Eleven wishes, that may or may not come true, for racing in 2011
Hope big and compromise with what you can accept. With that bit of wisdom in mind, here are 11 somewhat fervent, somewhat frivolous hopes for motorsports in 2011.
The 39-year-old, four-time Sprint Cup champion is hearing the snarky comments from his peers already. That comes with bringing aboard AARP as a sponsor -- and pushing 40. So why not have some fun with it? While thousands of AARP card-holders come to Florida each year to relax and bask in the glory of slowed-down driving, Gordon will come to Daytona Beach with the hope of going fast -- at least fast enough to finally gain on his remarkable protégé, Jimmie Johnson. But to honor those legions of snowbirds he now represents, why not slap that fake signal on the fake bumper?
Speed's eight-year, multi-regimen relationship with the energy drink giant ended with a faxed termination from his Sprint Cup team. The 27-year-old, who became the first American to compete full-time in Formula One in a decade, sued the company for $6.5 million and is in career limbo considering how late he was released. Speed's settlement request would field a decent IndyCar program and surely some team would be willing to cash the check. Though he considers the series already-trod turf in terms of his career arc, IndyCar could use a quotable American and Speed could use a job. He should be sufficiently limbered up on ovals after three years in NASCAR and if he's still as good on road/street circuits as he thinks, he might create a mutually beneficial scenario for he and the league.
Sports leagues lose credibility by heavy-handedly changing the game. Months after overseeing the most compelling Chase in seven installments, the sanctioning body shouldn't meddle.
The action sports/rally star has made no secret of his intentions to try that NASCAR thing on for size, presumably master it enough to attempt a Daytona 500 or several, and move on to the next great thrill. His partnership with NASCAR owner/driver Michael Waltrip provides his opportunity and he's scheduled to undertake some Nationwide and underseries races in 2011. The life-consuming commitment required of a NASCAR driver seems ill-suited to the multi-talented, easily bored and extremely busy Pastrana, so the best outcome for he and motorsports is a successful season, an entertaining buildup to a 2012 Daytona 500 try and sights set on new challenges. Somebody get this guy an NHRA and IndyCar deal.
Just 18, Long made seven truck starts in 2010 and became just the second female to win the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model showcase in her home state of Florida. She'll attempt another Truck campaign in 2011 with her family team.
IndyCar utilizes ethanol produced from Brazilian sugar cane (except at the annual race in corn-mecca Iowa), NASCAR will consume a blend of gasoline and 15-percent ethanol derived from excess stocks of American feed corn beginning this season. That's a start, but the environmental impact of the one-time wonder fuel are still being gathered, from unforeseen polluting effects to Amazonian deforestation. NASCAR, for its part, is monitoring the development of cellulosic ethanol -- which can be made from organic waste such as grasses, brush that would otherwise serve as forest fire fodder, Martinsville hot dogs (maybe). This is no time to rest on ethanol as a solution. Racing, the perfect stage to validate cars, fuels, technologies as not only cool but efficient, needs to think beyond the next bend to hydrogen cells, battery-powered cars. IndyCar will, in fact, have an "Emerging Tech Day" to lead up to the Indy 500. Certainly you must look forward to the day when a crew chief calls for four tires and a full voltage charge.
Two former IndyCar Series champions and Indianapolis 500-winners with nebulous job prospects for 2012. Hornish Jr. has stated his preference to remain in NASCAR, but he and Wheldon would be welcome additions to the grid for the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.
The sanctioning body, promoters, sponsors, television networks have been in a collective state of tizzy over the hemorrhaging youth demographic, scrambling for solutions and putting way too much stock in social media saving their universe. All this while NASCAR is making its race cars look more like the vehicles these vanishing young fans won't be interested in until their mid-life crisis. Ford's Mustang and Dodge's Challengers, to be used in the Nationwide Series this year, are iconic, classic cars. But a Fiesta or a Neon are likely to resonate more with the millennials.
Time for a Sprint Cup, Izod IndyCar Series double bill. Might we suggest Sonoma (Calif.), New Hampshire or Texas? Note to IICS CEO Randy Bernard: Keep politicking. Note to NASCAR Chairman Brian France: Acquiesce. Note to Bruton Smith (chair of Speedway Motorsports, which owns the above tracks): Make it worth their while.
The IndyCar star has one year left on her contract with Andretti Autosport. The Nationwide driver is entering the second and final year of her deal with JR Motorsports to plumb her NASCAR interests and abilities. Andretti said when the current deal was agreed upon that a mutual option existed for 2012. Though Patrick should by now be practiced at insulating herself from outside speculation and interrogation over her future, the pitch of the questioning about her future will increase with every race weekend. Pull the trigger.
The 20-year-old grandson of team-owner Richard Childress won twice and finished fifth in points in a Truck Series rookie season doused with pressure and expectation, considering his bloodlines and use of the most fabled number in stock car racing. Though Childress said last year he was inclined to keep the number out of the Sprint Cup Series -- it was last used a decade ago when Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevrolet crashed, killing the legend on the last lap of the Daytona 500 -- it might be time.