On the last lap Kahne was closing fast on Newman as the two roared into Turn 3. But at that instant, back in Turn 2, driver P.J. Jones crashed. Though Newman and Kahne were well ahead of Jones and would not pass through Turn 2 again, NASCAR waved the caution flag—forcing Newman and Kahne to ease off the gas and sealing Newman's first victory of 2004.
After the race NASCAR officials said they made the split-second decision to slow the field because there were several cars behind Jones and they didn't want to delay the safety crew from reaching him. (Jones wasn't hurt in the crash.) But as a result of NASCAR's recent case of yellow fever—the DHL 400 was the third straight race to end under caution—there's a growing chorus of drivers, owners and fans crying out for NASCAR to remedy a problem that drains the excitement out of the finishes.
Here are two suggestions: Once the white flag comes out to signal the last lap, all cars should be allowed to race to the checkered flag—even if there is a caution situation. And if the yellow flag waves with fewer than five laps to go, NASCAR should stop the race until it's safe to juice the gas again—just as it does in its truck series. This would guarantee what everyone wants: a race to the finish line.
U.S. Starts from Scratch
Driver's Ed for Formula One
Squinting into the setting sun, Danny Sullivan stood in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Saturday and spoke to a crowd that could help determine the future of Formula One racing in the U.S.—300 kids ages eight to 11. "I'm going to find the next American Formula One champion," Sullivan, the 1985 Indy 500 winner and a former F/1 driver, told the young fans. "It might even be one of you."
For the past two years Sullivan, 54, has been working to prepare young Americans to compete in F/1, a seemingly quixotic task in today's motor-sports world. At Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix at Indy, which was won by—who else?—six-time and reigning world champion Michael Schumacher of Germany, mere was not one American among the 20 drivers. The last U.S. driver to compete in F/1 was Michael Andretti, in 1993, and his woebegone season (he failed to finish the last three races of his season) only reinforced what observers on the other side of the pond still suspect: Americans don't have what it takes to compete in what the rest of the planet considers the premier racing series.
But the real reason that Americans haven't been competitive in F/1 since Andretti's father, Mario, won the World Championship in 1978 can be summed up in one word: NASCAR. Stock car racing has become so popular in the last quarter century that virtually every young driver in the U.S. over that span has wanted to become the next Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt or Jeff Gordon. Furthermore, once a driver finds success in NASCAR, it's hard to leave. Ask Gordon. A big F/1 fan—Gordon flew to Barcelona between NASCAR races earlier this year to attend the Spanish Grand Prix—the four-time Winston Cup champ is frequently named by F/1 drivers as the one Yank they'd like to see try their circuit because of his excellent hand-eye coordination and obvious driving skills.
Gordon, 32, has said that he would have jumped at the chance when he was younger, but now he's shackled by NASCAR's golden seatbelts: a monster contract, dozens of sponsors and an off-the-charts Q-rating. "I'm seeing more and more demand for an American driver in F/1," Gordon says of F/1's owners, "but they want an American driver with a name."
Sullivan hopes to change that. In 2002 he joined with the sports-drink company Red Bull to launch a development program for U.S. F/1 drivers. Sullivan works the go-kart and sprint-car circuits for 17-and 18-year-olds with the skills to pilot the world's most technologically advanced race cars. Then he takes them to compete in Europe. Sullivan and Red Bull currently have 20 drivers in their stable, most of whom are competing in European F/1 feeder series such as Formula Renault. The program's brightest prospect is an aptly named 21-year-old, Scott Speed. At week's end Speed, a native of San Jose, led two Renault Series.
"My goal is to have Scott or one of the other Red Bull drivers running near the front of F/1 by 2007," says Sullivan. "If the sport is ever going to really make it in the States, there needs to be a successful American driver."