Roger Diez: Racers take the weekend off
After a cornucopia of racing last weekend, with NASCAR, Formula One, and IndyCar all in action, everybody has Easter weekend off. So enjoy the holiday with your families, and participate in all the traditional festivities. I’m at that forgetful age where I can hide my own eggs, so it should be a fun day.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana was perhaps the best ever run at the two-mile oval. Not just the last lap and post-race extracurricular activities, although those were certainly exciting. In the wake of Denny Hamlin’s crash after contact with Joey Logano and Tony Stewart’s dustup with Logano in pit lane, NASCAR declined to issue any penalties. I listened in on a press conference with Sprint Cup Director John Darby on Tuesday, and he explained NASCAR’s rationale. The Logano/Hamlin incident was judged to be “just one o’ them racin’ deals”, and I concur with that conclusion. Unfortunately for Hamlin, he found a wall that didn’t have a SAFER barrier, and as a result will be sidelined for six weeks with a fractured vertebra. He will not require surgery, but the enforced layoff will pretty much take him out of the hunt for the Chase, given the new point structure. At this writing a replacement driver had not been named, but both Elliot Sadler and Brian Vickers are on the short list, with Mark Martin another possibility.
However, I disagree with NASCAR regarding the lack of a penalty on Stewart for attacking Logano in the pit lane. Darby said that since it didn’t develop into a major brawl, NASCAR wasn’t too concerned. I can’t see why Stewart got so angry about being blocked, since he would have done exactly the same thing to Logano had their positions on the restart been reversed. In any event, Darby said that NASCAR was not going to institute a blocking rule like those “lesser” series (Formula 1 and IndyCar), because of the judgment calls required to enforce it. When NASCAR issued the “have at it, boys” edict a couple of years ago there was a marked increase in contact. So expect to see some very wide racecars from here on. In all the controversy, Kyle Busch’s double win (Nationwide and Cup) took second fiddle. I have never been a KB fan, but I have to say that his demeanor in his post-race interviews has improved immeasurably. Perhaps he is finally growing up?
There was controversy of a different sort in the Formula One race in Malaysia. Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were all over each other racing for the lead. So much so, they appeared to be in danger of taking each other out as they did in Turkey two years ago. Team manager Christian Horner stepped in, but Vettel ignored the team orders and took the lead. A very disgruntled Webber looked daggers at his teammate on the podium, and the already frail relationship between the two drivers appears to be completely broken. Lewis Hamilton took third in his Mercedes, and had the good grace to be apologetic for his team’s orders that gave him the spot over teammate Nico Rosberg.
No such controversy reared its head at the IndyCar race in St. Petersburg, as James Hinchcliffe scored his first IZOD IndyCar win and the first victory for sponsor GoDaddy.com. It was a good day for Andretti Autosport, as Marco Andretti scored a third place behind Penske driver Helio Castroneves. Defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay suffered mechanical problems, Penske star Will Power was run over during a caution period, and three-time champion Dario Franchitti finished last after losing grip on cold tires and hitting the wall. Notable drives were put in by Target-Ganassi’s Scott Dixon, who came from deep in the field to finish fifth, and KV racing drivers Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro who finished fourth and sixth respectively.
Mackena Bell’s second start in the K&N Pro Series East race will have to wait until April 6, as last weekend’s event at Greenville-Pickens Speedway was rained out. And finally, Reno-Tahoe-Fernley Speedway’s 3/8 mile clay oval will host a play day next Saturday for all 95A series racing divisions.