Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Boffo Brickyard And Bizarre Charlotte

Memorial Weekend 2017 is racing's late-spring Mecca and Indianapolis and Charlotte stunned the racing observer in both.

For the seventh straight running the Indianapolis 500 exploded past 34 official lead changes and pre-race favorites took a back seat to defending champ Alexander Rossi, rookie Fernando Alonso (who was one week old when Ron Bouchard won the 1981 Talladega 500),  Briton Max Chilton, three-time champ Helio Castroneves, and on the 40th anniversary of AJ Foyt's record-setting fourth 500 win his former driver Takuma Sato stormed to the win (while AJ's team salvaged tenth with Carlos Munoz, this after Conor Daly fell out and rookie Zach Veach had a miserable 500, this after running earlier this season in an Ed Carpenter car).  

The first big subplot of the race going in involved Alonso, driving a Michael Andretti car backed by McLaren; he is the first active F1 guy to run the 500 since Teo Fabi in 1984.  Alonso has a strikingly lengthy rap sheet accusing him of brake-checking rivals and also of blocking.   This may explain F1 ace Lewis Hamilton's tirade about the quality of drivers in the 500 after Alonso timed fifth for the 500 - though the obvious self-serving quality of Hamilton's gripe becomes all the more laughable given Hamilton's "racing" never sees him challenged to actually pass, let alone repass, anyone - something Alonso handled with a respectable level of aplomb. 

The other story of the 500 was when Jay Howard smacked the wall and slid into pole-sitter Scott Dixon's path, and the result was the nastiest melee Indycars have seen in some time.   

Sato was four months old when AJ Foyt won the 500 for the fourth time, and in 2013 he stunned Indycar by winning the Long Beach GP in AJ's #14 during his four-season stint with Super Tex.   He also led 31 laps in 2015's mind-blowing MAVTV Cal Indy 500 at Fontana, so as far as being able to race other cars Sato long ago proved his mettle.  

Lost amid everything was a superb third-place by Dubai-born British rookie Ed Jones in the Dale Coyne racecar, this a year after Jones got blipped by Dean Stoneman in a photo finish in the Freedom 100.

Max Chilton meanwhile became the loudest darkhorse in years after leading 50 laps - the most laps in the race.   Added to teammate Tony Kanaan's twenty-two laps led and Chip Ganassi's team had a boffo day, while Penske had the runner-up and a quiet sixth by the normally-loud Juan Montoya, but otherwise didn't have much to write home about Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden weren't up front...............

...........and Will Power ended up with yet another wrecked racecar.

From Indianapolis we got the most bizarre World 600 in years - first the most bizarre wreck in years as Chase Elliott, who is disturbingly building a reputation that doesn't seem compatible with winning, and Brad Keselowski hammered each other out of the race.   Next we got a lengthy rain delay - doubly ironic as NASCAR's Sirius radio channel replayed the rain-plagued 1980 World 600 the night before.  

In the race itself Martin Truex picked up pretty much where he left off after annihilating the 600 field the year before, while his Visser Racing teammate Erik Jones had a running issue with Jimmie Johnson during the race.    Danica Patrick crashed twice, by now something to expect of her.  

But then came the most preposterous upset in racing in years - Martin Truex pitted with 34 to go and Johnson stayed out - so did Austin Dillon, who had posted some thirteen top-tens in 2016 but had only one so far in 2017 and who was coming under fire in fan circles, especially after his crew chief Richard Labbe left after the Kansas race.   Dillon closed on Johnson and Johnson shockingly ran out of gas with two to go, and Austin Dillon - his team mocked as RCR aka Rich Children Racing - had the win.  

Coming after Ryan Newman's win after the fast cars pitted and he didn't at Phoenix, RCR now has two wins, their first since Kevin Harvick won four times in 2013.    Even more astonishing is RCR presently has as many wins as Rick Hendrick - and JGR is still winless.   It stands as an interesting commentary on what more and more is becoming the most eye-popping NASCAR season in years.

The subplot of the finish was Kyle Busch's surly reaction in the postrace presser - while it shows his sanctimony yet again, I suspect it goes beyond just that, that it reflects real contempt for Austin Dillon in the garage area; it certainly reflects the curious inability of JGR to finish the job.  

One subplot that was overlooked was Regan Smith's debut in Richard Petty's #43 with Aric Almirola out presumably for the year; Smith ran decently but fell back late to finish a lap down in 22nd, a discouraging start for his time in the #43.  

Thus does Indycar head for Detroit and NASCAR to Dover next week.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Winning the 9/11 Wars

Defeating Islamo-Arab Imperialism requires commiting to do so

On April 30, 2012, Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser made a bold prediction: It was possible to envision a world in which al Qaeda's central leadership would no longer [be] relevant to the United States and the organization itself would be eliminated. If the decade before 9/11 was the time of al Qaeda's rise, and the decade after 9/11 was the time of its decline, then I believe this decade will be the one that sees its demise, boasted John Brennan.

This wasn't an analytical assessment. It was a political claim, coming just six months before the 2012 election, at the beginning of the Obama administration's coordinated public relations campaign to portray al Qaeda as on the run. Like his boss, Brennan was reflexively dismissive of the jihadists' desire to capture territory and build a radical Islamic state. In a June 29, 2011, speech, Brennan had dismissed al Qaeda's grandiose vision of global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate as absurd, a feckless delusion.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

When Personal Spite Drives Political Hatred

More and more it is becoming clear that personal hatred by the Mainstream Media and Democratic Party for being shown up is what drives hatred of Trump - and personal spite isn't limited to them. It is reminiscent of Watergate, which was never about any crime but was an excuse for personal hatred by the MSM and Democrats of Richard Nixon, whose real crime was showing them up.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The NASCAR Fall-Star Race And Continued Rules Struggle

The expectations for the first NASCAR All-Star Race under Monster Energy tutelage were high, especially given that it marked the 25th anniversary of the first All-Star Race run at night, a race whose brutal finish is naturally still celebrated.

The All-Star Race was perhaps the least competitive running since segmenting was changed after Davey Allison led wire to wire in 1991.   The All-Star Open wasn't much better until things got hairy at the finish.  Eric Jones' ill-advised attempt to blast into the lead by hammering the grass killed his night.

Post-race reaction among fans and media was negative - typified by Autoweek's piece advocating taking the race away from Charlotte and running it somewhere else, such as Bristol or Iowa or a road course.   Given the worthlessness of road racing, running an all-star race on one can never work, nor are short tracks anything resembling the answer.   

It reflects the continued universal frustration at the lack of passing on the bigger ovals - a plague that has nothing to do with the track layouts and everything to do with racecars with too much horsepower, too little grip, and no drafting effect being generated - and Goodyear's much-hyped options with soft or hard tires proved laughably irrelevant, perhaps the funniest example of how NASCAR and fans got hoist with their own petard after they believed their own propaganda about cutting downforce and thus improving passing.

A report on a proposed 2018 rule package suggests the Cup cars will run a conventional airdam instead of a splitter - Eric Jones' Charlotte crash that tore his splitter to bits would seem to add credence to this - would remove the sharkfin run for years now, increase the spoiler from 2.5 inches to four, and remove side skirts to lessen sideforce.   The hope is to reduce corner speeds, though given history I'm not holding breath that it will do that.   The spoiler-airdam proposal seems to make sense, though I'd prefer a substantially larger spoiler; the history of the larger spoiler has generally been positive for competitive racing, it's been spoiler reductions that have been a bollox.   I'm intrigued how removing the sideskirts affects things, for the sideforce issue has shown itself to be serious in the Truck Series.

The rule package that oddly has gone completely under the radar (outside of a reference on NASCAR's Sirius/XM radio morning drive show)  has been the Xfinity package to be run at the Brickyard in July. The use of drag ducts on the Xfinity cars attacks the issue of the weakness of the draft for the cars, and certainly the Cup cars need all the draft they can get pretty much regardless of track - it is thus baffling that Cup cars haven't tested drag ducts.   The issue of horsepower has also gone unaddressed; the reality is the Trucks are the only of the three major touring series that has gotten horsepower under control; the Xfinity series has been okay as far as controlling horsepower; Cup has completely ignored the fact horsepower needs to be controlled, and seriously so.  

As far as individual racer performances went, the lack of passing makes gauging the drivers trickier - Kyle Busch's win was a milestone for him given he's never won a race in a Cup car at Charlotte before.   Kyle Larson was probably the strongest car given he led the most laps, except he never led again after the third segment started.    The All-Star Open was more interesting given the hairiness of the finish, but among those who advanced from it only Chase Elliott was relevant to anything at the end of the main race; he struggled and fell to Daniel Suarez in the Open while Austin Dillon finished second, this as it appeared Elliott would just breeze into the lead and be done with it.    Also noteworthy was Regan Smith, who ran respectably in Richard Petty's #43 in his first race subbing for injured Aric Almirola, out for two months and maybe three.  

So Charlotte's 2017 NASCAR week gets off to a terrible start.   One hopes it can get better.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Study Shows Fact-Checkers Are Bad at Their Jobs

PolitiFact exposed again
What's interesting about media fact-checkers is that, while they often prove to be subjective in their findings, they do allow others to objectively evaluate them since they append value judgments such as true or false to statements. I've previously noted two university studies, one at the University of Minnesota and another at George Mason University, that simply quantified PolitiFact's results over a specified period and cross-referenced the results with partisanship,. The results were unsurprising to those who regularly marveled at PolitiFact's reasoning—the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checker rates Republicans as telling falsehoods much more often than Democrats (rates of 3:1 and 2:1, respectively). There's really no other way to explain it other than the organization has, at a minimum, a serious selection bias problem.

Monday, May 15, 2017

NASCAR's Back-Breaking Mid-Season

NASCAR's  2017 season is the debut season of Monster Energy Drink sponsorship and in its first eleven races the season has seen a plethora of surprises, not all of them positive.   The Kansas 400 Winston Cup race was the second win of the season for Martin Truex, but the story of the 400 was Aric Almirola, who suffered a compression fracture in his back in the most vicious crash seen in a long time.  

Almirola's injury puts a scary damper on what was developing into a promising season after a very frustrating 2016 season.   Fourth-places at the Daytona 500 and Winston 500 and a strong ninth at Richmond indicated the beginning of a turnaround; working with the Roush organization, Richard Petty's team has benefitted, and the Roush fleet's renaissance - following the promotion of younger, engineering-oriented personnel after years under former crew chief Robbie Reiser - has become one of the stories of the season.

Almirola's injury has brought out stories about how safety has improved in NASCAR the last sixteen seasons, and that's certainly true, as is that racecar safety has been excellent for decades - yet overlooked has been the close calls in that span.

Sterling Marlin's near-disastrous neck injury from - ironically - a crash at Kansas happened in 2002.

The next season Jerry Nadeau was gravely injured in a crash at Richmond, a crash some data indicated was one of the hardest hits ever recorded - greater than on superspeeedays.  

In 2013 Michael Annett suffered a serious sternum injury after blasting the SAFER barrier in Daytona's Busch Series 300 - in a twin irony, he was driving a Richard Petty car and Aric Almirola subbed for him at Phoenix.  

The crash believed to have given Dale Earnhardt Jr. the concussion that ended his 2016 season - and whose lingering effects will see his retirement after 2017 - happened in the 2016 Michigan 400. 

Eric McClure suffered serious injury in 2012 at Talladega, blasting through the track's enormous paved runoff area and hammering the SAFER barrier. 

Denny Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in this vicious 2013 melee at Fontana.

Almirola's Kansas injury came in a race that saw an eye-popping fifteen yellows, most of them for crashes that involved some eighteen cars - and writer Mike Mulhern rightly asks about why brake rotors are exploding as happened to Logano that triggered the wreck.   Related to this is the trap speeds in the Almirola wreck measured some 215 MPH.   Why racing ostensibly needs speeds that high is puzzling, especially when speeds below 200 should suffice, especially for a track like Kansas.

Kansas was also a bitter pill for Ryan Blaney, who led 83 laps in the Wood Brothers #21 yet could not hold off Truex in the race's late showdowns.   He has led 233 laps so far, by far the most by the Woods' #21 in decades, and it's a sign winning is in the #21's future.

With so many yellows, restarts made for some good racing, highlighted by Brad Keselowski's nifty three-wide pass on the outside of the trioval on the final lap.   Keselowski's runner-up finish, Kevin Harvick's third, and Blaney's fourth further the progress of a season where Ford's competitive depth has exponentially grown with wins by Stewart-Haas, Penske, and Roush - it adds further bitterness to Aric Almirola's injury with a return to victory by Petty's team a real prospect.  

The win by Truex was his second of the season with a whopping 536 laps led to date; he was one of just three Toyotas in the top ten, and his Toyota benefactor Joe Gibbs Racing remains winless.   It raises anew concern that Toyota has not invested sufficiently in competitive depth.

Competitive depth has been a problem for Chevrolet since the halcyon days of Hendrick vs. the RAD Alliance of RCR, DEI, and Andy Petree Racing, yet so far in eleven races Chevy has won with Hendrick, RCR, and Ganassi Racing, a greater depth by the Bowtiers than seen in several years.

The big picture takeaway going forward is 2017 is not your typical recent Winston Cup season - there is clearly new energy and new competitive depth (nine different winners among eight different teams in eleven races so far) and the meat of the season for the first time in a long time holds actual promise of something special for racing.    Getting Almirola back will help.

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Dangers of the FDA's Regulatory Hegemony

Courts rule against it yet the FDA fights for bureacratic meddling anyway

In March, Arizona became the first state to pass a bill allowing the free flow of medical information between drug companies and physicians. The Free Speech in Medicine Act, which was passed unanimously in both state houses, may seem curiously innocuous: It simply permits pharmaceutical companies to share information with licensed health-care professionals, provided the information is not misleading, not contrary to fact, and consistent with generally accepted scientific principles. So far, so good—one might rightly assume that relaying information would be permissible with or without legislation.

However, FDA regulations largely prohibit pharmaceutical companies from discussing safe and effective uses for FDA-approved drugs, unless those uses have been specifically sanctioned by the agency. For example, if the FDA approved a certain drug as a headache treatment, drug company representatives could not recommend that drug as a treatment for muscle pain, even if substantive data showed that it treats muscle pain effectively. Instead, the company would need to apply and pay for a separate FDA trial to approve that use. In practice, this means that information on effective treatments is often deliberately concealed from doctors, despite the fact that they are free to prescribe FDA-approved medicines for virtually any purpose they see fit.

Fake Law

Something ugly is happening to the First Amendment. It is being contorted to enable judges to protest Donald Trump's presidency.

The perennial impulse of judges to manipulate the law to achieve morally and politically desirable ends has only been exacerbated by the felt necessity to resist Trump. The result: Legal tests concerning the freedoms of speech and religion that in some cases were already highly dubious are being further deformed and twisted.

Welcome to the rise of fake law. Just as fake news spreads ideologically motivated misinformation with a newsy veneer, fake law brings us judicial posturing, virtue signaling, and opinionating masquerading as jurisprudence. And just as fake news augurs the end of authoritative reporting, fake law portends the diminution of law's legitimacy and the warping of judges' self-understanding of their constitutional role.

Those who try to police the relentlessly transformational projects of constitutional progressives had much to dread from the Obama administration, an inveterate ally of the legal left that did what it could to graft the aspirations of progressives onto the Constitution. But Trump's presidency may be even worse, because too many judges now feel called to resist Trump and all his works—no matter the cost to the law's authority.

NASCAR And The Drivers Who Weren't There

The word that Dale Earnhardt Junior will retire after 2017 and the disappointing crowd at Richmond has renewed concern in racing about its loss of popularity. An angle unexplored is the angle of the drivers who weren't there - promising drivers who died early or who did not achieve success - and the question - what if those drivers had lived and succeeded?


Rob Moroso won the Busch title in 1989 but failed in Winston Cup and was killed in a drunk driving accident near the end of his one season in Cup.   

Tim Richmond, Davey Allison, and Alan Kulwicki all achieved success - but did not live to see more

John Andretti's illness has brought back memory of a talented racer who won twice - and leaves one wondering if he had won more races; that ability was there.

Bobby Hamilton won in the Busch Series, Winston Cup, and the Trucks - and was competitive enough to win more.

No driver caused more controversy and achieved dramatic success the way Ernie Irvan did.   Crashes and victories defined Irvan's career, a career nearly ended with a nearly fatal crash at Michigan in 1994; in 1999 at that same track another bad wreck finally did end his career.   It seems certain had the 1994 crash not happened Irvan would have won a lot more races and likely still be racing in 2004 and perhaps later.

Kenny Irwin replaced Irvan with Robert Yates' team - his career at the Cup level never went anywhere and his death in 2000 left the sport once again wondering "what if".   1997's Truck 250 at Homestead showed real potential was there for success at the Cup level

Tim Steele exploded in the 1992-2001 period in the ARCA series, winning 41 races and showing a daring in traffic not many drivers can show, as seen here in 1996's ARCA 500k at Talladega.   His attempts at NASCAR never panned out.

Steele showed what could have been in NASCAR at Vegas in 1997.

Jeff Purvis, Buckshot Jones, and Joe Nemechek raced to the win at Talladega in 2000.   Jones was the most controversial due to an ugly feud initiated by Randy LaJoie.   Purvis sparkled in ARCA and the Busch Series on the superspeedways.   Nemechek won the Busch title in 1993 and won four Winston Cup races, and the likeable native of Florida always added charm to the garage area.

Purvis' career ended in this 2002 melee at Nazareth

Racing and sports in general are to a great extent driven by the ultimate unanswerable question - What if?   One can't of course be governed by such a question yet at times it is worth asking - and one certainly can think NASCAR's present struggle with popularity would have been at least somewhat mitigated had success followed the drivers who in the end weren't there.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Talladega Legacy And Future

The 2017 Winston 500 weekend at Talladega opened with a surprising burden of legacy and ended with the arrival of an aspect of the future - a confluence that made for an interesting weekend.

The Busch/Xfinity Series opened things up with an exciting shootout in the Sparks 300 and Aric Almirola matched his Firecracker 250 win from last July by bagging this one.  

The burden of legacy for Talladega was two-fold  - Part I was this marked the 30th anniversary of the 1987 Winston 500 and the breakthrough victory of Davey Allison and the Ranier Racing team.   The second-generation Allison began one of the sport's most celebrated careers with that breakthrough victory as a rookie, ultimately winning nineteen races -  but the championship he wanted escaped him in the famous crash with Ernie Irvan during the 1992 Dixie 500, and a frustrating 1993 season ended in tragedy in the helicopter crash in Talladega's infield. 

The second part of Talladega's burden of legacy was unexpected - the retirement after 2017 of Dale Earnhardt Jr., a six-time Talladega winner and the Most Popular Driver for some sixteen years running.   There was a great deal of expectation when Dale Junior timed onto the front row for the Winston 500 - but it would be the pole-sitter who stole all the thunder.

Ricky Stenhouse won two Xfinity Series titles in Roush Fords, posting eight wins and thirty-two other top-fives in that process, but that left no one impressed as Stenhouse blundered his way through the Winston Cup wars from his rookie season in 2013 with just twenty-two top-10s in 158 starts to date - more damning is Stenhouse has led a paltry 58 laps for his Cup career to date.    Making him seem even more of a joke is his well-known romance with Danica Patrick.

Yet Stenhouse wound up serving up the future in the 2017 Winston 500, and like Davey Allison, Phil Parsons, and Brad Keselowski  made this race the breakthrough for his Cup career.   It marked the first Roush victory at the Winston Cup level in 101 starts and it also marks the seventh-straight plate race won by a brand other than Chevrolet, which so dominated restrictor plate racing from 1990-2015 it wasn't funny - adding insult to injury Chevrolet led a whopping eleven laps in this 500 and Dale Junior finished an inglorious 22nd.   Jamie McMurray salvaged some pride for Chevy by finishing second and Kasey Kahne showed up the rest of Hendrick Motorsports by finishing fifth.  

It also marks the third Ford team to win in the 2017 Cup season, an important breakthrough for the competitive depth of the renewed Ford effort that began with the acquisition of Stewart-Haas Racing from Chevrolet; SHR, Penske, and now Roush have won, with Richard Petty's team and Wood Brothers Racing no longer just also-rans but legitimate contenders for a win or two.  

The other striking aspect from the manufacturer standpoint is Toyotas led 95 laps and had just one top-ten finisher to show for it, furthering the concern about Toyota's true strength as 2017 proceeds.   It also raises the issue of whether Toyota's approach where it is basically just one organization - Joe Gibbs Racing, with Barney Visser's two-car outfit (both crunched in the backstretch mess) just an extension of JGR - is sufficient; clearly there seems need for Toyota to add two more organizations to its Winston Cup fleet - especially as the Honda and Dodge rumor for NASCAR still exists, albeit has stayed underground.

People gripe about the crashes at Talladega - well there were plenty of them yet again.

The racing was good, though it seemed passing the leader in the 500 was too much of a chore compared to Daytona, which struck me as surprising, especially with the bonus points awarded for segment finishes which have created more incentive to lead and sparked manifestly greater intensity for Speedweeks.  

In all it shook out as a memorable Talladega weekend with the promise of October to come as well and with the rest of the NASCAR season beckoning.  

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Coal Outpowers Solar - Again

New data proves an old fact - solar produces piddling power compared to more conventional sources, notably coal.

The Pension Crisis

First published on November 22, 1016:

The state pension crisis has saddled the next generation with a multi-trillion-dollar debt crisis - this piece looks at Florida's while this one looks at California's.

UPDATE, May 4, 2017: An additional study showcases public employee greed.