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Competition Blooming This Spring

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, March 28 2011

The Sprint Cup Series is not lacking for teams and drivers which can win races. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

A weekend wrapup:

That little crawl they run along the top of the television screen during NASCAR races which gives running order provided more than just the intended information on Sunday. And I’m not talking here about Fox’s decision to regularly blend advertising into it.

It provided a constant reminder about how competitive the racing in the Sprint Cup Series is these days. About just how many teams and drivers are capable of winning races.

As it rolled, you could put mental check marks (and be reminded that Coke was sponsoring the broadcast at the same time) next to the names of the legits.

At the end of a crawl, I came up with a lot more “yes” votes than “no” votes. I came up with 29 yes votes, in fact. Twice as many as no votes.

Which 14 drivers in the Auto Club 400 have virtually no chance at competing for a victory this season? As Sunday’s winner, Kevin Harvick, said when asked on Friday to name the NASCAR tracks which he thinks should be stripped of a race, “You’re smart – figure it out.”

Five races this year and five winners. That was pointed out to Richard Childress, owner of the winning car at Auto Club.

“That just tells you about the competition of NASCAR,” Childress said.

NASCAR is having a lot of criticism thrown at it these days. Some of the criticism is appropriate.

One thing that is not is subject to valid criticism is competitive balance. It has never been better.

Teams and drivers hoping to make the Chase had better realize that one bad decision over the first 26 races could destroy those hopes. No more days off in the Sprint Cup Series.

Outside the line

Beginning next week at Martinsville, automatic entry to races will be based on this year’s owner-points standings.

Among those drivers who will have to get into Martinsville based on qualifying: Andy Lally, Dave Blaney, Tony Raines, Travis Kvapil, J.J. Yeley, Todd Bodine and Joe Nemechek.

Smart non move

Generally, drivers who play it safe over the final laps and prefer to just hang on and finish rather than extend themselves in order to try to improve position are called some very uncomplimentary things.

But Sunday in the season-opening IndyCar Series race in St. Petersburg, Simona de Silvestro did

Simona de Silvestro made the right non move. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

exactly the right thing by not forcing the issue as she battled Tony Kanaan for third place.

De Silvestro was quicker than Kanaan over the final 10 laps, was on the proper red rubber and was up his gear box lap after lap. She took a look or two, but never really stuck the nose in. She “settled” for fourth place.

Smart.

De Silvestro is in her second full season in IndyCar. She is 22 years old and she is driving for an HVM Racing team which needs to watch every dollar it spends.

She and her team needed a good, foundation-building finish in St. Pete and they got one.

Had she gotten greedy, had she took a shot, probability was high that she would not have made it, would have taken herself and a very popular driver/storyline out of the race. Kanaan was not going to do the matador thing and let her past unscathed.

Third was all she could have hoped for. Ahead of Kanaan were Will Power and race winner Dario Franchitti. Way ahead of her. She and her team correctly calculated the risk/reward factor Sunday afternoon and did the right thing.

Young drivers hoping to make their mark often lose control of their senses during races and do foolish things – it’s why ARCA races are, like, seven hours long.

De Silvestro may have sacrificed a podium on Sunday, but she showed the paddocks she is worthy of trust and respect.

Unprofessional comment

Also, Versus television analyst Scott Goodyear called out Kanaan’s teammate, E.J. Viso, for not pulling over to let de Silvestro pass him late in the race. Goodyear said not pulling over so de Silvestro could stay close to Kanaan was “unprofessional”.

Well, no.

Blocking her might have been. MIGHT have been.

But pulling over so she could get past? Please. The guess here is that if Viso would have pulled over, he might be looking for a new ride before the next race.

Final word

Finally, a thought on on start-and-park prompted by Jennifer Jo Cobb’s week of controversy.

Cobb went from being a mid-pack Nationwide Series driver to being a symbol at Bristol a week ago. But a symbol of what?

The nature of exactly what transpired at Bristol between Cobb and her then-team owner Rick Russell are in dispute. What we do know is that minutes before the start of the Nationwide race in Bristol, Cobb walked away from her ride, saying she could not participate in a start-and-park situation.

Those opposed to the concept of starting and parking lionized Cobb. Several media members called her a hero.

Me, while I do not call start-and-park owners and drivers heroes, I do not think they are soiling the purity of the sport. Most are trying to stay alive in hopes of seeing better tomorrows.

Very few of those owners want to park their cars after a couple of laps. Very few are doing it to line their own pockets. Economic realities are forcing them to do what it takes to keep competing in the sport they love.

I challenge anybody to say that Tommy Baldwin is more of an opportunist than a racer. Ditto for Joe Nemechek.

I don’t rip a system which allows guys like that – people who know more about racing cars than raising money – a chance to keep going. I like the fact that racers J.J. Yeley and Dave Blaney will swallow pride and do whatever it takes to remain in a sport which was built by working class people.

To criticize them for taking money away from Hendrick and Ganassi and Harvick and Stewart is what seems inappropriate to me.

And Cobb? Well, she had her troubles in her new ride at Rick Ware Racing Saturday. She spun early and then withdrew. Colleague Nick Bromberg has an interesting take on her run at Auto Club in his Yahoo blog.

It all just points out the dangers of labeling people heros or villains without knowing very much about them.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, March 28 2011
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