This Week in Auto Racing April 12 - April 15
This Week in Auto Racing April 12 - April 15
This Week in Auto Racing April 12 - April 15
April 10th, 2007
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Its a busy week in motorsports with NASCAR on the high-speed circuit in Fort Worth, Texas and Champ Cars in Long Beach for its traditional "Crown Jewel."
Samsung 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX
With the introduction of the "Car of Tomorrow" has come a strange new characteristic to Nextel Cup competition - "gentlemen" racing.
Three weeks ago NASCAR displayed its COT for the first time at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Now normally a race at Bristol involves bent sheetmetal, irate tempers and more often than not fisticuffs.
But not this time.
Maybe it was because the drivers didn't feel comfortable in the new chassis, but there was little side-by-side racing and even less use of the "bump and run."
When the race came down to the final few laps, Jeff Burton had the chance to knock Kyle Busch out of the way and collect a victory. Instead he chose the "gentlemen" route, tried to slip underneath Busch and race him to the finish line. The effort came up short and Burton settled for second place.
This in direct contract to a race in 2002 when Jeff Gordon used the "bump and run" to perfection on Rusty Wallace to win the Sharpie 500.
Two week's ago at another short track (Martinsville), Gordon had the same opportunity but the results were much different.
Trailing teammate Jimmie Johnson with 40 laps to go. Gordon made numerous attempts to duck underneath Johnson but his car wouldn't hold to the bottom of the half-mile flat track. He tried a more sedate version of the "bump and run" gently rapping the back of Johnson's Chevrolet trying to get him loose, but respecting the fact that he was a teammate and not wanting to send him into the outside wall.
Gordon's attempt failed and he settled for second place.
"The only way I could get by him was to wreck him...but he's my teammate," said Gordon.
"To have a duel like that at the end, that was some of the hardest driving I've ever done," said Johnson. "And then to have my bumper beat off by my teammate, in a way that didn't jeopardize either one of us, was really a class act by Jeff."
This never would have happened if "The Intimidator" was still racing. There would have been two wrecked race cars and Earnhardt would have ended up in Victory Lane - twice. But this is not your father's NASCAR. I'm not sure if that's better or worse, just different.
From the slow speeds of Martinsville, the series now travels to one of the fastest tracks on the circuit. While Denny Hamlin won the last pole with a speed of 95.103 m.p.h., this week's top speed will likely be almost 100 m.p.h. faster (2006 pole winner Kasey Kahne's speed was 190.315 m.p.h.).
Kahne won both the pole and the race in the spring of 2006.
Kahne made the winning move to the outside of Tony Stewart with 26 laps remaining and successfully made the pass for the lead. A final caution flag came out and all the drivers pitted. Kahne, Stewart and Matt Kenseth led the race off pit road on the final stop of the afternoon.
Kahne set his fastest lap of the race on lap 323 to expand his margin to 2.704 seconds. Meanwhile, Stewart was battling Kenseth for second and the No.17 took the position with nine laps to go.
But Kahne was now well out in front and he cruised to the checkered flag with more than five seconds to spare.
The No.9 Dodge needs another performance like that as he is stuck in 34th place through the first six events. In 2007 Kahne has already finished 35th or worse in three events in contrast to last year when he was fourth at this time and had a win and four top-10s through the first half dozen races.
"It's easy to get down...and wonder why and try to figure out how to go faster," said Kahne. "That's not going to do any good. I feel like we've had good cars pretty much every week. We haven't had winning cars, but we've had good cars every week but we don't have many good results."
Expect Kahne to join the usual suspects, Gordon, Johnson, Stewart, Burton and Kenseth for the win. Its just that Kahne needs it more and unlike Burton and Gordon if he has a chance to win he won't back off in any way.
The race is set to begin on Sunday at 2 p.m. (et).
O'Reilly 300 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX
After winning his second consecutive Busch Series race, Carl Edwards has built a huge lead in the championship. It appears that he is on his way to threatening last year's record winning margin of 824 points which Kevin Harvick posted in winning the 2006 Busch Series title.
Through seven starts, Edwards' lead is 321 points over Dave Blaney. He has won twice and already has six top-fives. He is not a stranger to winning in the series. In 2005 Edwards won five times and collected 21 top-10s en route to a third place in the series championship.
Last year Edwards treated his fans to four "Victory Backflips" and his 25 top-10s was good enough for second place overall behind Harvick. This year has been his best and with Harvick not competing in every event, there doesn't seem to be anyone who can threaten him.
Blaney, driving a Toyota, has three top-10s but is nowhere close to Edwards' level of performance. Harvick is in third place despite missing two events having earned a win and five top-10s in five starts.
If Edwards does run away with the championship, one of the few stories that could be of interest is the performance of Marcos Ambrose, the Australia native.
Ambrose, who began his NASCAR career last year in the Craftsman Truck Series, is a rookie in the Busch Series this year and sixth overall. Ambrose grew up dreaming of a Formula One career not a NASCAR career. He won the points title in the Australian V8 Supercar Series in 2003 and 2004, but last year after a Ford Racing official saw him drive was talked into coming to the United States.
Ambrose finished 21st in 2006 including a best finish of third in both Kansas and Nashville. He jumped up to the Busch Series this year and has two top-10s so far. Ambrose also knows he has a long way to go.
"You have to be top-notch every time you go out there," Ambrose said. "Every driver is great to excellent. There's such a steep learning curve. I'm just blessed with the opportunity, and I'm enjoying the experience."
It should be fun to watch him over the course of the season and if Edwards continues at his current pace it might be one of the few reasons to keep watching the series.
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Streets of Long Beach - Long Beach, CA
Will Power winning the Champ Car season opener last Sunday was a surprise, but not the biggest one of the weekend. Power had been improving since the middle of last year when he posted six consecutive top-10s. He won the pole in Australia and finished on the podium at the season finale in Mexico City.
No, the "surprise of the weekend" award goes to three-time Champ Car Series titleholder Sebastien Bourdais, who clearly didn't have the speed to compete with the top cars. This from a team (Newman/Haas/Lanigan) and a driver who had won 20 times and collected 33 top-five in the last 41 starts.
At best during qualifying, Bourdais was sixth on the list. Then he crashed, lost his fastest lap and was forced to start the race in 16th place. In the race, the Frenchman worked his way up to fifth, but blew a tire on lap 24 and eight laps later his day was as good as done after grazing a wall and bending his suspension beyond repair.
Can Bourdais rebound will be one of the primary stories in this weekend's race on the streets of Long Beach, California.
Power's win signifies a new season which appears to be more wide open than the past few years. With a new chassis being used by all teams, it appears that the domination of Bourdais and Newman/Haas/Lanigan has been erased.
Not only was Power fast, but former F1 driver Robert Doornbos and his Minardi Team USA showed very well in its first outing in the series taking a second place. And Paul Tracy was quick as always, again displaying the ability that has brought him 30 wins - most of any active driver.
This week's race is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, easily the most recognizable and important race on the Champ Car schedule.
In 2006 Bourdais won the race finishing a distant 14.096 seconds ahead of Justin Wilson. He also won the race in 2005.
But this is a new era. All teams use the DP01 chassis. All teams use the Cosworth engine.
"The new car is for sure going to bring a better show," said PKV Technical Director Tom Brown after preseason testing. "If you chart the lap times from Sebring, Houston and Laguna Seca you see the competition getting closer and closer and closer."
He was right too, at least in week one. It seems that the 2007 season will bring close racing each week and hopefully a better championship race. And that is the only way that the series will bring fans back into the seats and in front of the television set.
Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit - Sakhir, Bahrain
Through the first two events of 2007 the Formula One series has had two distinctly different races.
Three weeks ago in Australia Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen were dominant. In his inaugural outing with Ferrari, Raikkonen won both the pole and the race easily defeating two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso.
Last Sunday, although Felipe Massa won the pole, both Alonso and his amazing rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton sped past the Ferrari in the race's first two turns and were never headed. Alonso and McLaren swept the top two spot for its first win since 2005.
"I think one of our chances to win the race was to be first after the first corner and thanks to a good start, thanks to the car, I was able to arrive side-by-side into the first corner," said Alonso. "I was on the inside part so I managed to be first and to be sure, to have my teammate second makes things easier.
"I think we learned a lot in the first race about the tires, how they behaved over the race stints and I think we learned some lessons that for sure we will be using every race from Australia onwards."
Now its on to Bahrain this Sunday and with no time off for testing the teams are likely to bring the same cars that they raced on Sunday.
Alonso (18 points) enters the race with a two-point lead over Raikkonen (16) and four over Hamilton (14). Massa, still considered a prime contender for the title, is fifth with seven points.
The Bahrain GP was last year's season opener and Alonso edged Michael Schumacher for the victory. Alonso was trailing Schumacher with 22 laps to go, but a quick pit stop had the Spaniard back on the track just in time for a side-by-side battle with the seven-time World Champion. Alonso was able to hold off Schumacher and he never relinquished the lead.
With five laps to go Schumacher was close enough to make a tentative move to the inside of Alonso at the end of the straight, but couldn't complete the pass.
"I had a look, but finally (I decided) it wasn't close enough to seriously try," said Schumacher.
Alonso then pushed the margin to 2.009 seconds on the white-flag lap and it was all over.
With Schumacher enjoying his retirement, Alonso and Hamilton will once again battle the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Massa.
Hamilton's second consecutive podium finish makes him the first driver since Peter Arundell in 1964 to accomplish the feat in his first two races. Still, the 22-year-old British driver has his head on right.
"I couldn't be happier, but this is another stepping stone on the steep learning curve that I have ahead of me," said Hamilton.
Hamilton's next lesson begins on Sunday morning in Sakhir, Bahrain.