DIEZ: Sprint Cup, Nationwide racers take a break
For the Nevada Appeal
After an exciting start, two of NASCAR’s top divisions are idle this weekend. There have been three different winners in three races so far for both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series, and the new points system has some of the usual front runners seriously behind in the standings. The Camping World trucks ran at Darlington with Kasey Kahne winning to make it three different winners on the season.
In 2012, NASCAR will begin the season one week later, with no early-season break to kill the momentum.
A few NASCAR drivers are considering a run at the $5 million prize offered by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard for a non-series driver who can win the season finale at Las Vegas.
A.J. Allmendinger, who was successful in the Champ Car series, is said to be seriously interested. Other former open wheel stars now in NASCAR are Sam Hornish Jr., Juan Carlos Montoya, Robbie Gordon, and Tony Stewart. Other drivers who have been mentioned are Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Carl Edwards.
The problem is that Indycar runs Honda engines, so there may be some contractual difficulties for drivers who race Chevy, Ford, Toyota, or Dodge makes.
Also, NASCAR has exclusivity for Goodyear tires, while Indycar runs Firestones. Some drivers have mentioned the logistic difficulties of trying to run at Charlotte and Las Vegas in different cars on the same weekend, but a number of drivers have been known to race Cup at Sonoma and Nationwide in Milwaukee on the same weekend.
If Bernard’s offer holds for the 2012 season, it may be a whole different ballgame, however. General Motors and Ford will supply engines for the series (through engine builders Ilmor and Cosworth), and there will be also be a new chassis and a variety of aero packages. Tires may still be an issue, however, as Firestone, which had announced it would be leaving the series after 2011, has reconsidered and will supply tires to IndyCar through 2013. Sister company Bridgestone pulled out of Formula 1 after the 2009 season.
Given all this, I would expect that 2012 will be a much better year for a crossover race, provided that Bernard’s offer is still open. With Tony George back on the IMS board, who knows how much longer Bernard will be in charge of IndyCar. It would be a shame to lose him, because in just a year he has made more progress with the series than George did in over a decade.
Unfortunately, one of my favorite competitors will be missing at the start of the 2011 IndyCar season on March 27 in St. Petersburg.
Tony Kanaan, who had recently signed on with de Ferran Dragon Racing is out of a job again as team owner Gil de Ferran has closed his doors. Also, Alex Tagliani has sold the assets of his Fazzt Racing team to Sam Schmidt Motorsports, but he will stick around to drive for the team.
One possible addition to IndyCar fields this season is four-time Champ Car champion and ex-Formula 1 driver Sebastien Bourdais, who is considering joining Dale Coyne’s team. Hopefully Bourdais will replace rolling chicane Milk Duno on the team.
IndyCar has announced that it will limit entries to 26 cars per race for 2011, with the exception of the traditional 33 starters at the Indy 500 and 30 for Las Vegas to accommodate any NASCAR, F1, Grand-Am, or other racing stars that want to run for the $5 million prize. Twenty-four of the 26 positions will be set in qualifying and the final two will be provisional positions. Eligibility for the provisionals will be series champions for the past two years, the previous year’s Indy 500 winner, the highest-ranking points scorer among the top 22, the Leader Circle entry with the fastest practice time, and the entry with the next best qualifying time, provided it is fast enough as determined by race officials.
I for one would like to see NASCAR do away with the top-35 locked in spots and qualify on time alone. But that’s just me.