By Roger Diez
With NASCAR's Sprint Cup idle this weekend, may I suggest that you check out the German Grand Prix Formula 1 race on FOX tomorrow starting at 10 a.m.? For those of you who have not watched F1 in a few years (or ever), it is no longer the boring, no-passing parade of repute. In fact, nine races into the season three drivers are tied for the points lead: McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, with 48 points apiece.
Among them they have won every race but one, which went to first-time winner Robert Kubica of the BMW-Sauber team. Kubica is only two points behind the lead trio. Tell me the last time NASCAR had a championship that close.
Of course, all F1 races are run on road courses, something else many NASCAR fans are not fond of. But they also race in the rain, which can be extremely entertaining, particularly this season, since electronic traction control has been banned. The British Grand Prix two weeks ago was run in very wet conditions (raining in England, go figure), and this weekend's race in Germany looks as though it may also be on the damp side.
Qualifying is also very entertaining, run in three separate sessions, each five minutes shorter than the last. Five cars are eliminated after each of the first and second sessions, leaving only 10 drivers to vie for the pole in the final, frantic 10-minute qualifying scramble. It is a lot more entertaining than single-car qualifying at Daytona.
Of course, if you don't like F1, the IndyCar Series is also racing Sunday morning at Mid-Ohio Raceway. I have a particular affinity for Mid-Ohio, as I announced a number of races there when I was traveling with a professional sports car racing series a few years back. Since the merger of Indycar and Champ Car early this year, the fields have swelled to 26 cars and there is a lot more competition, particularly on road courses like Mid-Ohio.
The transfer teams, those coming over from Champ Car to run under IndyCar rules, have been at a definite disadvantage on the ovals, but have been very competitive on the road courses. American drivers Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay have each scored a victory; Rahal at St. Petersburg on a street course and Hunter-Reay on the Watkins Glen road course. Unfortunately, the IndyCar race starts at 10:30 a.m., almost directly opposite the F1 race. Thank goodness for TV recording devices!
- A few weeks back I alluded to the fact that the slow economy was beginning to have an effect on team sponsorships. Well, the problem is becoming more global, as General Motors has recently notified Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. that GM will not renew its sponsorship of NASCAR races at New Hampshire and Bristol. GM has contracts with 12 of the 22 tracks that Sprint Cup runs at, but has not announced cancellation at any of the International Speedway Corporation tracks, which are a wholly owned subsidiary of NASCAR.
All of the Big Three American auto builders (GM, Ford and Chrysler) are bleeding cash and hemorrhaging profits. How long will it be before the other two follow suit and pull back on their race and team sponsorships. About the only NASCAR manufacturer that isn't having problems is Toyota.
That aside, Silly Season is in full swing at NASCAR. Unless you've been living in a cave in the Himalayas for the past few months, you know that Tony Stewart has left Joe Gibbs Racing to take an ownership position in Haas CNC Racing, henceforth known as Stewart-Haas Racing. An almost apoplectic Darrel Waltrip was aghast on Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel last Sunday over the fact that Stewart was given half-ownership in arguably the best-equipped team in NASCAR without having to put out a dime. And it appears that Ryan Newman, who will be released from Penske Racing at the end of the season, will join Stewart as the second driver on the team. Two dominos down, how many more to fall?