I Hate To Say “I Told You So,” But: As predicted, the so-called “Road Course Ringers” did virtually nothing for their respective teams last weekend at Infineon Raceway.
I define a “ringer” as a driver that competes only on road courses, displacing a team’s regular driver on a one- or two-race basis. Invariably, team owners say they hire “ringers” in an effort to win the race, and boost their team back into the top 35 in owners’ points. Again this year, they did nothing of the kind.
Scott Pruett was the best of the bunch, hitting everything but the lottery in the Lonestar/Coors Light Dodge normally driven by David Stremme. He finished 30th at Infineon, and Chip Ganassi is no closer to the Top-35 today than he was a week ago. Amazingly, the headline on Pruett's personal website Monday read, "Pruett Helps Ganassi Bunch Conquer Sonoma;" a glowing example of journalistic license, if ever we've seen one. P.J. Jones bumped Scott Wimmer from Morgan McClure Racing’s Aero Exhaust Chevrolet, only to finish 36th Sunday. With Travis Kvapil watching from atop the pit box, Ron Fellows steered ppi Racing’s Tide Chevrolet to a lackluster 37th place finish, while Tom Hubert piled Kirk Shelmerdine’s car into a first-lap accident en route to 43rd in the final rundown.
Pretty impressive, huh? Explain to me again how the four teams in question did themselves any favors Sunday, because I don’t see it.
IRL/Champ Car Merger: The Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series crossed a major bridge in their attempt to unify American Open Wheel racing, when Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven agreed to share ownership of a combined series. However, that agreement absolutely does not justify the breathless headlines that trumpeted “UNIFICATION” from coast to coast late last weekend.
Kalkhoven cautioned The Associated Press Sunday that there is no written agreement in place, and admitted that a number of extremely complicated questions must still be answered before anything like true unification can be announced. For instance, who will serve as principal owner of the combined series? Who breaks the tie when Kalkhoven and George disagree? Who will supply the chassis, engines and tires for the new series? Where will the series race, and what mix of oval and road course events will be included on the schedule?
IRL’s George was correct when he cautioned, "We have agreed conceptually to share ownership. Now we have to agree on how we go about resolving differences that might come up." Kalkhoven said only that the agreement leaves him "very optimistic" that a deal can eventually be completed. Emphasis on the world eventually.
In terms of concrete decisions, one bridge was crossed last weekend. Many others remain. Finding an impartial third party acceptable to both owners will be difficult, if not impossible. And even if such a candidate can be found, I have yet to see a racing series run by committee that worked very well. So while last weekend’s news was indeed encouraging, it was not the watershed that some portrayed it to be.
Doesn't Play Well With Others: The P.R. hacks can say what they want, but Whit Bazemore is not a happy camper these days. Since getting his lip split by teammate Ron Capps a few weeks ago, Baze has been on a slow emotional simmer. He snapped at ESPN2's Gary Gerould last week, when Gerould informed him that he would face Capps in the opening round of eliminations, saying, "Don't call him my teammate." After losing to John Force in the quarterfinals, NHRA.com's Rob Geiger says Bazemore climbed from his Matco Tools Dodge and berated Force, who he felt had been slow to stage. "For the first time in five years I stage first," said Bazemore, "and that @%$& burns me down."
Force was stunned by the allegations, saying, "I didn't burn him down. What is he talking about?" Videotape of the race revealed that four seconds elapsed between the time Bazemore staged his Dodge, and the time Force followed. That isn't much, but apparently, it was enough for Bazemore, who vowed, "It will never, ever, ever happen again."
Those events -- combined with Bazemore's generally surly demeanor under normal conditions -- create a situation that does not bode well for the NHRA veteran. Feuding with other drivers (competitors and teammates alike) will do nothing to raise his stock with team owner Don Schumacher. His eighth-place point standing (592 behind Capps) won't help, either. What happens in the next few weeks, both on and off the racetrack, could determine whether Bazemore has a future at Don Schumacher Racing.
Thanks, Carl: With two wins since being unceremoniously fired by RuSport Racing boss Carl Russo earlier this month, American A.J. Allmendinger will not be showing up on the unemployment line again anytime soon.
Russo was vague in explaining his reasons for cutting Allmendinger loose, hinting that the driver’s immaturity and unwillingness to try new chassis combinations may have spurred the move. Allmendinger said even less, telling us recently that, “unless Carl wants to talk about it, nobody will ever know what happened.”
Allmendinger’s replacement, Cristiano daMatta, may ultimately become a championship contender for RuSport. But right now, the Allmendinger-for-da Matta swap looks like the most lopsided deal since my beloved Red Sox sold the Babe to the Bronx.