Views from the Grandstands

Kay Bell | July 01, 2010

The success of Braun and Red Bull should show NASCAR’s smaller teams that they need to push for more opportunities to innovate. They might be saving some money under the current scenario, but they’ve also surrendered any chance of achieving the kind of breakthrough that might help them upend the status quo.

So to NASCAR, I say set the Cup teams free. I grudgingly agree with the rule that limits each organization to four cars, but beyond that there should be no real financial restrictions. And, more importantly, NASCAR needs to forget the crazy idea that all the cars should look and run exactly the same — instead, they should reinstate the “gray areas” in the specs and templates that give the individual cars some personality and allow for true innovation.

As America’s biggest and most popular racing series, the Sprint Cup Series should be the best it can be. No limits on the opportunities for good ol’ all-American ingenuity would mean no limits on how great the racing can ultimately be.


LOOSE LUGNUTS

Road repairs Hey, somebody down there was listening! A few days after I wrote that Daytona International Speedway needed to be completely repaved, NASCAR announced that the entire speedway indeed will be repaved for only the second time in its history. As I’m sure you remember, a two-foot-wide pothole forced two delays totaling more than two hours during this year’s Daytona 500, effectively ruining what was otherwise a pretty entertaining race and embarrassing NASCAR on its most important day of the year.

Speedway officials had been planning only to install a concrete patch in the area surrounding the pothole, but eventually made the correct decision to repave the whole thing — racing surface, apron, skid pads, even pit road. The $20 million project will begin right after the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona on July 3, and is expected to wrap up around the end of the year.

Thumbs up Because so many controls on a Formula 1 car are embedded in the steering wheel, the drivers use their thumbs constantly during a race to do everything from adjusting the fuel mixture to changing brake bias from corner to corner. Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso has insured his thumbs for a cool $13 million. That sounds like a lot, until you realize that his salary for 2010 alone is $15 million.

“Apart from being essential when driving a Formula 1 car, [Alonso’s thumbs] represent a sign of victory and that everything is under control,” a Ferrari spokesman said when the policy was announced.

Hail to the chiefs Though they won’t make nearly as much cash as Alonso, Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Alan Gustafson have signed contract extensions that’ll keep them in place well into the future. Gustafson, who signed through 2014, is now working with Mark Martin and likely will be paired with Kasey Kahne when he comes over to Hendrick and slides into the No. 5. Knaus, of course, has won four straight Sprint Cup titles with Jimmie Johnson and signed through 2015, which is also when Johnson’s current contract expires.

Locking up Knaus is an especially good move by arguably the smartest organization in NASCAR. For my money, he’s the best all-around crew chief on pit road these days and worth every dollar he can get.

Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she blogs about taxes and other financial topics at www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com.

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