August 31, 2015

Dixon takes IndyCar title while driver safety remains an issue.

by Bob Priddy, contributing editor (NASCAR)—Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, and the rest of the top NASCAR drivers had their last weekend off of the season this weekend. They’ll be at Darlington next weekend and then wrap up the regular season at Richmond before sixteen drivers start the ten-race run for the championship. Edwards has locked down one of the sixteen positions. McMurray needs two disastrous finishes at Darlington and Richmond to keep him out of the Chase for the Championship. He has more driver points than any other non-winner on the circuit. (SAFETY)—The death of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson last week after being hit in the head by flying debris from a crashing car has re-fired discussions of driver safety in the major racing circles. A look at the structure surrounding NASCAR drivers. The last fatality in NASCAR’s top series was that of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001. His death from a basal skull fracture led to the mandated use of the HANS device, which secures the driver’s head and neck in a crash. NASCAR since then has strengthened the roll cage surrounding the driver, moving the driver’s seat away from the side of the car, increasing the number of seat belts and seat designs, and mandating energy-absorbing materials between the roll cage and the outer skin of the car. IMGP9058 NASCAR also mandates cars have roof flaps that pop up when a car is going backwards which reduce (but don’t eliminate) the chance that a car will go airborne. Hoods and trunk lids also have to be tethered to limit the possibilities they will fly into the crowd during a crash. NASCAR tracks also have steadily increased the amount of energy-absorbing SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction)-barrier walls, which were pioneered in IndyCar. The steps have not eliminated injuries—witness Kyle Busch’s leg injuries at Daytona at the start of the year—but have enabled NASCAR national-series drivers to walk away from horrendous crashes. But NASCAR vehicles are closed-cockpit vehicles and the greatest concern heard since Wilson’s death focuses on open-cockpit racing cars, particularly those in IndyCar and in Formula 1. Formula 1 will run tests in September on designs that could provide better protection for drivers. The goal in Formula 1 as in IndyCar is to protect the driver without limiting cockpit access by the driver or by those helping the driver after a crash. The issue has been highlighted this year not only by Wilson’s death but by the near-fatal crash of James Hinchcliff during practice for the Indianapolis 500 when a piece of suspension penetrated the driver area of his car’s tub, went through one of his legs and into another, pinning him into the car while he was suffering serious bleeding. Safety crew members who quickly recognized the problem and devised a way to get him out of the wreckage and control the bleeding and getting him quickly to a hospital have been praised for their work. Suggestions have been made from time to time that the open cockpit era should end with the installation of a canopy similar to those used in fighter planes. The idea is hardly new. The Sumar Special, shown with owner Chapman Root,  practiced for the 1955 Indianapolis 500 in streamlined form. 1955%20Sumar%20Streamliner%20c But driver Jimmy Daywalt ran it in the race with the canopy and the streamlining removed. Removing the streamlining, among other benefits, allowed Daywalt to see the front wheels.

 

 

 

That same year, Jim Rathmann had a streamliner, too. It wasn’t quite as radical as Daywalt’s car but it, too, had an enclosed canopy.

belond streamliner

 

Rathmann ran the car in the race with the side pods in place but the canopy replaced by a standard windshield.  Daywalt finished ninth in the “500.” . Rathmann was fourteenth and won the race six years later in a conventional car.

Critics through the decades have complained that enclosed cockpits might provide more protection for the driver in open-wheel racing, they can affect visibility, delay a driver’s exit from the car after a wreck, and impair rescuers’ ability to extract an injured driver,  not to mention the heat that could build up in the cockpit, particularly in that era of front-engine cars. One proposal to be tested in F1 is something Mercedes calls a hinged “halo” that is mounted above a driver’s head, attached on both sides of the back of the cockpit and supported by a single strut in the front.  IndyCar officials say they have contacted the FIA, the sanctioning body for F1, and have asked that the information gathered in the tests be shared. (INDYCAR)—IndyCar has crowned Scott Dixon its champion to end its tumultuous season. Dixon entered the road race at Sonoma as one of six drivers with a shot at the title and won the race while Juan Pablo Montoya, who led the points chase for most of the year, finished sixth. The finishes left Dixon and Montoya tied in points, but Dixon’s victory was his third of the year, one more than Montoya, giving Dixon the title in a tie-breaker.   Montoya’s chance at the season championship was crippled during the race when he and teammate Will Power made contact, forcing both to the pits. They came out far back in the field and Montoya was one position short of the championship when the checkered flag fell. (FORMULA 1)—Formula 1 was off this week. It’s next race is the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Points leader Lewis Hamilton will be seeking his seventh straight pole and his seventh victory of the year. (Photo credits: Cutaway stock car: Bob Priddy, 2015 Brickyard 400; Sumar streamliner: oilpressure.wordpress.com; Belond streamliner: trackforum.com)

Edwards: “We’re going to be really tough in the Chase.”

By Bob Priddy, Contributing Editor

(NASCAR)–He finished seventh and a flat tire late in the race took away a shot at victory, but Columbia driver Carl Edwards said after 500 laps at Bristol Saturday night, “Man, I was having fun”

Edwards started third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.  The trio combined to lead 320 of the first 353 laps on the .533-mile oval before a flat tire sent Edwards to the pits while leading on lap 353.  He came back to the track two laps down, 18th, but climbed back to seventh, on the lead lap, at the end.  “Up until that flat tire I was literally out there smiling and having a good time. That’s what racing’s about.”

Hamlin finished third. Busch was eighth.  Gibbs’ fourth driver, Matt Kenseth, lost an engine and finished 42nd.  Edwards told FOX sports in the pits after the race, “We’re just having an awesome run. The cars are fast. It’s fun. I think we’re going to be really tough in the Chase.”

Penske Racing’s Joey Logano grabbed the lead from teammate Brad Keselowski on the last restart and stayed out front for his third win of the season.  Overall points leader Kevin Harvick was second.

Joplin driver Jamie McMurray was solid all night and worked his way from a 21st starting position to an 11th place finish that leaves him tenth in overall points, the highest-ranking driver without a win this year.

Clint Bowyer, the Kansan who has a home at the Lake of the Ozarks, shook off a tumultuous week to finish fifth and strengthen his Chase-eligibility.  He’s sixteenth in the tentative sixteen-driver Chase field with two laps left in the regular racing season.  Earlier in the week, Michael Waltrip Racing, for whom Bowyer drives, announced it was pulling out of NASCAR’s top-tier series at the end of the year.  MWR co-owner Rob Kaufman has become an investor in rival Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, leading to speculation Bowyer would drive a third car for Ganassi.  But CGR says it will continue to field only two cars next year.  Ganassi’s current drivers, McMurray and Kyle Larson, are expected back next year.

(IndyCar)-The victory lane celebration for Ryan Hunter-Reay at Pocono was muted by the serious injury to Reay’s close friend, Justin Wilson, who suffered a severe head injury when a large piece of debris from the crash of then-leader Sage Karam.  Wilson was reported in a coma at a hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  IndyCar said he is undergoing evaluation.

Hunter

Hunter-Reay

Hunter-Reay took the lead with four laps to go and finished under the caution flag  ahead of Josef Newgarden.  Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya was third and extended his lead over Graham Rahal to thirty points with only next week’s race next Sunday on the Sonoma road course.  Point values will be doubled for the race, putting six drivers in contention for the championship.

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IndyCar, which already has announced it will not be returning to one of its major oval venues next year, Auto Club Speedway in California, might also lose Pocono for 2016.  Pocono Raceway’s CEO, Brandon Igdalsky says he’s puzzled by low attendance for IndyCar, which returned to the track in 2013 after being absent since 1989.

(Formula1)—Things looked awfully familiar on the podium after the Belgian Grand Prix at SPA Francorchamps.  Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg finished 1-2.  Rosberg seemed to be the only driver who could keep Hamilton in sight.  Lotus’ Romain Grosjean finished third, thirty-eight seconds behind.  Hamilton started on pole for the sixth straight time, the first driver in fourteen years to do that.  Michael Schumacher started from pole in six straight races in 2001.

(Photo credit:  Hunter-Reay at Indianapolis: Bob Priddy)

Carl Edwards gets another top ten while Jamie McMurray holds station.

By Bob Priddy, contributing editor

Columbia NASCAR driver Carl Edwards continues his late-season surge with his fourth top-ten finish in the last five races, finishing sixth in the Michigan 400.  Edwards, who had the fastest speed in the first practice session at the speedway, started third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.  Kenseth  dominated the race, leading 146 of the 200 laps on the two-mile track.  Hamlin finished just ahead of Edwards, who led briefly twice.

Joplin native Jamie McMurray continued his year of consistent runs with a 16th place finish, holding his tenth place in the overall standings and continuing the be the driver with the most points who has not won a race this year.  With three races left in the regular NASCAR season, McMurray is in the field for the ten-race run for the championship.  The top sixteen drivers in wins and points qualify for the championship run-off.

Emporia, Kansas driver Clint Bowyer’s chances of staying in Chase contention took a blow when he crashed. Although he returned to the track after extensive repairs, Bowyer finished 41st, thirty-six laps down.  We’ll be following Bowyer’s fortunes for the rest of the season because we consider him a quasi-Missourian who competed on a number of local Missouri tracks on his way up the NASCAR ladder and because he has a home at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Clint Bowyer (photo by Rick Gevers)

Clint Bowyer (photo by Rick Gevers)

The race was run using NASCAR’s high-drag aerodynamics package that met less than warm reactions when it was used at Indianapolis.  Drivers interviewed after the Michigan race showed no  enthusiasm for it and a columnist for NASCAR.com, Brendan O’Meara, wrote that the race, “was, to put it mildly, a bit of a snore.”

NASCAR says it will review the data from the race and talk to the drivers about the future of the high-drag package, most noticeable because of the bigger rear spoiler topped by a wickerbill facing forward that is designed to increase wind resistance as the car moves forward.  Several drivers have complained at Indianapolis and at Michigan that the package makes it hard to pass.  Preliminary numbers from NASCAR indicate there were sixteen lead changes during the race, lower than usual.

McMurray hangs on in Chase run despite bad day

Joplin NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray is holding on to his chance to run for the NASCAR championship although his car became the meat in a three-car sandwich early in the race.  McMurray’s rammed the back of a car ahead of him when a driver ahead of him botched a re-start and was then rear-ended.  Although he was able to get back on the track after repairs, he finished 40th in the 43-car field, four laps back.

IMGP9259

Joey Logano won the race, sweeping past Kevin Harvick on the last turn when Harvick ran out of gas.  Harvick coasted home third, behind Kyle Busch.

Columbia’s Carl Edwards and teammate Busch ran 1-2 until their final round of pit stops. Edwards came out 22nd but made it back to 8th for his fourth top-ten in the last five races.  Edwards, whose victory earlier this year at Charlotte, has locked him into the final ten-race Chase to the NASCAR championship, but McMurray has to hope he can either win one of the next four races or finish well enough to be the top non-winner in the points.   McMurray is ninth in the overall points count despite his bad day at The Glen.

Kyle Busch’s second-place finish moves him into the top thirty in NASCAR points. He must stay 30th or higher in the points to qualify for the Chase.  He has four wins, tying him with Jimmy Johnson for most wins this year.  But if he doesn’t stay in the top thirty, he won’t be eligible for the ten-race run-off.   Busch missed the first eleven races this year after a crash at Daytona in January left him seriously injured.

Next up for NASCAR: Michigan.

IndyCr and Formula 1 were idle this week.

–Bob Priddy, Contributing Editor

 

Solid finishes for Edwards, McMurray. 10th and 15th respectively as McMurray remains in contention for the Chase

Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray

By Bob Priddy, Contributing Editor

(NASCAR)—Matt Kenseth won the 400-mile race at Pocono but only because a teammate ran out of gas with one lap to go. The race turned into an economy run as several drivers tried to stretch dwindling fuel supplies to the end. Joey Logano, who led more laps than anyone, tried to nurse his lead over Kyle Busch to the finish but ran out of gas with two laps to go and finished 20th after a splash-and-go fuel stop. Busch’s car slowed as he was getting the white flag signaling one lap to go and coasted to a stop on pit road. He finished 21st. Busch would have been 29th in the Cup standings if he had won the race, ensuring him a slot in the final ten—race runoff for the championship. His lack of fuel left him 32nd in the standings, thirteen points below 30th, the position he must be in to make the final run-off.

Columbia driver Carl Edwards had to make a late pit stop for fuel but finished tenth. Joplin’s Jamie McMurray protected his position in the points standings with a fifteenth. He remains in contention for a spot in the final championship chase although he has not won a race this year.

NASCAR runs next at Watkins Glen, the second and final road course race of the year, next Sunday, one of five remaining races what will establish the sixteen qualifiers to run for the championship in the last ten races of the season.

(IndyCar)—Graham Rahal led the last 23 laps at Mid-Ohio and finished more than three seconds ahead of Justin Wilson. The win moves Rahal past Scott Dixon into second place in the IndyCar points chase, only nine points behind Juan Pablo Montoya, the points leader for most of the season. Montoya finished eleventh in the race. Dixon, who set a lap record to start from the pole, came home fourth behind Simon Pagenaud.

The win is Rahal’s second of the season. He also won at Fontana three races ago. It is the third win in four races for Honda and the fifth win for the season. Chevrolet-powered cars have won the other nine races.

The IndyCar season has only two races remaining: Pocono on the 23rd and Sonoma a week later.