Some call it a levelling of the playing field, others call it points racing, but most are calling this season’s brand of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing boring.
Whatever term you use, NASCAR’s deep thinkers are bunkered down trying to figure out how 43 Sprint Cup drivers can race at nearly 200 m.p.h. over 600 miles at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with only one caution for an accident — and Travis Kvapil’s contact with the Turn 4 wall on Lap 170 was hardly more than a scrap — and four other yellows flags for debris.
And in three other races this season at Texas, Kansas and Richmond, there were more than 1,000 caution free laps.
NASCAR drivers say it is a result of the new points system, which they believe punishes poor finishes more than the old system.
Sunday’s winner at Charlotte — Kasey Kahne driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet — said that the emphasis on making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has made drivers nervous about crashing, not because of the danger, but because of the points hit they will take.
“I guess, you know, you have to be consistent in this sport,” he said. “It’s how the points are. You have to finish races. If you’re crashing, you’re not finishing, you’re losing points.
“The Chase is what it’s all about. If I was to keep crashing, keep having issues, there’s no way you’re going to finish, make the Chase or anything.”
Even NASCAR bad boy Kyle Busch, who has wrecked more than his share of competitors with his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has noticed that door-to-door beating and banging is not the way to the Victory Lane any more in Cup racing.
He thinks it is a by-product of the drivers getting better and better every season.
“You have the best drivers in the world out there each and every weekend,” Busch said. “We all feel like we know what we’re doing. We don’t have to run over each other anymore to pass. That’s why it’s a good, clean race.”
Busch also points to the new chassis that NASCAR introduced two seasons ago. He said that the new car’s aero package makes close-contact racing difficult.
“It’s not as easy to go into the corner and back one in like it used to be with the old car, aerodynamics, stuff like that,” he said. “I think that’s just a matter of it.”
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 JGR Toyota, agrees with his teammate on the new car being a factor in the long green flag runs that NASCAR has been experiencing.
“I think everyone is so used to these cars now,” Hamlin said. “I think at the beginning, these cars were a tremendous handful to drive. Obviously we saw some wrecks because of it, especially on restarts.”
But Hamlin thinks that points racing is the biggest factor in what has been — in this case hasn’t been happening on the track.
“Bottom line, I think everyone is so concerned with points nowadays, you know if you wreck and you finish in the 30s, you’re going to take 10 races to get that back,” he said. “I think everyone’s just a little bit more patient on restarts, as crazy as that sounds.
“It’s just not as wild on restarts as it used to be a couple years ago. Everyone is minding their Ps and Qs, trying to get the best finish out of their day, knowing the one thing you can’t overcome in a race is a crash.”
The replays of the final lap crash in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 clearly show that Takuma Sato had room to get eventual winner Dario Franchitti but lost control of his Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Honda all by himself. But the Japanese driver still contends he was squeezed by Franchitti. “I was pushed down below the white line, way below the white line, so there is no grip, and started sliding and lost control,” he said. ... Red Bull boss Christian Horner is saying that Mark Webber — the winner in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix — will re-sign with the team for next year even as rumours swirl that Webber will replace Felipe Massa in 2013 at Ferrari.
TAKE A BOW, INDYCAR
You win the prize for the best show on the greatest day on the racing calendar with the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The sole glitch was that Dario Franchitti’s third Indy 500 win couldn’t have be done under green flag conditions.
Put blame for that on Takuma Sato who tried to pull off an improbable pass on the final lap and ended up crashing into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wall bringing out a yellow flag and ending the dramatic race half a lap too soon.
Franchitti, however, deserves all of the accolades that have been accorded him for the victory.
He showed that experience is still the key at the Brickyard when he held back — much to the chagrin of many in the crowd of more than 200,000 on Sunday — to slingshot past fan favourite Tony Kanaan on the final re-start with just seven laps to go.
By comparison, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a parade, although full marks to Kasey Kahne for turning his season around.
And across the pond at the Monaco Grand Prix, with passing a foreign phrase, Mark Webber won from the pole.
None could match the action at Indy however.
It looks like there is some competition to get a NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series race in Canada.
Ron Fellows (pictured right) and Carlo Fidani — the new owners of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park — have already made their bid for the Trucks to race at the renovated Grand Prix course east of Toronto.
Now the Toronto Sun has learned that there is interest on the part of the Octane Group — that operates both the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and the Edmonton Indy at City Centre Airport — to get in on the racing action.
The betting here is that Octane would twin the Truck series with its IndyCar race next July.
LONG DAY FOR DANICA
It was a long day at the office for Danica Patrick as she traded her past glories in the Indianapolis 500 for a crack at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 on U.S. Memorial Day weekend.
Her skill at racing 500 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn’t translate to the 600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Patrick was caught in a vortex of green flag racing — the first caution came 117 laps into the race — something that gave her and her No. 10 Chevrolet team no time to adjust the car.
By Lap 85 she was already two laps down to the leader and ended the race in 30th place, five laps down.
“We had a lot of green-flag running and, for me as new driver in the Cup Series, that hurts me,” Patrick said. “I’m just not great at making the best out of a car that’s not perfect, and those long runs really show that. But that’s what you get in Cup.”
What she decided to do at that point was to move around the track in search of a good racing line.
It didn’t endear her to some of her competitors. Jeff Gordon radioed to his team at one point suggesting Patrick stop moving all over the track.
And Marcos Ambrose grew so frustrated with her slow pace he bumped her a few times to get her moving.
“One time I got hit in (Turns) 3 and 4 and got pretty close to the wall but missed it,” Patrick said in her defence. “There were a couple of times out there that it felt like it was a little bit unnecessary.
“At the same time, I’m new and if that’s the way it goes, then that’s the way it goes. I just need to know. ... It’s just a bummer.”