Fantasy car swaps, Johnson feels for Ky. Busch, more NASCAR notes
Jimmie Johnson-Dario Franchitti among car swaps fans want to see in the future
Kyle Busch may have fallen into his Pocono penalty by accident, says Johnson
Jeff Gordon's win at Pocono could be the start of a late-career resurgence
The much publicized "seat swap" between two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart and former Formula 1 victor Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen International on Tuesday was more than a well-choreographed and well-received grab for free media from their mutual sponsor. At the heart of it, these types of exchanges, however brief, are keenly interesting because of where they might lead.
Juan Pablo Montoya once swapped cars with Jeff Gordon at an Indianapolis Motor Speedway publicity stunt and eventually found his way to Sprint Cup. Travis Pastrana once "stole" Brian Vickers' stock car as part of a video bit and will make his Nationwide debut at Indianapolis in July. The Jamie McMurray-Scott Dixon Sprint Cup/IndyCar swap this spring in Alabama was likely more of a proximity issue, with Dixon testing at Barber Motorsports Park, which is nearby Talladega Superspeedway.
Though Hamilton, 26, is firmly entrenched in Formula 1, he joked that his recent penchant for rough driving might fit well in fendered-wheel NASCAR.
In the spirit of exchange student racing experiences, here are three seat swaps we'd like to see:
1. Kyle Busch and Ken Block: The 26-year-old Busch has proven beyond adept in stock cars, winning 21 Sprint Cup races, 48 in Nationwide and 28 in Trucks since 2001. He was a prime target for the now-dormant USF1 Formula 1 team. It's time for Busch to attempt a rally car, through a whiteout in Sweden, or down a gravel-crusted mountain road where wayward cows, not malevolently piloted No. 29 Chevrolets, are the concern. Busch may have already proved his aptitude in rally, anyway. He had a pretty good stage time going near Troutman, N.C., last month before local law enforcement intervened.
Block, a 43-year-old action sports star who became the first full-time American in the World Rally Championship, may need some time to work on his oval skills but should be well-prepared for a postrace celebration, when his Gymkhana training could be best utilized.
2. Jimmie Johnson and Dario Franchitti: Although former Indianapolis 500-winner Gil de Ferran has asserted that Johnson could develop into a fine open-wheel driver, and IndyCar head Randy Bernard would love to facilitate a tryout, the chances of Johnson piloting an IndyCar fade each year as his family grows.
Oxen might be required to drag Franchitti back to NASCAR after a trying 2008 stock car junket in which his Sprint Cup team folded midseason because of sponsor issues and he broke an ankle in a Nationwide race. The cars and surrounding support Ganassi Racing provides Franchitti are undoubtedly elite, as evidenced by the fact that Franchitti has used them to win consecutive championships.
Johnson's No. 48 program is the standard in Sprint Cup. Though he still deems his NASCAR tenure a learning experience, it would be interesting to see how well he could fare in top-notch, open-wheel equipment.
3. Kurt Busch and John Force: Kurt Busch's NHRA indoctrination came when he found himself in the uncomfortable company of John Force, a 15-time, ultra-popular, ultra-talkative champion, an open microphone and a grandstand full of fans during the Gatornationals in 2010. As much as Busch attempted to stay on script about how much he was enjoying his first attempt at an NHRA event in a Sportsman Super Gas car, Force just wanted to dish about hanging out at the bar the previous night, all the pretty girls in Gainesville, Fla., whatever would draw a reaction from the throng.
Busch, as he noted, a married man, was finally able to thank everyone responsible for this weekend of moonlighting and exit stage left. Still interested and more deeply invested after his baptism by Force, Busch made his Pro Stock debut this spring.
Force has never raced a stock car, and it's about time, frankly, though he might get bored after about 10 seconds.
J.J. feels your pain
Jimmie Johnson has personally felt the sting of NASCAR sanctions enough to understand and analyze their impact. He did, after all, win the 2006 Daytona 500 with crew chief Chad Knaus banished from the grounds because of an inspection violation. The five-time defending series champion was admittedly intrigued by Kyle Busch's six-point penalty following a postrace violation at Pocono, and he seemed to wonder of the No. 18 Toyota fell into the punishable realm by accident.
"When you're living it day to day, and especially if you've been on the wrong side of the fence and have been in trouble, you just know not to jump up and down and voice your opinion -- you just sit back and watch and see how it plays out," he said during a weekly teleconference. "As we all know, it's the team's job to push the rules right to the limit. Some stuff happens and it's not intentional and the car is low or the car is off or the car is out and people get nailed. Look at Clint Bowyer and what took place in the Chase last year [at New Hampshire].
"I just stand back and watch. I was shocked to hear that it was only six points [for Kyle]. I thought that it would be far more. Again, from being on both sides of this before, it is what it is and I just ask and pray and hope for consistency as fines are levied, and just take it from there."
Busch's car, which finished third, was deemed too low in the left front, which, Johnson said, would be advantageous at Pocono.
"The overall goal is to have the left front as low as it could possibly be and the right front as high as it could possibly be," Johnson observed. "If you make that wedge, then the car goes faster. If you think about our old bodies on our old style cars, we did everything we could to have the left front as low and even that facial area of the car as big as it could be, and we were trying to prop the right rear up. Directionally, that is what we are all still trying to achieve, even if you look at skewing the cars and how they run sideways -- all that is in that same event. You want the car to go as much down force as possible and that's all in getting the right rear up and out and the left front down."
Jeff Gordon's second victory of the season on Sunday at Pocono has been hailed as a resurgence of a brilliant career as the four-time series champion approaches age 40. Perhaps.
Apparently still highly motivated and still driving some of the best equipment in Sprint Cup, Gordon has a chance to compete at a high level for many more years. The standard for late-career success is weighty, however, as Lee Petty won 47 races at 39 and older, according to NASCAR research. Though Gordon was among the greatest 20-something winners in Sprint Cup history -- winning 55 times, second only to Richard Petty's 60 -- he was not among the top-10 of winning drivers in their 30s.
Gordon's 30-something years have been oddly fallow, when considered against his gaudy previous accomplishments. He won three races (including the Brickyard 400 the day after his birthday) and finished off his last championship after turning 30 on Aug. 4, 2001, but has just 29 victories since. Joining that top 10 of 30-something winners -- Bobby Allison is 10th at 36 wins -- could go far in ending that title draught also.