Ingram's Flat Spot On: Martin's Chase plot thickens


Ingram's Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram


Martin's Chase Plot Thickens

The past week produced a remarkable batch of late fall racing news. One writer's view of the top ten stories.

Mark Martin, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

1. Prior to the Texas race, Mark Martin was headed for yet another runner-up finish or even third in the Sprint Cup championship. Yet again, it looked like an excellent season by Martin would be trumped by a rival driver's great season. But that was before the Jimmie Johnson bandwagon ran aground in the tight confines of the world's shortest 1.5-mile track.

Leaving Ft. Worth, it looks like there's a new bandwagon and it's headed for Phoenix with Martin, who dominated in Arizona in the spring, riding shotgun.

(Miracles can happen. On the track Martin has always loved chasing -- and he might even learn to love the Chase.)

2. Kyle Busch again did not complete his bid to become the first driver to sweep three victories in NASCAR's three top touring series in one weekend, but he ended up with 61 career victories. If Busch, now averaging 20 victories a season since joining Joe Gibbs Racing last year, eventually reaches 200 career NASCAR touring series victories, should it be considered the same as "King" Richard Petty winning 200 victories in what is now known as the Sprint Cup?

(Yes.)

Bonus: Did Busch's new crew chief, Dave Rogers, screw up with his strategy in the Cup race, given that Kyle ran out of fuel while leading before pitting?

(No. Rogers didn't need to worry about points and the No. 18 just got beat by the Penske team's better mileage and bad luck, i.e. no yellow flags at the finish.)

3. Kurt Busch's victory at Texas, the second Cup win of the season for Penske Racing, turned around what was becoming a rather dull ending to the 2009 campaign for team owner Roger Penske.

Victory lane: race winner Kurt Busch, Penske Racing Dodge celebrates.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

The Penske team failed to score a victory in the Grand-Am with its Riley-Porsche (but got beat twice by the Porsche team of Brumos Racing) and failed to close out the IndyCar title. Off the track, the team's manufacturer in the Sprint Cup, Chrysler, went through bankruptcy and the team owner went the distance before his bid to buy Saturn from GM turned sour. Penske also underwent surgery during the course of the season due to kidney trouble.

Petty lousy year, huh?

(It's never a bad season when you win the Indy 500 for the 15th time, make the Chase, win two Sprint Cup races and six IndyCar races.)

4. If NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship is now closer, what do you call the Countdown to 1 scenario in the NHRA's Top Fuel division heading into the finale in Pomona? Beyond close. Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon, separated by a point, and Cory McClenathan all have a shot to win the title depending on how many rounds they go in Pomona this weekend.

(When you have four pro divisions like the NHRA, it's practically Jimmie Johnson-proof.)

5. Toyota has left the F1 building -- but only after spending an estimated $2.5 billion dollars without winning a race since 2002.

(And Ferrari's Luca di Montezemolo says it's the mismanagement of the F1 series by the FIA that is the problem?)

Danica Patrick.
Photo by Andy Sallee.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is likely to sign Danica Patrick to drive a partial schedule in JR Motorsport's entries in the Nationwide Series next year. On a team that has good equipment, can the diminutive Patrick surprise some people by how well she runs?

("You don't carry the car on your shoulder," said Janet Guthrie, "you drive it.")

7. The US F1 team was again predicted to be most likely to fail to make the grid in Bahrain for the F1 season opener in 2010 on the strength of rumors about its schedule for crash-testing, which is mandatory for all teams.

(How fast the car runs, one would think, is more important than how quickly you build it.)

8. Formula One is headed back to the following: a) Great Britain, b) France and c) the United States.

This information is based on:

a) kind words from Formula One commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone about Silverstone after Donington Park's bid to host the British Grand Prix in 2010 was stillborn due to financing problems;

b) French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a native of Le Mans, admittedly does not have much to do in his job under President Nicolas Sarkozy other than push for the return of F1 to France. The recently elected FIA president, Frenchman Jean Todt, would also like to see the return of the French Grand Prix.

c) newly elected FIA Senate President Nick Craw has acknowledged that the FIA is looking to placate its remaining manufacturers by returning to the U.S. on a street circuit.

(As usual in F1, believe it when you see it.)

#9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a Acura: David Brabham, Scott Sharp.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

9. Scott Sharp became the latest driver to win a championship and then get demoted, traded or fired, depending on one's point of view. In Sharp's case, after co-driving with David Brabham to the LMP1 championship in the American Le Mans Series for Acura, he has moved on to GT2 competition as an owner/driver on his new two-car Ferrari team. Sharp's replacement at Patron Highcroft Racing, which is expected to continue running Acuras under a leasing deal, will presumably be a driver with IndyCar or F1 experience.

(It'll be a soft landing for Sharp: his team retains some of the Patron sponsorship that he brought to Highcroft.)

10. American Ben Spies made his MotoGP debut for Yamaha at Valencia and finished seventh.

(Ride on, bro.)

Quote of the week: This is an excerpt from Ryan Newman's meeting with the media at the Texas Motor Speedway and refers to his ongoing complaints about the current aerodynamics on the COT when it comes to accidents at Talladega:

"From an engineering standpoint, whatever we can do speed-wise and aerodynamically to keep the cars on the ground, in particular things in the back of the car, when it sees the air first for downforce, keep the lift out of the back of the cars is what we need to focus on. There has been testing done.

Ryan Newman.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.

"I learned some of that stuff on Wednesday morning talking to Mr. (John) Darby and Mr. (Robin) Pemberton, that they have tested. But I don't know that they have tested everything. I don't know that you can test everything. But obviously more testing needs to be done in order to make it safer for everybody. Speed is a part of it. The faster you go, the more likely you are to take lift.

"We were talking before, an airplane takes off at 160 miles an hour. We're 40 miles an hour above that at times. There's plenty of potential for a car to take lift, whether it's going forwards, backwards or sideways. We have to take everything into consideration, as drivers, as teams, as a sanctioning body, to control that situation."

See ya! ...At the races.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@jingrambooks.com.