Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Racing season's start prompts plenty of questions

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at

Sacramento, California – So, just a few weeks into the major auto racing series, this much is clear to me.


Really, I mean it.  How can you conclude much of anything, given what we’ve seen so far?

Let’s start with NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. posts an incredibly popular win in the season-opening Daytona 500, and he looks as focused as I’ve ever seen him.  Is he ready to finally win a series title?  In my view, yes.

But hold the phone. A blizzard of Chase-making rules changes for this year is adding a dose of mystery to the Sprint Cup marathon.  Different winners every week, and we’ve been told that winning a race is a virtual write-your-ticket into the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But what if a big bunch of different drivers keep winning?  What does that do to the once-important points race?  From what I know now, winning a race seems to have taken priority over consistently high finishes.

How else to explain Jimmie Johnson’s pained expressions after seeing victory snatched from his grasp late in the past two Cup races?

Even so, I’m guessing that Johnson will win at some point this year and look a little more relaxed the rest of the way.  It’s his title to take away, and as such, he remains the favorite in my book.

Note to NASCAR: Just be sure to straighten out the math for me come Chase time in the fall.

IndyCar rolled out a new series sponsor, Verizon, and a whole lot of folks in different places (and different car paint schemes) in last weekend’s season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Will Power won the race.  Just like old times.  And if things go like they have the past few years, Power or another Team Penske driver will lead the points for most of the season, only to lose in are-you-kidding-me fashion on the last day of the 2014 campaign.

With Dario Franchitti’s injury-forced retirement, the next few races set the table for Helio Castroneves, who stands to become only the fourth driver to win four Indianapolis 500s, joining A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

To be truthful, I have no idea if Castroneves has the machine to pull it off. And frankly, we won’t know much about the 240 mph portion of the season until the series goes to Indy in May.  Even the May 10 Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Indy’s road course probably won’t tell us much about the May 25 main course of sustained speed, aka the 98th running of the Indy 500.

One other note on Indy No. 98: If I was not driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, I would be very concerned about defending Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan (pictured) now driving for Chip.  Given Ganassi’s letter-perfect team and Kanaan’s remarkable ability on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, he’s my early pick to win the big race.  I don’t anticipate that changing come late May.

Finally, Formula One.  Wow, talk about rule changes ruling the races.  With ungodly fuel limitations and a power plant package so technically complex that it might baffle top engineers at NASA, predicting the long term F1 future is all but impossible.

After the season opener in Australia, I thought the race-winning standard might be whoever survives the first two laps without the engine stopping … or those cars that finish the race before running out of fuel.

Yes, Mercedes obviously is ahead of the competition through two races.  But if we’ve learned anything from past Formula One competition, it’s that huge changes in competitiveness can occur week to week.

Ominous sign: Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel went from hopeless in Australia to third on the podium in Malaysia last weekend.  That rate of improvement from the relentless Vettel would worry me deeply if I was not driving for Red Bull-Renault.


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