Monday, March 2, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Uniqueness

One day of March in the books and another few inches of snow on the ground in my neck of the woods. Spring will be here in a matter of weeks, as will Formula One and IndyCar but until then it's the final days of trudging through below freezing temperatures, bundled up in scarves and mittens. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Take Over Leap Day
Mark Miles keeps talking about how he wants the IndyCar season to end on Labor Day weekend and have the IndyCar season finale as synonymous with the September holiday as the Indianapolis 500 is with Memorial Day.

Why not try to own Leap Day? No one has ever tried to own Leap Day because it's only once every four years but that could play into IndyCar's favor with the right approach. It could be a quadrennial race with a big, seven-figure payout. Of course the series would have to find a sponsor who also sees the benefits and the uniqueness of a Leap Day race to fund the endeavor.

Location poises an issue for a Leap Day race. First off, it's still February and most of the United States hasn't started thawing out. Second, next year February 29th falls on a Monday. A Monday afternoon race would draw no spectators or television audience but a Monday night race has promise meaning the Leap Day race would have to be run on an oval. Road courses wouldn't be completely ruled out of hosting the Leap Day race. Leap Day 2020 falls on a Saturday meaning a road course would be possible but Leap Day 2024 is a Thursday, which would probably have to be an oval. In the likelihood the race falling on a weeknight, it would have to be run as a one-day show. A two-hour practice in the afternoon followed by qualifying around an hour before the race with green flag by 7:30 p.m. ET. When Leap Day falls on a weekend, it could be treated like a normal race weekend.

Venue rotation might not be a bad thing though. All other quadrennial events such as the Olympics and World Cup rotate and maybe, just maybe IndyCar can grow to the point that they have tracks bidding to host the Leap Day Grand Prix. The real success of the event would come down to the purse. The winner's cut would have to be in the ballpark to what the Indianapolis 500 pays to win to make the race special. Once every four years the drivers and teams getting an extra shot at a special pay day could be intriguing.

Think about Leap Day. It's normally just that blip every four years that makes a year 366 days long but we always know it's going to come and went it is going to happen. If IndyCar tied an event to that date and always had a race on February 29th, it will eventually start to stand out. The uniqueness of the race would get make it as synonymous with the Leap Day as the Indianapolis 500 is to Memorial Day.

IndyCar has raced on Leap Day before. The 2004 IRL season opener from Homestead-Miami Speedway fell on Leap Day. Sam Hornish, Jr. won the race on his Team Penske debut with Hélio Castroneves finishing second and Dan Wheldon rounding out the podium. Tora Takagi finished fourth with Tomas Scheckter rounding out the top five. The next time Leap Day is scheduled to fall on a Sunday is 2032.

Oh Mexico
Remember when NASCAR went to Mexico City? When the Grand National Series first went to Autodrómo Hermanos Rodríguez it quickly became my favorite race of the year because it was unique. After that first race in 2005 with Martin Truex, Jr. coming out on top but not before Jorge Goeters stole the show by stealing pole position in front of the home crowd, I honestly thought the Cup Series was going to be in Mexico the following year.

Flash forward ten years and not only is the Cup series not in Mexico, the Grand National series stopped going after four years before moving to Montreal where the race around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve lasted six years. Currently, the only national touring division race to occur outside of the United States is the Truck race at Mosport.

After seeing the weather in Atlanta this weekend, I wish NASCAR were going to Mexico. The NASCAR media talks about how good the NASCAR road courses races are, why not add another? There are plenty of tracks that could drop a race to make room for Mexico City. Pocono, Michigan, Dover, Loudon and Kansas don't all have to have two Cup races. Keep the ball rolling after Daytona and go to Mexico City. From restrictor plates to road course. It would fit in perfectly with NASCAR's western swing of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana. Plus, NASCAR has the emergence of Daniel Suárez and if he ends up being the next big thing at Joe Gibbs Racing, a race in Mexico City could be even bigger than that race in 2005.

NASCAR is never going to return to Mexico but they have nothing to lose by sending the Cup series south of the border for an additional road course race. If only they had seen that a decade ago.

Speaking of NASCAR
Bravo for shortening the Grand National race at Atlanta to 250 miles. It was completed in an hour and forty minutes. Almost every NASCAR race should be shortened. Other than the Daytona 500, Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 no Cup race should be longer than 350 miles.

Television time is precious and it's probably the main reason why each series has knockout qualifying. Knockout qualifying doesn't exist for the drama of cars not making the next round and multiple cars on track but because it can be packaged nicely in a one-hour TV window instead of dragging on for an hour and a half or two hours.

Major League Baseball games average over three hours and they are doing all they can to pick up the pace to take a half hour off the average length and NASCAR should be doing the same. Truck races should take 90 minutes to complete, Grand National races two hours and Cup races around two and a half hours. Less can be more and I think that is the case for NASCAR.

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Jimmie Johnson but did you know...

Jamie Whincup and Fabian Coulthard split the Saturday races at V8 Supercars season opener at Adelaide with James Courtney winning the Sunday race and leaving with the championship lead.

Jack Aitken and Weiron Tan split the Pro Mazda Winterfest round from Barber Motorsports Park. Aitken took the Winterfest title by a point over Tan.

Frenchman Nico Jamin won the U.S. F2000 Winterfest title after taking the final race at Barber. Victor Franzoni won the first race.

Ryan Dungey won the second Supercross race from Atlanta.

Kevin Harvick won the Grand National race from Atlanta. Matt Crafton won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
First, Daylight Savings begins next Sunday across most of the United States so don't forget to set your clocks forward.
The Pirelli World Challenge season opener takes place at Austin.
NASCAR makes their traditional late-winter visit to Las Vegas.
World Rally comes to North America for Rally México.
World Touring Car Championship season kicks off in Argentina.
Supercross heads to Daytona for Bike Week.