On tap this week:
- Stewart's actions normal in NASCAR
- DeGrand's weekend from hell
- Moto GP records at Indy
- Newman criticises safety at The Glen
- Quote of the Week: Praise for Ambrose
- Penske shows class
About halfway into Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide race at Watkins Glen, Penske driver Joey Logano radioed his crew chief after Marcos Ambrose made his car extra wide in a restart and told him that his rival had just used his free pass.
If the Richard Petty Motorsport driver tried another block, Logano made it clear that Ambrose would be “dumped.” Translation: Logano would run into Ambrose deliberately and cause him to have an accident.
Using your car as a 1,500-kilogram battering ram is common in NASCAR and the series does little to police the potentially dangerous behaviour. In fact, its “boys have at it” approach encourages Wild West justice where drivers take matters into their own hands mete out punishment as they see fit.
So did NASCAR’s lassiez-faire attitude towards altercations on track play a role in the incident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr., 20, during a Saturday night sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York?
The Sprint car racer was struck and killed as he walked on track to confront three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart. Ward was trying to show his displeasure with Stewart after being squeezed into the wall by the NASCAR driver, who was making a guest appearance in the race.
Early reports from the track indicated that Stewart gunned the throttle as Ward neared, went sideways, and struck the fellow driver with his rear tire, throwing him about 15 metres. Ward was pronounced dead in hospital late on Saturday night. As it stands, no criminal charges are pending against Stewart who police said has cooperated with the investigation.
It was another in a long list of questionable decisions by the 43-year-old veteran, who seems to erupt more often than Hawaii’s Mount Kilauea. The by-product is NASCAR attracting attention every time Stewart has a meltdown.
For example, NASCAR garnered huge publicity when the clip of Stewart throwing his helmet at another car on pit road during a race last year in Bristol was seen on newscasts around the globe.
Even though the move not only potentially endangered his intended target, Matt Kenseth, but also all the crew members, officials and media working in the pitlane, Stewart was not even fined for his helmet toss. At the time NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said the series didn’t feel Stewart “crossed the line with our new parameters of getting a little more back to the drivers to control their own actions.”
For his part, Stewart withdrew from Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen, a move that likely cost his team any chance of making the 10-race Chase for the Cup playoff that decides the season champion.
NASCAR issued a statement about the death saying in a release that “our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”
By the Numbers: Going into the final two races of the new F1600 Super Series finale, points leader Tristan DeGrand was cruising to the title.
He had already won five of the first six races in 2014 and held a comfortable 100-point lead – the equivalent of a race win – as the series prepared for two races on Saturday as part of the under card of the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières.
Essentially, only a complete disaster on the streets of Trois-Rivières could derail his title. Unfortunately the racing gods had just that kind of luck in store for the 18-year-old from St. Louis and he went away empty-handed.
The first race of the finale weekend ended on the first lap for DeGrand, who slammed into a tire barrier after trying to outbrake championship rival Chase Pelletier at the end of the long straight on the Trois-Rivières street circuit. Pelletier went on to win, erasing DeGrand’s points advantage in a single blow.
That afternoon, DeGrand started the second race at the back of the field due to the grid being set in the order of the fastest lap times from the first tilt. With his championship rival Pelletier starting third, DeGrand’s title hopes looked slim at best.
Amazingly, DeGrand scythed his way through the field and passed Pelletier for third place about halfway through Race 2 to put himself back atop the provisional points standings. It was a short-lived celebration for DeGrand, who slowed with a broken suspension and retired a few corners after getting past Pelletier. His rival went on to win the race and the title.
“It was a tough weekend, but it is what it is,” DeGrand said. “The incident in the first race was totally on me. In the second race, I had nothing to lose so I raced really hard and got myself back in the championship lead. When the car broke with mechanical failure, there’s not much I can do about that.”
To make matters worse, Olivier Bedard of Terrebonne, Que., took home a pair of thirds to score enough markers to push DeGrand to third overall in the final Super Series point standings.
Random Thoughts: In what can only be described as an incredible performance, defending MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez continued his complete domination of the 2014 season in Indianapolis on Sunday, scoring his 10th consecutive win to remain unbeaten this year. He looks to be on his way to an easy MotoGP title No. 2.
The victory at the Brickyard tied the Spaniard with Mick Doohan and Giacomo Agostini for consecutive wins in the premier MotoGP class.
In addition to equalling the consecutive wins total, Marquez has also set several records for the four-stroke era this year, setting the mark for most poles to start a season at six, becoming the first rider to win the first six races of a season from pole, and the first to win the first 10 starts in a year, and now holds the record for scoring the most points in the first 10 races of a season.
Last year, he became only the second rookie to win the top class MotoGP title, joining legend Kenny Roberts who did it in 1978.
Considering that Marquez turned 21 in February, it’s a pretty good bet that a few more records will fall by the time he’s done in MotoGP.
Technically Speaking: NASCAR has spent the past dozen years improving safety in the wake of the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in a 2001 crash during the Daytona 500.
The list of changes is long and comprehensive and includes things like making HANS (Head and Neck Support) devices mandatory, introducing seats that better protect the driver in accidents, and adopting the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier walls developed by the IndyCar Series at most tracks to lessen the impact when cars hit the wall.
Some of these safety measures likely played a role seeing NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell walk away from a heavy crash that brought out a red flag on Lap 57.
The force of McDowell’s impact completely destroyed one of the Armco barriers, which had to be rebuilt. That raised some questions about the wisdom of NASCAR racing at a venue with Armco so close to the track surface, something Newman pointed out after his accident.
“The Safer barrier doesn’t exist here– there are no concrete walls. It’s just a very antiquated race track and the safety is not at all up to NASCAR’s standards and it’s a shame that we have to have accidents like that to prove it,” he said.
“Hopefully something will change the next time we come back.”
Quote of the Week: “I don’t believe he’s one of the best road racers in NASCAR, I don’t believe he’s one of the best in the U.S., I believe he’s one of the best in the world. I’ve always respected him, but I respect him so much now because he could have easily just wrecked me, and honestly probably moved me out of the way and wrecked me and drove to the win and made the Chase and everything is great, but he didn’t.”
– Race winner A.J. Allmendinger talking about his late-race battle with Australian Marcos Ambrose in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.
The Last Word: Speaking of A.J. Allmendinger, many might have noticed that some of the first people to congratulate the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing driver on his maiden Sprint Cup win on Sunday were his former owner Roger Penske and some of his old Penske crew members.
“He just said he was proud of me,” Allmendinger said later. “That meant the world to me because it means that to me, at least, that I’m still a part of their family, too, and they care about me.”
“The Captain,” as he’s known in the paddock, and his organisation as continues to show tremendous class when it comes to Allmendinger. Fans will recall that the driver left the Penske NASCAR outfit in July 2012 after failing a random drug test. The test that found Allmendinger had the banned substance Adderall in his system. Adderall is commonly used to treat Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
When Allmendinger completed a NASCAR recovery program a few months later, Penske offered him a few races in his IndyCar team the next season and later a couple of road course runs in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Although his six-race IndyCar experience was forgettable apart from a seventh in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, Allmendinger won both his starts in the Nationwide Series at Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Now that he’s won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race, Allmendinger also looked back on the past two years with a different set of eyes.
“You know, when I got with Roger, I knew it was the best opportunity of my life, and I tried to fake it inside and say this is the right time for it. I kept telling myself, ’yeah, this is the right time for it,’ but I knew it wasn’t the right time for it,” he said.
“I wouldn’t go back and change the process because I know I am a happier person and I am a more centered person, and I know I need to keep working to get better at that still, but I’m surrounded by family, and to be able to share it together, we’ll never forget this.”
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