Monday, July 25, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Throw Away Day/Exposed Rear

Kyle Busch led 231 of a possible 253 laps and swept the NASCAR races from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indianapolis wasn't the only place a Toyota was victorious. The FIA World Endurance Championship returned to competition for the first time since Le Mans and world champions finally put one in the win column. A famous American team hit the century mark. After three years of coming up short, a Frenchman is now raking in the victories. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Throw Away Day
This isn't going to be an intellectual post that makes you look at an aspect of motorsports in another light. This is a throw away, "I came up with this playing a round of golf and solving all the world's problems" post. This post pushes reality not to the point of completely insanity but falls within the boundaries of what is realistic.

The world could use a little less NASCAR. Thirty-six weeks, really 38 weeks with two exhibition races, is too much. The world has changed from twenty years ago when NASCAR started its ascension to the throne of American motorsports and NASCAR is beyond the point of saturation. This isn't some drastic, "cut 12 Cup races" solution. There needs to be fewer Cup races and a reduction to 32 races would be enough to keep fans satisfied.

Unfortunately, reducing races mean tracks are going to be losing dates. It's just a nature of the beast. Loudon doesn't need two races and leaving it in the Chase would be sufficient. Dover keeps cutting back each year and should be only one race but it wouldn't be a Chase race. We don't need two races at Kansas. It keeps its May race. Pocono is good but not great. Maybe Pocono's only race could be extended to 500 miles to make up for the loss of a date. There is also only one race that matters at Bristol. The early spring race is a shell of what it once was and the night race in August is the only time NASCAR should go to Bristol.

That would be a five-race reduction but there would be replacement. Give Iowa Speedway a race. Just get it over with. Stop teasing Iowa. Give it a race. Who cares that at most track would hold 40,000. Give Iowa a race, allow the track to charge $150 a ticket and let a Cup race be the track's cash cow.

The season would still start at Daytona with Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana following. If this were to happen in 2018, Easter would follow Fontana and after Easter would be Martinsville. Texas, Richmond, Kansas, Talladega and Dover would round out a six-week stretch before an off-week before Memorial Day weekend. Move the All-Star Race to Thursday night before the 600-miler at Charlotte to give the teams a proper week off at home and slot Iowa into the schedule the Saturday night after Charlotte. Michigan would follow Iowa and move Chicago after Michigan. Chicago has never been a great kickoff for the Chase and the weather rarely cooperates for that race. Chicago belongs in the early summer. Sonoma would be the final race of the first half of the season.

After an off-week would be the July Daytona race with Kentucky continuing to create a pair of Saturday night races. Pocono gets to be one of the final few races before the Chase with Indianapolis and Michigan occurring before the final off week in the season.

Just to clear up where we are, 21 races have been scheduled and we are still in the middle of August. I would rather not have a Chase but keeping this within the boundaries of what is realistic, there is going to be a Chase and the Chase should begin in August. August a dead point in the American sports calendar. We are a few weeks away from football season, a few weeks away before people start investing in baseball and starting earlier would give NASCAR attention at the front end and have the champion crowned before the heart of football season.

The final 11 races would be run over 11 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch of the season. Watkins Glen would be the final race before the Chase and it should be. Name a more unpredictable race that Watkins Glen. It leaves the door open for an A.J. Allmendinger or some other driver between 21st and 30th in the championship to steal a Chase position. Isn't that what NASCAR wants from the final "regular season" race?

The Chase begins with Bristol, Darlington and Richmond. Talk about a murder's row for an opening round. Five hundred laps at Bristol, 500 miles at Darlington and Richmond and all of them are night races. Loudon kicks off the second round followed by Talladega and Martinsville. Charlotte is the first 1.5-mile track in the Chase and the first race of the third round. Texas and Phoenix keep their positions as the antepenultimate and penultimate rounds. Homestead is the finale on the final Sunday in October.

The off weekends would be better spread throughout the season, the teams would get an extra month in the offseason and ending the season earlier could perhaps lessen the yearly hemorrhage of viewers that NASCAR experience every autumn. It won't happen but it's not too crazy to be reality.

Exposed Rear
J.R. Hildebrand and Tony Kanaan were testing aero kit options last week at Mid-Ohio and the American test driver for Ed Carpenter Racing shared this photo with the world.
Both drivers ran without the rear tire guards/pods/whatever you want to call it. The reaction from fans was praise and led many to say the remove of the rear bodywork improve the aesthetic to the car. While many have been critical about the bodywork, as it did not fall within the general idea of what an IndyCar should be, let's realize why the pieces were included in the first place.

When Dallara unveiled this chassis in May of 2011, IndyCar had been coming off of a slew of accident caused by wheel-to-wheel contact. Most notable was Mike Conway's accident in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 that sent the British driver into the catchfence and left him with a broken leg and fractured vertebrae. The year before that, Vitor Meira and Raphael Matos made wheel-to-wheel contact that left Meira with two broken vertebra. In 2007, Dario Franchitti got airborne twice in consecutive weeks from wheel-to-wheel contact and running into the rear wheel of Kosuke Matsuura. Of course the 2011 season would end with the fatal accident of Dan Wheldon, not solely caused by wheel-to-wheel contact but it played a role.

Of course many of you will be quick to point out the accidents, such as Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal at Long Beach in 2012 and Takuma Sato and Dario Franchitti at Houston in 2013 where cars still got airborne despite the presence of the rear wheel guards/pods/whatever you want to call it. However, as then-IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips pointed out after the Andretti-Rahal incident, the rear wheel guards/pods/whatever you want to call it were never going to eliminate wheel-to-wheel contact but rather reduce it.

I think it is safe to say the amount of rear wheel contact has been reduced. Look at the most recent race at Toronto. Juan Pablo Montoya made contact with the rear tire guard/pod/whatever you want to call it of Josef Newgarden and both drivers were able to continue. Newgarden had to pit to replace damaged body part but had the bodywork not been there, Newgarden and Montoya's races could have ended in on the spot. The same can be said when Hildebrand made contact with Hélio Castroneves during this year's Indianapolis 500. Without the pieces, Hildebrand likely would have punctured Castroneves' tire in the middle of the front straightaway and who knows how that would have ended with Castroneves entering turn one.

Before celebrating the end of rear wheel guards/pods/whatever you want to call it, consider the alternative. A perceived better looking car could mean a few more cautions each race and more races with driver's races ruined by sliced tires or worse, cars climbing over one another from wheel-to-wheel contact.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kyle Busch but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix and took the championship lead.

Pierre Gasly won his second consecutive GP2 feature race and Sergey Sirotkin won the sprint race from Budapest. Matt Perry and Alexander Albon won in GP3.

The #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley won the 6 Hours of Nürburgring. The #36 Signatech Alpine-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi won in LMP2, the third consecutive victory for the team. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado won in GTE-Pro. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-Am.

Kyle Larson won the Truck race at Eldora last Wednesday night.

Shane Van Gisbergen won the Supercars Saturday race at Queensland Raceway. Craig Lowndes won the Sunday race, making it the second consecutive weekend sweep for Red Bull Racing Australia.

The #8 Starworks Oreca of Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow won the IMSA race from Lime Rock Park. The #4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won in GTLM, the 100th victory for the factory Corvette team. John Potter and Andy Lally won in GTD driving the #44 Magnus Racing Audi.

The #24 Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R of Daiki Sasaki and Masataka Yanagida won Super GT race from Sportsland SUGO. The #31 apr Toyota Prius of Koki Saga and Yuichi Nakayama won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has one final week before it takes a summer vacation. The series is at Mid-Ohio.
Pirelli World Challenge returns after a month off at Mid-Ohio.
All Road of Indy Series will be at Mid-Ohio
Formula One also has one final week before summer vacation. Hockenheim hosts that roadshow.
The 24 Hours of Spa will begin on Saturday.
The Suzuka 8 Hours will be contested for the 39th time.
NASCAR returns to Pocono.
Rally Finland will be the eighth round of the 2016 World Rally Championship season.