Views from the Grandstands
We’re only halfway through the racing season, but I’m as impatient as Carl Edwards was in jumping the restart at Richmond back in April. So forget about waiting until the end of the season. I’m handing out some midterm racing grades.
Trouble for NASCAR Titans
NASCAR’s powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports team got off to an uncharacteristically slow 2012 start, with all four of its big-name drivers struggling out of the gate. Hendrick went to Daytona with 199 career wins, and didn’t get its landmark number 200 until Jimmie Johnson won at Darlington in mid-May. And Jeff Gordon personifies the old saying that if he didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all.
Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi Racing, long a dominant force in the IndyCar series, stumbled to a similarly surprising slow start. None of its drivers, including three-time champion Dario Franchitti, found the checkered flag through the spring portion of the schedule. Meanwhile, Ganassi chief rival Penske Racing started with a bang, putting Ganassi teams in serious championship catch-up mode.
Grades: C for Hendrick, C- for Ganassi
IndyCar’s search (for) engines
Aside from those hideous new sidepods on the cars, the biggest change in the IndyCar Series this season is the introduction of multiple engine suppliers. Honda had been the only supplier for a decade or so, but Chevrolet and Lotus have also come aboard this year, giving teams a choice of power plants.
I love this development because it allows the teams to be more creative. As a dedicated Chevy girl, I’m pleased to see that the bowtie teams are performing so well — the Penske cars are running Chevy engines, while Ganassi stuck with Honda, and that has played a huge role in their differing levels of success so far this season.
IndyCar Grade: B+
Nationwide still seeking sparks
Kyle Busch is no longer a regular in the Nationwide Series, and while I don’t particularly like Sprint Cup guys dominating this developmental circuit, the series feels lukewarm without him. But I am glad to see young gun regulars Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon off to good starts.
Meanwhile, Danica Patrick seems to be settling in about where I expected, in the middle of the pack. She might be attracting crowds to her souvenir trailer, but the stands for her Nationwide races, just like those for her IRL races, remain largely empty.
Former X Games star Travis Pastrana is now the flavor of the month. It will take some wins — or at least consistently running up front — for these newcomers to make much of a difference. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, at least not as quickly as NASCAR hopes.
Grade: Incomplete F1 up for grabs
Red Bull’s dominance of Formula 1 in 2011 was historic, but was also so complete that it made the title chase a foregone conclusion by midseason. This season, though, is shaping up as one of the most exciting and competitive in several years. Best of all, the title should still be very much up for grabs when F1 thunders into Austin, Texas, in November.
As many as 10 drivers are fully capable of winning races this season, and none of the top and even mid-level teams can be counted out on any given weekend. For this, we can thank the offseason rule changes that altered the cars’ aerodynamic regulations, giving teams a chance to be clever in how they create and manage downforce.
NHRA straightaway success
Nobody — and I mean nobody — had a better start to 2012 than John Force Racing. Force won the Funny Car title in the National Hot Rod Association’s season-opening Winternationals, his teammate Robert Hight won the next four races, and third driver Mike Neff captured the next race. That meant Force Racing was 6-for-6 through the month of April, and the team didn’t lose a race until the Southern Nationals in early May, when Hight finished second to Ron Capps.
Most of the time, the announcers on race broadcasts don’t make much of an impression on me. Not so with the Fox crew.
Mike Joy is as good a play-by-play man as there is, and I love the insight and perspective that Larry McReynolds brings to the party. But my real complaint is that on Fox, it’s all about Fox. From the embarrassing Hollywood Hotel to the annoying Digger the animated gopher, Fox makes sure that the broadcasts revolve around its on-air personalities instead of the on-track performers. And the final nail in the coffin is the addition of Michael Waltrip to the proceedings, where his dual role as commentator and active team owner is the ultimate in conflicts of interest.
| Not so fleeting tweets |
Social media is making its mark in motorsports, but with decidedly different results for NASCAR and Indy racing. When Brad Keselowski took to Twitter from his car during that lengthy red-flag delay in the Daytona 500, he was a big hit with fans. NASCAR benefited, too.
In the American open-wheel series, however, things didn’t work out so well. Panther Racing CEO John Barnes used Twitter to criticize IndyCar’s decision to make modifications to new engine supplier Chevrolet’s turbochargers. IndyCar officials fined Barnes $25,000 for making a “comment using improper or disparaging language” in reference to the series.
| Racing ‘hair’ apparent | While the racing world is focused on Austin in anticipation of its inaugural Formula 1 race this fall, the Texas state capital is also producing its first homegrown top-level racer. Alexis DeJoria, the daughter of billionaire John Paul DeJoria — one of the cofounders of the John Paul Mitchell hair-care empire — is quietly becoming a real force in the NHRA’s Fuel Funny Car drag racing series. In fact, she entered the summer months ranked 15th in the points. And her success has her father — who is also an investor in Austin’s new Circuit of the Americas — interested in adding a drag strip to the new Formula 1 facility. Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., has both a road course and a drag strip, and DeJoria is speaking to NHRA officials about the possibility of bringing their sport to Austin if a drag strip can be added.
| Of taxes and tires | The state of Indiana has helped the IndyCar Series consolidate its team facilities in the Indianapolis area through tax laws that make many of the transactions involved in running a race team exempt from state sales and use taxes. But the Hoosier State, like the other 49, needs money, and has recently changed its tax laws in a way that race teams won’t appreciate.
In a recent update, the Indiana Department of Revenue now says that tires and accessories aren’t eligible for its tax exemption.
Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she writes about financial topics and blogs about taxes at Don’t Mess With Taxes (www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com).