Monday, March 18, 2019

We Should Compare Kyle Busch and Richard Petty

Many say you can't compare apples and oranges but I remember once hearing ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas saying that of course you should compare apples and oranges. They are different. That is the point of comparing. 

NASCAR in the 21st century is not NASCAR of the 1960s and 1970s and with Kyle Busch winning his 200th race across NASCAR's three national touring divisions it has a lot of people angry when he is mentioned alongside Richard Petty. 

Even on the broadcast Mike Joy said Kyle Busch's accomplishment should not be compared to Richard Petty and he made it very clear where he fell on the spectrum when he stated this was Busch's 53rd Cup victory as he crossed the line. 

No one is saying Kyle Busch has won more Cup races than Petty. No one is saying Busch is better than Petty. Busch's 200 victories do not discredit Petty's 200 victories and people are defensive when it comes to Petty. It adds to NASCAR's identity crisis of the last two and a half decades that extends from the ruins of North Wilkesboro. It is fear from a base that its Appalachian icon, who came from nothing but showed a fellow brother could rise from the sticks and become nationally known, is now diminished and replaced by someone from the desert, born in a city known for sin, a national spokesperson who has been making millions since he was 20 years old. 

Identity is part of the backlash against Busch's accomplishment. If he were from the Carolinas or Georgia or Virginia with a slight drawl the differences in the 200 victories would be appreciated. If Dale Earnhardt, Jr. reached 200 victories across three national series his name would adorn dozens of elementary schools across the region.

While NASCAR has a greater national following than at any other point in its history only one part of the country claims NASCAR as a part of its identity and in doing so it makes clear who it thinks are outsiders and who is one of them. This has caused a problem as the most successful drivers of the 21st century have come from California, Nevada, Indiana, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan and Connecticut. There has not been a champion from Dixie since 1999.

These two accomplishments are different and that is ok and we should compare them because not comparing only increases the tension and makes people even more dug into the ground. We have to acknowledge the differences head-to-head and the differences do not make one better than the other but the differences show how NASCAR has changed since the Cup series was first established in 1949 and I think it is important to recognize how NASCAR has evolved. 

Let's go over some of these differences one-by-one:

All of Richard Petty's victories came in the Cup Series. Kyle Busch's victories came across three nationals series.

This is the one Petty defenders are quick to point out. But no one is saying Busch has 200 Cup victories. NASCAR has evolved from one recognized national touring series to three. While viewed as the minor leagues, NASCAR does not considered the other two national series as developmental series. What are now the Xfinity Series and Truck series have evolved as well, with the Xfinity Series once using V6 engines and running mostly on short tracks. It wasn't a developmental series but a different series meant for a different set of drivers. 

Richard Petty won races on dirt.

Yes, and NASCAR dropped all dirt races in the Cup Series after 1971, 14 years before Kyle Busch was born. Busch didn't have the opportunity to race on dirt in a NASCAR national touring division until Eldora was added to the Truck schedule in 2013 and that is still the only dirt race across the three national series. You can't hold that against Busch. It is just how NASCAR changed.

Richard Petty ran multiple Cup races in a week.

For example, during his famous stretch of 10 consecutive victories during the 1967 season, six of those came in a span of 20 days starting with the Southern 500 on September 4th. Four days later, he won a 100-mile race at Hickory and two days after that he won a 150-mile race at Richmond. He won a 150-mile race at Beltsville, Maryland five days later and another 150-mile race at Orange, Speedway in Hillsborough, North Carolina two days after that. On September 24th, he won at Martinsville. The grand total of mileage for those six races was 1,300 miles. 

Kyle Busch ran 900 miles over three days at Las Vegas alone earlier this month.

And that is just one example. He has run all three national touring division series races in one weekend many times since becoming a full-time Cup driver in 2005. At Texas later this month, he will attempt to complete 1020.5 miles in three days.

Richard Petty won races against fields that feature less than 24 cars. Kyle Busch has never won a race with less than 30.

It was a different time and we should be happy that NASCAR has come from one series where some races have 60 cars show up and others only have 21 to a Cup series that has at least three-dozen entries that can run 36 races and most are highly competitive, a Grand National Series that has around 30 full-time teams and a Truck series that has around two-dozen full-time teams.

Kyle Busch is racing against minors.

Petty might have raced against smaller fields with fledging entries but I think we have to take in consideration that Busch, at least in the truck series, has raced against 16- and 17-year olds. A lot of things were different in the 1960s and 1970s and sanctioning bodies were a lot stricter when it came to letting drivers in. You had to prove yourself and some drivers didn't make it until they were 25 years old. 

Today, if you haven't made it by 21 years old you are likely never going to make it. Drivers get started at a younger age. Busch is racing against some drivers that are still developing. It is not a lot of drivers but it is different. Busch was once one of those minors. Of course, we live in a time where minors have a shot because in the days of tobacco sponsorship drivers were not allowed to compete until they were 18 years old. 

Times have changed. I don't think Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison or Cale Yarborough could have imagined racing against a 16-year-old and yet it is kind common practice today.

Many of Richard Petty's victories came during a time where there was no pit lane speed limit.

This one hit me during yesterday's race because Busch nearly didn't win at Fontana on Sunday because of a pit lane speeding penalty and it arguably did cost him a victory on Saturday. This is something that Petty never had to face. How many races has Busch lost because of a pit lane speeding penalty or a too many men over the wall penalty or because of a driving through too many pit box penalty? These are all things that never stood in Petty's way when it came to winning a race. 

Richard Petty ran at a time where he could fail to qualify for races and Kyle Busch hasn't been in that position.

Kyle Busch did fail to qualify for three Cup races in 2004 and he even failed to make a Busch Series race in 2005 after he spun in qualifying at Texas but outside of that Busch has been pretty much guaranteed a spot in the field of the 997 races he has started over the three national touring divisions.

Amazingly, Petty only failed to qualify for five races in his career, the 1961 Daytona 500 and four races in 1989, which led to the past champions' provisional being created. But for the better part of his 35-year career Petty was not locked into the field. 

Most of Kyle Busch's career has taken place with double-file restarts. 

NASCAR has changed how a race is operated from the glory days to Richard Petty to the glory days of Kyle Busch. The one thing NASCAR has done over the last decade is pack the field together as much as it can. Double-file restarts put the second place car right next to the leader. It is rare during this period of NASCAR for a leader to restart with lapped cars between that car and second place. Second is to the left or right of the leader and third and fourth are on the rear. And while we talk about restarts that leads us to...

The Lucky Dog!

It is easier to get a lap back than any other time in NASCAR. Besides the lucky dog, there is a wave around. Yesterday's race at Fontana had 26 cars taking the wave around before the final restart. Add to that the lucky dog and 27 cars got a lap back in the blink of an eye. Think about what happened at Atlanta earlier this year. How many cars got the way around when only the top three were on the lead lap? It seemed like 30 cars.  

That has benefitted and hurt Busch. There has to be a few races where Busch was a lap down and then came back and won thanks to a wave around or lucky dog but at the same time, how many races did Busch have lapped up to tenth and then after one caution had 28 cars on the lead lap? 

Richard Petty never had the benefit of getting a lap back because of a caution but Petty also never had to face the possibility that 15 cars could get back on the lead lap with 20 laps to go and go from at best finishing ninth to possibly winning a race. 


I guess this isn't a difference between Petty and Busch but this is one thing we have to take into consideration when it comes to Busch. 

A lot of people point to Kyle Busch's 200 victories and say he is the only one doing it. He is the only driver trying to run every Cup race and the maximum number of allowed races in the other two divisions for Cup drivers. Busch is now restricted on how many races he can run! 

Busch chooses to race this much. Other drivers don't. Other drivers could but they don't. Kevin Harvick could go for 200. It wasn't long ago when Harvick, Busch, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski were each running full-time Cup and pretty much doing two-dozen races in NASCAR's second division. Harvick has cut back. Edwards has retired. Keselowski has cut back as well. Busch keeps going and he takes it to the limit. 

We talk about loving drivers who run anything and everything and multiple disciplines. Busch is a driver who is doing that. He runs three races in three days if given the shot and that has only made people angry. 

Busch has put himself out there on the racetrack and where else do we want race car drivers to be? We have a race car driver that races every chance he gets. That is what we want. 

There are many other differences between Richard Petty, Kyle Busch and the 200 races they have won and they cannot all be listed here but we should compare them. Races are longer. Entries have greater stability. There are more 1.5-mile ovals but there are also more road courses. We even have a roval! There have been races in Mexico and Canada. There have been full-time drivers from Australia and Colombia! There is an active full-time driver from Mexico.

We should look at the differences because times change, eras change and NASCAR has changed. Comparing Petty and Busch shows us the evolution of the sanctioning body and how two of the most successful drivers to ever compete faced different challenges on their ways to reaching the same milestone. 

The differences do not mean one achievement is better than the other but they do give context of what these two men did and how they did it.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Another Intervention

Kyle Busch won his 200th race across NASCAR's three national touring divisions. Valtteri Bottas won the Australian Grand Prix in a Mercedes 1-2 finish and every time a team has scored a 1-2 finish the winning driver has gone on to win the World Drivers' Championship... so congratulations to Valtteri Bottas on winning the 2019 World Drivers' Championship. The FIA World Endurance Championship returned to Sebring and it got sunny weather while IMSA got rain. Team Penske continues to win races. Jonathan Rea continues to finish second. Spring starts in a few days. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Another Intervention
I was going to write about something fun involving Formula One and the United States but that has to wait because we have to sit NASCAR down again and have it face its problems.

Friday's Cup qualifying session from Fontana was a disaster for the series. With the final five-minute session underway, 12 race cars sat at the end of pit lane for four minutes before the 12 left simultaneously, all jostling for position, some on the apron, others on the racetrack but each looking to get around the next. With the clock ticking down the race was to start a lap. No one made it. The round two speeds determined the starting order of those 12 cars.

Too many laughed. Too many ignored the issue. The scripture writers were adding it to NASCAR lore, something that for people to talk about for the decade as a "golly, remember that time nobody completed a qualifying lap" moment. This isn't a laughing matter. This isn't lore. This is a byproduct of a bigger problem and one NASCAR needs to address.

It became clear that the altered aero package was going to emphasis drafting in qualifying before the season started. It became even clearer at Las Vegas when Kevin Harvick won pole position but the cars of Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman ran faster laps only to have them not counted because neither driver made it to the start/finish line before the clock hit zero. The final cars in line were going to be in a prime spot to take the top spot. The cars at the front of the line are in a disadvantageous position. Those drivers know from the time they take the green flag there is nothing they can do to prevent themselves from start tenth, 11th or 12th. They can't lift and drive to slot back in line. They can't out run the pack. They are at a loss from the start.

NASCAR did nothing. It failed to be proactive once again. It needed to learn the hard way to make a change. Only it is still going to make mistakes. It is going to address the issue in the wrong way.

NASCAR is an addict. Similar to people who need another hit of heroin, crack or sex; NASCAR needs drama to stimulate its brain. It keeps chasing "game seven moments," last lap passes, stunning results. It doesn't want to be a racing series. It wants to be an outrage series. It wants people saying, "Did you see that?" The series thinks that is the answer. People will keep tuning to something more absurd than the next but that is farcical.

It is never satisfied and like every addict it takes more and more to achieve the desired high. Everything needs to be bumped up. It is why the aero package changed. The series needs to make the racing closer. It is why we had the qualifying session we had on Friday. The series needs every moment to leave people in awe, including qualifying. It is why we have stages. We need moments inside of moments and damn it soon that will not be enough and NASCAR will need to increase its dosages but it doesn't know how much it needs. It doesn't know the limit.

Someone needs to get NASCAR under control. Someone needs to say it is ok if qualifying isn't jaw dropping. Someone needs to get NASCAR back to the basics. Qualifying has changed in part because of television and no network is going to give NASCAR two or three hours for single-car runs. NASCAR still has to get its session complete within an hour or an hour and a half. The multi-round format may have to remain but an alteration could be made. In the early rounds, there are plenty of cars involved that cars are going to get laps in but when it comes to the final round that might be when NASCAR needs to return to single-car runs, similar to what Supercars does with its top ten shootout.

The problem is NASCAR is going to fuck this up. It is going to head in the wrong direction. NASCAR is not going to make the simple change. It is going to punish teams if something like this happens again. NASCAR is never at fault. It is going to punish a team if it does not complete a lap in a qualifying round. Instead of doing something fair for teams it is going to make teams play Russian Roulette and then complain when there is blood on the floor. It is the same thing NASCAR did with the lug nut penalty. It was once something monitored on pit lane and if a team got a way with four lug nuts then fine, then it stopped regulating it, the teams wanted regulation and NASCAR decided it would be punishable and could cost a team a crew chief at subsequent races. It could have reasonable but it went for vengeful.

The same increase in strictness is likely to happen when the qualifying amendment is announced sometime in the near future.

It doesn't have to be that way though. A sensible change is needed. NASCAR could do something simple and not have to undercut the teams in the process. More importantly, not only does the change need to be sensible but also it needs to be done once and then left alone. Qualifying should set the field. It should be procedural. It is ok if it only fulfills the basics of setting the field. That is fine. People would understand.

This is a chance for NASCAR to address its problem and start the process of coming back to earth and be a racing series. If there is one series that needs less drama it is NASCAR. It has been exhausting trying to keep up with NASCAR. It seems like every decision has been made knowing it could piss people off and NASCAR has been ok with that. It has been ok with pitting people against one another. It is ok creating grudges during qualifying of all sessions! It is constantly stirring the pot in hopes more combativeness will lead to more attention but if all we ever hear is bickering people will tune out.

The bad news is NASCAR's search for drama, for rivalries, for anger has hurt its fan base in the process. NASCAR pretty much says every time it makes a change it is for the fans and it is bullshit and it could not have been made clearer that is bullshit than Friday in Fontana when the system provided a qualifying session that decided pole position where no laps were completed.

It is time for sensibility to take over. It is time for NASCAR to admit it has a problem and get back to the basics of a racing series. It is time for rehabilitation, restructuring life to achieve basic daily tasks without reaching for the poison that causes the series to stray from the path and finding joy in accomplishing the little things each day.

Or NASCAR can continue to feed its addiction and become even more unrecognizable from the series we once knew. We all know how this ends for an addict that cannot get enough.


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

The #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Eric Curran won the 12 Hours of Sebring. The #911 Porsche of Nick Tandy, Frédéric Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet won the GTLM class, their second consecutive Sebring victory in class. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of Cameron Cassels, Andrew Evans and Kyle Masson won in the LMP2 class. The #11 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers and Rolf Ineichen won in the GTD class, its second consecutive victory of the season.

The #8 Toyota of Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima won the 1000 Miles of Sebring. The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of David Heinemeier Hansson, Jordan King and Will Stevens won in the LMP2 class. The #91 Porsche of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni won in GTE-Pro. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell, Julien Andlauer and Christian Ried won in GTE-Am, their fourth victory of the season.

Scott McLaughlin won three of four Supercars races from Melbourne. He did not start the third after an accident on the reconnaissance laps. That handed a victory to Chaz Mostert.

Álvaro Bautista swept the three World Superbike races from Buriram.

Cole Custer won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Fontana.

Marvin Musquin won the Supercross race from Indianapolis.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar will have its first race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
NASCAR has a short-track race at Martinsville.
Formula E is back in the People's Republic of China and in the tropical location of Sanya.
Supercross makes an earlier trip to Seattle.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

2019 1000 Miles of Sebring/12 Hours of Sebring Preview

This weekend marks the long-awaited Sebring weekend but this year for different reasons.

Not only will it be the 67th 12 Hours of Sebring but it will be the first edition of the 1000 Miles of Sebring for the FIA World Endurance Championship. This illustrious doubleheader will see the FIA World Endurance Championship hit the track for its race at 4:00 p.m. ET on Friday March 15th with the 12 Hours of Sebring starting at 10:40 a.m. ET on Saturday March 16th.

It has been six weeks since the IMSA season opener from Daytona but it has been four months since the FIA World Endurance Championship last contested a race. This preview aims to answer any questions heading into this weekend's dynamic duo of endurance events.

We start with the FIA WEC...

How many laps is 1000 miles at Sebring?
Either 267 or 268 laps, it all depends if the FIA wants to round up or round down but this race has a curfew of midnight so this race will take no longer than eight hours.

Where do we stand in this championship?
The #8 Toyota of Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima lead with 102 points, five points over the sister car, the #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López. The #7 Toyota has won the last two races after the #8 won the first two races and both cars were disqualified from Silverstone, gifting that victory to the #3 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13 of Gustavo Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche.

Do any other teams have a shot at the overall victory if the Toyotas aren't disqualified?
Probably not but it is Sebring and the track eats race cars. We have seen two Toyotas break down before and hand a victory to another team. You cannot rule it out. It is unlikely but it should not be surprising.

What about the other class? Let's start with LMP2.
Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stéphane Richelmi have won three of five races in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca and with 112 points holds a ten-point lead over the #36 Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão. Because the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca has had an entire shift change with all three Malaysian drivers Weiron Tan, Jazeman Jaafar and Nabil Jeffri being dropped the LMP2 championship will be a two-horse race from here.

And GTE-Pro?
Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre are kind of running away with it in the #92 Porsche. They have 111 points, two victories and have been on the podium in all five races. The next closest competitions are the #66 Ford GT of Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla and the #91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz, both 43 points back.

Finally, GTE-Am?
Team Project 1 of Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti lead with 20 points but they are scrambling to make the race after a testing accident preparing for Sebring. It is unclear the #56 Porsche will make the race.

Who is positioned to pounce in GTE-Am?
Our old friends, the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda. The only way they can get the championship lead at Sebring is through a victory and they might not do that but if they can erase most of the deficit in this race it will set up for a nervy final two rounds at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans for the Team Project 1 Porsche.

With this being an American round, anyone making a cameo? 
Corvette will field an entry for Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Mike Rockenfeller. They will drive the #63 Corvette.

Ford will have Billy Johnson as a third driver in the #66 Ford GT and Jonathan Bomarito in the #67 Ford GT.

Gunnar Jeannette will be in the #50 Larbre Compétition Ligier with Edwin Creed and Romano Ricci.

What other changes since the last race?
With the previously mentioned shake up in the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, David Heinemeier Hansson, Jordan King and Will Stevens will be in that car.

Jenson Button is busy doing some off-road stuff and Brendon Hartley will take his place in the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1.

Where is André Lotterer?
Doing some Formula E simulator work that could not be scheduled for any other time but this weekend so for the first time in his career he will be absent from an FIA WEC round.

Mathias Beche will slide into the #1 Rebellion R13 and Nathanaël Berthon will fill the vacancy in the #3 Rebellion R13.

So has anyone still be in every FIA WEC round?
Yes. Christian Ried and he will be in the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche.

Moving on to IMSA... Will Alonso be in the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac?
Nope. Toyota has strict orders and neither he nor Kobayashi will be competing in the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Who will join Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande then?
Matthieu Vaxivière.

How many drivers will be doing both races?
van der Zande
Hartley (More on him in moment)...
Harry Tincknell

Will it rain at Sebring?
There is a 90% chance of thunderstorms Saturday night. You have been warned. Go prepared!

Who is fighting uphill after Daytona?
Mazda. It lost both its cars due to fires within 20 minutes of each other and it started on pole position for that race. It can't get any worse for this team but it has not been getting any better. Add to it that the entire #55 Mazda lineup of Bomarito, Tincknell and Pla are running the night before. That mileage could catch up to them. The good news is Oliver Jarvis broke the Daytona track record, he won this race back in 2013 and he will be fresh for the 12 hours in the #77 Mazda with Tristan Nunez and 2008 12 Hours of Sebring winner Timo Bernhard.

Doesn't all signs point to Penske winning this race?
Let's see...

Two NASCAR Cup series victories, swept the opening weekend of the Supercars season, won the IndyCar season opener, was third in the 24 Hours of Daytona but who knows what happens if the race stays dry...

Yes, yes all signs point to another Penske victory.

If we have learned anything from 2019 it is Penske is going to win every race everywhere. Alexander Rossi was strong at Daytona and he returns in the #7 Acura with Ricky Taylor and Hélio Castroneves. The #6 Acura of Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud is capable of winning as well.

What about the other Cadillacs?
Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani were both strong at Daytona in the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac. Derani has won this race two of the last three years.

Its sister car had a bit of an off day at Daytona but Filipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa will be back at Sebring expect they will not have a Lusophone third driver because Brendon Hartley will be in the #5 Cadillac.

As for Juncos Racing and JDC-Miller Motorsports, it is not their times yet.

Could Nissan repeat?
Absolutely. It is a new team but CORE Autosport has done a standout job. This team fourth at Daytona and after very little time with the race car. This team does a great job with driver strategy and in all likelihood Jon Bennett will start the race, keep the car on the road and hand it off for Colin Braun and Romain Dumas to charge to victory and if they don't win they will likely come damn close.

Any LMP2 teams show up?
Performance Tech Motorsports with the #38 Oreca for Kyle Masson and Cameron Cassels and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports with the #52 Oreca for Matthew McMurry and Gabriel Aubry. Both entries have a TBA as third drivers.

Is Alex Zanardi here?
Nope. Back to your boring GTLM line ups of Jesse Krohn, John Edwards and Philipp Eng in the #24 BMW and Connor De Phillippi, Tom Blomqvist and Colton Herta in the #25 BMW.

Is Blomqvist going to make it this time?
.... Yes.

I guess we should have asked the same question for Conway as well above?
Conway was already in Sebring for testing last weekend so unless he left the country for some reason in the last four days I think he will be in this race.

Which IndyCar driver needs the GTLM class victory the most?
Scott Dixon finished second at St. Petersburg while Herta has already won the 24 Hours of Daytona and he finished eighth in the IndyCar season opener. Sébastien Bourdais has finished seventh at Daytona and retired after a smattering of laps at St. Petersburg. I think he is going to want this a little more than the other two.

This appears to be the one endurance race eluding Ford.
Kind of. Since 2014, the GTLM class winners at Sebring have been Porsche, Corvette, Corvette, Corvette and Porsche. Ford has only one podium finish in its three 12 Hours of Sebring attempts.

With the #3 Corvette drivers also running the WEC race, is it up to the #4 Corvette to carry the weight?
Yes and no. The #3 Corvette has won the GTLM class every odd year since 2015. This is an odd year. Oliver Gavin has the most class victories at Sebring among active drivers and that sixth victory was in 2016, however, in the other four Sebring races since the merger he and Tommy Milner have not finished better than sixth.

Porsche is going to win GTLM, isn't it?
It has the deepest line up. None of its six IMSA drivers are running the WEC race. Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki won last year and all three are back in the #911 Porsche and the other car is Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Mathieu Jaminet. Any one want to bet against either of these two entries?

Is GT Daytona a toss up between 17 cars representing eight manufactures?
You know it.

I have no clue who to pick. Grasser Racing Team is sticking around for Daytona this year but it will have only Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers and Rolf Ineichen in the #11 Lamborghini. Montaplast by Land Motorsport is still here with the #29 Audi and it has another Daytona penalty to avenge after it was disqualified from second place.

Add to those two mercenaries from Europe the regular characters of Mercedes-AMG Team Riley, two Meyer Shank Racing Acuras, two AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexuses, Lamborghinis from Magnus Racing and Paul Miller Racing, Scuderia Corsa's Ferrari, the Park Place Motorsports Porsche, a Starworks Audi, a Pfaff Motorsports Audi and the Turner Motorsports BMW and your guess is as good as mine in this class.

Four different manufactures have won this class the last four years and no team has repeated in this class since the merger.

Eventually that streak will have to end but I might put money on it continuing for just one more year.

And there you have it. Two races, one preview and 20 hours of racing are ahead of us this weekend. This weekend will be a first and hopefully the first of many co-dependent weekends to come.

2019 Formula One Preview

This year marks the 70th season for the Formula One World Championship and this season will feature 21 races contested by 20 drivers from 15 countries and ten teams representing seven countries. Not only is this a milestone season for Formula One but a milestone race will be taking place early in the year.

The season starts on March 17th in Australia on the streets of Melbourne's Albert Park for the 24th time. Sebastian Vettel has won this race the last two years after Mercedes-AMG won the prior three years. The second round of season is a fortnight later and it is the night event in Bahrain, another race where Vettel has won the previous two seasons after Mercedes-AMG won the prior three.

The third round of the season will be the Chinese Grand Prix on April 14th but it will also be the 1000th grand prix in the history of the Formula One World Championship. Red Bull won last year's race with Daniel Ricciardo after Mercedes had won the prior four years. The fourth round will be Formula One's fourth visit to the street circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan and there has yet to be a repeat winner in the history of that event.

Spain hosts the first European round of the championship on May 12th from Barcelona and Lewis Hamilton has won this race the last two years. The Monaco Grand Prix follows on May 26th and four different drivers have won the last four Monaco races.

Two weeks later Formula One makes its first stop on the North American continent with the Canadian Grand Prix. Last year, Vettel won in Montreal for the second time in his career and it was Ferrari's 14th victory in the event. The first back-to-back of the season is with the French and Austrian rounds on June 23rd and June 30th. Hamilton won the French Grand Prix last year but he retired in Austria allowing the home team Red Bull to take a popular victory with Max Verstappen. Silverstone hosts the tenth round on July 14th and Hamilton will be looking for an unprecedented sixth British Grand Prix victory while Vettel looks to back-to-back and get his third Silverstone victory.

The German Grand Prix marks the halfway point of the season on July 28th with ten races have been completed before and ten remaining on the schedule afterward. Germany is also the front end of the second back-to-back of the year with Hungary following on August 4th. Hamilton won both these races last year. Hungary is also the final round before the summer break.

When the summer break is over the teams will return to racing with another back-to-back. The Belgian Grand Prix will be on September 1st and the Italian Grand Prix will be on September 8th. Hamilton will be looking for an unprecedented sixth Italian Grand Prix victory while Mercedes will be looking for its tenth victory in that event. Singapore will host its race on the final day of the solstice on September 22nd. Vettel and Hamilton enter tied on fourth Singapore Grand Prix victories apiece. Singapore is also the front end of the fourth back-to-back of the season with the Russian Grand Prix scheduled for September 29th. Mercedes is undefeated in the Russian Grand Prix and Hamilton is the only driver to have won it multiple times. He has three Russian victories.

The Japanese Grand Prix will be on October 13th and Hamilton will try to match something only Michael Schumacher has accomplished. A victory at Suzuka would be Hamilton's third consecutive Japanese Grand Prix victory and his sixth overall in the event, matching only Schumacher, who won in Japan six times and won the race three consecutive years from 2000 to 2002. This year's race will occur 17 years to the day of Schumacher's third consecutive Suzuka victory.

The final back-to-back of the season will be the Mexican Grand Prix and the United States Grand Prix on October 27th and November 3rd respectively. Verstappen could join Jim Clark as the only three-time winners of the Mexican Grand Prix. Brazil hosts the penultimate round of the championship on November 17th. Ferrari will have a chance to tie McLaren's record of 12 Brazilian Grand Prix victories. Abu Dhabi will host the season finale on December 1st. It will be the first time a Formula One race will be held in December since the 1963 South African Grand Prix, which was held on December 28th.

This year's season will see a slight change to the point system but nothing that is unfamiliar. A point will be awarded to the driver who scores fastest lap on the condition that driver finishes in the top ten. If the driver with fastest lap does not finish in the top ten then no point will be awarded. The first ten seasons of Formula One from 1950-1959 awarded a point for fastest lap.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport
Lewis Hamilton: #44 Mercedes AMG F1 W10 EQ Power+
What did he do in 2018: Hamilton won his fifth World Drivers' Championship with 11 victories and 408 points.  He scored points in 20 of 21 races and in the 20 races he finished all were top five finishes. He also won 11 pole positions and had four fastest laps.
What to expect in 2019: Every sign points to Hamilton winning another world championship and ten more races but this year feels different. Ferrari was quicker, albeit by 0.003 seconds, at the Barcelona test. We never saw Mercedes flex its muscle. Mercedes is going to win races, Hamilton is going to win races but this feels like the year that Hamilton and Mercedes is dethroned. The team has not seemed this vulnerable since the return of the turbo-era. Hamilton is at worst going to be third in the championship and that is if everything goes wrong. He is set to be one of the top two.

Valtteri Bottas: #77 Mercedes AMG F1 W10 EQ Power+
What did he do in 2018: Bottas was fifth in the World Drivers' Championship with 247 points. He had  seven runner-up finishes, four to his teammate. He scored points in 19 of 21 races. He won two pole positions and led Formula One with seven fastest laps.
What to expect in 2019: I think Bottas wins a race this year. He took a lot of flack this offseason for his lack of performance and some of it has been unfair to him. He is going to be in the top five of the championship and he will be quick but we saw last year he isn't up to Hamilton's level. Bottas' results last year might be the give away that Mercedes is starting to slip because gone are the days of anyone being up to slip behind the wheel of the car and end up in the top two. Add to that Mercedes' concerns over Brexit, like 70% of the grid, and this year is set up to be a down year.

Scuderia Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel: #5 Ferrari SF90
What did he do in 2018: Vettel was vice-champion in the World Drivers Championship with five victories and 320 points. He scored points in 20 of 21 races. He won five pole positions and had three fastest laps.
What to expect in 2019: Vettel was fastest during testing and I think this is the year he challenges Hamilton to the end of the season. It was looking good for the first half of the year and everything fell apart once he slipped off the road in his home race. If Vettel starts the year with a victory or two I think his confidence will be hard to break. Ferrari will not have the same Brexit worries as Mercedes and if the ramifications significantly catch out other Formula One teams this could be the year Ferrari gets back on top simply because of location.

Charles Leclerc: #16 Ferrari SF9
What did he do in 2018: Leclerc was 13th in the World Drivers' Championship with 39 points and his best finish was sixth. He scored points in ten of 21 races.
What to expect in 2019: Leclerc will get some podium finishes but I am not sure when we start to see the results start coming in. He was 0.01 seconds off Vettel in testing. He may need a few races but I don't think we will be heading to Austria or Hungary and still be waiting for him to get a podium finish. A victory is another story. Vettel is gunning for the world championship and the front of the Formula One field is another level that you cannot prepare for until you experience it. I think he will be in the top five of the championship and I think he will finish ahead of Bottas.

Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
Pierre Gasly: #10 Red Bull Racing RB15
What did he do in 2018: Gasly was 15th in the World Drivers' Championship with 29 points and his best finish was fourth. He scored points five of 21 races.
What to expect in 2019: Gasly will be better than 2018 but I don't think he will be at the level of the driver he is replacing. Red Bull has taken on Honda and testing results were not great. Red Bull was behind Toro Rosso. That's not good for Red Bull. I think he will be in a fight for a top ten finish in the championship and I am not sure he will get on the podium.

Max Verstappen: #33 Red Bull Racing RB15
What did he do in 2018: Verstappen was fourth in the World Drivers' Championship with two victories and 249 points. He scored points in 17 of 21 races and he had fastest laps in Monaco and Canada.
What to expect in 2019: Verstappen was behind Gasly in testing. Everyone thinks this has to be when Honda gets it right but we have yet to see Honda make gains on one year to the next. It is always one step forward and two steps back. It appears that will be the case again in 2019. Verstappen may have some great days and maybe the Honda engine will be good enough to get Verstappen on the podium but I think for every one of those races there will be three where the best he can do is sixth or seventh.

Renault F1 Team
Daniel Ricciardo: #3 Renault R.S. 19
What did he do in 2018: Ricciardo was sixth in the World Drivers' Championship with two victories and 170 points. He scored points in 13 of 21 races. He won two pole positions and had three fastest laps.
What to expect in 2019: Renault looked good in testing but it still appears Formula One is more likely going to have Mercedes and Ferrari pull away from the rest of the field. I think there is a chance Ricciardo ends up sixth in the world championship again. He will have to be more reliable and the engine that let him down last year at Red Bull wasn't Honda, it was Renault. I would not be surprised if he got on the podium once or twice. I also would not be surprised if he is constantly in seventh.

Nico Hülkenberg: #27 Renault R.S. 19
What did he do in 2018: Hülkenberg was seventh in the World Drivers' Championship with 69 points and his best finish was fifth. He scored points in 11 of 21 races.
What to expect in 2019: Ladies and gentleman, the top non-Mercedes/non-Ferrari driver from preseason testing. Hülkenberg was fifth at Barcelona. He was the best of the rest last year. I think he could keep up those results and if the Renault engine is better while the Honda engine remains stagnant than he will move up the order. Can he get that elusive podium finish? If I think Ricciardo can do it then yes, I think Hülkenberg can do it but it will not be easy.

Rich Energy Haas F1 Team
Romain Grosjean: #8 Haas VF-19
What did he do in 2018: Grosjean was 14th in the World Drivers' Championship with 37 points and his best finish was fourth. He scored points in seven of 21 races.
What to expect in 2019: Haas is coming off its best year yet in Formula One and testing results were encouraging. Grosjean could not get out of his own way in 2018 and it allowed Kevin Magnussen to handily outscore the Frenchman but I think Grosjean has a more consistent 2019 and he might not finish ahead of his teammate but he will be closer to his teammate.

Kevin Magnussen: #20 Haas VF-19
What did he do in 2018: Magnussen was ninth in the World Drivers' Championship with 56 points and his best finish was fifth. He scored points in 11 of 21 races. He also had fastest lap at Singapore.
What to expect in 2019: Magnussen was behind Grosjean in testing but I think come the races those two will be close on track. These are two drivers that could be in the top ten of the championship. Can Haas take that next step up the grid and get a podium finish? It feels like that is possible with the Ferrari engine but it still seems to be a stretch.

McLaren F1 Team
Lando Norris: #4 McLaren MCL34 
What did he do in 2018: Norris was Formula Two vice-champion with one victory and 219 points.
What to expect in 2019: Testing went well for McLaren and Norris got a fair number of laps in. I think this is the year McLaren moves up the grid. It is not going to be winning races but the team seems to have worked the kinks from last year. I think the car will be more reliable and this could be the team that keeps Haas back.

Carlos Sainz, Jr.: #55 McLaren MCL34
What did he do in 2018: Sainz, Jr. was tenth in the World Drivers' Championship with 53 points and his best finish was fifth. He scored points in 13 of 21 races.
What to expect in 2019: This was a respectable test for Sainz, Jr. and it feels like he can bring this car home in the points on a regular basis. If I think Renault could have both its drivers on the podium, could McLaren do it? I would not be surprised if Sainz, Jr. did it but this feels like a team that could get a fifth place finish or even fourth in a race or two.

SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team
Sergio Pérez: #11 Racing Point RP19
What did he do in 2018: Pérez was eighth in the World Drivers' Championship with 62 points and his best finish was third. He scored points in 12 of 21 races.
What to expect in 2019: The team has a new look on life after it has shed the Force India tag and while this team did a great job rising to seventh in the constructors' championship after having all its points wiped off the board before the Belgian Grand Prix. But I think this is where things catch up with the team and it takes a slight step back. I think Pérez will score points but he might miss out on the top ten.

Lance Stroll: #18 Racing Point RP19
What did he do in 2018: Stroll was 18th in the World Drivers' Championship with six points after finishes of eighth in Azerbaijan and ninth in Italy.
What to expect in 2019: Somewhere between his 2017 and 2018 seasons. I am not sure he can get up to 40 points and 12th in the championship like 2017 but he should do better than six points this year. Could he score 25 points? Yeah. I think that is a reasonable goal. Does he finish ahead of his teammate? I think those two will be close to one another but the veteran does slightly better.

Alfa Romeo Racing
Kimi Räikkönen: #7 Alfa Romeo C38
What did he do in 2018: Räikkönen was third in the World Drivers' Championship with one victory and 251 points. He scored points in 17 of 21 races. He started on pole position at Italy and he had fastest lap at Austria.
What to expect in 2019: I am not sure. This is now the Alfa Romeo team, not Sauber with Alfa Romeo badging. Räikkönen had a tremendous final two years at Ferrari and there was a bit of magic still in him. This is a step back and I worry about the motivation. I think he can score points and move this team up the championship but I also think he could get highly unmotivated with a few poor races and the team could be in trouble.

Antonio Giovinazzi: #99 Alfa Romeo C38
What did he do in 2018: Giovinazzi ran the 24 Hours of Le Mans with AF Corse in the GTE-Pro class with Toni Vilander and Pipo Derani and they finished fifth in class. He also participated in six free practices for Sauber last season.
What to expect in 2019: The Italian was behind his teammate at the test but I think he will score at a similar rate to Räikkönen. It is really hard to judge because I think this team's results is depended on what it gets out of Räikkönen. If Räikkönen is participating and working on development then the team should be fine. If he is moody and has a day where he is 13th and just goes through the motions but offers little feedback then Giovinazzi and Alfa Romeo will be in trouble.

Scuderia Toro Rosso
Alexander Albon: #23 Toro Rosso STR14
What did he do in 2018: Albon was third in the Formula Two championship with four victories and 212 points.
What to expect in 2019: Albon was sixth in testing. It is hard to imagine Toro Rosso is going to go from ninth to fourth or possibly third in the constructors' championship. But maybe Toro Rosso's year with Honda gives it a leg up on the parent team and we could be looking at a repeat of the 2008 season. I think Albon is going to make mistakes but just going off testing, I got to think he will have to score points. How many is difficult to judge but if he is scoring points they come early in the season and then trail off and it would not come as surprise if as his points become harder to come by, Red Bull is scoring at a great rate than at the start of the season.

Daniil Kvyat: #26 Toro Rosso STR14
What did he do in 2018: Kvyat was a Scuderia Ferrari development driver.
What to expect in 2019: Kvyat's first stint at Toro Rosso and Red Bull did not go well and he was 0.016 seconds off his teammate. I can't see Kvyat returning to Formula One and finishing in the top ten of the championship with Toro Rosso but I have to say I think he is going to score some points.

ROKiT Williams Racing
George Russell: #63 Williams FW42
What did he do in 2018: He won the Formula Two championship with seven victories and 287 points.
What to expect in 2019: This will be a difficult year. If Russell gets a few points this year it will be a great achievement for him and Williams but he just has to get laps.

Robert Kubica: #88 Williams FW42
What did he do in 2018: Kubica was a Williams test driver.
What to expect in 2019: With all the troubles at Williams and the car being underdeveloped I think Kubica does not run the full season. I think he will be well off Russell. I think we are then looking at the difficult task of finding another driver who wants to spent half a season being a leech on the Formula One grid and that will not be Esteban Ocon.

The first practice of the season will take place at 9:00 p.m. ET on Thursday March 14th with second practice coming at 1:00 a.m. ET on Friday March 15th. Third practice will be at 11:00 p.m. ET on Friday with qualifying taking place at 2:00 a.m. ET on Saturday March 16th. The Australian Grand Prix will take place at 1:10 a.m. ET on Sunday March 17th.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Prepare For the Nightmare with an Umbrella

Josef Newgarden continued Team Penske's world domination and won the IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg, Team Penske's ninth victory in that event. Elsewhere in the world, NASCAR fans continue to get angry for the sake of anger, Formula E had a penalty decide a race winner and a Frenchman won in Mexico. MotoGP started its campaign with not one, not two but three photo finishes under the lights in Qatar. Looking ahead, we get ready for two endurance races in Florida and the World Drivers' Championship begins its 2019 season. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Prepare For the Nightmare with an Umbrella
With the IndyCar season getting underway from St. Petersburg it means the start of the new television deal in the United States and it is an exciting period. For half a decade people have been waiting for this day when NBC Sports took over full control of the IndyCar package, Indianapolis 500 and all.

It is an unknown territory for IndyCar. For over five decades the Indianapolis 500 has been on ABC. It became an institution. Everyone knew where the race was going to be shown. It is a little scary. What if people do not get the message and Memorial Day weekend passes without noticing the change and the race is forgotten? NBC has done a big push on the race. The race has been featured in greensheets and on-air promos for NHL games, Premier League games and other sporting events on the NBC family of networks. The race is getting its due but this will not be the first iconic event NBC has taken on this year and that debut did not go as planned.

The 24 Hours of Daytona joined the NBC Sports family this year and things started off well. NBC took the broadcast to another level with increased coverage of all classes in the race, increased commentator participation and it was an all-hands-on-deck effort with the IndyCar and NASCAR crews coming together.

It was a pretty good race through Saturday and into Sunday...

And then the rains came...

And the red flags...

And the waiting...

And all the excitement was gone before sunrise.

NBC's first 24 Hours of Daytona happened to be the one with arguably the worst weather in the event's history and any broadcast is going to suffer when there are three-plus hours of red flag coverage and another two or three hours of yellow flag coverage. It was out of the network's hands and it will have to wait until 2020 to have a full 24-hour race.

What is to say that will not happen this May for the Indianapolis 500?

This is preparing for the worst as a form of self-preservation. You cannot be disappointment if you expect it all to go wrong. We all want this year's race to be the Indianapolis 500 broadcast that returns to an elite level. We want it to be a broadcast that lives up to the race on track. This is the dream coming true. All the pieces are there for it to be spectacular but that doesn't mean everything will go in the network's and the race's favor.

It is going to be a massive missed opportunity if it rains significantly and the Indianapolis 500 is delayed deep into Sunday afternoon or pushed to Monday and you only get one shot at your first time.

We have been fortunate for the last decade. The Indianapolis 500 has been going through a drought since 2007. Every race this decade has gone off without a hitch and with one year to go in the 2010s, we are looking at something that has never happened in the history of the race: A decade that did not have a race hampered by rain.

The first decade and the 1940s are not really comparable because both had years when the race was not held because of World Wars. Even in that case, the 1915 race was pushed from May 29th to Monday May 31st because of flooded grounds and roads around the track and the 1940 race was slowed significantly with the final quarter of the race under caution due to rain.

The 1926 race was the first to be shortened because of rain with Frank Lockhart declared the winner after 160 laps and 400 miles. A brief shower occurred during the 1928 race. The 1931 race was delayed two hours because of rain and there were a few yellow flag period because of precipitation but all 500 miles were completed. Johnny Parsons won the 1950 races when it was called after 138 laps due to rain.

The race stayed in pretty good shape until 1967 when only 18 laps were completed on May 30th before the race was finished the following day. That was the start of a pretty wet period into the 1970s. The 1970 race was delayed 25 minutes, not bad compared to what was to come. Rain forced the race to take three days to complete and even after the race was not able to complete all 500 miles. The 1975 and 1976 races were rain-shortened at 174 and 102 laps respectively.

It was clear until 1986 when the race was pushed back a week due to rain. The 1991 race was delayed 55 minutes due to rain. The 1995 race delayed five minutes but 1997 would be another race that did not want to happen. The Sunday was completed washed out and only 15 laps were completed on Monday. Arie Luyendyk won his second Indianapolis 500 on a Tuesday. The following year was delayed 35 minutes due to rain.

The millennium started with a three-hour delay and a green flag coming after 2:00 p.m. There were two rain delays during the race in 2001 but all 500 miles were completed. The start in 2004 was delayed two hours before another hour and 47 minute delay after 28 laps were completed. The race reached lap 174 when the rain started, six laps were run under caution and with tornados in the area the race was called. The 2007 race started on time but one red flag occurred at lap 113. The race was restarted but at lap 163 the rains returned and three laps later the race was called.

We have been in the clear ever since but every IndyCar fan knows the perils of precipitation and in all of our guts we always feel like we are due for a delay. With every race of the 2010s having started and finished without a drop of rain pushing the start back or bring out a yellow or red flag it is feeling more and more likely to happen.

And we are masochists. We don't just think it is going to be a shower that delays the race an hour or a storm that props up after 179 laps of racing. We are expecting 1973. We are expecting Sunday to be a wash, Monday to be worse and Tuesday not to be much better but good enough for the race to get started with mostly empty grandstands and while millions have returned to work with throbbing hangovers after four days of binge drinking.

We fear the race happening while no one has a chance to watch and being completely forgotten.

Of course, this could be the decade the race survives high and dry but we cannot think that way because it has not happened before. We are realists. It is bound to rain on race day one of these years and while IndyCar has been on the rise and positivity flows through the series it still feels like the series that will have its biggest day washed out.

I don't want this to happen. No one wants this to happen. We have to prepare for it though.

It is the nightmare that will keep you up until Indianapolis 500 but if you have an umbrella you can at least get through it while staying dry.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Zachary Claman and Rinus VeeKay split the Indy Lights races from St. Petersburg. Parker Thompson swept the Indy Pro 2000 races and Braden Eves swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Kyle Busch swept the NASCAR races from Phoenix and now has 199 victories across the three national touring divisions.

Andrea Dovizioso won the Qatar Grand Prix by 0.023 seconds over Marc Márquez. Lorenzo Baldassarri won the Moto2 race. Kaito Toba won the Moto3 race.

Edoardo Mortara won the Hong Kong ePrix after Sam Bird was handed a five-second penalty for running into the back of André Lotterer. It is Mortara's first Formula E victory.

Ian James and Jade Buford split the GT4 America races from St. Petersburg.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Daytona.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Mexico, his second victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Formula One season starts with the Australian Grand Prix.
Supercars joins Formula One in Melbourne.
There will be two races from Sebring, the FIA World Endurance Championship 1000 Miles of Sebring and IMSA's 12 Hours of Sebring.
World Superbike will be in Buriram.
NASCAR heads to Fontana.
Supercross returns to Indianapolis.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

First Impressions: St. Petersburg 2019

1. This is how you shake off a slump, if that is what you want to call Josef Newgarden's 2018 season. With Scott Dixon coming off his fifth championship, Will Power coming off the Indianapolis 500 victory and another pole position, Alexander Rossi placing himself as the next champion in waiting and a handful of rookies that make you giddy, we kind of forgot Newgarden was still around, two years off a championship and he won three races last year. Everyone else was considered for the role of poster boy but Newgarden's name was a bit of an afterthought. 

Today, however, Newgarden reminded us he is still around and he isn't going anywhere. He was toward the front all weekend and while he didn't surge straight to the front, he and Tim Cindric hung on and while other were caught in lapped traffic, Newgarden pulled away, went from cycling back to third or fourth during a pit cycle to leading and from there he ran away with it. 

The pressure is always on at Team Penske and Newgarden bought some time with that championship but you are always looking to buy more. He did that today and he will look for a greater purchase in May. 

2. Scott Dixon was another driver who benefited from others being caught in traffic but this was a Scott Dixon-type day. He laid in the weeds and struck when necessary. It come him ahead of the likes of Will Power and Felix Rosenqvist, unfortunately for him Newgarden got a way. He might not be leading the championship after race one but the title defense is in a good position.

3. Will Power got stuck behind Spencer Pigot and Marco Andretti and that might have been the difference between him walking away with this one and leading 95 laps on the way to victory and his third place finish. It is still a solid start to the year for a driver who has had poor starts the last few seasons.

4. For about a quarter of this race it appeared Felix Rosenqvist was going to win on debut but Power leapfrogged him on one round of green flag pit stops and then he too was stuck in traffic. It is not a day to hang his head about. He looked great and he is going to win a race this season. 

5. Alexander Rossi was the fifth best driver today and the top five were head-and-shoulders above the field. He never really got in position to break into the contenders and days like these were rare for Rossi in 2018. He usually found a way through and was in conversations for at least a podium finish. That wasn't the case today but this is a great start to the season and something he can build on.

6. It seems like seven out of ten races the driver that finishes sixth isn't that flashy and that was James Hinchcliffe today. He just ran a solid race and got a solid result. The problem for Hinchcliffe is he does this almost every year, piles up top ten finishes at the start but these finishes are nowhere to be found at the end of the year. 

7. Simon Pagenaud was a mover early but this wasn't a race where he could get into the top five. Seventh is still a good result and his unfortunate break of not being able to put down a flyer in the first round of qualifying bit him. I think he will be fine and there is no reason to panic.

8. Colton Herta had an encouraging second race of his IndyCar career. He started 11th, which is good for most drivers but he knew he could have started in the top six. The race was a bit shaky at the start and he lost a few positions but he chipped away at it and finished eighth. That is pretty good for an 18-year-old. Many young drivers would keep free falling through the field. Herta was on fire at Austin during testing and he should be excited to return there in two weeks. 

9.  After teammate leader Sebastien Bourdais lost his engine early, everything fell onto Santino Ferrucci's shoulders and he got the result. I think the cautions went into his favor but he didn't put a wheel wrong after he went off in qualifying. It was a good weekend for him and I think better weekends are ahead of his this season. 

10. This was Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing's best day in IndyCar but the team has a lot to learn. They were running in the top six on speed at the start but a slow pit stop and some traffic pinned him back. This is one area that separate the likes of Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, Schmidt Petersen and even Coyne from the new teams likes Shank but Shank can get there. It will take some time and patience and Shank has both when it comes to this program. They deserved a top ten finish today and got it. 

11. A look at some Americans: Spencer Pigot was out there and he doesn't deserve blame for Power not being able to get by him, they were both on the lead lap. Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti both made questionable strategy choices and neither worked out. Andretti was fighting from behind from the start. This could have been worse for the both of them but they made the most of today. Zach Veach hasn't been great at any street circuit yet but this weekend was probably the best of his brief IndyCar career.

12. At one point, it appeared the cautions were going Tony Kanaan's way and he might finish in the top five but definitely in the top ten and that wasn't the case. He didn't have the pace and he had a few bad pit stops and the slump continues. Add on top of that Matheus Leist clipped Ed Jones and that ruined his day early. It is another bad start for the Foyt team.

13. This weekend was better for Carlin than the results show. Charlie Kimball was running in the top ten when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop and Max Chilton had a bad qualifying run put him at the back. They were better than 16th and 17th. I think the results will come with the introduction of Patricio O'Ward. 

14. Ben Hanley kept his nose clean and he was not a roadblock from 12th on the grid but he and DragonSpeed have a long way to go and making the Indianapolis 500 could be a massive achievement for this team. 

15. It appeared at the start Honda was going to be in trouble when both Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay lost engines within the first 30 laps. Add to that Marcus Ericsson had some engine issues and Takuma Sato pulled off due to some mechanical issues. Honda didn't pull off the victory but the Ganassi cars and Rossi stayed at the front and kept the pressure on the Penskes. The mechanical issues might be something we need to keep an eye on throughout the season.

16. Honda aside, can Hunter-Reay get a break? Every year he seems to be the one with the engine failure while in the top five. He is going to have good days but his bad days are dreadful and are more frequent than most other drivers at his level. Ericsson's debut was going well and it sucks he wasn't able to show off more. Practice went well and he was strong at the start. This rookie class is good, it is only going to get better when Patricio O'Ward arrives and I would not be surprised if there is a race with four rookies in the top ten at some point in 2019. Hell, we had three rookies in the top ten today!

17. NBCSN has been doing races since 2012 and, dating back to the days of Versus, since 2009, but this race was different. A few different things were tried and the Peacock Pit Box was there. Nothing was different with the booth but with Marty Snider and Kelli Stavast on pit lane, Jon Beekhuis and Robin Miller on the pit box. I love Beekhuis and he is good everywhere. He and Miller balanced each other out and they had great rapport. 

I think NBCSN is going to try things. Miller should be mainstay on the pit box but I think we could see a rotation with Snider, Stavast and Lee on the pit box. The pit box isn't going to be at every race and it will be interesting to see how the broadcast changes when the NASCAR season starts. Snider and Stavast will likely go back to NASCAR and maybe one or two return for Laguna Seca or one of the other network races. The broadcast is going to feel familiar but there will be differences as experimentation happens.

The network caught a bad break with technical difficulties but that will not be the standard. 

18. I wanted to touch on international television rights for a second because while the United States got the deal most American fans had dreamed for, some countries were not so fortunate, namely Canada and Australia. The deal for these two countries were not announced until a handful of days before the St. Petersburg round and neither were met with much fanfare from the fans into those respectful countries. In Canada, the television deal meant it was on a higher-tier, meaning fans had to pay more to watch the races. In Australia, no IndyCar race will be shown in its entirety live this year, not event the Indianapolis 500, but rather all IndyCar races will be condensed into a one-hour highlights show.

Many pinned this directly on IndyCar but IndyCar isn't the only party involved. The networks make a choice where IndyCar goes when it comes to broadcasting and how much time it deserves. It is no secret that IndyCar is niche and if the audience was substantial in Canada, a size large enough that made it the second-most watched sporting event in the country when each race was on then Sportsnet would make it more readily available. Instead, it is a property that Sportsnet has deemed requires an additional cost to view.

When it comes to Australia, it is peculiar that a country where IndyCar is trying to get a race will have no live races and only one-hour highlights. If IndyCar was hoping to return to the Surfers Paradise, especially for 2020, it would make sure people could watch the races live. There is quite a time difference between North America and Australia, so maybe the Australian broadcaster made the decision it is not worth showing the races live, an unfortunate choice and one that should not be made in 2019 because there is always someone who wants to watch it live and expects such but again it could have been something out of IndyCar's hands and IndyCar had to get a deal done.

Is it on IndyCar to make sure its races are most readily available in each country? To an extent but it also has to get a deal done and one that makes the most sense in terms of business. The one call from this kerfuffle is IndyCar to have its own streaming service internationally but I don't think people realize how that devalues every international television deal and could end up costing IndyCar money. While it seems like a slam dunk, IndyCar needs to maximize the value of every television deal and if providing a streaming service significantly hurts television ratings than it will get less for broadcasting rights and that total cannot be made up through subscriptions.

The lateness of these deals was concerning and it wasn't a secret that these deals had to be tied up. With the length of IndyCar's offseason it is disappointing it took until the 11th hour for many countries to finalize agreements. We don't know the lengths of these deals but they seem set for 2019. You are not going to like to hear this but 2019 might have to be chalked as a loss and attention has to turn to making improvements for 2020.

19. Another race is two weeks away and it is the first visit to Circuit of the Americas. I think it will be a thrilling race with the long straightaways. Robin Miller keeps saying if IndyCar puts on great races at Barber than Austin should be fine and I agree with that statement.

Morning Warm-Up: St. Petersburg 2019

Will Power continues his charge for the all-time lead in pole position
For the eighth time in his career, Will Power will start on pole position for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It is Power's 55th career position, 12 behind Mario Andretti for the all-time record. Power took the top honor with a time of 60.4594 seconds in the final round of qualifying. Power has qualified on the front row for five consecutive St. Petersburg races and in nine of his 11 St. Petersburg appearances. Despite his qualifying record, Power has led only five laps in the last three St. Petersburg races. He was unable to start the 2016 race due to an inner-ear condition, he led five laps in 2017 and he spun on the opening lap of last year's race. Josef Newgarden made it an all-Penske front row after he finished 0.0976 seconds off his teammate in the final round of qualifying. It is Newgarden's first front row start at St. Petersburg and he is looking for his first top five finish in this race. Newgarden could become the first American to win the season opener driving for Team Penske since Sam Hornish, Jr. on February 29, 2004 at Homestead.

This is the fourth time Team Penske has swept the front row at St. Petersburg and the team has won each of the prior three times it swept the front row. However, in each of the prior three front row sweeps the winner was not one of the drivers that started on the front row. In 2012, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe were on the front row but it was Hélio Castroneves who won the race from sixth. Three years later, Power and Pagenaued were on row one but Juan Pablo Montoya won from fourth. The following year Pagenaud and Castroneves were on the front row after Power was sidelined due to his inner-ear condition but Montoya again won from fourth.

Felix Rosenqvist qualified ahead of teammate Scott Dixon on his IndyCar debut with Rosenqvist ending up third, one position ahead of Dixon. The most recent IndyCar victory for a Swedish driver was Kenny Bräck on November 17, 2002 at Mexico City, 5,957 days ago. Bräck is the only Swedish driver with a victory in IndyCar history and he won nine races. Stefan Johansson, the agent for both Rosenqvist and Dixon, finished third place four times in his IndyCar career. Rosenqivst has not won a season opener since the first race of the 2015 FIA Formula 3 European Championship season at Silverstone. This is the sixth consecutive season Dixon has started in the top ten at St. Petersburg. In the last ten season openers, Dixon has been the top Ganassi finish in seven of them. The exceptions were in 2009 and 2011 when Dario Franchitti was the top finisher and 2015 when Tony Kanaan the top finisher.

Penske swept row one, Ganassi swept row two and Andretti Autosport swept row three with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. Hunter-Reay has four podium finishes at St. Petersburg, level with Belle Isle and behind only Iowa, where he has five podium finishes. He has led only eight laps in 12 St. Petersburg starts including one lap last year. This is Rossi's best starting position at St. Petersburg. His previous best was eight in 2017. Rossi has improved on his St. Petersburg finish each year after he finished 12th as a rookie, 11th as a sophomore and third in his third season. Hunter-Reay and Rossi have led a combined 13 laps at St. Petersburg. 

Jack Harvey will start a career best seventh after he advanced to the second round of qualifying for the first time of his IndyCar career. His previous best was 13th at Portland last year. Charlie Kimball qualified eighth, his best starting position in this race. This is Kimball's first top ten starting position since he started fifth at Watkins Glen in 2017. Kimball has finished on the lead lap twice at St. Petersburg. He did it in 2012 and 2013. James Hinchcliffe will start ninth. Hinchcliffe has not started in the top five since he started fourth for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis last year. Graham Rahal rounded out the top ten. Rahal's runner-up finish in last year's St. Petersburg race was only the second time he has finished in the top ten in the season opener. In 2009, he finished seventh in the season opener from St. Petersburg after he started on pole position.

Colton Herta was set to advance to the final round of qualifying but he was penalized and lost his best two laps after he was deemed to have impeded Kimball during the second round of qualifying. Instead of starting in the top six, he will start 11th with fellow rookie Ben Hanley joining him on row six. Hanley has been at the bottom all weekend but a clumsy group one session in round one where two red flags occurred, Hanley advanced while a few other drivers failed to put in an official lap let alone a flyer. Herta could become the youngest winner in IndyCar history in any one of the first nine races this season. Graham Rahal holds the record at 19 years, three months and two days. Herta does not turn 19 years old until March 30th. His father Bryan was 28 years, three months and 21 days old when he won his first career race at Laguna Seca in 1998.

Simon Pagenaud was one of those drivers caught out in group one and while he got a time on the board, he will have to start 13th. This is the third consecutive year and sixth time in eight St. Petersburg appearances Pagenaud will start outside the top ten. He qualified second on the other two occasions. Zach Veach joins Pagenaud on row seven, one starting position better than he had in this race last year. 

Ed Jones and Spencer Pigot make up an all-Ed Carpenter Racing row eight. St. Petersburg is one of two tracks where Jones has finished in top ten in every one of his starts. The other two are Long Beach and Road America. Pigot's average finish on street courses last year was 16.6 with his best finish being tenth at Belle Isle. In 14 street course starts over his entire career, his average finish is a marginally better 16.285 with his best finish being eighth at Long Beach in 2017. Ed Carpenter Racing has only one top ten finish in the season opener in the team's history and it was Luca Filippi, who finished ninth in the 2015 season opener when the team was under the CFH Racing name.

Marco Andretti's team failed to get the fuel line connected and he was unable to complete a lap in qualifying. Fortunately for him, since he was one of four drivers from group one not to complete a lap, he will start 17th based on qualification order. Andretti has finished on the podium in the season opener twice in his career. He was the runner-up finisher to Dixon at Homestead in 2008 and he finished third at St. Petersburg in 2013 behind Hinchcliffe and Castroneves. The last time an Andretti won the season opener was his father Michael at Homestead in 1998. Marcus Ericsson will start 18th in his IndyCar debut. Ericsson started 19th in his Formula One debut at Melbourne in 2014 and he finished 17th in that race.

Sébastien Bourdais was unable to register a lap in group one and he will start 19th. Bourdais has won the last two years at St. Petersburg and he is already one of 22 drivers to have won three consecutive races at one track. He did it at Long Beach from 2005 to 2007. He could become the sixth driver to win three consecutive races at multiple tracks. Ralph DePalma, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti each won at least three consecutive races at three different tracks. DePalma did it at Elgin, Sheepshead Bay and Speedway Park. Foyt won four consecutive races at DuQuoin and five consecutive races at Trenton to go along with a streak of three consecutive victories at Texas World. Andretti won four consecutive races at Mont-Tremblant and had three-peats at Indianapolis Raceway Park's road course and Trenton. Al Unser, Jr. had two separate three-peats at Long Beach and Vancouver and Dixon had a three-peat at Watkins Glen and at Nashville.

Takuma Sato was set to advance to round two but he lost his fastest lap for causing a local yellow and instead he will start 20th, the worst starting position of his career at St. Petersburg. He had six consecutive top ten starts in this race entering the weekend. The driver that advanced at the hands of Sato's penalty was Scott Dixon. 

A.J. Foyt Racing swept row 11 with Tony Kanaan starting ahead of Matheus Leist. A.J. Foyt Racing's best finish at St. Petersburg was sixth in the 2016 race with Takuma Sato. The team has not had a top five finish in the season opener since Vitor Meira finished third at São Paulo in 2010.

Santino Ferrucci caused one of the two red flags in group one and he will start 23rd. Ferrucci could become the second Connecticut-born driver to win in IndyCar. Scott Sharp won nine races in his career with his final victory coming on August 14, 2005 at Kentucky. Ferrucci will be 20 years, nine months and ten days old on race day, four days younger than Scott Dixon when Dixon won his first career race. Ferrucci would be the fifth-youngest winner in IndyCar history. Rounding out the grid will be Max Chilton. Chilton's only top ten finish on a street course was seventh at Toronto in 2017. The only top five finish of his IndyCar career was fourth in the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

NBCSN's coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 1:37 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 110 laps.