Article by Jacob Black, photo courtesy of NASCAR
When tires fail so badly that they cause cars to literally erupt in flames – something should probably be done about it. Oh, and if you think pushing and shoving is a good tactic in a fight, be ready to get your bell rung. Those were the key lessons from NASCAR this weekend. Racing on a short track usually raises temperatures, and once again Richmond delivered. Anyone would think Michael Bay directed the race.
As already seen this season, NASCAR’s tires unravelled at the end of long runs, with rubber and canvas cord flailing about wildly and becoming wrapped around the axles, brakes, etc. At Richmond, the devastation went a step further and many cars ignited in flames. The drama actually began during the second-tier Nationwide Series race on Friday and grew to a crescendo during the Sprint Cup race on Saturday. Reed Sorenson actually had to be pulled from his car after it was entirely engulfed in flames while race contender Clint Bowyer had his race ended by tire-failure related fire.
In the end, Joey Logano claimed victory after Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon tripped over each other in the final two laps. Their full-contact racing allowed Logano to slide through unchallenged for a comfortable victory. Pole sitter Kyle Larson finished back in the pack after the rookie sensation was punted into a spin on the opening lap.
MotoGP went to Argentina for the first time since 1999 on the weekend, and once again it was Marc Marquez blazing to an assertive win ahead of teammate Dani Pedrosa. Jorge Lorenzo finished third for Yamaha. Marquez now has three straight poles and three straight wins from the opening three races of the season.
IndyCar suffered a lengthy rain delay at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on Sunday before a time-certain race was won under caution by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Will Power led early but made a mistake and ran off, gifting Hunter-Reay the lead. RHR never looked challenged and took the win under yellow after Russian rookie Aleshin Mikhail crashed with less than five minutes remaining. His teammate Marco Andretti was second with reigning champion Scott Dixon third.
Down in Australia (actually, New Zealand this week) the V8 Supercars put on four stunning races claimed in order by Jason Bright, Mark Winterbottom, Shane van Gisbergen and Mark Winterbottom again. Ford driver Winterbottom now leads the championship after a disastrous round for Red Bull’s Craig Lowndes. Neither Lowndes nor his Red Bull Racing teammate looked on the pace in their Holdens during the entire weekend.
Four major categories always make for a busy and entertaining weekend, but some storylines stand out above the rest. And those as always earn our green, yellow and black flags.
Honda’s Marc Marquez might actually be a mutant he is so far ahead of the field. If he is baseball, all others are tee-ball. If he’s ice cream, everybody else is your hippy aunt’s homemade, dairy-free, sugar-free, chickpea-flavoured frozen yogurt. He cruised to an easy victory in Argentina but not before slipping back to seventh at the start – apparently just to keep it interesting. What a champ.
Goodyear might be sending Marcos Ambrose a special Christmas present this year. Because while the talk should really have been about the multiple fires triggered by unravelling tires it was instead about the stunning right hook that the Aussie delivered to rival Casey Mears after Saturday’s race.
Mears came over to give Ambrose a piece of his mind over a minor on-track tussle and then decided to do the standard NASCAR push and shove. Ambrose responded the way you should respond to a shirtfronting. He snotted the bloke – planting a right-cross over Mears’s eye. Even Mears was impressed, saying afterwards, “He got me pretty good with that shot.”
“One thing I can say is that out of all the NASCAR fights, when you see people swing it’s usually a lot of fly-swatting,” Mears said. “He actually connected, so that was pretty good.”
Why is this a yellow flag? Well partly because violence should never be condoned (won’t somebody please think of the children?!) and partly because one of Mears’s crew sucker punched Ambrose while he was being dragged away from the fray afterwards. Sucker punches are never okay.
Here’s the video of Ambrose’s punch:
Obviously this one goes to NASCAR/Goodyear. The tires that duo have come up with this year have proven woefully inadequate with multiple failures. It’s easy to point the finger at Goodyear, but they make perfectly good tires for other series and can make genuinely excellent tires when pressed to do so.
Problem is NASCAR doesn’t want good tires. In an effort to avoid massive closing speeds and complex strategy plays, NASCAR prefers tires that have good initial grip, then drop off and remain almost constant for the rest of a long run. Goodyear developed a dual-tread tire to try and achieve that aim for some races this season, and the new tire is a dud.
Just like Pirelli in Formula 1, Goodyear is making a tire to NASCAR’s spec, and the spec is fundamentally flawed. Still, Pirelli probably feel pretty good right now – at least their tires don’t cause dramatic fires like this one: