What a disappointing weekend of racing.
I was left completely underwhelmed after consuming this weekend’s platter of racing, one of the most anticipated of the entire season.
After a long week in the real world, I was enticed by the prospects of super late model racing in the Gulf Coast, Formula 1 in Malaysia, NASCAR at Fontana and the IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg. Upon a quick glance, it was the type of weekend a die-hard motorsports fan dreams of.
Ultimately, it fell short of expectations and here’s why:
NASCAR at Auto Club Speedway
I’ve never criticized fuel mileage races. There’s an inherent strategy involved in winning those types of races and it’s a part of the sport that I very much accept.
Rain-shortened races are a different story. They leave me feeling conned and undervalued as a customer.
That’s to take nothing away from Tony Stewart and Steve Addington who made all the passes and made the right calls to get out front before the rain came and won the Auto Club 400. I just feel that NASCAR should have made every attempt to get the full race in.
NASCAR has a long-standing policy to make that attempt and those efforts were not realized on Sunday. The Sanctioning body called the race at 2 p.m. local time at a track that has lights, which struck me as just a bit premature.
The forecast was not friendly but the rain did let up by mid-evening, giving track officials time to dry their track and complete the final 70 laps of the event.
Put yourself in the shoes of a ticket-buying fan whom spent hundreds of dollars to attend, only to see half the race with an anti-climatic finish. It must be so frustrating; especially for a fan-base that’s shunned the track in recent years. Attendance is down, a trend that’s likely to continue after Sunday’s catastrophe.
The Sanctioning Body doesn’t want a repeat of Daytona – that much is for certain. I recall the Feb. 2008 Fontana event, which was delayed until Monday, saw two attempted restarts up until 10 p.m. local time. That’s an example of making every attempt.
The logic behind quick cancellations is a desire to see fans get home safely and at a reasonable hour. But if you were to ask fans which option they valued more, they’d choose making every attempt up until the wee hours of the morning to get the complete race in. They’ve spent a lot of money to be here and they don’t want to leave until they’ve maximized their value.
I didn’t attend Sunday’s race but even I felt undermined by the sport and that’s without having sacrificed much to see their product. Always think of those who have when making weather-minded decisions.
IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
If any race deserved to be put out of its misery right after halfway, it was the IndyCar season-opener at St. Petersburg on Sunday afternoon.
The new car combined with the same old St. Pete, limited drivers from overtaking their opponents and generated a follow-the-leader-style race. Pole-sitter Will Power set a new track record on Saturday but was unable to pass once mired in traffic. If the fastest car in the field is unable to overtake, this is a bad sign heading into Barber Motorsports Park this coming weekend.
Barber, originally crafted for motorcycle racing, is considered the hardest track in which to pass. Power lead the 2011 race wire-to-wire for his first win of the season last year. With Chevrolet dominating the first five spots in qualifying at St. Pete, Barber could see similar results.
The DW 12 Dallara sorely misses push-to-pass functionality and has produced generally bad racing in the first weekend of the season.
Fix it, IndyCar.
Sunoco Gulf Coast Championship Series
The Gulf Coast Championship Series is a 10-race Super Late Model season contested between Mobile International Speedway and Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway. It acts as a precursor to December’s Snowball Derby in Pensacola. The two-highest finishing contenders earn automatic berths into the prestigious 37-car field.
Last year, 63 super late models attempted to make that race.
Chase Elliott won the 2011 Derby and picked up where he left off by sweeping the opening rounds on Saturday and Sunday at Mobile and Pensacola respectively. These two races were the collective highlight of my weekend.
Mobile and Pensacola produce some of the best late model races in the country and this past weekend was no different. The talent level is more than impressive and features Elliott, Bubba Pollard, Augie Grill, Mike Garvey, Grant Enfinger, Max Gresham and Cale Gale. The latter three are all committed to running in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012.
I’d put my money on Gulf Coast drivers over anyone else in the business.
As for Elliott – he’s going to be a Sprint Cup champion some day.
While he has a considerable amount of cash support via his father and Hendrick Motorsports, he’s as well-poised as any driver that I’ve ever met. He has a tremendous amount of experience for a 16 year old and he’s conservative behind the wheel, a trait that will serve him well in superior equipment in the coming years.
Lastly, he’s as humble as anyone could expect of the superstar prospect son of the 1988 Sprint Cup Series champion. He’s got it all.
Watch him at short tracks around the country while you can.
Here’s my press release for Mobile International Speedway, detailing Elliott’s victory on Saturday night.
Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix
Also a competitive race, the Malaysian Grand Prix featured fantastic track action and one of the most compelling battles for the lead of recent memory as Sauber’s Sergio Perez came within 2.3 seconds of besting Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso for the Malaysian Grand Prix crown.
Steady rainfall was the great equalizer, negating the pitfalls of both Ferrari and Sauber’s cars, and maximizing the value of two talented drivers in Alonso and Perez.
Perez just ran out of time as the Mexican was knocking about a second off Alonso’s lead per lap in both wet and dry conditions over the final 20 laps. Alonso crossed the line just ahead of Perez with Lewis Hamilton completing the podium.
The only factor making this a disappointment is that the outcome denied a popular underdog his first Formula 1 victory. Perez is rumored to eventually join Alonso at Ferrari in 2013 so clearly brighter days lie ahead for the 22-year old Jalisco-native.
It’s just a matter of time.