Monday, April 30, 2012

Talladega And The Continued Ineptitude of Brian France

The 2012 NASCAR season enters the first of two weekends at its greatest speedway.   Daytona, Charlotte, Pocono, and Michigan all have rich competitive history - Ontario Motor Speedway built a very memorable competitive history cut short far too early - but for sheer competitive ferocity nothing compares to Talladega Superspeedway.  

But entering this Winston 500 weekend we've gotten reminder that this 2012 season has already been a season of frustration and ineptitude.   The Richmond 400 weekend began with a surprising comeback win by Kurt Busch in the Nationwide 250 but it ended with a scoring breakdown and foolish officiating, resulting in a penalty to race contender Carl Edwards and a strikingly anticlimactic win by Kyle Busch.    Scoring controversies are not new to NASCAR and officiating controversies are not new, either, yet neither should be happening today between electronic scoring and the far greater sophistication involved in racing in all its aspects.

Making it worse, the sport in a sense returns to the scene of the first crime of the season.   Talladega returns the absurd rules package designed to limit tandem drafting at restrictor plate races - an absurdly small spoiler and even more absurdly small radiator, designed to make the drivers breathe the cars instead of race.   The package came because Brian France of NASCAR claimed a fan poll showed overwhelming opposition by fans of tandem drafting, yet as Bob Pockrass pointed out earlier this year there never was any evidence of widespread fan distaste for tandem drafting.   This package came because Brian France and no one else hated tandem drafting.

Of course Dale Earnhardt Jr. became hypocritically critical of tandem drafting (people forget he brought to the mainstream in 2009 in the Winston 500, though it had been building for years before) and the arguments against it remain insufferable - Junior's talk about drivers not controlling their own destiny is insulting because tandem drafting creates a power to pass unprecedented in racing history - and this is by definition having a measure of control of your own destiny.

Do you want to control your destiny or do you want ability to pass people?  Racers are supposed to want ability to pass; it makes Junior's verbiage utterly without credibility.   It of course was telling that all the racing before the 500 was decided by tandem drafting - the Busch Clash, both 150s, and the N'wide 300 (which runs the "old" spoiler and radiator package), by far the best race of Speedweeks.

Given that Talladega is different from Daytona, the poor quality of racing seen in the Daytona 500 may not be replicated, but the 500 set in motion a general sense of ennui in the drivers - the infamous non-finish by Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 500 has been replicated in spirit if not in literal sense in the racing in general, a fact that has helped ignite real controversy that has taken Carl Edwards for one by surprise.


The end result remains an indictment of Brian France.   His reign as NASCAR president has been abysmal between the mass exodus of sponsors, controversies over exclusivity deals, the draining of life out of the racing not just by the sport's technology arms race but by its ever-growing emphasis on points instead of actual racing, and running rules packages hoisted by France and by his Cup director John Darby that have consistently failed - running battles against downforce, frequent changes to the cars between spoilers and sway bars, and the net result is worsened racing.

Brian France has proven he isn't qualified for his job, and no matter how the Winston 500 weekend turns out it will indict him more - the Alabama 312 for the Nationwide series runs the "old" spoiler/radiator package so tandem drafting will predominate; it resulted in a new Daytona race record for lead changes for the series in February.   This will illustrate what Speedweeks illustrated - the fundamental failing of Brian France's war against tandem drafts.   If the Winston 500 turns out as mediocre as the Daytona 500 it proves France's rule change is a failure; if Talladega is a great race it will show France's changes didn't take away tandem drafting after all (remember, the Clash and 150s were all decided by tandem drafting) - either way he can't win here.

He can't win, and he keeps proving he can't win in general.   Richmond's officiating controversies merely add to his legacy of ineptitude.

More Postrace Breakdown From Richmond

NASCAR's handling of scoring left something to be desired - but is in keeping with some of the sport's funniest and most controversial moments.

A dissenting view on the penalty is presented by MRN's Dave Moody.

Carpe Diem’s charts of the week

Carpe Diem’s charts of the week

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kyle Busch Richmond 400 Win

Mulhern reviews 2012 Capital City 400 won amid controversy by Kyle Busch

My Take: Kyle Busch pulled off his first Cup win since August 2011 thanks in part to a controversial restart earlier in the race that swatted out Carl Edwards - Edwards led over 200 laps; on a restart around a quarter distance to the end he was posted as the leader when Tony Stewart was ostensibly the actual leader; Stewart then gagged on a restart and Edwards blew ahead; he was blackflagged by NASCAR. A late caution (14 to go) allowed Busch to close up, get tires, and beat Stewart to the restart when Tony gagged again and Busch was gone to the win.  NASCAR is borderline here - Edwards being where he was, ostensibly outside the restart box, made the call ticky tax at best, and the ideaq of a penalty deciding a race is never persuasive.

The Busch win came in a race where tire wear was a major issue - tire conservation appeared to take precedence over fighting for the win, making nonsense of the long-standing driver talking point - reiterated by Edwards in recent interviews about the uncompetitive nature of 2012's racing - about softer tires making for better racing.

Much will be made of Dale Earnhardt Jr's runner-up finish - that Junior has shown marked improvement in his finishes is clear, but with Hendrick Motorsports curiously faltering in its quest to win its 200th race, one has to wonder if the improvement really telegraphs a pending victory - especially with Talladega beckoning.

Two disappointments in the race were AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola. Allmendinger raced well most of the night yet curiously faded at the end, continuing the trend of him being the organization's "backup" racer to Keselowski. Allmendinger deserves better than that and may be finding his Penske deal isn't better than the deal he had with Petty 2009-11.

As for Petty's present driver, Aric Almirola was rather vocal before the race about running well at Richmond. He then went out and laid a big egg, something he's been doing almost all season. Given Petty's status in the sport, it's insulting that the #43 is getting so little for it out of its driver.

 See also Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards postrace comments.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Obama’s Senior Swindle

People keep ignoring how Obamacare's central feature is the looting of Medicare.

Greg Biffle And Carl Edwards Discuss Owners And Aerodynamics

Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards discuss NASCAR's dearth of team owners and also the aerodynamics issues still affecting the racing.

My Take:  Biffle discusses the sport's lack of team owners with the aging of its Big Five - Hendrick, Childress, Roush, Penske, and Joe Gibbs - and the huge drop in number and performance levels of the few remaining teams under different ownerships. Biffle really doesn't break any insightful ground here; he makes clear he's not up for becoming a team owner in the future. I'd add that Kevin Harvick's decision to close his own BGN/Truck team shows the sport is reaching the point of pricing itself out of anyone's range.

Edwards discusses the aerodynamics of the racecars and rehashes the hoary old gripe that the cars shouldn't be racing with downforce, sideforce, and "all these aerodynamic devices" and of course advocates a softer tire. Problem remains that prescription has been a failure - taking away downforce etc. is a proven failure as is softer tires. Taking away downforce didn't make aeropush go away, it made it worse - the sport proved that in 1998 and also in the 2000s with John Darby's multiple changes to the cars taking away downforce; Dale Junior's talk late last year regarding eliminating tandem drafting centered on changing dirty air to a "beachball effect" - it's exactly what has happened on the intermediate tracks in the last decade-plus.

It's why the old roof rail remains something the sport needs to try not just for the plate tracks where it is a spectacular success but the other tracks - the story was back in January 2001 that NASCAR was planning to phase in the roof rail to non-plate tracks in 2002; it of course panicked after that 2001 season. Bigger spoilers also remain a necessity. I will say I'm coming around on the airdam as low to the ground as it is; the roof rail package allowed shaving of airdam to allow air under the car while keeping the nose firmly planted.

Edwards also delves into the point structure and the Chase format and shows anew how it has corrupted the integrity of the season.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Darrell Waltrip On Points Racing Circa 2012

Mike Mulhern talks to Darrell Waltrip on the change coming to Bristol and whether the lack of competition in the sport is due to the points system the sport has going for it.  

My Take:
Darrell is 100% right about tires - you don't want a tire that's questionable. The whole tire issue is - pun - sideways. The tires being as hard as they are isn't the problem; the problem has been ability to lean or them or race them the way they were raced on in the days of bias-ply tires. The best example remains the 1991 Michigan 400, won by Davey Allison over Waymond "Hut" Stricklin - the first half of that race saw a huge battle for the lead involving multiple cars with Allison, Dale Earnhardt, and Mark Martin providing the largest percentage of fight. The lead changed unofficially 30 times in a 15-lap span before Stricklin took over around the 50-lap mark.

There was word in 2010 that Goodyear would widen its tires by 2011 or 2012 - I'm curious as to what happened there.

Waltrip also raises the points system and he's right again - the points system has the exact same failing as the old Latford Point System in that it refuses to reward winning and also leading the most laps. The points system and the Chase format have to go; revert to the old Latford System but increase the bonus for winning the race by over 100 points, and increase the bonus for most laps led by 100 points - make it where winning the most races and leading the most laps are the focus of the championship.

Waltrip also talks about how the cars can be changed. It remains - go back to the roof blade; restrictor plate the cars; go back to the 2010 radiator and grille package to allow tandem-drafting - Brian France was wrong about tandem-drafting; it's superior racing (shown by the 300 lead changes in Cup's four plate races in 2011, not to mention the nearly 160 in the last four plate races in the Nationwide Series 2011-12).

The Cameron Crazies: Why the Left is wrong about UK (and U.S.) austerity

The Cameron Crazies: Why the Left is wrong about UK (and U.S.) austerity

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rockingham And The Hype For A Nonexistent Nostalgia

The former North Carolina Motor Speedway hosted NASCAR's Truck Series on April 15, 2012, eight years after the track closed upon being sold to Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Kasey Kahne won after taking the lead with 46 laps to go, aided when F1-reject Nelson Piquet Jr. was blackflagged for speeding down pit road. He finished seventh after leading 107 laps.

Kahne's win came eight years after he came up inches short in the track's last Winston Cup race, the 2004 Carolina 400 won by Matt Kenseth. The debut of NASCAR's Truck Series marked the return of a major touring series of NASCAR to the track, and it immediatelty unleashed a wave of commentary about how good it was for NASCAR to return to the track.

The problem, though, is that the nostalgia for the speedway willfully ignores why the track lost its Winston Cup dates to begin with. The Truck 200 there played before a speedway where some 50,000 seats had been torn down and the seating capacity was thus 32,000. The track's recorded attendance was 27,000. Lack of attendance was a factor in why the track lost its Cup dates. But several myths have been perpetrated by fans trying to explain why Rockingham didn't draw well - chief among the myths is that the track's dates were not condusive to quality weather - that it would have sold out its dates had they been moved to warmer times such as April through August instead of February/March and October/November.

That myth got exposed when the track reopened amid heavy hype and promotion of SPEED TV coverage of its inaugural race in May 2009 for ARCA stock cars - amid excellent weather, maybe 10,000 people showed up. The hype for this Truck race was of course even higher, and yet the track still could not sell out even with reduced seating capacity.

There remain fans who praise the quality of Rockingham's racing, despite all evidence to the contrary. The Truck 200 saw seven lead changes, dismal for a 200-lap race and indication the track is not terribly raceable. Making it worse is the track's notorious surface, which throughout its existence has devolved into a surface that wore out tires to where fresh tires were usually four seconds per lap faster. The racing suffered as a result, with cars strung out, over half the field getting lapped by halfway, and crashes occurring with varying frequency.

At its best Rockingham was a pale carbon of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Rockingham had some good races, most notably the 1984 American 500, but it simply is too small a track and too narrow for the racing to be all that good.

Ultimately Rockingham cannot be more than it now is - a 1-mile track with some room to race but not as much as what major league racing needs, a track that is good for local racing but useless for major league racing like Winston Cup, and a track whose demographic simply is not strong enough for more than it now has for racing. There remains fans who want the track to bring back Cup racing, but such fans need to evolve here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The entire Obama presidency in one anecdote — updated

The entire Obama presidency in one anecdote — updated - Obama was baffled that government spent money on infrastructure and nothing happened - it shows what's fundamentally wrong with how he thinks.