The racing during the Nextel Cup Phoenix event last Saturday night was exciting, particularly in the closing laps.
Maybe a little too exciting, and maybe made that way by design, if you listen to Tony Stewart. Stewart is not alone in his complaints about NASCAR's "phantom caution flags" that seem to be much more in evidence this season than in years past.
An upset Stewart refused to talk to the media after the race, but made up for it during his weekly Sirius satellite radio show, likening NASCAR to pro wrestling and accusing the sanctioning body of manipulating race results with phony caution periods. He's not alone among drivers, and a fair number of media members and fans also suspect that NASCAR's motives for debris cautions are more for entertainment value than safety-related.
There is a story about Big Bill France, NASCAR's founder, during one of the first road course Cup races at Watkins Glen. The race was pretty strung out in the late stages, a rather boring parade. Big Bill is reported to have said, "Time for Monsieur Debris to make an appearance," then dropped his Rolex onto the edge of the track, causing the yellow flags to blossom. So the phantom debris caution is nothing new . . . just more frequent of late.
In any case, Stewart met with an unhappy group of NASCAR officials before his team was allowed to unload its car Friday morning at Talladega. A chastened Stewart emerged from the meeting $10,000 lighter in the wallet and on probation until December 31.
"Yeah, I'm sure I did hurt the integrity of it - and unfairly, after talking with those guys this morning," Stewart said of the effect his words had on the sport. And the lobotomy scars hardly showed at all.
Stewart's tirade wasn't the only sore spot following the Phoenix race. Jeff Gordon's victory lap with the number 3 flag didn't sit well with the Earnhardt faithful. Many considered it an insult to Earnhardt's memory, and were of the opinion that Gordon was gloating over having tied their hero's number of Cup wins.
A subsequent poll on Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel on Sunday night indicated that only about 12 percent of fans were of this school of thought, Eighty percent or so agreed with Gordon's statement that it was meant as a tribute to Dale, and eight percent didn't care one way or the other. Among the 80 percent that thought it was a cool thing for Gordon to do were Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danny "Chocolate" Myers, Dale Sr.'s gasman on the No. 3 Goodwrench Chevy for many years.
Kevin Kalkoven, one of the owners of the Champ Car series, stated in an interview last week that any hope of reconciliation between Champ Car and the Indy Racing Series was dead. No Champ Car teams have purchased cars to run at Indy this year, even though Champ Car is on a six-week hiatus after three back-to-back street races.
However, with 69 cars and only 26 drivers entered for Indy, don't be surprised if a few Champ Car drivers show up at the Brickyard on Bump Day to see if there might be a stray ride available. Indy practice starts this coming Sunday, May 6 with pole qualifying set for Saturday, May 12. The aforementioned Bump Day is Sunday, May 20 and the race itself is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 27.
One of the big stories this year is the possibility of three female drivers (Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, and Milka Duno) qualifying for the 500. Duno passed her rookie test at Kansas Speedway last week and will make her Indycar racing debut today at the Kansas Lottery Indy 300.
Next weekend Reno-Fernley Raceway's road course will hold the fourth annual Reno Historic races, and this year it is adding vintage airplanes to the mix. At last count more than 135 vintage racecars (including 15 or so former NASCAR Cup cars) will take to the twisty circuit over three days. Cars that raced at venues such as Lemans, Sebring, Daytona, Indy, and the Nurburgring will race once again right here in northern Nevada. If you like neat old racing cars, be sure to check it out.