Friday, March 29, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: March 2019

IndyCar, Formula One and MotoGP all started this month. The FIA World Endurance Championship returned after a four-month break. A few records were broken. The clocks changed and so did the season. A lot of things are on the table, from rule changes to the future and what is race and where race cars go. There were some fascinating stories this month.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

Let's start with Formula One.

Fastest lap points will be irrelevant and confusing
This is wrong. I don't know if it will be proven wrong this year but it is wrong.

Will fastest lap points decide who win a championship? It is not likely but it has happened before. Mike Hawthorn won the 1958 World Drivers' Championship over Stirling Moss by one point. That season, like every season from 1950-1959 in Formula One, awarded a point for fastest lap. Hawthorn scored five fastest laps that year while Moss scored only three.

There is a lot decides a championship and if Moss finished one position better in any of his ten starts or Hawthorn finished a position worse in any of his ten starts the title could have gone in the other direction but the same is true with fastest laps. Remove the points and Moss wins the title. If Moss had scored one more fastest lap that year he would have won the title on tiebreaker.

It is ridiculous to say it will be irrelevant when history shows it has played a role in a championship prior.

Did the fastest lap point have to come back? Was that the problem hanging over Formula One? No and we would have been fine living without it but it is here and it is a bit of a throwback. I don't think it is a bad thing and Formula Two and Formula Three award it.

It is not confusing. Here, I will show you:

Did you score fastest lap? No.

Then you do not get the point.

Did you score fastest lap? Yes.

Did you finish in the top ten? Yes.

Then that driver gets the point.

Did you score fastest lap? Yes.

Did you finish in the top ten? No.

Then you do not get the point.

It is simple. It is not confusing at all. Somebody cannot understand a basic change I guess.

Hamilton critical of reduced free TV presence
Lewis Hamilton has a point and unfortunately I do not have an answer for it.

Television is changing and the companies that have the money are cable outlets, otherwise known as pay-tv outlets, and while a lot of people get it, a fair portion does not, and even those people that get it might not have the correct tier and Formula One is again out of their reach.

The problem is it is a business and while Formula One could sell TV rights for a lower price to get to more people it is shorting itself financially it is going to get the most it can upfront.

And it sucks but there is not easy answer.

Even when an outlet, a free TV outlet buys the television rights it does not mean that is where it will air. In the United States, these companies need to drive viewers to the cable sports channel. That is why the Formula One races are on ESPN or ESPN2 and maybe one or two races are on ABC. It is why NBCSN/CNBC showed 16 to 17 races and NBC aired three or four races.

Formula One can't force the races to be shown on free tv and if it, the price would go down significantly. Instead of have two or three or four properties in a bidding war because they need another sports entity, Formula One would be practically giving it away for nothing and that is not how Formula One works.

I wish there was an easy answer. I wish there was a way for Formula One be more available to everyone around the globe but the world has changed and there is a barrier to entry when it comes to viewing races.

Zak Brown threatens to pull McLaren out of F1
This is a bluff because McLaren's board isn't going to let him pull the team out of Formula One.

The last six or seven years have been rough for McLaren but Formula One is its identity. There is nothing that can fill the void if it left.

IndyCar isn't going to get the job done and neither would the hypercar class in the FIA World Endurance Championship. McLaren needs to be in Formula One. It can join any other championship but they all mean nothing if McLaren is not in Formula One.

Liberty blames Ecclestone for F1's calendar issues
It is always easy to blame the predecessor.

Bernie may not have made it easy but this is where Liberty Media has to step up and decide what it wants Formula One to be and where it wants Formula One to go.

Liberty Media has been the party that has been chasing expanding the schedule and throwing out races on the streets of Copenhagen, Miami and Las Vegas and it has already inked a deal for a race in Hanoi.

I think Liberty Media has to sit down and look at the calendar and decide what it needs, what it wants and how to get all those piece to fit together. Formula One is at the limit. We have 21 races now and with talks of 25 races that is pushing the teams being on the road every other week of the calendar year. I can't imagine that will be a popular thing for teams and crews and it would be a breaking point.

What is Formula One?

My heart would break if Monza, Silverstone, Monaco, Spa-Francorchamps, Suzuka and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve were not on the schedule. Are those the six venues Formula One must have? Maybe but I also believe Formula One has to be in France, Germany, Brazil, Australia and the United States. The list is now at 11 events. We are also in the 21st century and there are venues that cannot be ignored. China is one of those, Singapore is one of those, Abu Dhabi is one of those. That gets us to 14 events.

How many races is realistic? While there are 21 now, I think 20 is the limit.

How do you fill the final six when Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Russia and Mexico are what is left of the current rounds, Vietnam is already on the books and countries like the Netherlands, Denmark Argentina, Portugal and South Africa are all on the outside and a second race in the United States has been floating in the background?

It is tough to rotate races because tracks to make their money back having a race every other year. In a better world you could work something out where Formula One goes to a track one year and the next FormulaTwo goes and the rotation makes the event viable but that is not practical.

Liberty Media can blame Bernie all it wants but it has the keys now and it is time for it to make the difficult decisions.

On to NASCAR...

Brad Keselowski's Penske record will be 'tough to beat'
Considering Scott McLaughlin has won 23 races in less than three years with Team Penske I think there is a good chance he could run down Keselowski especially if he stays in Australia.

What Keselowski has going for himself is he is still active and will get a chance to raise the bar with each race. The other thing that makes this record a little more achievable is in NASCAR you can moonlight and run two series and pad your stats with some victories in NASCAR's second division. If you have a great year as a Penske development driver and say win eight or nine races that is a great start. Combine that with a dazzling Cup career and some double dipping and it isn't that hard to break.

Joe Gibbs: Kyle Busch is "driven by trying to do something great"
No shit, aren't all of us? Isn't every driver out there trying to do something great? Name one driver who is out there just to be mediocre? Most won't be able to accomplished it, most will not recognize what it takes to reach the heights but they still want to be great. It doesn't make Kyle Busch special.

Kyle Larson believes World of Outlaws is made for live TV
He is not entirely wrong but there is a reason why we don't see people throwing money at World of Outlaws and there is a reason why World of Outlaws isn't trying to be a live sports property.

For starters, you are going to have to convince track promoters that live television is not going to stop people from coming out to the racetrack. The same way television didn't kill radio or movie theaters and the same way live broadcasts of the Indianapolis 500 hasn't turned that place into a ghost town people are still going to show up to Williams Grove, Knoxville, Chico, Eldora, Dodge City and Grand Forks.

The other issue is I don't think World of Outlaws is going to want and try to fit a television window. Though heat races and the multiple main events building up to an A-Main is thrilling stuff and quick races, the A-Main can't start at 12:30 a.m. ET. Television isn't going to give World of Outlaws a six-hour television window. It would get three hours tops to get everything in and the preferred end time would be around 11:00 p.m. ET.

Not every World of Outlaws event could be shown live. You think people are burned out on NASCAR after 38 weeks, what do you think would happen if World of Outlaws was on four to five times a week from February to November.

This isn't going to happen because dirt racing does not embrace change all that well especially when it is told to change from an outside point of view.

I am all for some events being shown live. It sucks that the Knoxville Nationals hasn't been on live television for what feels like almost a decade. I would really love to see NBC Sports pick up the biggest dirt events (Chili Bowl, Kings Royal, Knoxville Nationals, 4-Crown Nationals, Hoosier Hundred and maybe Turkey Night Grand Prix, although I am not sure how that would do on Thanksgiving night) and show those live. Outside of those few events I am not sure there is the appetite there for that much live dirt racing.

From dirt to sport cars....

Opinion: Why it's time Le Mans took another look at DPi
Because manufactures are not committing to the hypercar regulations and DPi already has a handful of manufactures.

This has not gone to plan for the ACO and time is running out and with time running out on commitment for the inaugural season of the hypercar regulations something has to be done. The ACO cannot afford to have only Toyota commit or no manufactures commit but maybe a privateer of Glickenhaus. Manufactures have carried the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 21st century, first Audi then Audi and Peugeot, then Audi and Toyota, the trio of Audi, Toyota and Porsche, that brief spell with Nissan, Toyota and Porsche and ending with Toyota only.

The race and the world championship would lose a lot of ground if the top class is only privateer entries and that is nothing against the likes of Glickenhaus but manufactures bring a lot more money and that makes things go round.

Atherton Expecting Sebring WEC Return
Well... it is already on the next WEC schedule so I think it is going to happen.

I thought this year's race was a success. I think both organizations got an equal amount of track time. I do not think anyone lost out or were shortchanged. The second pit lane looked really good. I think the fans that attended enjoyed it immensely.

There are a few tweaks that could be made. When it was first announced it was said the WEC race had to be something more than a 6-hour race because that is what is expected in America. I never agreed with that and I am glad WEC decided to have a Friday race. The 1000-mile/eight-hour distance was different and I did not mind it.

I think what could make the race better is moving the start time up so the race isn't ending at midnight. I would like to get the race over around 10:00 p.m. local time that way corner works can get at least 12 hours of rest before the 12 Hours of Sebring. That might cause an issue with the Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Could Michelin Pilot Challenge start at 10:00 a.m. and have WEC start at 2:00 p.m.? I don't know. It wouldn't be unheard of and Michelin Pilot Challenge races early at Lime Rock Park.

I think adjustments will be made and I look forward to this race in 2020.

Mazda: Daytona reliability issues have "been addressed"
(Looks at box score)... #55 Mazda finished sixth, one lap down. #77 Mazda finished 37th out of 38 cars, 115 laps down after stopping in the second hour due to an electrical issue.

Sebring was a step in the right direction especially after the fiery and early end at Daytona and I think Mazda can win at Long Beach. I think I have seen enough to know Mazda has the pace to run with Cadillac and Acura. Long Beach is only 100 minutes. The car doesn't have to last that long. The same goes for the other non-endurance races. I would not be surprised if Mazda won at Road America or Mosport. Even last year, the team finished second and third at Petit Le Mans. It isn't so much reliability but consistency of reliability.

It is a good car but it is one of those things where it has to put together three or four consecutive endurance races with no issues before I can stop holding my breath.

And we end with IndyCar...

Alonso tunes up for Indy 500 by winning Sebring WEC race
Can we stop making everything Fernando Alonso does relevant to the Indianapolis 500?

Alonso wasn't "tuning up" for Indianapolis with the WEC race. He was doing his job. He is a Toyota factory driver, who is in a championship fight. Ben Hanley apparently wasn't tuning up for Indianapolis at Sebring despite him being in the same race. The same goes for Jordan King in Formula Two. Is he tuning up for the Indianapolis 500?

Let's stop the nonsense.

It is great that Alonso is going to return to the Indianapolis 500 but let's not frame his entire life, his entire career around him attempting this one race. Let's not turn his lunch into part of his Indianapolis 500 preparations. Let's not make a trip to the beach somehow to be a vitamin D increase that will benefit him in the Indianapolis 500.

In this case, this was Alonso doing his other job. It had nothing to do with the Indianapolis 500.

That is that for March and April is here. The big series are underway and we wait for the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season to start. It will get warmer and some of our favorite races and racetracks will be here shortly.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

2019 California 8 Hours Preview

We end March with another endurance race and this one will come from the West Coast of the United States. Laguna Seca gets to host its first major event of the year with over a dozen GT3 cars with some of the top names from motorsports heading to the famed circuit.

What is this event?
It is the second race of the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge season. The season started almost two months ago at the Bathurst 12 Hour and there are three races after Laguna Seca. The next race will be the 24 Hours of Spa on July 27-28th. Suzuka will host a ten-hour race on August 25th. The finale will be the Kyalami 9 Hours on November 23rd.

This is the third California 8 Hours. The Intercontinental GT Challenge is sanctioned by SRO Group, which runs the litany of Blancpain GT Series around the globe including the recently rebranded Blancpain GT World Challenge America series.

With this race being in the United States, what Americans are in it?
Not many. In fact, all the American drivers are in the GT4 class and we are guaranteed to have Americans sweep the podium.

There are only three GT4 entries and all three have three Americans in the driver lineups.

PF Racing will run the #41 Ford Mustang for Jason Pesek, Jade Buford and Chad McCumbee. Buford won at St. Petersburg in the opening weekend for the GT4 America sprint season.

TRG has entered the #67 Porsche Cayman for Spencer Pumpelly, Chris Bellomo and Jason Alexandridis.

RHC Jorgensen/Strom by Strom Motorsport is the only team in this class that ran the Bathurst 12 Hour and it has entered the #113 BMW M4 for Daren Jorgensen, Brett Strom and Jonathan Miller. Jorgensen and Strom were class runner-ups at Bathurst.

This seems underwhelming.
Yes it is and that has been the theme of this race since its inception. Does taking place in the United States and running in conjunction with an American-based series the American teams do not turn out and it is disappointing.

There is no K-PAX Racing, which would have been a great addition with at least one if not two Bentley for Álvaro Parente, Andy Soucek and Rodrigo Baptiste.

It would have been great if Real Time Racing entered an Acura with Dane Cameron and Bret Curtis and maybe the team drafted in a Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach, Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe, Sébastien Bourdais or any other Honda IndyCar driver that would benefit from extra track time at the place that will host the season finale and has not hosted an IndyCar race since 2004 and if a Honda IndyCar driver was not possible then Ryan Eversley would have been a fan favorite addition.

GMG Racing is not there. Alegra Motorsports is not there. R. Ferri Motorsport is not there. Risi Competizine is not there. All would have been great additions and filled out this lineup with local drivers and teams to pull for against the mercenaries of the GT3 world.

So none of the top American teams showed up?
No, two did. Park Place Motorsports and Wright Motorsports are fielding the Porsche factory efforts with Bathurst winners Matt Campbell, Dennis Olsen and Dirk Werner in the #912 Porsche for Wright Motorsports.

Olsen does run with Wright Motorsports in World Challenge America but not included in this race is the other World Challenge America team for Wright Motorsports that include defending series champion Scott Hargrove and multi-time champion and Porsche's go-to American driver Patrick Long. You would think Porsche would have thrown a bone and made sure those two were in this race or at least the organizers.

Park Place Motorsports will operate the #911 Porsche for Romain Dumas, Matheiu Jaminet and Sven Müller.

Other than these two entries, what does the top class look like?
The GT3 class has 16 entries, which is actually pretty good. There are 20 entries, the 16 GT3 cars, the three GT4 entries and one GT Cup entry.

Who is doing well in this championship heading to Laguna Seca?
The #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG of Maximilian Buhk, Maximilian Götz and Raffaele Marciello are second in the championship on 18 points, seven points behind the Porsche of Campbell, Olsen and Werner.

Third place in the championship is not here. The Australian lineup of Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes and Shane van Gisbergen are not making the trip to America.

Fourth place in the championship is here with Augusto Farfus, Chaz Mostert and Martin Tomczyk in the #42 BMW Team Schnitzer BMW.

Maxime Soulet is fifth in the championship and he will have two different co-drivers in his Bentley at Laguna Seca. Lucas Ordoñez and Markus Palttala will join him in the #108 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley. The #107 Bentley has the lineup that is seventh in the championship of Jordan Pepper, Steven Kane and Jules Gounon.

KCMG will have Alexandre Imperatori, Oliver Jarvis and Edoardo Liberati in the #18 Nissan and that lineup is sixth in the championship. KCMG has also entered the #35 Nissan for Katsumasa Chiyo, Alex Buncombe and Joshua Burdon.

What can we take away from the previous California 8 Hours?
Audi is two-for-two in this race.

In 2017, the #44 Magnus Racing Audi of Kelvin van der Linde, Pierre Kaffer and Markus Winkelhock took the victory and last year van der Linde won with Christopher Mies and Christopher Haase in the #29 Land Motorsport entry. In fact, in both years Audi has gone 1-2 in this race with Land Motorsport finishing second in 2017 with Mies, Haase and Connor De Phillippi and last year with Audi Sport Team WRT with Winkelhock, Dries Vanthoor and Robin Frijns.

Audi has two entries in this race and it has split the deck. Van der Linde, Mies and Winkelhock will be in the #29 Land Motorsport Audi with Vanthoor, Haase and Frédéric Vervisch in the #10 Team WRT Audi.

Who can beat Audi?
Besides the two Porsches, Mercedes is probably the best bet because of power in numbers.

Besides the #999 Mercedes-AMG, Team GruppeM Racing has entered the #888 Mercedes-AMG for Maro Engel, Yelmer Buurman and Luca Stolz. The two Team GruppeM racing entries were 1-2 in Wednesday's test session with the #888 Mercedes of Engel leading the #999 Mercedes of Marciello.

Strakka Racing has entered two cars with Christian Nielsen, Adam Christodoulou and Dominik Baumann in the #43 Mercedes-AMG and Lewis Williamson, Gary Paffett and Tristan Vautier in the #44 Mercedes-AMG. Nielsen has won at Laguna Seca before. She won in IMSA's GT Daytona class in 2017 and she finished second at the track in 2016. Vautier ran last year's California 8 Hours and finished third.

Is there anyone we are missing?
Yes! Honda has entered a Honda NSXs and while it is neither Real Time Racing nor features an IndyCar driver it does has brought together Bertrand Baguette, Mario Farnbacher and Corkscrew legend Renger van der Zande in the #30 Honda Team Motul entry.

Walkenhorst Motorsport has entered a second BMW for this race with Christian Krognes, Nicky Catsburg and Mikkel Jansen in the #34 entry.

HubAuto Corsa has entered the only Ferrari in the field and it has brought over a few Australians. Nick Foster and Tim Slade will run their second race in the #27 Ferrari but it will have Miguel Molina in the car for Laguna Seca.

The lone GT Cup entry is the #88 ARC Bratislava Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo for Miroslav Konopka, Andrzej Lewandowski and Zdeno Mikulasko.

What should we expect?
Early signs point to Mercedes-AMG giving Audi a run for its money at Laguna Seca. Last year, Mercedes-AMG Team SunEnergy1 Racing qualified fifth and finished third while Strakka Racing had three cars finish in the top ten after having a car qualify on the front row.

Wright Motorsports finished fourth in last year's race but the best starting Porsche was fifth. Porsche had not won an Intercontinental GT Challenge event until it won at Bathurst last month. German manufactures have won seven consecutive Intercontinental GT Challenge races and nine of 11 all-time IGTC races.

Honda did not enter an NSX in last year's California 8 Hours but Real Time Racing finished fourth in the inaugural event with Cameron, Eversley and Tom Dyer, one lap down. What should give Honda confidence heading into this race is that the Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX of Katherine Legge and Andy Lally won in the GT Daytona class at the Laguna Seca IMSA race last September and the year before that Legge and Lally finished second.

Bentley has finished sixth in the last three IGTC races and it has not finished on the podium in the IGTC since the 2017 24 Hours of Spa when it finished second. Bentley has yet to win in IGTC.

Ferrari has one IGTC victory, the 2017 Bathurst 12 Hour with Maranello Motorsport and Craig Lowndes, Toni Vilander and Jamie Whincup.

What is the timetable?
There will be a test session later today at 12:20 p.m. ET with the first free practice scheduled for 2:35 p.m. ET. Pre-qualifying will take place at 6:05 p.m. ET.

Qualifying will start at 2:20 p.m. ET tomorrow. The session has been broken up into three 15-minute parts with each driver from each entry participating. The top ten cars will advance to the pole shootout scheduled for 6:40 p.m. ET.

The California 8 Hours will start at 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday March 30th.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

NASCAR's 2020 Calendar Might Not Be So Bad For IndyCar

I was trying not to have IndyCar in mind when NASCAR released its 2020 Cup schedule on Tuesday but it is unavoidable. Everything NASCAR does causing a reaction throughout the North American motorsports landscape and sometimes IndyCar feels those changes more than most.

NASCAR got a second Cup date at Texas and the second IndyCar race went away. NASCAR got a second Phoenix Cup date and the IndyCar race went away. IndyCar returning to Michigan, Richmond, Kentucky and Fontana all comes down to NASCAR. It is about finding time to fit in between the NASCAR races. We have to take IndyCar into consideration. One change for NASCAR can knock over the dominoes and force a change in the IndyCar landscape.

At first glance, it seemed like IndyCar was going to be forced into a difficult situation for a few races, especially late in the season, but after a second, third and fourth look, IndyCar might be in the clear and it appears NBC Sports looked out for IndyCar with some of these decisions. Of course, a lot of this is dependent on the IndyCar schedule remaining the same and there being a 100% retention rate from 2019 to 2020. For this case, we are going to keep say every race on the 2019 schedule will be back in 2020.

There were changes in the Fox portion of the NASCAR season, not nearly as seismic as the NBC portion, but it does cause an issue for St. Petersburg and Austin.

St. Petersburg will be March 15th, the weekend NASCAR will be at Atlanta. Those tracks are near to one another but I don't think that is the end of the world. The worry is when it comes to television and the last few years St. Petersburg has been a weekend when NASCAR is out west and the races have avoided head-to-head competition.

Austin could be in a pickle. If IndyCar maintains the off week between St. Petersburg and Austin that would mean Austin and the Texas Cup race would be the same weekend. Austin already has this problem with the United States Grand Prix and the second Texas Cup race. If IndyCar runs Austin the week after St. Petersburg it is likely head-to-head with the 12 Hours of Sebring, although we have not heard when the 2020 12 Hours of Sebring will be scheduled.

IndyCar did have three weeks between the first and second rounds as recent as last year. Two weeks between St. Petersburg and Austin is not a likely option because Easter is April 12th and typically when Easter is that weekend Long Beach is the first weekend of April, which would be April 5th.

We are going to lose out. Either IndyCar is going to run head-to-head with Sebring or Austin is going to run head-to-head with the NASCAR Cup race at Texas. The only way this could be avoided is if St. Petersburg moves up a week and Austin takes March 15th or Austin becomes the season opener for one season on March 8th.

Once you get to Easter it calms down. Barber can move to April 19th, you get two weeks off before the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Saturday May 9th with the Indianapolis 500 on May 24th. Belle Isle can be May 30-31st with Texas on Saturday June 6th.

It gets a bit hairy when NBC takes over the NASCAR schedule. Chicagoland will be June 21st. If IndyCar has a week off between Texas and Road America then Road America would be June 21st. That isn't going to happen or at least it shouldn't happen and the following week is the new NASCAR doubleheader at Pocono. I think Road America could work on June 28th because that race has an early start at 12:30 p.m. ET. The IndyCar race could be at that time and the NASCAR Cup race could follow at 3:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.

IndyCar takes Fourth of July weekend off and Toronto could be July 12th the day after the Kentucky night race for Cup. The following weekend could be Iowa on Saturday July 18th.

And then we get to the Olympics. NASCAR is taking two weeks off. Mid-Ohio is the third of three consecutive weeks of races after Iowa this year and in 2020 that would fall the opening weekend of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. I think NBC will make sure IndyCar is off both those weekends as well and we will see Mid-Ohio move. The problem is NASCAR is at Michigan on August 9th. I think IndyCar could race that weekend at Mid-Ohio and we know that NBC will not have a problem putting IndyCar on NBC while NASCAR is on NBCSN. That is what it is doing this year with the Mid-Ohio race. Though the proximity of the race is a concern, television should not be a concern. One other thing to take into consideration is NASCAR's second division has gone to Mid-Ohio the same weekend of the second Michigan race. I wonder if this could be a dress rehearsal for a IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader come 2021.

At first blush, August was a concern. With Bristol and Dover swapping races and Watkins Glen moving back a week it looked like the Pocono IndyCar race would be in a scenario similar to Michigan/Mid-Ohio and being the same weekend as a NASCAR Cup race in a neighboring state. However, it might not be that bad. The Gateway race could be Saturday August 22nd, the day before the NASCAR Dover race, and Pocono could move to August 29th, the day after the Daytona race. It is crisis averted with a simple flip of races.

Portland can remain Sunday September 6th, the afternoon before the NASCAR race from Darlington, and Laguna Seca can be Sunday September 20th, the day after the night race at Bristol.

There are a few issues. One is a lot of races in close proximity are within a week of each other. Belle Isle and the first Michigan Cup race will likely be a week apart. We already have Austin and the first Texas Cup race a week apart this year. We covered Mid-Ohio/Michigan but Mid-Ohio is already the same day as a Cup race at Pocono and that works fine. Watkins Glen, Dover and the Pocono IndyCar race could be a busy period in the Northeast and we will have to see how that works. The last few years we have had Barber and Talladega be a week apart and Barber has done just fine. Maybe it will not be a problem but each region is different and what works in Alabama might not work in the Northeast or Midwest. I think it is fine to raise questions but it will not necessarily be the deathblow for any of these races.

We are going to have to be patient and keep in mind that more changes to the NASCAR schedule will come in 2021 after all the track contracts are up. NASCAR made changes in a lame duck season, which is perplexing but simultaneously on-brand for this organization in the 21st century. These changes do not guarantee IndyCar will stay at Pocono and Iowa. It does not mean Michigan will be returning to the calendar in the next two years. It doesn't mean Homestead will be back.

IndyCar has been on a promising path the last four years and it has to continue doing what it has been successful at during that time period. The series cannot be to reactionary and with the leadership of Mark Miles and Jay Frye I do not think they will make rash decisions in hopes of preservation. The last few years have shown us these two will make smart choices and if something has to change it will be thoroughly thought out and explained.

Rest easy for now my friends.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Let's Learn Our Lesson

Colton Herta made history in becoming the youngest winner in IndyCar history. The Indy Lights winner was over three years older than Herta. Will Power had another car break on him, which is a shame, because Team Penske keeps winning and it has won a race in five consecutive weekends across three different series. Penske isn't the only one who kept a winning streak going.  Formula E had another red flag. Supercross had a controversial finish. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Let's Learn Our Lesson
Colton Herta is the story of the weekend but it is important to keep things in check. After all, IndyCar has a history of teenage, second-generation drivers winning a race, and each time it has happened people have been massively let down afterwards.

Herta had an impressive drive at Austin and his season has been notable. It started out in testing when he led the preseason test from Austin. People remained level headed about that, one, because it is a test and we have seen test results not match what happened in the first race or the rest of the season and, two, there was some speculation that Herta's car in the test was not entirely up to the regulations. Some were suggesting the team ran an otherwise illegal car to impress sponsors.

However, the first weekend at St. Petersburg appeared to legitimize the testing pace. Herta was quick, made it to the second round of qualifying and he was set to advance to the final round had it not been for an interference penalty on Charlie Kimball before he started his flying lap. Instead of starting in the top six, Herta started 11th. In the race, he kept his head on straight, kept it out of the barrier and other competitors and worked his way up to an eighth place finish in the second race of his career.

I think many headed into Austin knowing Herta would be quick. There wasn't a guarantee he would equal his testing pace and leave everyone in his dust. We see teams like Team Penske return to a track and pull out a time it was not close to approaching during a test. It seems Alexander Rossi always finds more speed in every session. Scott Dixon is veteran and can figure out any racetrack. We may have thought Herta would slide back a few spots but he would still be toward the sharp end of the grid and that was the case.

Herta qualified fourth, his first career Fast Six appearance and that pace carried over to the race. It was not long before he was up to third and he was staying with the likes of Will Power and Rossi. All three separated from the pack over the first half of the race.

What will be forgotten because of this victory is Power and Rossi pulled away from Herta. Entering the final 20 laps it was a two-horse race and a game of chicken to see who would stop first. Herta was still in third but eight seconds behind the top two. Herta had a comfortable margin over Josef Newgarden in fourth and he was not slipping into the clutches of the veterans behind him. He ran well but didn't have the legs to keep up with the big boys.

One caution changed all that. Herta had already made his final pit stop and came out in third position. Power and Rossi were caught with their pants around their ankles. He inherited the lead when those two made their final stops. This race ended with Power breaking down in his pit box and Rossi having to restart in 13th with the likes of Ed Jones, Tony Kanaan, Spencer Pigot and Jack Harvey all directly ahead of Rossi. Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay were restarting behind Herta but for the first two-thirds of this race Herta handily were ahead of those two past champions. On the restart, Herta launched out and could not be caught.

All credit should go to Herta. At 18 years and 359 days old, he didn't make a mistake when he was put in the spotlight. He didn't spin the tires on the restart. He didn't blow a corner and let Newgarden and Hunter-Reay race on through. He didn't lose the race car over the bumps and royally mess up. Herta got the job done but we need to keep in mind everything that went into his favor and go back and acknowledge the struggles of other youngest winners.

This time it was Herta getting the break of Power and Rossi not making a pit stop before the caution. In 2008, Graham Rahal won at St. Petersburg in a race that was not only wet-to-dry race but a timed race as well. He also got the lead after 15 cars ahead of him made a pit stop under a caution. That move Rahal up to second and he would pass Hunter-Reay on the subsequent restart. It was an odd race where E.J. Viso and Enrique Bernoldi each led laps and both finished in the top five!

Marco Andretti's first career victory is famously remembered for him saving fuel and having the help of teammates Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta. He initially got the lead after Scott Dixon and a slew of other cars made their final pit stops under green.

Both Rahal and Andretti had a handful of circumstances go in their favor to getting their first career victories and at the time both were the youngest winner in IndyCar history. What followed was the period of higher expectations that were never met. Andretti had it worse of the two because he nearly won the Indianapolis 500 that year on debut. He won at Sonoma and didn't win for nearly another four years. Rahal had a few years of ups and downs afterward with Newman-Haas Racing not having enough funding to keep him in a seat, plus competing at a time when Penske and Ganassi had a stranglehold on the field. He did move to Ganassi but didn't win a race and would not win again for over seven years.

Rahal and Andretti were both pegged to be the faces of IndyCar before they could shave. Both were supposed to be the second-generation drivers to re-ignite the interest in the series purely because of their names. If a Rahal and an Andretti were fighting for victories than the crowd from the glory days of CART's tobacco money would notice and return. Those two weren't getting victories on a regular basis and still aren't. Andretti hasn't won since 2011. Rahal has won a handful more races since and he is a poster boy of sorts but no one has started following IndyCar in the last decade because of the exploits of Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal and, unfortunately, their lack of success leads to a lot of blame.

When Herta won his first Indy Lights race at St. Petersburg when he was still 16 years old, I sent out this tweet:

After watching the early years of Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal I knew the pattern. A familiar last name starts being successful in junior series. It leads to a rush to IndyCar. Expectations are that this familiar last name will match the level of success it once achieved. This is the future of the series and he will be the driver to bring a wave of people into the series.

However, I know one driver is likely not going to carry IndyCar to the higher levels of fandom. We set these lofty goals and they are not met. We set the goals and rarely are they realistic.

There was a chance if Herta struggled in Indy Lights it would lead to many lashing out and putting it down to another spoil kid who wasn't good enough to cut it. It all comes back to the goals the fandom sets and the fandom never takes the blame.

With a victory in his third career start, people are going to rise the bar. The expectation is going to be another victory this year, another two victories next year and a championship at the age of 21. That's probably not going to happen people and we need to learn our lesson from the likes of Andretti and Rahal.

Herta is turning 19 years old this week and while he won his first career IndyCar race he is still maturing, still developing and he is going to make mistakes. He is going to have accidents. He is going to have weekends when he can't dial the car in and get frustrated running no better than 16th. He has a lot to learn despite such early success.

And that is fine because he is going to be 19 years old! I worry about young drivers, and Herta is included in this group, because many are on a national stage when they are 16 or 17 years old in the higher rungs of a ladder system. If progression does not occur on a yearly basis people become jaded about a driver's talent and when you are starting out at 16 or 17 years old, yearly progression could mean making it to IndyCar before the age of 20. Then what? If you can't get it done in IndyCar in four years people are ready to spit you out and take on the next batch of drivers. All of a sudden, a 24-year-old is out of work and it could be career over.

That should not be the case for anyone. Herta is going to have plenty of time to win more races and championships. While being a race car driver, he is also an adult and he is going to have other life events that he has to work through and figure out. There is a balance between work and personal life and if he is in a rut personally it could hurt his performance and that is understandable. He is human after all. Life is tough and a bad day at home distracts anyone at work. It happens to all of us. We have to give him time and patience because he could have a 20-year career and we should cut it short just because he doesn't win another race before he turns 21 years old.

If you look at all the young winners, many experience a slump not long after that victory. We covered Andretti and Rahal but even Scott Dixon, who won in his third career start just like Herta, didn't win his second race until nearly two year later. Tomas Scheckter went nearly three years between his first and second victories. Jimmy Davies won twice in his first 16 starts and then he didn't win for about three and a half years. Al Unser, Jr. won at Portland in 1984 and didn't win again for a year. Ryan Hunter-Reay's first two victories came within four starts and then he didn't win again for over four years. Troy Ruttman's first two victories came in consecutive starts, the 1952 Indianapolis 500 and then at Raleigh. He didn't win another race in the final 12 years of his career.

We have to give Herta time but we also have to realize that this one teenager is not going to be a Messiah. We are not going to see attendance double at Barber in two weeks just because he won a race. We are not going to see the television rating shoot up and every race on NBCSN have a million people watching with every NBC race having four million watching and the Indianapolis 500 break 10 million viewers. There is not going to be profiles of Herta in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and other notable publications. He is not going to become a social media influencer with a stupid amount of followers, though he should not want to be that to begin with because that is garbage. He achieved something tremendous at a very young age. Now, we have to be patient and let him make mistakes.

If it works out and Herta joins the likes of Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, Dixon and Power as champions then great and if he gathers a following and increases the IndyCar fan base even better but that should not be our expectations. Though Herta won before he was 19 years old, we should know not to heap the future of the series on a developing adult.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Colton Herta but did you know...

Oliver Askew swept the Indy Lights races from Circuit of the Americas.

Jean-Éric Vergne won the Sanya ePrix.

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Cup race from Martinsville. Kyle Busch won the Truck race.

Marvin Musquin won the Supercross race from Seattle but was docked seven points after failing to adhere to the medical flag.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP is back in action from Argentina.
Formula One has a night race in Bahrain.
Laguna Seca hosts the second round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge with the California 8 Hours.
NASCAR is back in Texas and, specifically, Fort Worth.
Supercross will also be in Texas and, specifically, Houston.
The World Rally Championship runs the Tour de Corse.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

First Impressions: Austin 2019

1. For the first half of this race, Colton Herta was hanging with Power and Rossi and it seemed like he could pull off his first career victory in his third career start. He faded in the third stint on primary tires but Herta made it to the pit lane before Felix Rosenqvist had an accident after contact with James Hinchcliffe exiting turn 19 while Will Power and Alexander Rossi didn't. Herta inherited the lead and it was over from there. 

Herta had the third best car today and with Power and Rossi both caught off it is fitting Herta ran away with this one. Power and Rossi pulled away from Herta but Herta hung with them long enough that he had miles of space behind him and no one was pressuring him. He is now the youngest winner in IndyCar history. It has been composed and outside a last second debut at Sonoma Herta has never seemed out of his element in IndyCar, granted he has only done three races. 

We need to be calm. He won his third career start but that doesn't mean he will be Scott Dixon. He turned 19 years old in six days. Herta still needs time and patience. He will continue to develop and mature. Today was just one great day for a teenager. 

2. Josef Newgarden used tire strategy on the first stint to make up a handful of positions and it appears he would be doing the reverse of St. Petersburg. Instead of clawing the gap before making a pit stop, Newgarden was making up time after a pit stop. Unfortunately, he didn't have to legs to break into the fight for the lead but he got a break and went from fourth to second. 

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay did well today but did not have the pace of his teammate Rossi and pseudo-teammate Herta. This is the kind of day he needed after St. Petersburg. After losing an engine in the first 20 laps it is good to have a podium finish come when it appeared he was going to be fourth or fifth. He had to pick up some points and some ground on his competition and he did just that.

4. Graham Rahal did not have an outstanding day but he was able to run longer on stints than most. That extended tire life worked out and he was able to make moves through the field despite time lost at the end of a stint. The caution helped him out but this was going to be a top ten result that turned into a top five.

5. This was a tough weekend for Sébastien Bourdais and it did not seem like he was going to break the top ten. He really wasn't making moves in the early part of the race but it seemed to come to him as the race went along. He again made a timely restart and what may have at best been ninth or tenth turned into a top five. Like Hunter-Reay, he needed this result.

6. Marco Andretti was making some moves but he didn't really have what it was going to take to race into the top ten, similar to Bourdais, but he got a sixth place finish out of it. 

7. Takuma Sato was not in the top ten for most of this until the caution. It was not an impressive day but you take what you can get and he got seventh.

8. Patricio O'Ward did it again. Sure, he wasn't the best finishing rookie but he had zero seat time in this Carlin entry and zero seat time at Circuit of the Americas in an IndyCar and he was in the top ten for most of this race, running with the big boys. His pit stops let him down a bit and he faded on the final stint after the restart but eighth is a great day for him. 

9. This was the second time in four races Alexander Rossi had a podium finish snatched from him because of a caution. Rossi probably would have won at Portland had it not been for a caution. He set himself up to fight for a victory today and it was taken from him again. Rossi deserves better than ninth. It is unfortunate the results are not coming for him but he is always at the front and with his pace the results will come to him. 

10. Jack Harvey was at the back for most of this one but he made his pit stop at the right time and he got another top ten finish out of it. This was a nice turn around after he caused a red flag in qualifying. 

11. Spencer Pigot and Tony Kanaan were 11th and 12th. That is it. 

12. This was not Scott Dixon's greatest day but he fought through it and this was turning into a beautiful result. At the start, it seemed like Dixon was going to fall back, he was going to be lucky to get a top ten out of it but he is brilliant. He figured it out as the race went on and with plenty of young drivers around him; he picked them off as he dealt with degrading tires. It looked like he was going to get a top five out of it Unfortunately, like Rossi, Power was caught out by his teammates spin and he only has 13th to show for it. 

13. If being caught out as the leader wasn't bad enough for Will Power, having a driveshaft break while making the final pit stop was salt in the wound. Power was set to be racing for a $100,000 bonus for the final 20 laps and instead he sat in pit lane, without an answer and all that cash and a truckload of points vanishing. It is another race with a mechanical component breaking on Power while he had a fast race car. He can't have it happen again but most seasons it appears to happen to him two or three times. 

14. Quickly through the rest of the field: Ed Jones did well with a broken wrist. Marcus Ericsson would have been in the top ten and maybe gotten into the top five if it were not for an unsafe release into the path of Pigot on his final pit stop. Other than that, it was a great day for him. 

James Hinchcliffe got into Rosenqvist and in turn it cut down his right front. Both could have finished in the top ten. Rosenqvist struggled as the tires went away and he will learn from this day. 

Matheus Leist was doing well until the final caution shuffled him back. Kyle Kaiser finished on the lead lap. Simon Pagenaud tried to go off strategy but it didn't make a big gain for him. Then he had contact with Rossi in the final lap and it forced him to make another stop. It was not a great weekend for him. 

I don't know what happened to either Santino Ferrucci or Max Chilton. Ferrucci could have finished in the top ten and Chilton lost a lap early. This was a promising weekend for Chilton.

Zach Veach spun on lap one and never made up the ground. To add insult to injury, he had contact with Dixon while a lap down and that damaged his front wing. 

15. Track limits! I wish there was more grass around Circuit of the Americas and that would have prevented this conversation for the entire weekend but with FIA standards and this being a T1 circuit that hosts Formula One, it can't be that way. I think it looks ridiculous watching cars run 50-feet off track but IndyCar didn't want the headache of enforcing this and so be it. My worst fear occurred with the Hinchcliffe-Rosenqvist accident. Does IndyCar do something to make sure it doesn't happen again and try to prevent a driver or two from getting hurt? 

16. I was critical of Circuit of the Americas for its ticket pricing and I stand by that but the track promoted this race and it stepped up for the inaugural race. It is hard to gauge a crowd at a facility this larger but if the track is happy then the track is happy. This was year one and it will learn. It needs a chance to grow and hopefully we see more people coming in 2020.

17. There is still part of me that wishes this race was Saturday afternoon after Formula One qualifying during the United States Grand Prix weekend because it would be in front of at least 70,000 people and in front of about 20 times the international media. It is a different race and I think it would catch the eye of people. If anything, IndyCar should run an exhibition race this year during the United States Grand Prix weekend to show the series to a group of people who otherwise would not consider it. There was plenty of jockeying for position. A 40-lap sprint race with 16 cars in November could bring more people back to the track in March 2020. 

18. IndyCar didn't make Austin put a $100,000 bonus on the table if the pole-sitter won the race. The track choose to do that and I think that was a great decision. IndyCar needs these little things every now and then. It adds another element to the races and I wish more would do it. Austin has set the bar. It put an extra $100,000 toward an IndyCar race. What do other events do? What does Texas Motor Speedway do? Eddie Gossage has to be looking south. He is about to lose at his own game in what was formerly his backyard.

19. We end March and April will see IndyCar return to Barber, from one beautiful road course to another. 

Morning Warm-Up: Austin 2019

Will Power will be gunning for an extra $100,000 in Austin
Will Power won his 56th career pole position and the inaugural IndyCar pole position at Circuit of the Americas. Power took the top spot with a lap of 106.0177 seconds in the final round of qualifying. This is the 26th different circuit he has won a pole position at and it is the third different Texas circuit where he has won a pole position. The last time Power won pole position in the second race of the season was at Barber in 2011. He won that race and led every lap in the process. That was also the last time a driver won pole position in the first two races of a season. Power will also have a little more incentive to win this race. This race will pay a $100,000 bonus if the pole-sitter wins the race. He has won 16 times from pole position in his career at 12 different tracks.

Power has won three inaugural races in his career but all three of those were street circuits with victories at Las Vegas, São Paulo and Baltimore. In the five inaugural road course races Power has participated in his best finish is fourth, which came at Zolder and Barber. He finished 14th at Assen and he had finishes of eighth and seventh in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at NOLA Motorsports Park respectively.

Alexander Rossi will start second after he missed out on pole position by 0.1584 seconds. This is the first time Rossi has qualified second in his IndyCar career. He started second last year at Gateway but that field was set by points after qualifying was rained out. He has won or finished second in four of his five front row starts with the exception being last year's second race at Belle Isle when he suffered a flat tire after he locked up while leading and dropped back to 12th. Rossi has made the Firestone Fast Six on seven consecutive occasions after Saturday's session and he has now made it out of the first round on 15 consecutive occasions. The last time he has not made it out of round one was at Road America in 2016.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start third and this is his seventh consecutive top five start. He has nine top five starts in the last ten races with his worst start in that stretch being sixth. Hunter-Reay is the only Texan-born driver in the field. The last Texan-born driver to win in Texas was A.J. Foyt on August 5, 1979 at Texas World Speedway. Hunter-Reay's 18 victories are second most for a Texas-born driver, behind only Foyt's 67 victories. Hunter-Reay has twice won from third on the grid, at Watkins Glen in 2008 and at Barber in 2014. Colton Herta will turn 19 years old six days after this race and he will start a career-best fourth position. Herta could become the first driver to win in the third start of a career since Scott Dixon at Nazareth on May 6, 2001. Dixon started 23rd that day. The most recent IndyCar race won after a driver qualified fourth was Takuma Sato at the Indianapolis 500 in 2017. Power won last year at Gateway from fourth on the grid but that field was set by points. The last road/street course won from fourth was James Hinchcliffe at Long Beach in 2017.

For the second consecutive race, both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers will start on the same row and for the second consecutive race, Felix Rosenqvist qualified ahead of Scott Dixon with the Swede starting fifth and Dixon starting sixth. Rosenqvist's fourth place finish on debut was the first top five finish on debut in IndyCar since Carlos Muñoz finished second at Indianapolis in 2013. Rosenqvist could become the first driver with top five finishes in the first two starts of a career since Nigel Mansell, who finished first, third, third and first in the first four starts of his career in 1993. Rosenqvist could become the first driver to win in a second start of a career since Jim Clark won at Milwaukee on August 18, 1963. Dixon has never won the inaugural IndyCar race at a track. This will be the tenth inaugural race Dixon has participated in and his results in the previous nine have been scattered. His average finish in those nine races is 10.333 with his lone podium finish being second at Barber in 2010. His only other top five finish was fifth at Baltimore in 2011. He has finished outside the top ten in four of the nine races including the two most recent inaugural races, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2014 and NOLA in 2015.

Josef Newgarden missed out on the Fast Six by 0.0363 seconds and he will start seventh. Three of Newgarden's 11 IndyCar victories have come from seventh on the grid, tied with second for most victories from a starting position. Last year, he won the second race of the season at Phoenix from seventh on the grid. Newgarden led a lap in five of the six natural-terrain road course races in 2018. The lone race he did not lead a lap in was Mid-Ohio. Newgarden has started in the top ten in 14 consecutive natural-terrain road course races after this qualifying result with his most recent start outside the top ten being 12th at Watkins Glen in 2016. Patricio O'Ward will make his long-awaited second career start in IndyCar and he will start a career-worst eighth. The best finish for a Mexican driver in the state of Texas is third. Mexican-born Memo Gidley finished third in the 1999 Houston race and Mario Domínguez finished third in the 2007 Houston race.

Zach Veach and Graham Rahal form an all-Buckeye row five. Veach has finished outside the top ten in the last three races after having four consecutive top ten finishes prior to that. Rahal did not have a top five finish on a natural-terrain road course last year and he finished 23rd in the last two natural-terrain road course races. His most recent top five finish on a natural-terrain road course was fifth at Watkins Glen in 2017. Santino Ferrucci will start a career-best 11th. Ferrucci's finish has not gotten worse over his IndyCar career. After finishing 23rd on debut at Belle Isle, he finished 20th in the next Belle Isle race and 20th at Portland but he has finished 11th and ninth in his last two races. Matheus Leist made it to the second round of qualifying for the third time in his career and for the first time since last year at Toronto, though it came with a timely red flag in group two's session in round one. Leist will start 12th. Prior to this result, Leist had started on row nine or worse in six consecutive races and in 11 of the 12 races since the 102nd Indianapolis 500.

Both groups in round one were ended prematurely due to red flags and the drivers just on the outside were Max Chilton and Takuma Sato. Chilton missed out on advancing by 0.0007 seconds. This will be Chilton's 52nd start and he has yet to score a podium finish. Only 13 drivers have taken more than 52 starts to score their first career podium finish in IndyCar. Scott Brayton holds the record at 121 races and Ed Carpenter is second at 94 starts. Sato has never finished in the top ten in the second race of the season in his IndyCar career. His best finish in the second race of the season came last year at Phoenix when he finished 11th. His average finish in the second race of the season is 18.333 with four finishes outside the top twenty.

It will be an all-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports row with James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson on row eight. Two of Hinchcliffe's five career victories came in the second race of the season. He won the second race in 2015 at NOLA Motorsports Park and in 2017 at Long Beach. He has also finished outside the top twenty in the second race of the season on three occasions. In four Formula One starts at Austin, Ericsson's best starting position was 13th with an average starting spot of 14.8. Austin was Ericsson's third best track in terms of average finish amongst tracks with multiple starts at 13.5.

Sébastien Bourdais missed out on advancing and he will start 17th. He has not finished behind a teammate in consecutive races since Phoenix and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2017. Bourdais has not finished in the top ten of a race but behind a teammate in a IndyCar race since Surfers Paradise 2006 when Bruno Junqueira finished sixth and Bourdais finished eighth while both were driving for Newman-Haas Racing. Ed Jones joins his former teammate on row nine. Ed Jones has retired from two of the last three races due to accidents. Jones has yet to make it to the final round of knockout qualifying in his IndyCar career.

Spencer Pigot will start 19th. Five of Pigot's top ten finishes have come on natural-terrain road courses and four of those have come with him starting outside the top ten. Pigot has finished in the top ten two out of the three times he has started 19th in his career. Marco Andretti makes it an all-American row ten. Andretti could do something this weekend the Andretti family has never done before. The Andretti family has never won an IndyCar race in the state of Texas. His grandfather Mario only made two starts in the state of Texas, both at Texas World Speedway and both in 1973. In those races, Mario had finishes of 25th, after a broken piston, and 17th, after a broken valve. His father Michael's best finish in the state is third in the 1999 Houston race. Marco's best finish is third in the 2010 Texas race.

Kyle Kaiser will make his first start of 2019 from 21st position. This will be the fifth start of Kaiser's career. He is still looking for the first lead lap finish of his career. The red flag in group two caught out Simon Pagenaud and he will have to start 22nd. This is the fifth consecutive race Pagenaud has not started in the top five. The last time he did not start in the top five in five consecutive races was from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis to Texas in 2017. Pagenaud's longest streak without a top five start is 18 races from Sonoma 2012 to Sonoma 2013. This is the 11th time in Pagenaud's career he has started outside the top twenty and this will be his 137th start. Pagenaud's best finish when starting outside the top twenty is fifth, which happened at Iowa in 2012 and Long Beach in 2017.

Jack Harvey was the driver that caused the red flag in group one and he will start 23rd. Harvey could become the seventh British driver to score the first two top ten finishes of a career in consecutive races. The other British drivers to do it are Dario Resta, Jim Clark, David Hobbs, Nigel Mansell, Justin Wilson and Dan Clarke. Tony Kanaan spun after completing a lap that put him in the top six of group two but instead he will start this race from 24th. This is Kanaan tenth consecutive start outside the top ten, the worst stretch of his career. Kanaan has not started in the top ten on either a road or street course since he started tenth at Barber in 2017.

NBCSN's coverage of the IndyCar Classic will begin at 1:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 1:40 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 60 laps.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Track Walk: Austin 2019

After seven years, IndyCar makes its Austin debut
The second round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series is the inaugural IndyCar Classic from Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. This will be IndyCar's first visit to the 3.427-mile road course. This race will be 60 laps, four more than the United States Grand Prix. Josef Newgarden won the season opener at St. Petersburg, the 11th victory of his career. Newgarden is now tied with his teammate Simon Pagenaud, Adrian Fernández, Johnny Parsons and Eddie Hearne for 36th all-time in IndyCar victory and he and Pagenaud are tied for eighth amongst active drivers. Newgarden will attempt to be the first driver to win the first two races of the season since Will Power did it in 2010. The last American driver to win the first two races of the season was Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2001.

Time: Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday March 24th with green flag scheduled for 1:40 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kelli Stavast, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule 
First Practice: 11:15 a.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Second Practice: 3:05 p.m. ET (60 minutes)*
Third Practice: 11:00 a.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Qualifying: 3:00 p.m. ET (Live coverage on NBCSN)
Race: 1:40 p.m. ET (60 laps)

* - All practice and qualifying sessions are available live with the NBC Sports Gold IndyCar pass.

Will Testing Results Carry Over?
IndyCar has already been to Circuit of the Americas on an official capacity, as the track hosted IndyCar's official preseason test in the middle of February.

During those two days, one driver was on top for three of the four sessions and Colton Herta was that driver. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver topped the preseason test with a time of 106.6258 seconds in the second session of the weekend and his top time was 0.2277 seconds faster than Alexander Rossi. Rossi's top time came in the final session of the two-day test and Herta was second to Rossi in that session by 0.1466 seconds.

Rossi and Herta both had top ten finishes at St. Petersburg, they both advanced to the second round of qualifying and had it not been for an interference penalty on Herta, both drivers would have started in the top six. While Rossi had a less than spectacular race going from sixth to fifth, Herta started 11th and worked his way to an eighth place finish in his second career start.

To the surprise of no one, Will Power was third fastest at the February test but he was a half-second behind Herta's top time. Power is coming off a third place finish at St. Petersburg, his first podium finish in a season opener since he finished second at St. Petersburg in 2015. Power has finished in the top five in first two races of a season four times in his career and on all four occasions both finishers were on the podium.

Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five at the Austin test with Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe and Santino Ferrucci rounding out the top ten.

Hunter-Reay is coming off his fifth mechanical retirement since the 2016 season. His engine expired after 19 laps at St. Petersburg. His 23rd place result at St. Petersburg is his first finish outside the top twenty on a road/street course since he finished 21st in the first Toronto race in 2014 and it is his worst road/street course result since he was classified in 23rd after an accident at Long Beach in 2013. Only twice in Hunter-Reay's career has he not had a top ten finish in the first two races, his rookie year in 2003 and 2011.

Pagenaud picked up his 11th consecutive top ten finish while Rosenqvist finished fourth on debut after leading 31 laps. Rahal has only two top ten finishes in the last seven races after he had ten top ten finishes in the 11 races prior to that. The only time Dixon has won the second race of the season was when he won at Phoenix in 2016. He has only had podium finishes in the first two races of the season twice in his career and in both years both finishes were runner-up finishes. Those years were 2007 and 2012.

While Hinchcliffe and Ferrucci were both in the top ten, their teammates were not. Marcus Ericsson was 14th in the test, about two-tenths outside the top ten but Sébastien Bourdais was 18th, almost a second off Ferrucci. Bourdais' engine failure at St. Petersburg gave him his worst finish in a season opener in his IndyCar career.

Another notable strugglers in the February test were Chevrolet teams not named Team Penske.

The best non-Penske Chevrolet in the test was R.C Enerson in 16th driving for Carlin and Enerson will not be at the Austin race. Instead, Carlin will enter the #31 Chevrolet for Patricio O'Ward, who will attempt 13 races this year, including in a third Carlin entry in the Indianapolis 500.

Of the Chevrolet drivers that were at the test, Matheus Liest led the cellar dwellers in 19th and he was ahead of only one Honda, Zach Veach. The final five drivers on the timesheet drove Chevrolets. Ed Jones was 21st, just ahead of Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot, Tony Kanaan and Kyle Kaiser. Jones is coming off a broken finger suffered from his accident at St. Petersburg. Kaiser was 2.2 seconds behind Herta. Kaiser will make his season debut this weekend in the #32 Chevrolet for Juncos Racing.

Is the Top Ten Already Decided?
With one race down, it is easy to start looking ahead and see who has positioned themselves well for a championship run and what drivers are fighting an uphill battle.

Josef Newgarden won the season opener and the 2017 champion has started out ahead of the field while the annual title contenders Dixon and Power are right behind him. Rookies Rosenqvist, Herta and Ferrucci all started the year with a top ten finish and even part-time but regular competition Jack Harvey scored a top ten result at St. Petersburg.

With a mixture of notable names and new faces in the top ten in St. Petersburg, how much will change from the season opener to the season finale at Sonoma?

Last year, nine of the top ten finishes at St. Petersburg were in the top ten of the final championship standings. The one change was Ed Jones fell out of the top ten and Pagenaud moved in. While you may think that suggests the 2019 season might already be decided, it should be noted that last year was just the second time since the creation of CART in 1979 that only one spot in the top ten changed from the season opener to the season finale. The other year was the 1996 CART season where Robby Gordon dropped out and rookie Alex Zanardi ended up finishing third in the championship. There has also not been a season since 1979 where there was no change in the top ten from after the season opener to the final championship standings.

Since the 1979 CART season and including all the seasons of the split, the average number of different drivers in the top ten of the championship from the season opener to the final championship standings is 3.83 with a median of four. The largest change in the top ten has been six and that has happened on nine occasions since 1979, the most recent being in 2011.

Last season was the first time since reunification that there were not multiple changes in the top ten from the first race to the final standings. In the 11 seasons, five seasons had three changes, two seasons had four changes and two seasons had five changes.

Who falls out of the top ten? Since reunification, mostly the drivers that finish at the back of the top ten, as 21 of the drivers that finished eighth, ninth or tenth in the season opener did not finish in the top ten of the championship. In that same time period, only 11 drivers that finished in the top five of the season opener did not finish in the top ten of the championship. Of those 11 drivers, only four finished on the podium in the season opener and those four drivers were Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2009 and 2016, Vitor Meira in 2010 and Sébastien Bourdais in 2017 after he missed majority of the season due to injury.

In eight of the last 11 seasons, the driver that finished eighth in the season opener did not finish in the top ten of the championship, more than any other top ten finishing position. The three drivers that finished eighth and finished in the top ten of the championship were Tony Kanaan in 2008, Carlos Muñoz in 2016 and Josef Newgarden in 2017.

What does any of this mean in 2019? One, if you are Colton Herta you should be a little nervous. Two, it does not rule out the likes of Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Hunter-Reay and Bourdais, four drivers who all finished in the top ten of championship in 2018 but did not finish in the top ten at St. Petersburg, of turning their seasons around but it points that turnover could be less than anticipated and if the likes of Rosenqvist, Herta, and Ferrucci keep up their form throughout the remaining 16 races a veteran face could be looking at a less than desirable championship finish at Laguna Seca.

First Time Visits
Since the start of the 21st century, 20 different racetracks have hosted an IndyCar race for the first time. With Austin being the 21st new track of the 21st century, let's look back at some of these other tracks and what happened in their first IndyCar race and what has happened in the the years since their first IndyCar race.

The first new track of the 21st century was Kentucky, which held its first IndyCar race on August 27, 2000 and Buddy Lazier won the race driving for Hemelgarn Racing.

The following year saw Richmond, Kansas, Nashville and Chicagoland all join the IRL schedule in that order. While Richmond did host a race in the 1946 season when the AAA sanctioned the championship and when what are now considered sprint car races counted toward the title, this was IndyCar's first trip to the paved, 0.75-mile oval and Lazier won that race. Eddie Cheever won at Kansas driving for his own team but Lazier won again at Nashville and his brother Jaques scored his only IndyCar victory in the inaugural Chicagoland race driving for Team Menard.

In CART, three new circuits were on the 2001 schedule. Cristiano da Matta won the season opener for Newman/Haas Racing at a new street circuit in Monterrey, Mexico. The other two new races were oval races in Europe. The Lausitz round is infamously remembered for the Alex Zanardi accident and Kenny Bräck won that race driving for Team Rahal. The following week CART went to Rockingham and the race was remembered for rainy conditions that washed away nearly all the practice and qualifying sessions. Despite the lack of track time and a shortened race distance, Rockingham put on what is considered one of the best races of the 2000s. Bräck led most of this race but Gil de Ferran remained on the Swede's heels. De Ferran made a daring pass on the final lap and took the victory for Team Penske.

St. Petersburg held its first IndyCar race in 2003 and Forsythe Racing's Paul Tracy won that race during a transitioning time for CART. Two years later, Edmonton and San Jose held their first IndyCar races, both of which were won by Sébastien Bourdais of Newman/Haas Racing. The 2007 season opened on a new street course in Las Vegas. In what was the first race for the Panoz DP01 chassis, Will Power took his first career victory on Easter Sunday. Champ Car returned to Europe that year with races at Zolder and Assen. Bourdais took the victory in Belgium but it was Justin Wilson taking the victory in the Netherlands for RuSport.

The IRL made its first tripped to Iowa in 2007 and in a race with many accidents, Dario Franchitti took the victory with the Andretti Green Racing driver holding off his teammate Marco Andretti by 0.0681 seconds.

In 2010, IndyCar returned to Brazil with a street race in São Paulo opening the season. Ryan Hunter-Reay led much of this race in wet-to-dry conditions but Will Power took the victory with Team Penske after his passed Hunter-Reay with four laps to go. Two races later Barber Motorsports Park hosted its first IndyCar and again, an Andretti Autosport car led a fair amount of the race with Marco Andretti's strategy change giving him the lead for 58 of the 90 laps but he was forced to make a pit stop late and it allowed Hélio Castroneves to get another victory for Team Penske.

Baltimore made its debut on the IndyCar schedule in 2011 and the course was remembered for train tracks that ran perpendicular to the front straightaway. This forced a chicane to be added to the course before practice and Power won this race leading 70 of 75 laps.

The inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis was held in 2014 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Simon Pagenaud took the victory driving for Sam Schmidt's team. The Frenchman led only six of 82 laps. The following year saw IndyCar make its debut at NOLA Motorsports Park and, in a sloppy wet race that was run mostly behind the pace car, it was again Sam Schmidt's team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, taking the victory with James Hinchcliffe having led 16 of 47 laps and only making one pit stop.

The bad news is of the 20 new circuits since the start of the 21st century, only four of those tracks are still on the IndyCar schedule: St. Petersburg, Barber, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Iowa. Nine of the events were held four times or fewer, including four races that were held only once.

The good news is six circuits did host ten races or more. The bad news is St. Petersburg is the only one of those six races still active. Barber will host its tenth race this year.

On the results side of things, 14 different drivers won the inaugural races at these twenty tracks. Buddy Lazier, Bourdais and Power have each won three inaugural races in the 21st century. No other driver has won multiple inaugural races. Eleven different teams have won inaugural races with Team Penske and Newman-Haas Racing each having won four times. Hemelgarn Racing won three times and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has won twice. Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are the only other active teams with a victory in an inaugural race.

Chip Ganassi Racing has not won the inaugural race at a track since Juan Pablo Montoya won at Chicago Motor Speedway, the 1.029-mile oval, in 1999.

Indy Lights
Austin also marks the second round of the Indy Lights season and it will be another doubleheader.

Zachary Claman and Rinus VeeKay split the races at St. Petersburg but Claman enters as the championship leader after he finished second to VeeKay in the second race and the Canadian has 57 points, nine ahead of the Dutchman. Toby Sowery is ten points behind Claman after finishing second and third at St. Petersburg. David Malukas had a pair of fourth place finishes and he is fourth in the championship on 38 points with Oliver Askew rounding out the top five on 37 points after he finished third in the first race and started on pole position for race two but was eliminated in turn two after contact with VeeKay.

Julien Falchero is on 30 points, one ahead of Ryan Norman and two ahead of Robert Megennis. Lucas Kohl is ninth on 26 points and Dalton Kellett rounds out the championship on 24 points.

During February testing, Askew was the fastest ahead of Falchero, who tested with Andretti Autosport, VeeKay, Norman, Claman, Megennis, Malukas, Logan Sergeant, who tested for Carlin before deciding to race for Carlin's Formula Three operation, Kellett, who tested for Carlin and Kohl.

The first Indy Lights race will be at 1:45 p.m. ET on Saturday March 23rd and the second race will be at 10:10 a.m. ET on Sunday March 24th.

Fast Facts
This will be the fourth IndyCar race to take place on March 24th and first since James Hinchcliffe won at St. Petersburg in 2013.

Circuit of the Americas will be the seventh Texas track to host an IndyCar race and Texas is now tied with Indiana and Colorado for eight most different circuits to host a IndyCar race by state.

This will be the 61st IndyCar race held in the state of Texas.

Six drivers on the IndyCar grid have raced at Circuit of the Americas. Spencer Pigot and Kyle Kasier ran in Pro Mazda at the track in 2013. Pigot finished second in race one but did not complete a lap in race two. Kaiser had finishes of eighth and sixth that weekend. Marcus Ericsson is the most experienced of the six having started the United States Grand Prix four times with his best result coming last year when he finished tenth. Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi both started the United States Grand Prix once. Chilton started and finished 21st in the 2013 race and Rossi started 17th and finished 12th in the 2015 race. Patricio O'Ward won the Prototype Challenge class with James French in the 2017 IMSA race.

This will be the first IndyCar race at Circuit of the Americas but in seven Formula One races all seven have been won from the front row with three victories from pole position and four from second position.

Between Grand-Am, American Le Mans Series and IMSA, the pole-sitter won five of six races with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas winning the 2014 race from third on the grid.

In five FIA World Endurance Championship races from Circuit of the Americas, the overall winner started first, fourth, second, third and second.

The average number of lead changes in Austin's seven Formula One races is 3.714 with a median of five.

In the six Grand-Am/ALMS/IMSA races, the average number of lead changes is 4.333 with a median of 4.5.

The average number of lead changes in the five FIA WEC races at Austin is 8.4 with a median of nine but all of those races were 6-hour events, likely close to three times longer than this weekend's IndyCar race.

The average number of safety car periods in the seven Formula One races is 0.428 with a median of zero. The average number of laps behind the safety car is 1.857 with a median of zero.

Only two Formula One races at Austin have had a safety car. In 2013, the safety car was deployed once for four laps and in 2015, it was deployed twice for nine laps.

In the six Grand-Am/ALMS/IMSA races, the average number of cautions is 1.833 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is seven with a median of 8.5.

Chip Ganassi Racing is one victory away from 107 victories, which would tie the team with Newman-Haas Racing for second most in IndyCar history.

Possible Milestones:
Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead 45 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi gets another victory and this one comes from the front row. Honda has at least four of the top six starters but the other two are Penske drivers and one is Will Power. Patricio O'Ward qualifies ahead of his Carlin teammate by at least four positions and he at least the third best rookie in the final results. There will be an incident in turn one on lap one but no more than three cars are involved. Ryan Hunter-Reay gets back in the top ten, as does Graham Rahal. Sleeper: Colton Herta.

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.