|Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway Sunday in Fontana, Calif. The four-time NASCAR champ is off to a terrible start in 2012. (GETTY IMAGES)
The IZOD IndyCar Series had a lot to prove when it went green this past Sunday at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
After nearly a decade of being seen as little more than a top level spec series, a new IndyCar era was unwrapped in Florida with a new race car — the Dallara DW12 — and three new manufacturer-backed racing engines.
While the series was still feeling the wounds of the death of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon at its final race of the 2011 season at Las Vegas Motor Spe edway IndyCar officials handled it perfectly with a classy tribute both at the track and on the full ABC/TSN television networks.
And when the command to start engines was given the tens of thousands of fans on hand heard the growling noise that had been missing from IndyCar for too long — turbo powered motors.
Last season when IndyCar adopted the NASCAR-like double file starts and re-starts it was a disaster with wrecks outnumbering passes on circuits like St. Petersburg, Toronto and Edmonton.
But on Sunday it was as if someone had turned on a switch and all 26 drivers figured out how to get through Turn 1 without crashing into one another.
The race win by the ever-popular Helio Castroneves was just icing on the cake.
GORDON LOOKING FORWARD TO MARTINSVILLE
You have to look twice to believe that after four races in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season four-time champion Jeff Gordon sits way back in 25th spot in the championship standings.
And his 91-point deficit to championship leader Greg Biffle is huge with NASCAR’s new point-per-place system that was instituted last season.
What it means is that Gordon and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is more than two whole races behind the leader.
His saving grace might be this week at Martinsville, where Gordon has won seven times, has 25 Top 5 finishes and 31 Top 10s.
“I feel like Martinsville is that one place that I can go to every time and give good information back to the team to keep us fast throughout the race,” he said Tuesday.
Gordon thinks all it will take to turn his season around is a visit to the Virginia half mile short track.
“We’ve had some good performances this year hurt by engine issues or accidents or pit road miscues,” he said. “But we’ve had fast race cars, and that is always encouraging.
“We just need to have a ‘complete’ race. And then another one, and then another one. We have a team capable of stringing together a lot of good finishes.”
HIGH COURT DISMISSES MAYFIELD’S APPEAL
It would now appear that the final nail in the coffin that was Jeremy Mayfield’s NASCAR career has been hammered down.
A federal appeals court has refused to reinstate Mayfield’s lawsuit against NASCAR over his 2009 suspension for failing a random drug test.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a federal judge did not abuse his discretion in dismissing Mayfield’s complaint against NASCAR.
NASCAR hailed the ruling as a vindication of its effort to police the sport against drug use.
“NASCAR is pleased that the U.S. Court of Appeals ... affirmed the original decision in Jeremy Mayfield vs. NASCAR,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior v-p for racing operations, said in a statement.