|Duel at the end, then fisticuffs|
|Tuesday, April 29, 2014 12:00 AM|
RICHMOND, Va. — From perfect weather and a big crowd to a classic short-track finish and the fisticuffs afterward, NASCAR hardly could have asked for more from its first visit to Richmond International Raceway.
Joey Logano emerged as the big winner by deftly taking advantage of a 3-way duel of former champions Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski, sneaking by them for his second victory.
When it was over, what happened in the 3-way battle left Keselowski talking as if he had moved Kenseth to the top of his list; Marcos Ambrose didn't even bother making a list. He responded instead to a shove from Casey Mears with a punch in the face that was captured on video.
Then there was Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father all but perfected the beating and banging style that has made short-track racing so popular, dismissing all the fried emotions with a glib, "Get over it."
It was all plenty to keep racing fans talking for days.
"We're looking at the video," NASCAR's vice president of competition Robin Pemberton told reporters afterward of the punch. "It doesn't seem to be much."
Forgive Logano if he watches the ending a few times more himself.
He started fourth on the restart with nine laps to go, his outside position a distinct disadvantage, as evidenced by the duel emerging between the drivers who started first, third and fifth.
Logano's Team Penske teammate Keselowski seemed to have the fastest car but with Kenseth doing all he could to fend off both Keselowski and Gordon, an inside lane opened up and Logano was more than happy to make his move.
His outlook on the task at hand once the last green flag dropped suggests that after tinkering with cars and formats and the value of winning races, NASCAR is onto something that resonates with fans and drivers alike with its new format.
"Obviously I was able to see that in front of me and wanted to make sure I was close enough when something happened I was able to take advantage of it and that's what I was able to do," Logano said. "Restarts, anything, it comes down to the end of the race. Patience is out the window. It's all about just go for it. I think that's what the fans want. That's what you've got this year.
"You've got the new point system where everyone just goes for wins and you've got late race cautions, and everyone has the same attitudes. Everyone is, 'The heck with it. If we crash, we crash. We're going for wins'."
Keselowski, who explained Kenseth "ran me off the track," admitted that he retaliated by giving Kenseth a nudge that helped Logano go on to victory and pledged to remember the finish for future reference.
Kenseth and Gordon, who finished second, both defended Kenseth's tactics, with Gordon expressing his disappointment at not winning after leading a race-best 173 laps but invigorated by how it played out.
"I had a blast tonight," he said.
Hunter-Reay, Andretti get 1-2 finish for team
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Will Power said he came in expecting to be chasing the Andretti Autosport drivers around Barber Motorsports Park.
Turns out that's exactly what happened with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning his second straight Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday and Andretti teammate Marco Andretti taking the No. 2 spot on the permanent road course. The race finished under caution, leaving the two Andretti drivers to lead the pack to the finish line.
"To do it in that style where at the end of the race we were pulling away was thrilling," said Hunter-Reay, who picked up his 12th IndyCar win.
It was well worth the wait after his Long Beach race ended badly two weeks ago. Not to mention a 2-hour, 26-minute rain delay that left a timed race going 69 laps instead of the scheduled 90.
The last four were under caution after rookie Mikhail Aleshin lost control and went off the track. The results left the 2012 Alabama race where neither Hunter-Reay nor Andretti finished in the top 10 well back in the rear-view mirror.
"It was a huge race for us," Hunter-Reay said. "This track used to be one of our weakest points, so to come here and put an Andretti 1-2 up is pretty impressive. And it's a total team effort. Everybody's been working really hard together to move in the same direction. It's been a very strong start to this season for this team overall."
Hunter-Reay's aggressive attempt to pass Josef Newgarden at Long Beach led to a collision that caught up seven cars.
At Barber, Scott Dixon was third, followed by Simon Pagenaud and Power, a 2-time winner at Barber who made his statement about the Andretti team after capturing the pole.
TIMED RACE: Dixon and Andretti, at least, weren't fans of timing the race, which was limited to 1 hour, 40 minutes after the delay.
"The race should be the full distance," Dixon said. "To have to shorten these races for TV, you know; I understand the difficult predicament that everybody is in but these are championship races. They all pay the same amount of points.
"You decide to take 30 laps off them ... I think it changes strategy a lot and you're constantly chasing that window. Then ultimately you finish on a caution, too, which is also a bit of a bummer for the fans. In the future, hopefully we can find a way around that."
Andretti's response: "I don't think I could have said it much better."
CHARLOTTE'S WEB: Power had a slight but costly misjudgment in the tight Turn 5, which is dubbed Charlotte's Web because of the huge spider sculpture at the spot.
"I kept creeping my braking point a little bit further and further and I went too far," Power said. "It's tough to not push past the limits with wet patches everywhere. We really didn't have the pace in the dry anyway but that sure didn't help our cause when I went off course."
Hunter-Reay said there's no margin for error on that turn.
"It was a very fine line between getting it all right or getting it all wrong," he said. "Any guy that's been in an IndyCar on the Web will tell you that's how it is. You've got to go up the risk side to the get the reward out of it but it's really easy to throw it all away."
ROOKIE PROBLEMS: Aleshin was left to walk back to pit road while the rest of the field finished and was second to last. Earlier Sebastien Bourdais had spun the Russian from behind, leaving him stalled. Bourdais received a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
Fellow rookie Carlos Munoz's race ended after 29 laps because of mechanical problems.
NO BRIDESMAID: Dixon had finished each of the first four Barber races in second place but dropped one spot this time.
"We went the wrong way but it was an interesting day," he said.
PENSKE: Team Penske's Power and Helio Castroneves had won the first three races at Barber. Power started from the pole for the third time Sunday.
That left his fifth-place finish a sub-par performance for him on the road course. Castroneves, meanwhile, received a stop-and-go penalty for stopping in the wrong pit and finished 19th, 13 spots behind where he started.
Dixon grumbled about Castroneves getting only a warning after jumping on an early restart, adding that "seems to be typical of him, which is frustrating because he doesn't seem to get a penalty for it."
Hunter-Reay wins 2nd straight year in Alabama
Andretti's runner-up sets stage for Indy races: Marco Andretti had an answer for everything crafty veteran Scott Dixon tried.
Andretti couldn't catch up to Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay at Barber Motorsports Park's permanent road course on Sunday but nobody else overtook him either and he clung to second place for about the final 45 minutes of the timed race.
Andretti's runner-up finish sends him to the new road course in Indianapolis on a good note after a rough start to the season.
"I actually think it was huge for him," said Michael Andretti, the team owner and Marco's father. "We had a little bit of a talk before the start of the race. He drove really well. I was proud of him.
"He was very aggressive when he needed to be aggressive, then he paced himself really well when he got in front of Will (Power). Will never was able to challenge him. He was under a lot of pressure from Dixon. Didn't put a wheel wrong. In the end you could tell Dixon tried everything to get by him and he fell back because he used his tires to try. He did a really good job."
Marco Andretti wound up with his first podium finish since taking third in Sao Paulo early in the 2013 season. It was pretty good timing, too.
Andretti headed to Indianapolis today to begin preparations for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis ahead of Wednesday's testing.
"I haven't done a lot yet on the circuit," Andretti said. "I won the (2005 Indy) Lights race there but I think it's quite different."
He had been knocked out with 28 laps remaining at St. Petersburg in a crash with rookie Jack Hawksworth on the first restart, then finished eighth at Long Beach.
Andretti finished the Barber race with his radio working sporadically. He didn't express much confidence that he could have overtaken Hunter-Reay if the race hadn't ended under caution, saying he would have risked using up his tires and getting passed by Dixon.
Andretti had his hands full holding off Dixon, who had finished second in each of the four previous Alabama IndyCar races.
Now, Andretti's team is hoping for a strong encore in Indianapolis — either in the Grand Prix on May 10 or more significantly in the big one two weeks later. The team will have five entrants, including NASCAR crossover Kurt Busch, who is aiming to run the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's 600-mile race on the same day.
"You definitely would like to be the first ones to win the race," Michael Andretti added. "I can't tell you it would be the same if we win the Indy 500. We're not going to kid ourselves. That's still the granddaddy, the one we all still want to win.
"It sure would be fun to see Andretti in Victory Lane at the 500. That would be fun."
20th anniversary of Senna death observed in Imola
ROME — It is a testament to Ayrton Senna's lasting impact on Formula One that the 20th anniversary of his death will be observed this week with five days of commemorations at the Imola track where he had his fatal accident.
Current and past F1 drivers, mechanics, racing officials and fans will pay their respects to Senna and Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger, who also died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
"When I was a kid I had all the books, all the videos, (Senna) was the driver I looked up to, way before I even started racing," Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton recalled shortly before winning the Chinese Grand Prix eight days ago. "He kind of inspired me to even be a driver."
Hamilton was 9 at the time of Senna's death.
Senna was a hero to many and is often voted as the greatest F1 driver in history.
He won three Formula One titles — in 1988, 1990 and '91 — all with McLaren. He moved to the Williams team for his tragic 1994 season. Despite his career being cut short when he was 34, his 41 wins stand third all-time behind Michael Schumacher's 91 and rival Alain Prost's 51.
Beyond the numbers, Senna attracted legions of followers for his humbleness and strong Catholic faith.
"He was loved to an unbelievable degree," recalled Mauro Forghieri, a former car designer for Ferrari and other F1 teams, who was called on as an expert witness in the court trial following Senna's death.
Forghieri recounted how when Senna's coffin was transported back to his native Brazil, it wasn't put in the airplane's luggage hold but rather placed over three rows of the first-class cabin.
"Of course the airline and the pilot were Brazilian," Forghieri told The Associated Press in an interview. "He was considered much more important than a president."
The Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning for Senna and an estimated 3 million people lined the streets as his coffin was driven into his hometown of Sao Paulo.
"It's one of those things, couple of events in your life that happen where you exactly remember where you've been, what you've done," recalled 4-time defending F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, who was 6 when Senna died. "I remember that I was watching television with my father and obviously as a child you don't really understand what's going on but just by the reaction of my father, I obviously got to understand that it was very serious and a big loss for Formula One.
"I think only later on and probably the last couple years, I managed to understand how big the loss was for the sport because I got to work with people that used to know him (and work) with him. He was the reason why my father decided to follow Formula One."
For anyone watching, the 1994 San Marino GP was truly a disaster.
Senna died after crashing into a concrete wall at about 300 kph (186 mph) in Sunday's race. Another high-speed crash in Saturday's qualifying killed Ratzenberger, a rookie.
On Friday, the car of Rubens Barrichello went airborne, crashed against the barriers and flipped. The young Brazilian sustained a concussion and amnesia and called his survival a miracle.
Senna had been shocked by Ratzenberger's death and refused to complete qualifying Saturday.
On Sunday, shortly after the race restarted following five laps at slow speed behind the pace car after another crash that injured four spectators, Senna's Williams Renault car went straight through the Tamburello turn, a spot with a history of bad accidents.
Senna was transported to a hospital in nearby Bologna and was declared dead four hours later.
"For the people who were there and experienced them, they were three days that will never be forgotten," Forghieri said.
The Italian judicial system debated the cause of Senna's death for more than 10 years, with a probe that led to manslaughter charges against the Williams team's technical director, Patrick Head, and former designer Adrian Newey, for a faulty steering column. They were eventually cleared when the statute of limitations had run out.
The attention around Senna's death brought about safety improvements at the Imola track and throughout F1, resulting in shorter straights, more room around dangerous turns and less powerful engines.
After a memorial Mass on pit lane at the Imola track on Wednesday, Forghieri and others will discuss the evolution of safety in F1 at a symposium on Thursday — the exact anniversary of Senna's death on May 1, 1994.
There will also be a memorial football match in Imola, a charity dinner, Kart races and other activities.
The San Marino GP was last run in 2006 before F1 expanded into new markets in Asia and the Middle East but memories of Senna live on an area of Italy that is known as the cradle of auto racing.
Busch driving No. 26 Suretone Honda in Indy 500
INDIANAPOLIS — Kurt Busch will drive the No. 26 Suretone Honda for Andretti Autosport in his attempt to run the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's 600-mile race on the same day.
Only John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon have attempted the "double" and no driver has tried since Gordon in 2004.
Busch's No. 26 was unveiled Monday in Indianapolis. The 35-year old Busch will hit the track in the No. 26 today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He will attempt to make the May 25 Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for Andretti Autosport. He drives the No. 41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Suretone is an American record label founded in 2006 as a joint venture by Jordan Schur, former CEO of Geffen Records, and Interscope Record.
He's expected to spend a week testing Andretti's Honda and make at least 10 trips between Indy and Charlotte as he participates in NASCAR's All-Star race and attempts to qualify and race in the 500 and the 600, noting he's worked out several scheduling issues with NASCAR and has permission from Charlotte Motor Speedway to helicopter onto the frontstretch of the track to speed up his arrival for the second race. Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 — which is a full 100 miles longer than any other race on the NACAR schedule — in 2010.
Suretone was glad it's aboard for Busch's run in the black-and-white No. 26.
"We are honored to have Suretone Entertainment stand with Andretti Autosport and Kurt Busch in this historic event as Kurt enters his first Indianapolis 500 qualifying run, as well as attempts to become only the fourth driver in motorsport history to contest the 'Double'," Shur added.