Car racing’s great divide

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:48 PM ET

Car racing, unlike the stick and ball sports, has always had to compete against itself for the attention of the casual fan.

The result over the years has been the creation of a growing chasm between supporters of open wheel racing — aka Formula 1 and IndyCar — and NASCAR. A perfect example of the reasons why such a divide exists was showcased in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Southern 500 on Saturday and the F-1 Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday.

In Darlington, S.C., Saturday night Jeff Gordon dominated all but about 26 miles of the 500-mile Cup race only to come up empty on a slip at the final caution opening the door for Denny Hamlin to complete a sweep of stock car races in South Carolina for his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

In Barcelona, Mark Webber, also dominated, but he led the entire race — post to post.

To those who wonder why NASCAR has eclipsed open-wheel racing in popularity, it was there for all to see in Spain: F-1’s inability, or refusal, to promote wheel-to-wheel racing.

Webber’s win was exhibit No. 1.

F-1 fans can argue that Webber was the fourth different winner in the first five rounds of the world championship this season, therefore proving that fierce competition does exist in Bernie Ecclestone’s travelling circus.

But that argument goes out the window when looked at in concert with the glaring fact that the Spanish GP was won from the pole for the 10th consecutive time.

If such a recurring result came at any other athletic event it would render that sport unwatchable.

Pit stops

Canadian Robert Wickens has vaulted to the top of the GP3 championship standings with a second and fourth-place finishes at Barcelona’s Catalunya Circuit. It gives the Toronto racer a one-point lead over Pål Varhaug and Esteban Gutierrez when the series goes to rounds three and four at the Turkish Grand Prix May 29-30 … Markham’s Daniel Morad was force to retire from the first GP3 round and got caught up in an accident in the second race to finish 22nd. ... The rumour mill was running wild in the NASCAR garage on the weekend after a transcript from a media scrum with Gordon wrongly indicated that his crew chief Steve Letarte was negotiating with rival Red Bull Racing for a job there next season. Letarte’s deal with Hendrick Motorsports goes only until the end of the current campaign. “Oh, would you guys settle down!” Gordon said to reporters. “It was a week ago that Chad (Knaus) and Alan (Gustafson) signed. And now all of a sudden it’s like they’re signed, so why isn’t Steve signed? He’s going to be signed. Everything is going really good.”

Finish lines

Was there anything sadder that watching Lewis Hamilton climb out of his wrecked McLaren Mercedes on Sunday after missing a sure-fire podium finish with one lap left in the race? ... And Gordon’s “Sorry about that, guys” radio communication with his team after missing the entrance to pit lane had to be the second saddest moment of the weekend ... Is it just me or is the “new” Kyle Busch not nearly as much fun to watch as the “old” Kyle Busch ... Four-time consecutive Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has been labelled the luckiest NASCAR driver ever in many corners for his ability snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but on Saturday in Darlington that luck finally ran out when he and his No. 48 Chevrolet took the hardest hit of the season when A.J. Allmendinger smashed into him with his out-of-control No. 43 Ford.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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