Racing Roundup: Elliott wins a NASCAR million, Vettel ponders Stroll offer
All the mid-week racing news
So much auto racing news, so little time to write ‘n read. So, let’s go.
Three-time NASCAR Cup Champion Darrell Waltrip retired from the broadcast booth a year ago but FOX brought him back Wednesday night to say “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity – let’s go racing (for a million dollars), boys,” one or two times more during the special mid-week telecast of the NASCAR Open and All-Star race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Open, by the way, was won by Matt DiBenedetto, who advanced to the All-Star race, as did Clint Bowyer, by fan vote, and two others through stage wins, Aric Almirola and William Byron. The big race (and the million bucks that went with it) was won by Chase Elliott, with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick second and third. There was a crowd of about 30,000, mostly spread out but not many wearing masks. The drivers, of course, all wore masks – except Elliott, who talked to TV without one. Please click here for a full report.
Here’s what else is going on.
Sebastian Vettel is reportedly mulling over an offer from Canadian Lawrence Stroll, owner of Racing Point F1, who will rebrand the team Aston Martin in 2021. This, of course, will likely have come as news to Team Principal and CEO Otmar Szafnauer, who has consistently denied that the team had any interest in Vettel.
Okay, because of COVID, nobody in F1 is talking to anybody the way they did pre-COVID. So you wonder where this “report” came from – although it’s just about everywhere, including on the English Bible of auto racing, Autosport.com. In short, somebody could have made this up and because information is in such short supply, everybody else without something to report on has climbed aboard and joined in.
So it might not be true. It very well could be a figment of someone’s imagination. But let’s say it’s accurate.
It would not be the first time an owner overruled an employee. Gene Haas decided several years ago he wanted Kurt Busch to drive for his Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR Cup team and signed him to a contract, added a car to the team and hired support staff for it before bothering to tell his partner, Tony Stewart, what he was doing. Stewart had been telling everybody there was no way SHR would run any more than three cars and to say he was embarrassed by the turn of events would be an understatement.
The question then becomes which of the two drivers under contract would be moved out to make room for Vettel? Both have solid ties to the team. Lance Stroll is the son of the owner and Sergio Perez, who forced Force India to seek bankruptcy protection, creating an opening for Lawrence Stroll to take over the team, recently signed a three-year contract extension that continues through 2022.
Let’s say Stroll is a lock to keep his ride. That leaves Perez and I suspect there is a two-way escape clause in his contract that would allow the team to buy him out if necessary and to let him leave if it became necessary. He told F1.com when he signed the extension that if one of the top teams wanted to hire him, Racing Point “will for sure give me the opportunity.”
So there you have it. Vettel and Stroll – if Vettel decides Racing Point/Aston Martin has the horses that would allow him to be not only competitive but to challenge for the championship.
I really don’t now what to think after the announcement earlier this week that NASCAR legends Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart plus two others are starting an IROC-style racing series that will run primarily on oval short tracks on six Saturday nights next summer and be televised in prime time on CBS.
The idea is to get recently retired racing superstars, or guys who will soon retire, and put them in equal racing cars and turn them loose at race tracks like Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola and New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Ohio, Knoxville Raceway in Iowa and the Terre Haute Action Track in Indiana. Evernham would also like a road course and a modified oval on the schedule.
“You know, drivers retiring and being out of the sport so young, we think there are guys who still want to race, still can race, but just don’t want to run 200 mph,” Evernham said. His dream team would include racers like Tony Kanaan, Jimmie Johnson, Scott Dixon, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Tracy as well as short track racers and up-and-comers who have proved their skills but can’t get a break. A dozen drivers in all.
Now, this sounds great. And there will undoubtedly be serious money at stake so some of these young, retired guys can start padding their incomes again. But what is this going to do to the dwindling short-track speedway businesses that are all hanging on by their fingertips?
Even before the virus, short track operators were having a hard time staying in business. Having to put up with a number of in-season Saturday night NASCAR Cup races was bad enough. Now, here comes an all-star group of drivers racing at famous race tracks and why should a guy take his family to the local track when its costs him nothing for them to sit in the Family room and watch a bunch of glamour pusses go at it om TV and where the beer is cheaper too.
So the short tracks – including Stewart’s Eldora – will have to suck it up yet again and try to ward off the banks or other financial institutions seeking to foreclose. You’d have thought that maybe Evernham/Stewart might have thought of that and planned to run, say, on Friday nights.
Bryant Heating & Cooling, a legendary sponsor of Indy cars, particularly at the Indianapolis 500, will sponsor Tony Kanaan in the A.J. Foyt Racing No. 14 this weekend at Iowa Speedway. The IndyCar doubleheader, by the way, will be seen on Sportsnet360 Friday night and Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. The green flag both nights will be waved at about 9:15 p.m. Leigh Diffey will call the play-by-play and James Hinchcliffe and Paul Tracy will be doing colour and analysis. Tracy’s regular sidekick, Townsend Bell, has the weekend off to race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Sebring (Saturday at 5:35 p.m. on Velocity TV).
Katherine Legge was injured – broken left leg, right wrist – when she crashed during practice for a race in the European Le Mans Series. Legge is recovering but anything like this is a setback. Brought to North America from England with very little experience – series owner Kevin Kalkhoven freely admitted he needed a “Danica Patrick for Champ Car” – Legge started slowly but she hit her stride in sports cars in recent years and has been a solid performer.
REV TV Canada, Canada’s Own Motorsports Network (formerly MAVTV Canada), and Shannonville Motorsport Park, have entered into a multi-year deal that will see the 2020 Super Series Pro motorcycle final air live along with the 2021 season and other events yet to be announced. “This partnership with Shannonville Motorsport Park with its rich racing history and location is a great opportunity to further showcase Canadian racing with the talented drivers/riders and teams who compete,” said Mike Garrow, president of REV TV Canada.
The APC Auto Parts United Late Models of Ontario Tour will race at Flamboro Speedway on Sept. 12, it was announced this week. As no spectators will be allowed, the 100-lap feature will be seen on GForceTV, which is free.
Four-time Indianapolis 500 starter Chuck Hulse, who was a master of the dirt tracks in the days when mile-ovals were part of what was then called the National Championship, has died at age 92. In 1964, when he was the pilot of the mighty Dean Van Lines Special that raced at Indianapolis, Hulse was injured in a sprint car crash at New Bremen, Ohio. The Dean’s chief mechanic, Clint Brawner, needed a replacement and selected a young Italian-American hot shoe named Mario Andretti and the rest is history. In the accompanying photo, Hulse (left) stands with fellow Indy car driver of the day, Ronnie Duman, and a sponsor rep before a race at Hanford, Calif.
Other TV information: The NASCAR trucks will race at Texas Saturday night at 8 p.m. while the Cup Series will go to the post Sunday afternoon at 3. The trucks can be seen on FOX Sports Racing while the Cup race will be on TSN. The Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary will be on TSN Friday morning for practice, Saturday morning for qualifying and Sunday morning for the race. All sessions start at 8 a.m. Maybe we’ll know by then what Sebastian Vettel plans to do next season, if anything.
By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca