shelby had moved there after outgrowing his original shop in Venice.  Most of the buildings appear deserted now, the operational side of the business having moved to Las Vegas years ago.  Off to one side is a Goodyear Racing trailer.  Only a few cars are scattered in the large parking lot.  A little sad.

Walking into the mammoth garage/warehouse, you can imagine the glory days, the place bustling with mechanics working on a fleet of Cobras, Ford GTs, Shelby Mustangs and various other cars destined for races around the world.  Now a couple of new Mustangs are scattered about, several more cars covered by tarps.  In the middle of the room, in all its glory, is a Daytona Coupe.  Must be a replica.  Designed by Pete Brock, it is one of the most beautiful racing cars ever built.  Only six originals were made.  One sold for more than $7 million a few years back.  Hundreds of replica Coupes have been built in recent years, some by Shelby himself, although he allowed only the originals to be called Daytona Coupes.
Shelby’s in his office at the top of a long flight of stairs, working away at his desk, surrounded by racing mementos, photos, models and books.  A one-room motorsports museum.   He explains he’s been off testing a new, yet to be announced, 1000 horsepower Mustang.  But his wife hasn’t driven the car yet and she has final signoff.  “Can’t sell a car nowadays that a woman can’t drive,” he says.  He talked about plans for the 50th anniversary of the Cobra in 2012 and the hundreds of events he’d been invited to attend.  “Got to narrow that down to about 50,” he said.

The interview was everything I expected it to be – and much more.  Shelby was gruff and profane, as expected.  He also was quiet and reflective at times, his voice soft and eyes moist, as we talked about MacDonald and others Shelby had raced with over the years.      
“Davey probably had more talent than any race driver – as far as sheer speed is concerned – in a young driver I ever hired,” Shelby said.  "You can tell by looking at a race driver whether they have it or don’t.  He had the ability to go fast.  He was out of control half the time, but most race drivers are when they start.

Shelby hired MacDonald, one of top Corvette drivers in the country, to drive for him at the start of the 1963 season.  MacDonald promptly drove the Cobra to its first victory.  He would go on to be the first to win a race in a Cobra with its new 289 engine, the first to win in the King Cobra and the first, along with Bob Holbert, to win in the Daytona Coupe.  Driving the King Cobra, he won the United States Road Racing Championship in ’63, lapping a field of the finest international drivers at Riverside in the process. 

MacDonald’s success in the Cobra attracted the attention of others, including Mickey Thompson, who offered him ride in his radical and controversial car at Indianapolis.  

“I begged Davey not to go and fool with that pile of shit that Mickey built,” Shelby said.  “I said Davey, ‘Please don’t drive that car, please don’t get in it.’  Nothing added up.  There were too many innovations in it.  Anybody can build a car.  A lot of people have ideas on what to build.  But until it’s developed it’s a question mark.  And they never had enough time in it. 

"But I told Davey I wouldn’t stand in his way, if that’s what he wanted.  That’s the way Davey was.  He would get in anything and drive the wheels off."

MacDonald was killed in a fiery second lap crash that also took the life of Eddie Sachs.

“He was just beginning to be a real racing driver.  He’d gone on his natural ability up until then, but he was getting things under control and that’s what devastated me about losing Davey.”

Shelby was a stickler for development and he had one of the best test drivers in Ken Miles.

“Ken Miles was the best I ever saw at being able to temper what he wanted to do with what he knew he had to do.  That was the reason he was such a good development driver.  Best that ever lived.  I know how good he really was, best the rest of the world didn’t really know about."

Masten Gregory is another driver that never received the recognition he deserved, according to Shelby.  The pair often traveled together when racing in Europe in the late 1950s, Shelby twice nursing Gregory back to health in their London apartment after he’d been injured racing.  Shelby himself had a great racing career that is often overlooked,  named Sports Illustrated’s Driver of the Year in 1956 and ’57.  He retired shortly after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959.

“Masten Gregory  was a helluva racing driver.  He could go with anyone, even Sterling  Moss.  Masten has never gotten the recognition he deserved.  He was one of the best racing drivers that ever came out of this country and he won’t go down in history recognized."

Lloyd Ruby, is generally considered to be the best driver ever to compete at Indianapolis without winning the race.  Shelby went even further.

“Lloyd Ruby was the best guy who ever went to Indianapolis – outside of Bill Vukovich,” he said of the driver who won the 24 Hours of Daytona for him in 1965.  “Boy what a race driver he was.  I noticed him when he was 15 years old.  He was a fabulous driver anywhere.  You could put him in anything.”

For the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, Shelby teamed A.J. Foyt, fresh off winning the Indy 500, with Dan Gurney, considered the best American road racer.  Critics, including Ford management, said the car would never last, that Foyt and Gurney would run it into the ground trying to prove who was faster.  But Shelby insisted on the pairing.  After 24 hours it was the only Ford still running, as Shelby, Foyt and Gurney celebrated in Victory Lane.

“Foyt did a helluva job in winning Le Mans for me in ’67," Shelby said.  "That proves what a great race driver he was.  The fact he didn’t go over there and try and show that he could outrun everybody.  Gurney did a good job too, by not showing how fast he could go.  It showed me a side of Gurney that I never knew existed."  

“But what a great job Foyt did.  He was a helluva lot better driver than he is a car owner.”

After more than two hours of talking racing, it was obvious Shelby was tiring.  I asked if there was anything more he wanted to say about MacDonald.  

“I just still feel very sad.  That and losing Ken Miles were two of the hardest things I ever had to face after I quit driving myself.  Davey had a very, very bright future.  He had the ability to win Indianapolis, win Le Mans, Formula One, any race in the world.  It was just such a waste."

For much more on the life of Carroll Shelby, see http://www.carrollshelby.com

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Gander and the Goose

Leave it to NASCAR to rewrite the idiom rulebook.

What’s good for the Gander is not, apparently, good for the Goose.

Tuesday – the day NASCAR typically hands down its fines and suspensions for infractions during the previous weekend’s races – came and went without a word about Danica Patrick turning Sam Hornish into the wall at 160 mph after the checkered flag in Saturday’s Nationwide series race at Talladega.  The incident came after Hornish ran Patrick into the wall coming to the flag, Hornish claiming he had a tire going down. Hornish held on to 12th, Patrick finished 13th.  

The incident was eerily similar to Kyle Busch turning Ron Hornaday, Jr., into the wall at Texas last year in retaliation for Hornaday running Busch into the wall.  NASCAR reacted quickly in that case; immediatley parking Busch and suspending him the next day for both the Texas Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. 

"When we gave the responsibility back to the drivers (‘boys have at it’), there was a clear understanding that a line could be crossed," Mike Helton, NASCAR’s president, said in Texas.  "We've always said we would know it when we see it. We saw it last night."

But NASCAR apparently thought the Patrick/Hornish incident so trivial it didn’t even warrant a trip to its hauler for either driver after the race.  Or perhaps officials were overwhelmed by the aftermath of four multi-car accidents, a red flag and a driver in the hospital.  NASCAR has since said the incident didn’t go unnoticed and that both drivers will be talked to before the Darlington race.  But it denied comparisons to the Busch/Hornaday clash.

Perhaps Busch was suspended and Patrick was not because he was considered a repeat offender.  Perhaps it was because the incident took place after a caution flag had been displayed (rather than the checkered flag?).  Perhaps it was because the wreck eliminated Hornaday from contention for the truck series championship.  All of those could be reasons Busch was suspended and Patrick was not.  Not very good reasons, but at least they’re reasons you could point to in an attempt to explain the situation.  

Interviewed on Speed’s RaceDay prior to the start of the Sunday’s Cup race, Busch obviously didn’t want to be drawn into the discussion.  Asked if the decision – or no decision – on penalties made sense to him, he asked a question in return.   “Nothing really makes sense to any of us, does it?”

Hmmm.  Has the line moved again?  Will we know it when we see it next time?  Maybe not. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

NASCAR: The Move

Just call it "The Move."

After watching the leader of the race get beat at the finish line in both the Talladega ARCA race on Friday and the Nationwide race on Saturday, Brad Keselowski knew he needed a plan for the last lap of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race – just in case.  

"I thought about it and thought about it -- dreamed about what to do -- and sure enough, going into three, it was just me and Busch,” Keselowski said on television moments after the finish.  “And I knew the move I wanted to pull.”

As the field prepared for what would be its final restart, Matt Kenseth, who led 78 of 188 laps in dominating much of the race, picked the high line so he would be in front of teammate Greg Biffle.  He led the same tandem to victory in the Daytona 500.  Only this time Kenseth got away from Biffle.  And as he rode his brakes waiting for Biffle to catch up, Keselowski, pushed by Kyle Busch, shot past into the lead.

It was an unlikely combination, Keselowski and Busch, the type of hookup only seen during the final laps of Talladega or Daytona.   During prerace self-introductions at Bristol a few years back, Keselowski introduced himself and then added, “Kyle Busch is an ass.”  Not exactly friends. 
But there was Busch, pushing Keselowski with everything he had.  Busch had been the leader going into the final lap of the Nationwide race the day before, only to watch as his pusher, Joey Logano drive past him at the finish line.  Now he figured he was in perfect position to do the same to Keselowski.  Only instead of hugging the classic inside line and waiting for Busch to make his move, Keselowski drove high into turn three.
It was a bold move.  By going high he hoped to break contact with Busch, then motor home for the win.  Of course there was a risk.  If Busch didn’t break off, they could both end up in the wall.  But then that’s always a distinct possibility in the final laps at Talladega.
Busch seemed to realize he may have been snookered even before Keselowski said a word about The Move.
“I'm not sure he did anything,” Busch said on television immediately after the finish.  “If he did, he's pretty smart, but I think our stuff just came unplugged."
Turns out Keselowski is pretty smart.
"I went into turn three high and pulled down off of Kyle and broke the tandem up,” he said.  “That allowed me to drive untouched to the checkered flag. It wasn't easy to convince myself to do that, but it was the right move. I'm glad it worked."
Busch wasn't exactly happy to hear Keselowski’s explanation.
“I must have screwed something up, because we got to turn three and came unhooked,” Busch said in the media center after he had awhile to think about the finish.  “Just gave the win away over there.  Not sure exactly what happened.  We definitely need to go back and figure out what it was.”
Keselowski already figures he’ll need to come up with something new for the next race.
“Those are the kind of moves, similar to the move I made here in the 09, that you get one chance to make,” he said.  “From there, everybody knows how to make it work. I'm sure everybody will wise up on it from here and they'll make their moves earlier, which will change the racing again.
"It's just evolution. You get one shot to be that guy that helps to evolve it. We had the opportunity to do that today and that's part of what helped us win the race."
Keslowski declined a media request to name the move.  Y'all can pick a name for it,” he said.  “I ain't about that. You guys come up with good ones. You're all writers. You guys got the best puns there is.”
Someone suggested shake-and-bake.  But let’s keep it simple. 
Just call it “The Move.”