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Pedley: The First Half’s Haves And Have-Nots

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 14 2011

Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers were the hottest story of the first half of the Sprint Cup season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The Sprint Cup season poked its nose over its half way point last Saturday night with the conclusion of race No. 18 on its 36-race schedule. The other major racing series in North America are roughly at their midway points.

You are correct; a half way-through-the-season piece coming up.

The following are the coolest stories for each of the series – good cool and bad cool:

Sprint Cup good – New blood in victory lanes. It started in the Daytona 500 with Trevor Bayne, and then involved Regan Smith at Darlington and David Ragan at Daytona. Not only new drivers, but amiable people and deserving owners in the Wood Brothers and Furniture Row.

Sprint Cup bad – We go back only a couple of days for this one. The traffic mess at Kentucky is the kind of thing that is like finding a hair in a really tasty plate of fettucini, you know? Big buildup, great ticket sales for new venue and then nausea sets in. Can’t be treating fans  the way stick-and-ball sports do.

Nationwide Series good – The new pick-a-series rule appears to be working. You still get

Justin Allgaier and owner Steve Turner are beating the big boys. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

a couple of big-name Cup drivers coming in to provide star power but the spotlight on the Nationwide-only teams, drivers and sponsors has brightened a lumen or two. I think the talents of drivers like Justin Allgaier, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jason Leffler are becoming more evident thanks to the rule.

Nationwide bad – Again, we just have to go back just a week for this one. It’s the news that the series is leaving its traditional Raceway Park home in Clermont for the bigger stage – much bigger stage – of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I think nobody will benefit from the move. Nobody. Not the series nor IMS nor the fans.

Camping World Truck Series good – The Series itself. The Camping World show tools along as a unique, self-sustaining entity. It is NASCAR and it is not NASCAR. Love it. It’s a little edgier with bad boys like Ron Hornaday Jr. and Todd Bodine finding a home for their look-the-hell-out-jerk driving styles, while serving as a true seasoning ground for the Parker Kligermans, Cole Whitts and Austin Dillons.

Camping World Truck Series bad – Big breaks in the action still plague the schedule. The series needs to run shorter schedules than Cup and Nationwide to keep the cost of doing business down (if anything, the NNS should reduce its schedule’s girth) but going like a month without a race kills continuity of interest.

NHRA Top Fuel good – Del Worsham takes one for the Al-Anabi team by moving over from Funny Car and is rewarded with a half season for the books. Most victories and leading the points. As with virtually every single one of NHRA’s drivers (are you listening other series?); great guy. Worsham shades young Spencer Massey in this category.

Top Fuelers Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher going head to head. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

NHRA Top Fuel bad – The rivalry between Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher has cooled. For a couple years, this was the top rivalry in racing. It had everything, including close competition and the Alan Johnson back story. It was special when these two staged next to each other, which they seemed to do on a weekly basis.

NHRA Funny Car good – The Mike Neff Story. It goes like this; Tuner reluctantly turns driver, loses driving job because of economy, returns to crew chief role, returns to driver’s seat while also being his own tuner and starts winning like crazy. Too bad he doesn’t have a John Force Racing personality.

NHRA Funny Car bad – John Force gets off to a bad start to season. He’s qualified well but has not won. The sport is bigger than one guy but Force provides titanic star power to a series like no other driver this side of Dale Earnhardt Jr. His 2010 season was world class in terms of a storyline. Here’s hoping the second half of the season is too.

NHRA Pro Stock good – Pro Stock continues to be the most competitive member of the NHRA family. It’s an advertisement for substance over glitz. The drivers actually have to shift the gears. Big fields and it features incredible veteran drivers like Greg Anderson, Mike Edwards and Jason Line, who are lunch bucket heroes.

NHRA Pro Stock bad – It needs a shot of youth. Rookie Vincent Nobile is, by far, the best individual story in the NHRA this season, and Erica Enders is a victory away from challenging. But after that, a lot of people who were born when dial telephones were considered the height of social media technology are still behind the wheel.

IndyCar Series good – The series is employing a fairly healthy crop of American drivers

Graham Rahal helping to put America back into American open-wheel racing.

this year. Good ones, too. Drivers who absolutely should have jobs in America’s top open-wheel series. Drivers like Graham Rahal, JR Hildrebrand, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick. The series does not need to be all American to drive interest, but it does need solid, visible American representation.

IndyCar Series bad – Non Penske and Ganassi teams have failed to step up and challenge. The hope was that Dale Coyne, HVM, Sarah Fisher Racing, Panther, KV Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold would slide onto podiums – if not Victory Lanes – on a solid, regular basis. Nope.

Grand-Am Series good – The emergence of the Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli SunTrust effort in prototype, and the Bill Lester/Jordan Taylor Autohaus operations in GT. Wayne Taylor’s SunTrust team has offered relief from the Scott Pruett/Memo Rojas summer domination of past seasons. Lester and Taylor are just plain fun to watch as they contend with their Camaro.

Grand-Am Series bad – The shrinking down of the DP fields is a concern. Car counts are hovering around 10 for most races not held in February at Daytona. The whole allure of DP racing has been competition. While it is still kind of even, it suffers when the number of teams dwindles below 15 or so. On big tracks like Road America, high car counts are essential for fan enjoyment.

American Le Mans Series good – On its best days – like at Sebring and Le Mans – the

Audi vs. Peugeot is entertainment in itself. (Photos courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

series features the No. 1 coolest cars in the world. Those would be the factory-effort prototypes of Audi and Peugeot. Kind of like Formula 1 in that you don’t watch these cars just to see who wins. You watch to see works of moving art in the hands of the artists to the point where 24 hours at Le Mans and 12 hours at Sebring is just not enough.

American Le Mans Series bad – It’s a tie between the continuing racing with limited number of prototype entries and the limited number of races in which they compete, and the new TV deal at Sebring. The GT cars actually carry the day at wonderful tracks like Lime Rock and Laguna Seca and while that’s not bad, it’s not great. And the TV deal? Fiasco.

And finally…

Personal best time, Sebring.

Cory Mac, we miss you.

Bobby Rahal, nicely done with the M3s.

Judy Stropus, you left a big PR gap.

Brumos, return to protos.

Bruton, don’t stick the taxpayers in Kentucky for traffic fiasco.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. started well and has tailed off. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Junior, stop teasing us.

Snake, find some dough.

Steve Kinser, you have  at least one more in ya.

Wayne Taylor, you should be one proud papa.

Vincent Nobile, don’t go changin’.

Steve Turner, there needs to be some kind of award for you.

Mazda, no looking past you.

Johnny Sauter, you need another Cup shot.

Jay Frye, if I had the money, you’d have the money.

ESPN, less women’s soccer and more NHRA.

INDYCAR, Versus is killing you, call Hunter Nickell.

Scott Tucker, you’re building something cool.

RC, work on the right hand – KyBu wasn’t even scratched.

Danica, you need a victory this year – either sport will do.

Road America, in a perfect world, you would host the U.S. Formula 1 race.

NHRA, bring back the quarter mile.

Fans, get out to a race track.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 14 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    Trevor Bayne is his own worst enemy.
    He wins the big one right out of the gate.
    He sounds more polished and seasoned with all forms of media….than ( I mean it ) ANYONE out there today.
    He is all sunshine and forward looking.
    People forget he is barely a 20 year old ROOKIE.
    Folks….including me FORGET and expect him to be SMOKE..or CARL…
    Others can’t believe his is real and are waiting for him to turn into
    KYLE BUSCH…..OMG…..someone call an EXORSITES..QUICK!!!