Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gordon back in victory lane and other weekend motorsports notes

There is no doubt that Jeff Gordon has not lost the competitive fire after a winless 2008. Kicking off the season with five top-ten runs in the first six races, Gordon broke a career-worst winless streak with a dominant win at Texas Motor Speedway. Prior to Sunday, Gordon had been held winless at Texas for 16 races. With the turnaround in performance in the 24 team since the start of the season, it almost seemed prophetic that Gordon would go to victory lane at the track that had so long denied him.

Now that Gordon has the monkey off his back, maybe the media will move on to his other streak: the number of years since his last title. Gordon racked up four titles in quick succession: 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. He has been shut out since then, although he has scored the most points on the racetrack for two of the seasons since the Chase has been implemented.

If you look at the history of the sport's most prolific winners and champions, there was a time in their career that the explosive number of wins per season tailed off. The recent numbers we've seen from Gordon suggest that he has reached that point in his career. It's been since 1999 that he's won more than six races in a season, although he did win 6 times in both 2001 and 2007.

Other than an anomolous 2005 when he finished 11th in the standings, Gordon has still been a strong points racer. Since his fourth title in 2001 he's finished in the top five in the point standings four times, finishing as the runner-up behind Jimmie Johnson in 2007.

Gordon should again be a threat to win the title in 2009. Winning at Texas is a great first step but there are still 19 races left before the Chase starts. Gordon needs to stay consistent but he also needs to click off more wins, particularly once the Chase begins. Bonus points given with each win not only seed the drivers in the Chase but can mean the difference between winning and being an also ran in the post season.


Everyone following the Nationwide Series this season has seen the struggles of the No. 88 team and it's promising young driver, Brad Keselowski. Brad won two races in 2008 becoming the newest driver to break through to the road to stardom. Many observers infer that the quick rise to success and driving for the sport's biggest name have put Brad in a bad position and the added pressure is what's causing his early season struggles in 2009.

Brad's family is no stranger to the world of motorsports. His father Bob is an ARCA champion and a winner as a driver, owner, and crew chief in the Truck Series. His mom has been involved in running the family racing team since Bob was running the short tracks in the midwest and his older brother Brian is an ARCA winner too. Racing is the family's nature.

I've known Brad since he was a lanky kid helping with the setups of the family-owned No. 29 truck in 2001. He moved on to the driver's seat in local late models in 2003 and took over the family truck in 2004. Most of his big-league racing had been with teams without major funding but he was spotted by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and picked to replace Shane Huffman in the middle of the 2007 season.

There has been a quick but logical progression in Brad's career. Sure, the pressure is a lot more now than three years ago but the best drivers in the business relish having pressure to perform.

What Brad needs to do is remember who he is - he's Brad, not Dale, Jr. A lot of media think since he drives for JR Motorsports, the two drivers must be a lot alike. They might have a lot in common, but they are two different people. If Brad stays true to who he is and where he came from - and all signs point to him doing just that - then the pressures of big-league racing won't be a problem. It's the same pressure his father felt as a driver and as a team owner and crew chief.

Racing is a game of ups and downs. Prior to Texas, Brad's year had been all downs. A good run at Texas has him pointed back in the right direction. He needs to keep doing what he's been doing and the results will improve.


The IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg was an interesting race. The final rundown shows the top five drivers representing five different teams. Justin Wilson, who lost his ride with Newman-Hass-Lanigan Racing after last season and driving for Dale Coyne - a long-time owner that has never won a race - was just 14 laps away from victory when he was passed on a restart by Ryan Briscoe.

Briscoe himself was a castaway; he was dumped by Chip Ganassi after a lackluster 2005 season. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second for Vision Racing, the team's best finish. RHR spent the entire off-season looking for a ride after losing his seat at Rahal-Letterman Racing and was signed to drive the Vision car just a week prior to the start of the season.

It was an accident-filled race, with the first wreck coming on the initial green when Tony Kanaan hit polesitter Graham Rahal causing a melee in the first turn. Others involved in wrecks throughout the day included defending series champ Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Danica Patrick, and Raphael Matos.


Lightning indeed struck twice as Brawn F1 picked up where it left off in Australia by capturing the team's second straight Grand Prix. Jenson Button, who was nothing more than an afterthought for much of his F1 career, qualified on the pole and was leading when a monsoon struck in Malaysia. Officials waited out the storm for a short while before calling the race official. Interestingly, they only award half points when a race is canceled after just half the distance is completed. It will be interesting to see how that affects the championship later in the season.


I attended the USAC Mopar National Midget Series race at Columbus Motor Speedway on Saturday night and saw Darren Hagen have his way with the field, leading all 40 laps en route to victory. The Columbus track is a nice facility although the flat, circular third-mile proves tough to pass on in just about every class that competes there. The only driver that was able to make a pass on the outside was fast qualifier Bobby East, but it took him all 40 laps to move back to sixth position after dropping two spots on the initial start. Inclement weather forced a cancelation of Sunday's scheduled event at Anderson.


Patrick Sheltra was the news after the ARCA RE/MAX race at Daytona for the wrong reasons. He was slammed by Larry Hollenbeck in what will end up being one of the most spectacular crashes of the year. He spent some sheet time recovering from the wreck, but it didn't take him long to get back into the swing of things once back in the racecar as he claimed his first career series victory on Sunday at Salem Speedway.

Only 31 cars were on hand for the second race of the ARCA season. Long-time car owner and nine-time champion Larry Clement was not one of them as he has been forced to cut back his schedule due to sponsorship issues. It is a sign of the sad state of the sport overall when a cost-effective series like ARCA can't attract full fields.

Unfortunately, the Salem race was not televised. ARCA is probably the most versatile stock car series in the country, racing on superspeedways, some of the most historic short tracks in the country, fairgrounds dirt miles, and even a road course. Yet the races that make the series different are not televised. Hopefully once the economy turns around, SPEED will see the value in showing fans those dirt miles and the short tracks.

1 comment:

  1. The IRL race at St. Pete was entertaining even if the IRL specs are not conductive to exciting street and road racing. More noteworthy, the television coverage provided by Versus was excellent. Chris Jenkins, the voice of NASCAR on ESPN in the glory days, simply reported the race rather than trying to be the show. The camera work was excellent. No animated gophers, no excessive commercials and side-by-side coverage while in commercial breaks, no idiotic banter and gasp, something resembling proper grammer. It is apparent that Versus is treating Indycar as a legitmate sport...rather than a 'show'. I switched over from the Texas snoozer and never switched back. NA$CAR/Fox/ESPN better wake up...