Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Silly Season Gets Kick-started Again

First it was the Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports announcement in April. That was followed up by the "will he, won't he" saga of Brian Vickers (ever racing again) and Elliott Sadler (staying at Petty). Lately it's been what Red Bull will do with the #82 and who Bobby Labonte is going to be driving for each week. And now, a new name has been thrown into the ring.

JTG Daugherty's announcement yesterday (as fireball posted) that, after five seasons by years end, they will part ways with Marcos Ambrose was a shock to me - although not to other people...don't you hate being out of the loop? - since I just figured he'd stay until the end of his contract next year. However, while the reasons given were simply a case of wanting to go in different directions, that means all we have is speculation.

Ambrose drove for Ford in his V8 Supercar days. Ford also unlocked the door for him to come into NASCAR in 2006 (was still up to him to open it and walk through though). As Brad Daugherty said in his interview on NASCAR Now yesterday, while we all believe the #47 is part of MWR, they aren't really. Which therefore means they're a second year team, still finding their feet in the Cup series whereas, perhaps, Marcos desires results now.

Now, the technical alliance with MWR meant they needed to switch from Ford to Toyota and while this made a lot of sense in late 2008 (after all, Kyle won a bunch of races that year), it might not be the best option now. Why? Well, it's a bit complex really. The Chevy seems to be the best car in the field (whether it's down to having the majority of top teams or it's just the 'easiest' to set up, I don't know), Ford appears to be making big strides with their new engine package and the Dodges, despite only fielding three fulltime cars, are stunningly quick when the setup is spot on.

That leaves Toyota in a bit of a bind (my thoughts only). Yes Denny and Kyle have been on fire at times this year, and yes Reutimann scored a hugely popular win at Chicago...but what about the rest? Truex has shown flashes of brilliance at times, Red Bull haven't been the same since Vickers was forced out while Ambrose has been fluctuating between having solid races, mechanical issues or crashes.

I don't think anyone can say the Marcos Ambrose of 2009 wasn't a surprise. Not only was he a rookie, but no one really thought he'd do a whole lot on the ovals...well, it took him half a dozen races to chuck that theory out the window. Had things gone his way, the Aussie could easily have wins at Bristol, Sonoma, Watkins Glen and Homestead on his resume before we started 2010. But, that didn't happen and while last year he was certainly the second best 'MWR' driver, he did, at times, prove to be better than Reutimann.

But that all changed with the signing of Truex (again, just my opinion). Here was a driver who has won Nationwide titles, won a Cup race, been in the other words, a proven talent behind the wheel. So that meant Marcos was demoted to being third in line, and that's a situation that is rather difficult to get out of. Basically, Ambrose made the only real choice he could; fly the nest.

However, there is a problem here (and yes, I didn't really like writing this next part but they are the facts).

While most agree that the Aussie is a PR dream with his huge smile and how his sponsors adore him, what exactly has he done? He has 3 pole positions (1 Truck, 2 Nationwide) and a pair of wins in the Nationwide series, neither on an oval. He led more laps at this years Sonoma race (35 I believe) than he did all of last year and, unlike a Paul Menard, he doesn't bring any sponsors with him. That's not exactly lighting the racing world on fire when you put it like that, is it? His one saving grace is that while his statistics don't back it up, he is a very handy little driver as he proved last year and if he's given the right environment, he would probably flourish.

It's just that finding that right environment is so often the hard part...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Red Bull Gives You Wings...Mark Webber's Actually

We've seen it happen before; Driver 'X' knows their contract is up at the end of the season so they'll put in a couple dazzling displays to showcase their talent so teams will want to snap them up before someone else does. Well, Mark Webber already did that...a couple months ago in fact when he blitzed the field in Spain and Monaco. He and Red Bull did the easy thing and inked an extension that will see the Aussie drive for them until the end of 2011.

Probably not beyond it though, not with the current dynamics in the team anyway.

Sebastian Vettel is a superstar already, he proved that with his surprise victory at Monza in 2008. He consolidated that by finishing runner-up is the 2009 Championship. And he landed a dent in Mark Webber's title chase a couple weeks ago at Valencia as he thumped the opposition, leaving Webber flying over a Lotus in his wake, leapfrogging his teammate in the points. Meanwhile, Mark Webber seems to be more of a journeyman, a driver who can produce the odd great result, but not able to maintain a season long challenge for the title (after Hungary last year, he was ahead of Vettel but then had four straight races where he didn't score a point).

And so, when Vettel had a front wing failure in Saturday practice at Silverstone, the team decided to give him the one Webber was using. Mark's response to this was a storming start on Sunday from second on the grid, leaving Seb no choice but to yield going into turn one lest he run wide and risk getting a puncture (which he duly did...dang near ruined my trifecta too!), leading every lap (like he did in Spain, like he did in Monaco) to become the only driver this season to rack up three wins. In the process, he now sits third in the standings behind the McLaren back in front of Vettel in other words.

Was this the turning point for Webber's season; sculpting the anger from Saturday into a win on Sunday?

However, it was a unique situation Saturday. Red Bull brought a new front wing and only had two of them. So, when the one on Vettel's went snap, they figured that, as he was ahead in the points, they'd take the one from's nothing personal, just business. Webber acknowledged that in the post race interview, not that it stopped him from saying a classic "not bad for a number two driver," over the radio as he took the chequer, but he does want to sit down with the team to discuss what happened this week.

He has a point I reckon. The easiest way to have resolved the front wing deal would have been to do the old coin toss, rock-paper-scissors or some other option where both sides of the garage had a chance to put their case to why they should have the upgraded part, not just nick it from one to give it to the other...ahh well, hindsight and all that.

Webber and Vettel have already clashed this season with their infamous coming together at Turkey while running 1-2. Is it time for team orders or do you want your drivers to be pushing each other? McLaren don't seem to be having any issues with Jenson and Lewis, but then again, it's a slightly different situation there given that both guys have won the title before while the 'Bulls' want to both be the first to land the big prize.

So the question is this; will Mark Webber channel the anger he felt into a year long charge for the title, or was it just used up at Silverstone?

I think the scariest thing we learnt from Silverstone was that the Red Bull is still the class of the field...even without the trick new front wing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


For the fifth straight year, Queensland have beaten New South Wales to keep the State of Origin trophy tucked firmly north of the border. They actually did that a few weeks ago after winning game two, but I was somewhat preoccupied with a little trip down to California and forgot about it until bad.

Never in the thirty year history of Origin has one state won for more than three years in a row. Queensland's dominance can put down mainly to the world class backline they have with Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston steering the ship in the halves.

Now, I know most of you guys don't have much idea about Rugby League, so I have included the following link that shows patches of, arguably, Queensland's best ever player:

Darren Lockyer in action - 2001 to 2009 SOO highlights

Not really sure how best to explain Origin footy, but it basically boils down to players from all the NRL clubs being picked to represent the State in which they made their 'senior' debut in a three game series. In many ways, these games blow the NRL finals and international matches out of the water with its speed of play and intensity.

With a 23-18 win in game three Wednesday night, the Maroons became the first team to sweep a series since 2000 when NSW did it. Funnily enough, ever since I first came over here, Queensland have yet to drop a series...I think I'll stay at least another year then ;)

As former Queensland Origin player, Paul Vautin, says; go you good thing!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fourth Time's a Charm

It's a trek that has become somewhat of a ritual to one Australian; go to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, one of the toughest tracks on brakes in the world. He started going in 2007 when NASCAR decided to race the Busch series there and he's been back every year.

Not that he's had much good luck there.

Safe to say that Marcos Ambrose has dominated Montreal as in the 199 laps raced at the place, the Aussie has led 123 of them. He should have three wins but the racing Gods have conspired against him each time with last year possibly being the most heartbreaking. JTG Daugherty will, once again, provide the equipment that Ambrose hopes to drive to victory lane on August 29.

Event promoter, Francois Dumontier, is delighted Marcos is coming back and wishes him all the best in his quest to land the win. He had this to say on the matter; “If Marcos finally wins here, I am asking fans to celebrate his victory – first because he will have earned it, but also to give him the desire to come back again over the course of the next few years to try and win it again.”

I hope it's a case of fourth time lucky for him since I don't think there are any other ways for him to not win here. He's been punted on the last restart, beaten out by the weather and passed on the final corner. Doesn't leave many options left, does it?

As for Marcos, his target is simple; “We have only one goal, and that’s to win the thing.”

Strong words, but his history here shows he does have the ability to pull it off...if he gets a little good luck on his side for once.