Back to reality (cont.)
Posted: Monday March 3, 2008 3:13PM; Updated: Monday March 3, 2008 3:13PM
NASCAR's Own Indy 500
This is an important time for several drivers because, following the fifth race of the season, the top 35 rule switches to the current points standings instead of last year's.
Drivers among the top 35 are guaranteed starting positions in the next Cup race. Those drivers outside the top 35 fall into the go-or-go-home category, meaning they have to make the field based on qualifying speed for the final positions in the 43-car starting lineup.
Three races into the season, the top three drivers on the wrong side of the top 35 cusp are former IndyCar products, including the past two IndyCar Series champions and Indianapolis 500 winners.
Dario Franchitti is currently 36th in the standings, just seven points ahead of Robby Gordon, who is just one-point ahead of Sam Hornish Jr.
Gordon has the most NASCAR experience of the three. The only reason he's in this group is the 100-point penalty incurred when the nose of his Dodge did not pass technical inspection before Daytona 500 practice. (Gordon is fighting that penalty.)
Franchitti and Hornish are NASCAR rookies after reaching the pinnacle of IndyCar racing. Both are discovering firsthand the difficult transition to the stock car circuit.
Hornish appeared to be in great shape at the beginning of the season after team owner Roger Penske convinced NASCAR officials to allow him to swap last year's points with teammate Kurt Busch. That meant Hornish inherited the seventh-place points from Busch's finish last year and he was safely in the field for the first five races.
After an impressive 15th-place finish in the Daytona 500, Hornish has been involved in two crashes the past two weeks dropping him to last place at California and 41st place at Las Vegas.
"Just lost the right front tire going through the tri-oval," Hornish lamented after his Vegas crash. "It's kind of bad for us, obviously, but even worse the fact that we were just getting ready to pit. That next lap we were coming in. I guess we should have stopped a lap sooner.
"The car was pretty good right off the bat then we got a little bit too free so I was just trying to ride around a little bit, get some more laps in until we made the stop and then just lost the tires. I don't know if we cut it down or if it was just wore out and blew out."
The good news for Franchitti: He was the highest finishing rookie in the race.
The bad news: Franchitti finished 33rd.
The Scotsman continues to discover that NASCAR isn't easy. And if he drops out of the top 35 after Bristol, the task will prove even more daunting.
Let's Make A Deal
Bruton Smith, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. -- which owns Las Vegas Motor Speedway among a number of other tracks -- has offered to switch race dates from Atlanta Motor Speedway to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. in the fall.
California would swap its Labor Day weekend date with Atlanta's current late-October race date. That would give Atlanta a chance to have a Labor Day weekend race in the South and would give California a better time of the year for its second date.
Last year's Labor Day weekend race at California was marred by temperatures as high as 114 degrees.
"The proposal has been made that we give California the Atlanta date in October and Atlanta gets the Labor Day date," Smith said Friday before NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifications. "It's the thing to do. The people I've talked with within the sport and within NASCAR all agree it's the thing to do. I hope we can announce that in the very near future.
"We've had conversation but not in a written fashion yet."
Smith also was direct in his criticism of holding NASCAR's Sprint Cup Banquet in New York City. Instead, he wants to have the season-ending awards banquet held in Las Vegas where it would be an even bigger production that would be warmly received by teams, sponsors and fans.
"It should have been done some time ago and hasn't been done yet," Smith said. "One person within the room who can make the decision thinks the sponsors want to be in New York. That is not true. The sponsors want to be in Las Vegas. I looked at my hotel room bill and I thought it was my home phone number. It's absolutely ridiculous.
"We should have the awards banquet right here. We could sell 16,000 tickets to fans and make them part of it."
Smith said the format of NASCAR's New York banquet is "long and boring." That would not be the case if it were moved to Las Vegas, in his opinion.
"You have a lot of people that put shows together [in Las Vegas]," Smith said. "I could picture a production. You don't have it in New York. There has been an attempt but a lousy attempt in my opinion."
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage wants to see NASCAR drivers be more expressive. He's come up with a financial incentive to the Cup drivers to lash out at another competitor.
"I'm offering $15,000 for any helmet thrown by a Cup series driver during a race between now and the Samsung 500 [on April 6]," Gossage said. "I have a huge helmet collection from drivers through the years and it would be great to add to the collection. And as NASCAR allows the drivers to open up and show their personalities -- even their frustrations -- I imagine the likelihood of true emotions are more likely to bubble to the top. I've seen some helmets thrown during a race and never have they injured anyone or damaged another driver's car."
Gossage said the $15,000 is available to the driver or will be paid to the charity of the driver's choice.
"One stipulation is the helmet must be thrown on the race track during competition," Gossage noted.