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Ingram: Gordon Takes 13 Years To Match First Six

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 13 2011

Pocono winner Jeff Gordon has been anything but balloon-footed in his recent victories. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:

There was a rash of questions after a brilliant June weekend of racing. Here are one writer’s top ten questions – and answers.

1. Does his second victory of the season make Jeff Gordon the man of the moment in NASCAR?

At least he’s moved from being washed up, in the eyes of some, to being a sure bet to make the Chase.

Give Gordon the best car and he’ll beat you. Give him something close to the best car and he’ll go for points while trying to figure it out. That’s not the way it was en route to his first three championships. Sunday’s victory gave Gordon a total of 84 and tied him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for career victories. Now in his 19th Sprint Cup season, Gordon had already won 42 of those races by the end of his sixth year, during a period when he was going for broke all the time.

What I admire most about Gordon, it bears mentioning, is the fact two of his last three victories have come at Texas and Pocono, tracks where he’s suffered horrendous crashes in the past. It’s not as if he’s a balloon-foot.

2. Will Kyle Busch ever grow up?

One day Kyle Busch will wake up and realize that people recognize he’s like the guilty child who makes up stories whenever he gets caught in a bad situation. Once he starts manning up about

Kyle Busch not a fan favorite right now. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

deliberately wrecking or bending other cars, he’ll begin to gain some traction as a guy who ignites admiration as well as antagonism.

At present, his fan following hardly matches his success on the track. One wonders about the internal morale at Joe Gibbs Racing as well.

3. Should Michael Waltrip’s teammate Rob Kauffman have been forced to step down from driving at the Le Mans 24-hour in the middle of the race after the horrendous crash of Mike Rockenfeller’s Audi?

Those who haven’t walked, cycled, scootered or driven the course at Le Mans, it seems to me, are not in a good position to answer this question. The TV camera’s long lense hides the slightly banked, sharp bend, or kink, prior to the Indianapolis corner where Kauffman’s Ferrari drifted over with its right side wheels on the center line marking the public road. Rockenfeller tried to pass the Ferrari in the middle of the bend, the worst of all possible places. He had just enough room, but unfortunately put a wheel off and then snapped into an horrendous accident at 180 mph without touching the Ferrari.

Given that the ACO notifies by computer all teams during the race of any official decisions, I think Kauffman became a sacrificial lamb as a warning to the other GT drivers twelve hours before the finish. The ACO officials didn’t want to see a great LMP1 race become the subject of another crash involving the slower GT’s and missile-like LMP1 cars. Perhaps in this sense it may have been the right call, because it continued to be a spectacular battle between the lone remaining Audi and Peugeot’s three-car French factory Armada.

But the, ahem, French driver Anthony Beltoise was not penalized for not seeing Allan McNish, which led to the first big and frightening Audi crash.

There was no penalty last year for Anthony Davidson after the Peugeot driver barrelled into Emmanuel Collard in the GT-class leading Corvette at the high-speed Porsche Curves, costing Corvette Racing a victory.

4. How did Audi beat Peugeot?

For one thing, by always pushing the pace (see crashes by McNish and Rockenfeller). Once it was

Audi R18s had interesting weekend.

down to one car, Audi used the more efficient downforce and tire wear of the R18 to run five stints on one set of tires – twice. The team took the most pit stops, also, in order to run its fuel tanks lighter and spend less time in the pits re-fueling in addition to less time changing tires. Mostly, Audi utilized the slightly superior over-all speed of the R18.

5. How often do you see victories in major races by teams taking the most pit stops by a substantial margin?

Jenson Button won the extraordinary, wacky and wild race in Montreal’s Canadian Grand Prix after six trips down the pit road – including one for a penalty. Then he survived a post-race stop to the stewards regarding his contact with Fernando Alonso and teammate Lewis Hamilton. (No call was the right call.)

At Le Mans, winners Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer pitted 31 times versus 28 stops by runners-up Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais and Pedro Lamy.

6. Who is Ken Block and why isn’t he better known?

An American rally driver, which explains part of the problem, Block will become the next American to test an F1 car after Tony Stewart completes his exchange with Lewis Hamilton of their respective McLaren and Stewart Haas chassis at Watkins Glen on Tuesday.

Block will test Pirelli’s F1 test vehicle – a Toyota chassis – at Monza in August. Perhaps by then it can be gleaned whether Block is a marketing phenomena due to his YouTube videos or a race car driver. In a life-imitating-art kind of moment, Block had a spectacular flip in Portugal earlier this season, his first in the World Rally Championship.

Recently, the relatively unaccomplished Block replaced former world champion Colin McRae as the star driver of the Dirt 3 game, although Block’s name is not in the title. Earlier editions of Dirt 1 and Dirt 2 were prefaced by the World Rally champion McRae’s name, even after his death in a helicopter accident four years ago.

7. Why can’t the IZOD IndyCar Series just invert the field for the second Twin race in Texas?

Love the Twin races in Texas. Hate the “Wheel of Fortune” intermission.

Dario Franchitti and Will Power celebrate their victories in Saturday night's Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

It’s a long-honored tradition in open-wheel short track racing to invert fields to spice up the action. If the top ten finishers from the first of the Twin races in Texas had been inverted to determine the first ten starting positions in the second race, it would have been a lot more interesting – and fair. (Under this scenario, drivers finishing 11th on back in the first race would start the second race in the same position they finished the first one.)

As it was, the drivers chose starting positions for the second race in an arbitrary lottery that was only missing Vanna White when it came to gimcrackery and hokum. At least they could have let the top finishers buy a vowel – or make a second pick. As it was, the first race winner Dario Franchitti started 28th and didn’t have a chance in the second race. How much fun was it watching him go from the back of the pack to seventh?

Why is it that promoters and sanctioning bodies resort to arbitrary gimmicks when there’s legitimate history so easily at hand to guide them? (We know half the answer: promoter Eddie Gossage cares only about hokum and the Texas Motor Speedway, usually in that order.)

When all is said and done, will the IndyCar championship have been determined by luck of the draw? Who in Indianapolis didn’t see that one coming?

8. Are we always going to be this lucky?

Just when we thought the worst was over after two frightening crashes at Le Mans, a marshal in Montreal falls down on the track in front of one of the world’s fastest race cars while trying to pick up debris before the field had been brought under the safety car – and then falls down again trying to escape.

Talk about a nightmare in real life. Fortunately, the corner itself was under yellow flags and the drivers observed them. I suppose marshalling only seems to get attention when things go wrong, so thanks for all that volunteering guys under any circumstances. And next time, please wait for the safety car.

9. If I don’t go to Heaven, where will I go and what will it be like?

I’ll go someplace where all the races are shown on TV and hosted in the broadcast booth by ex-race car drivers. By definition drivers are self-promoters who have been slippery with accurate statements for much of their professional lives, poor students of the sport and its history, full of malaprops and misinformation. Most have not done any homework since the fifth grade, if then.

10. Why is Dale Earnhardt Jr. suddenly being singled out for good feedback and knowledge of his car when it comes to communicating with crew chief Steve Letarte?

I suspect Dale Jr. has always had these skills, but there’s nothing like confidence in a crew chief to calm a driver down and bring clarity to one’s mind. For this reason among many others, Crew Chief Kenny Francis will accompany Kashey Kahne when he moves to Hendrick Motorsports next year.

Quote of the Week: “We were living at the peak of the mountain there for a number of years. It was awesome. When you’re there, you know you’re going to get knocked off eventually. You can’t always stay on top. I think you work harder, you appreciate it more. It means more to you when you get back. I hope we can get back to that moment and that peak because I know I would have a far better appreciation for it than I ever did before. You won’t understand that until you go through the valley, until you go through some down times.” – Jeff Gordon, now 39, on the highs and lows of his career.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 13 2011
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