Tuesday, June 10, 2008

June 10 newsstand: Wrapping up

We're a bit behind due to personal stuff, but we have Texas wrapups & not much else, as the series takes its first break since before heading to Motegi/Long Beach.

Danica testing in F1?
Reports are that Danica Patrick is testing a Honda F1 car. And then, Honda denies it.

The next steps
Robin Miller starts lobbying for more road courses and street parades, and says Homestead and Nashville are goners. He also says New Hampshire is a 60% possibility to be reinstated.

Analysis & commentaries
After taking the yellow/checkered (the second straight time an IndyCar race has ended that way), Scott Dixon says one of NASCAR's crummiest rules should be considered, the green-white-checkered.
Says Scott: "The fans come first. That's why we're here."
This notebook also covers the Marco/RHR crash, driver penalties and Eddie Gossage again angling for date-after-Indy status.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Dave Kallman says "no" about "overtime."
The Dallas Morning News' Richard Durrett says "please."

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Racing drowns out Eddie's whining
Says columnist Gil LeBreton: "There were 83,000 spectators in the grandstands at the speedway. For 106 laps, the heart of Saturday's race, they had watched accident-free, 210 mph-plus racing, sometimes by three cars, side by side by side. And Gossage was still mad about a race in Milwaukee?"

ESPN: Dominant Dixon not good for IndyCar
Says Terry Blount: "Dixon doesn't sell tickets. With all due respect to his lovely new bride, Dixon is missing a racing version of sex appeal.He's a little too quiet, a little too icy and little too, well, normal."

FW Star-Telegram: The buzz from TMS

Sports Network: Broadcast does disservice to IndyCars
Preach on. I was pretty groggy when the broadcast ended at 1 a.m., long after the race was actually over.

Texas recaps
Race stories from Dixon's win
From the Indianapolis Star, AP, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sportal.com (NZ), Denton Record-Chronicle, Speed, IndyCar.com
Dixon says Marco gave him plenty of room for the winning pass: "You could have put two or three cars through there."
And then RHR says Marco didn't give him any room when he tried to pass for 2nd, and then wiped them both out: "He gave me the bottom line on the backstretch, then he really turned early. He said that he gave me enough room. I didn't feel he did. Moving down to avoid contact, the car got unhinged."

The Star-Telegram also has a sidebar on the Marco-RHR crash, as does John Oreovicz of ESPN

Post-race press conference
Daily Trackside Report for raceday

Driver/team stuff
Mansfield (OH) News-Journal: Danica's foil picking up steam
Two weeks later, stories about Ryan Briscoe still mention Danica first.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram catches up with Tomas Scheckter and Dan Wheldon
Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News reports on Penske's Texas efforts
And IndyCar.com catches up with the malcontent & the rookie at Dale Coyne Racing

Jack Arute looks at John Barnes' shedding 140 pounds

IndyCar.com catches up with PCM's Tyler Tadevic

Expat news
The Orlando Sentinel says Sam needs to park it

Saturday, June 7, 2008

June 7 newsstand: Texas race day

Indy Star: Andretti offered full-time ride at Roth Racing
John Andretti might be a full-time IndyCar driver again. Marty Roth has offered him a seat. Where does this leave Jay Howard? We don't know ...

Indianapolis Business Journal: IRL enters talks for new TV deal
ESPN is wanting revenue sharing, instead of a rights fee. The IRL is wanting more promotional time. And NBC/Turner are reportedly interested.

Qualifying stories & race previews
Indy Star: Wheldon pained by hard flip
Dan Wheldon took a tumble last night and hurt his ankle. "That was probably the biggest hit I've ever had."

Dallas Morning News: Never a dull moment for Wheldon
We posted this last night, but it's updated

Dallas Morning News: Dixon wins pole

You have to skip down in this DMN notebook, but drivers don't like the 4-lap qualifying rules. (is there anything about ovals some of these guys like?)

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: The buzz
Five things to look for tonight.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: All not smooth at TMS
Jennifer Ford Engel says Eddie Gossage isn't happy about a few things, and the IRL drivers' (err, Danica's) complaining isn't helping. Says Eddie about his placement on the schedule (or, more notably, Milwaukee's placement on the schedule): "Somebody that has been loyal to you and somebody that has been a place, when the really tough things came along, you could always point to Texas, bump your chest and be proud of it. I just do not understand. But if that is what the IRL wants to do..."

Driver features
Fort Worth Star-Telegram: John Andretti back at TMS
Racing nomad John Andretti is really enjoying himself this year. Says John: "You know, a Tony Stewart would do a bunch of things. I'm sure Jeff Gordon would, and I know Jeff Burton would. There are a variety of guys who would do more if they had the time and opportunity. If they had one, I'm sure they would get the other."

Crash.net: Franck Perera back in Indy Lights
He wants to be in the ICS, so he's running in Lights until an IndyCar ride opens up.

The Denton (TX) Record-Chronicle has a piece on RHR and his spotter

Philadelphia Daily News: Hornish's success in NASCAR modest
Edmonton Sun: Canada has been good to Bourdais. Seabass says Edmonton and Toronto need to be part of the IRL schedule, too.

Preach on, Eddie

Texas week is always interesting for two things.

One is, of course, the race -- usually the most entertaining on the calendar.
The other is, what the heck is Eddie Gossage going to do?

Last year, he used an on-track feud between Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick to help sell the race, among other things.

This year, Eddie spoke words that many on the IRL side of the divide have been thinking, but might have been afraid to say.

Ever since February, we've heard calls from ex-CC people (and some of their cheerleaders in the media) that the IRL needs to adopt, well, everything that CC had. More road courses (Gordon Kirby wasn't the only one beating the drum for one-third roads, one-third streets, one-third ovals), podiums (never got to even fight that one), turbocharged engines (there's another pimpage of that in today's newsstand), push-to-pass, heck, even replacing the Dallara with some version of the Panoz DP01 chassis. Adding Cleveland, Mexico City, Portland, Toronto, Long Beach, Road America, Edmonton, Eur (and on and on and on) to the schedule. The series is already 1/4 of the way there, and it looks like Toronto is a lock, Mexico City is a possibility and Cleveland is at least on the radar screen.

Meanwhile, at least a couple of ovals appear to be casualties.

And so, as we watch the IndyCar Series accelerate its morphing into CART II -- the series that was committing a slow suicide a decade ago by going to too many road races -- Eddie Gossage comes in to say what we've all been feeling.

To be viable in the United States, IndyCar MUST be a predominately-oval series.

Gossage told ESPN.com's Terry Blount that to be successful, the IndyCar Series must have at least 80% ovals (that would be, say, 15 ovals and 3 road courses on an 18-race schedule).

The ratio might not need to be that high, but ovals should be the primary focus of the series.


Oval racing is the foundation of American racing.

NASCAR didn't get popular because it ran Riverside and Watkins Glen. Formula One has never had much of a presence in the United States, even when it ran Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Detroit, Phoenix, Indy ... While writers wax poetic about CART's heyday in the mid-1990s, its best-attended races were on ovals -- Indianapolis and Michigan, and the series was (and still is) carried by the Indianapolis 500.

The two biggest races in the United States are the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 -- races on 2.5 mile ovals.

Eddie as much as said so, calling Champ Car's history "failed" and correctly pointing out that what popularity IndyCar racing has comes from ovals like Indy and Texas. He also correctly points out that the losers in a battle don't get to set the agenda.

Unfortunately, Tony George and the IRL have been more than willing to bend over backwards to almost let the ex-CC guys do that.

To be successful in the States, a sport requires three things -- close competition, something that translates well to television and heroes/villains. The close competition can even be manufactured -- see NASCAR with its famous "debris cautions" late in races, and idiotic rules like the lucky dog and green-white-checkered; the NFL with its salary cap; and the NBA with, well, the first 46 minutes of every game. But there has to be a close finish, a tight battle. Oval racing provides it, most of the time. Road racing doesn't. The second is television. Like it or not, oval racing translates well to TV -- it's fast, there are four corners, and you can tell by watching the broadcast where the cars are on the track. Road racing doesn't. Unless you're familiar with the course (or have a map of the track in front of you -- which is how I end up watching road races), it's difficult to envision a road course from a limited TV shot. The third thing is heroes -- something no type of course can provide. More TV coverage and more ratings can help provide heroes and villains, which is going to have to come with ovals.

The heroes will be easier to find if the sport if young American drivers are more attractive to teams. While U.S.-trained road racers are more prevalent than in the past (Danica, Rahal 2.0, Andretti 3.0, RHR), 20 of the 28 starters in the Texas race are from outside the U.S. A few (Helio, TK, Dixon, Wheldon) have garnered fan bases in the U.S., but a series that's chock full of foreign road racers is too easy to dismiss by the casual fan, especially when the guy running at their local short track is in a tintop.

Oval racing is like football -- easy to watch, easy to package for television, and while not technically-perfect all the time, usually rewards the best team unless it makes a mistake (fumbles a lot/crashes). Road racing is like soccer -- technically enjoyable, great to watch when you know what you're looking for, but difficult to watch on television, and therefore hard to translate the nuances of it to the masses.

IndyCars belong on ovals. They're the fastest cars in any form of closed-course racing -- and high-speed ovals allow them to stretch their muscles and display their speed (which blows tintops away). They also can work on road courses, but the technical brilliance can be as easily shown at Milwaukee or Phoenix as at Long Beach and Belle Isle.

And, to be popular, IndyCars need to be on ovals. There is room for road racing -- this series needs to be diverse. But a good mix of short ovals (Milwaukee, Phoenix, Loudon, Richmond, Iowa), high-banked medium-length ovals (Kentucky, Kansas, Nashville, Texas, Chicagoland) and longer ovals (Michigan, Indianapolis) can combine with a few good road courses -- Watkins Glen being one. Road America is another. You can even toss in a street parade or two -- St. Pete is a great race, Long Beach always draws a crowd.

Questions are asked -- drivers have complained a lot about the perceived danger of IndyCars on higher-banked, higher-speed ovals. But while the current spec Dallara has had its share of harrowing accidents -- including one tonight with Dan Wheldon flipping across the frontstretch at Texas -- it has seen very few serious injuries. Take, for example, for all of the chirping Flying Scotsman Dario Franchitti made about safety last year (and all the testing he did of the Dallara's safety), he survived both of his flights with barely a scratch. He hasn't been so fortunate in an allegedly-safer stock car.

IndyCar racing needs some diversity. But the foundation of the series must be ovals. While Eddie Gossage is speaking as the owner of an oval track, his statement about 80% is a bit high. But the number of ovals should never dip below 60% if the IndyCar Series expects to expand in the American consciousness.

To grow and become mainstream in the United States, ovals needs to be a major part of the schedule. And the highest-visibility races need to be on ovals.

Otherwise, the IndyCar Series can be content to be auto racing's verison of the NHL. A better product than its direct competitors, for sure. That battle has already been won. But it would be vastly-improved if it was a product that gained mainstream success. The only way to do that in the United States is to run a substantial number of races on ovals.

Friday, June 6, 2008

June 6 newsstand: Texas qualifying

It's almost Texas race day.

We'll have a race-day installment with quals stories, but here is Friday's wrapup (of both AM and PM stories).

28 cars are set to take the green flag ... here is the lineup. The green flag drops at 9:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage on radio and IndyCar.com. ESPN2's broadcast will be slightly tape-delayed.

Today's news
Eddie Gossage always has something to say. And this time, I almost agree with him. He says the IRL's schedule should be 80% oval. Meanwhile, guys from Champ Car are calling for it to be no more than 33% ovals, and it seems the IRL is headed toward 50%. Gossage says the American public will not accept Euro-style road racing and calls the increased amount of road courses "baggage" from the merger.

Anyway, Eddie always has a point to make, so let's let him make it: "IndyCar officials have to understand that it will take 80 percent ovals to truly succeed. Otherwise, this is nothing more than a niche sport. If they're comfortable with that, fine, but I don't think they are. The Indy 500 and high-speed ovals like TMS are why the IRL won this war."

Eddie blasts out at the minions from Champ Car that want the IRL to morph into CC: "They lost this fight. ... They need to look back and see that model is failed history. There's a littered battlefield left behind them from USAC to CART to Champ Car. You have to learn from that."

Of course, there is a reaction from the drivers, sought out by Speed's Jeff Olson.
Says TK: "If somebody who has such good vision and can organize a race as good as this thinks we should be racing on 80 percent ovals, he isn’t looking out for the series’ best interests."
Says Vitor Meira: (Ovals are)
where we have been successful and NASCAR has been successful. We’ve proven that the American fan likes it, and that’s our fan base. It’s more entertaining. I’m talking only about the business side of it. I’m taking myself out of the equation, because, man, it’s dangerous."

Read down in today's Indy Star notebook for a glimpse into the future. IRL officials are planning to visit Houston, Mexico City and Cleveland. Hopefully, the former is just a favor to A.J. Foyt, because the last thing this series needs is more street races. Cleveland and Mid-Ohio will struggle to co-exist, but Cleveland is a fun race. Especially when Paul Tracy does his annual wipeout of half the field on the first corner.

IndyCar racing is brought up in a Q&A with the new president of Charlotte (er, sorry, Lowe's) Motor Speedway in the Greensboro News-Record. Says Marcus Smith: "I'll never say never, and we have a great relationship with the IRL with our events in Sonoma and Texas. We'll continue to be open to those discussions. We're excited about reunification. We think that's going to be a big plus for open-wheel racing and look forward to seeing them climb the charts on their popularity." The story also mentions SMI's attempt to bring a Sprint Cup race to Kentucky. Hopefully, that won't affect the IRL's date there, largely because the track is the most convenient non-Indy venue to get to from Indy on the schedule (and a really nice track to catch a race).

Arizona Republic: IndyCar to take a look at 2011 cars
Former CART PR guru Michael Knight pimps turbocharged engines, among other things.

Texas previews
Dallas Morning News: Danica doesn't like the limited practice time
Danica also wants Milwaukee to remain in its traditional date. Eddie Gossage wants the date after Indy status, and fires away: "If Danica and the league think running in front of 28,000 people in the 34th largest market in the country is more important than running in front of 90,000 in the fourth largest market in the country, they're definitely making the right decision."

Will Power: Texas is the toughest

Qualifying stories
AP: Dixon, Castroneves 1-2
Other quals stories: Speed TV, IndyCar.com
Says Scott: "Yesterday we were fast out of the box, but today we lost that. I didn’t think the car was capable of running a speed like that, and I didn’t think it was good enough to stay there. That’s a credit to the guys for getting the car back on top."

Wheldon crashes coming out of T4 in practice, flips, suffers a "sore" ankle, then goes out and qualifies his backup car: AP, Indy Star, Dallas Morning News, ESPN, IndyCar.com

Today's Daily Trackside Report (which has everything you need to know) from the track.

Driver features
St. Petersburg Times: John Andretti wants full-time ride somewhere
He also said he'd like to run the Brickyard in Indy. He's already become the first person to run the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.

John qualified seventh for this race. He and Marco are making starts No. 1001 & 1002 for the Andretti family tonight.

IndyCar.com also has a feature on Andretti and his qualifying run.
Says JA: "There's a lot of experience on the team and it's gaining more experience, but as a group it's all still new - and especially with me."

Dallas Morning News: Never a dull moment for Wheldon
Says Dan: "I really like the track. It's a very close, intense race. It's fast. You can get to the front pretty quickly if you have a good car. It's under the lights, and there's always a very good energy here."

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Milwaukee win has Briscoe moving forward
Ryan looks back at the win, the Indy pit-lane crash and being hired by the Captain.

Indy Star: Texas looms large for Meira
A great feature on the guy who's always in the mix, and always (seemingly) second. Says Vitor, who got his "pilot wings" from the Indiana National Guard after his flight at Milwaukee: "I think people follow me for things like that, but second, because I try to treat them right, the way I'd like to be treated as a fan. I think that's why they wish me more even though I'm not in the spotlight all of the time."

ESPN: Meira hunting for first win
Says Graham Rahal of Vitor: "If you want talk about an all-around good guy, that's him. He's been close so many times; I don't even know how many second-place finishes he's had. Eventually, some day, he's going to win and then all the wins will start pouring in."

Boston Herald: Return to TMS good for Kanaan
An update on TK's season as he heads into the home of 7-11.

New Zealand Herald: Dixon shows no signs of slowing
Not much here, but something from the Kiwi press.

AP: Castroneves wants to win a race, title
Says Helio: "Finishing top five every race seems to be the key for us. When the car gets right, we're going to go for the win."

Dallas Morning News: Fans fall in step with Castroneves
Ryan Briscoe is noticing a big turnout for his teammate: "I asked what made them come out, and they said they watched Helio on TV and wanted to see what his day job was like. What fans find out is, that personality and fun guy they saw on TV is the way he is all the time. That's not an act."

AP: Danica excited, disappointed about unified series
Danica asks for better marketing. "It's very exciting from the inside. There's more drivers, there's more fans, there's more media, there's more excitement. But when it hits mainstream America, I don't think that it's had enough of an impact yet."

FemmeFan.com: Rahal new face of IRL
OK, this is the first time FemmeFan.com has been on this site -- before or after hiatus.

Ottawa Sun: Danica wants more marketing
This mentions the same stuff as the AP story above, but it also mentions Kimi Raikkonen is considering retiring from F1.

And finally
Sam Hornish Jr. tells Helio (and anyone else) that no IRL driver should ever complain about the schedule being too long.

While we're on the subject of NASCAR, SI wonders why Ganassi's team hasn't been producing.