Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beyond Racing's Mixed Memorial Weekend

Racing's Memorial Day weekend turned into a radically mixed and decidedly surprising affair that was a balm of sorts for Indycar racing and a continuation of the fundamental problem within the NASCAR realm of competition.

The Indianapolis 500 was the first superspeedway race for Indycars since Dan Wheldon's death at Las Vegas, and the new chassis bearing his name got its first big track test. The results were not just mixed, they were radically so. Marco Andretti left the field in the first half, then his race fell apart and the lead became a slugfest; the lead changed an eye-opening 34 times, a new record for the 500 and tying the Winston 500's number from four weeks earlier - further illustrating the disconnect in NASCAR's competition circles as just a year earlier - with a far-racier spoiler and radiator package - the 2011 Winston 500 tied the 2010's running with 88 lead changes, still the all-time mark for competitive depth in auto racing.

The race was ultimately won by Dario Franchitti - which inflicted upon the sport the embarrassment of witnessing the prancing of Franchitti's insufferable wife Ashley Judd (Ashley, let go of Jerry Punch's microphone) - but that was the least of the 500's issues. As stunningly racy as this new car was, it remains rather ungainly a creation and also disturbingly easy to crash, first witnessed during practice and pole day when crashes periodically happened in quick succession - quick enough succession to warrant concern. It also did nothing to assuage the memories of Wheldon's airborne tragedy from last October - on the contrary, Mike Conway's airborne crash, noticeably less violent than Wheldon's, helped make insufferable nonsense of the grotesque indictment of pack racing that raged after the 2011 Vegas 300.

And the upshot - the Indycar sanctioning body is being torn apart from infighting yet again.


Following the 500, the 2012 World 600 engaged and after some four hours was won by Kasey Kahne, for his first win since 2009, but the uncompetitive nature of the 600 brought further attention to NASCAR's competitive ennui - though it must be noted this ennui applies to lead changes and passing in general; in terms of different winners the nine that have been seen in the first twelve races is an excellent display of competitive depth in the Cup Series.

It has also been a further stain on the many drivers who have displayed ability to race to the win but have struggled so far in 2012; there was considerable attention to pole sitter Aric Almirola in Richard Petty's #43 but Almirola did little to assuage critics pointing to the below-subpar numbers posted in his career. Teammate Marcus Ambrose ran much better in the 600 but broke. Others with greater expectations than what their points standings show include A.J Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer.

It actually further pushes the issue of lack of lead changes, for these tracks are more than capable of having the many winners and also break 40 or more lead changes per race. The points-racing ethos in the sport now remains - there is no kinder word for it - a cancer. And it's part one of a two-pronged cancer to the competition. Brian France mandated shaving the side skirts of the cars to make them harder to drive; it accomplished nothing and sends the message that the 5&5 Myth Of Auto Racing remains a central tenet of his leadership in NASCAR. With his public "repurposing" of NASCAR's R&D Center, his promise of improving the racing will never be fulfilled as long as the 5&5 Myth remains a NASCAR tenet.


Indycar and NASCAR both need to give up on racing's technology arms races. They both need to restrict horsepower and add bolt-on air-displacement to attack the aeropush issue that is parallel with the general weakness of the draft at most tracks - the 500 showed the draft to work there; it needs to be strong enough to work at more tracks as well.

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