THE FRONTSTRETCH NEWSLETTER
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September 29th, 2011
Volume V, Edition CCIV
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Today's Top News
by Phil Allaway
On Wednesday, NASCAR officially announced the 36-race schedule for the Sprint Cup Series. There are a few changes to the schedule, but no races were subtracted or added to the slate. Most of the adjustments were actually already noted by the tracks themselves weeks in advance of the release.
The season will start one week later with the Daytona 500 on February 26. Originally, this was designed to be a move to protect the race from an expected encroachment from the Super Bowl. Under the NFL's planned expansion to an 18-game schedule, the normal date (February 19) for the race would have been the day of the Daytona 500, creating a nasty conflict. That will not be the case, but NASCAR chose to keep the later start.
The off-week after Las Vegas has been eliminated, allowing the schedule to continue like normal after the third week. Texas' spring race will be one week later to accommodate Easter. Kansas' spring race is scheduled for April 22 due to the track's upcoming repave/reconfiguration. As a result, a multi-date switcheroo has the Spring race at Talladega being pushed back to May 6, while the Spring Dover race goes back to its old post-600 weekend (occupied this year by Kansas).
The fall Kansas and Talladega race weekends have also been switched so that Kansas Speedway has more time to complete their track renovations, scheduled to start right after the April event.
2012 Sprint Cup Schedule
3/11 Las Vegas
3/18 Bristol (Day)
3/25 Fontana (Auto Club)
4/8 OFF WEEK
4/14 Texas (Saturday night)
4/28 Richmond (Saturday night)
5/12 Darlington (Saturday night)
5/19 Charlotte (Sprint All-Star Race, Saturday night)
5/26 Charlotte (Coca-Cola 600, Sunday night)
6/24 Sonoma (Infineon)
6/30 Kentucky (Saturday night)
7/7 Daytona (Saturday night)
7/15 New Hampshire
7/22 OFF WEEK
8/12 Watkins Glen
8/25 Bristol (Saturday night)
9/2 Atlanta (Sunday night)
9/8 Richmond (Saturday night)
9/23 New Hampshire
10/13 Charlotte (Saturday night)
The Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series schedules are still currently in flux. According to NASCAR's Steve O'Donnell, final versions are likely to be announced in mid-October. It is still unclear whether funding issues will allow Montreal to return to the Nationwide slate for 2012, as well as which tracks will replace the two dates lost from Nashville Superspeedway's closure.
JTG-Daugherty Racing Still Considering Affiliations
ESPN.com's David Newton is reporting that in the wake of Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) making moves towards adding a third team for 2012, JTG-Daugherty Racing is seeking a new affiliation deal. Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing partnerships are potential options, as is the possibility of staying with MWR despite being relegated down to the fourth team.
Ending the affiliation with MWR would result in the JTG-Daugherty team being forced to move out of RaceWorld USA, MWR's race shop/fan attraction in Cornelius, NC. The team already has their own shop in nearby Harrisburg and their long-term plans involve making use of that facility.
Team co-owner Brad Daugherty is generally optimistic about the future of JTG-Daugherty Racing, but acknowledges that they cannot do it alone.
"We have an offer from MWR and we are evaluating that alliance opportunity along with a few others," Daugherty said. "I want to be clear [that] it is JTG-Daugherty Racing's desire to race out of our own shop. We are looking to run faster and smarter and we need a big team alliance to do so. MWR has been a good partner and we appreciate their input into our race team. Once again, though, where we end up is a decision that Tad, Jodi [Geschickter] and I will make."
If JTG-Daugherty were to remain affiliated with MWR, or switch over to a Joe Gibbs Racing affiliation, it would be a far cheaper option. Switching to a Childress affiliation, however, would result in massive incurred costs in order to change manufacturers (to Chevrolet). For reference purposes, Hall of Fame Racing was forced to shoulder costs of nearly $10 million when they switched to Toyota for 2008 with absolutely no help from Joe Gibbs Racing.
Entry List Update:
Note: Although these entries are accurate as of Wednesday night, they are still subject to change.
Sprint Cup Series AAA 400: 45 cars entered
Drivers Ineligible to Earn Points:
No. 7 - Reed Sorenson for Robby Gordon Motorsports
No. 32 - Mike Bliss for FAS Lane Racing
No. 37 - Josh Wise for MaxQ Motorsports
No. 46 - Scott Speed for Whitney Motorsports
No. 51 - Landon Cassill for Phoenix Racing
No. 55 - Travis Kvapil for Front Row Motorsports
No. 60 - Mike Skinner for Germain Racing
No. 87 - Joe Nemechek for NEMCO Motorsports
No. 7 - Reed Sorenson is in the seat, replacing Robby Gordon. This entry will start and park while Gordon races in his own Desert Challenge out in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Drivers who must qualify on speed:
No. 7 - Reed Sorenson for Robby Gordon Motorsports*
No. 30 - David Stremme for Inception Motorsports*
No. 37 - Josh Wise for MaxQ Motorsports*
No. 38 - J.J. Yeley for Front Row Motorsports
No. 46 - Scott Speed for Whitney Motorsports*
No. 50 - T.J. Bell for MAKE Motorsports*
No. 55 - Travis Kvapil for Front Row Motorsports*
No. 60 - Mike Skinner for Germain Racing*
No. 66 - Michael McDowell for HP Racing, LLC*
No. 87 - Joe Nemechek for NEMCO Motorsports*
* - Expected to start and park
No. 35 - Tommy Baldwin Racing (no sponsorship for second team this week)
Nationwide Series OneMain Financial 200: 46 cars entered
Drivers Ineligible to Earn Points:
No. 7 - Jamie McMurray for JR Motorsports
No. 18 - Joey Logano for Joe Gibbs Racing
No. 22 - Brad Keselowski for Penske Racing
No. 33 - Clint Bowyer for Kevin Harvick, Inc.
No. 38 - Kasey Kahne for Turner Motorsports
No. 47 - Brian Keselowski for Key Motorsports
No. 50 - T.J. Bell for MAKE Motorsports
No. 60 - Carl Edwards for Roush Fenway Racing
No. 03 - Marc Davis is in the seat, replacing Scott Riggs. It's a one-race deal.
No. 04 - Kelly Bires returns to the seat, replacing Danny O'Quinn, Jr.
No. 23 - Scott Riggs returns to the seat, replacing Robert Richardson, Jr.
No. 30 - Jason Leffler returns to the seat, replacing Kasey Kahne. Leffler gets moved whenever the limited schedule of Kasey Kahne kicks in.
No. 33 - Clint Bowyer returns to the seat, replacing Paul Menard.
No. 38 - Kasey Kahne returns to the seat, replacing Jason Leffler. Kahne is running a limited schedule with the team and associated with sponsor Great Clips.
No. 39 - Fain Skinner returns to the seat, replacing Joey Gase.
No. 44 - Jeff Green returns to the seat, replacing Angela Cope. Green will start-and-park this car.
No. 52 - Kevin Lepage returns to the seat, replacing Blake Koch.
No. 70 - Casey Roderick is in the seat, replacing David Stremme. Randy Hill Racing has allied with Jay Robinson Racing to run the car this weekend.
No. 81 - Blake Koch returns to the seat, replacing Scott Wimmer.
No. 82 - Scott Wimmer is in the seat, replacing J.J. Yeley.
No. 87 - Joe Nemechek returns to the seat, replacing Kevin Conway.
Drivers who must qualify at speed:
No. 03 - Marc Davis for R3 Motorsports*
No. 04 - Kelly Bires for Go Green Racing*
No. 13 - Jennifer Jo Cobb for JJC Racing
No. 16 - Trevor Bayne for Roush Fenway Racing
No. 20 - Ryan Truex for Joe Gibbs Racing
No. 41 - Johnny Chapman for Rick Ware Racing*
No. 42 - Tim Andrews for Key Motorsports*
No. 44 - Jeff Green for TriStar Motorsports (Guaranteed to start via the Past Champions' Provisional)*
No. 46 - Chase Miller for Key Motorsports*
No. 47 - Brian Keselowski for Key Motorsports*
No. 49 - Mark Green for Jay Robinson Racing*
No. 50 - T.J. Bell for MAKE Motorsports*
No. 71 - Matt Carter for Rick Ware Racing*
No. 74 - Mike Harmon for Harmon Motorsports*
No. 75 - Carl Long for Rick Ware Racing*
No. 82 - Scott Wimmer for MacDonald Motorsports
* - Expected to start and park
No. 12 - Penske Racing
No. 27 - Baker-Curb Racing/Go Canada Racing
No. 48 - Jay Robinson Racing
Camping World Truck Series Kentucky 225: 32 trucks entered
Drivers Ineligible to Earn Points: None
No. 07 - John King returns to the seat, replacing Butch Miller. This entry will go the distance this week.
No. 2 - Ron Hornaday is in the seat, replacing Clint Bowyer. The move is a one-time switch to help KHI win the owner's points championship.
No. 18 - Brian Ickler returns to the seat, replacing Kyle Busch. Busch will not make the trip down from Dover.
No. 21 - Ty Dillon is in the seat, replacing Elliott Sadler. This will be Dillon's first career start in the series.
No. 32 - Blake Feese returns to the seat, replacing Steve Arpin. The team has a rotating series of drivers this season.
No. 33 - Cale Gale is in the seat, replacing Ron Hornaday. Sponsor Rheem puts Gale in the Truck as a precursor to holding this full-time, 2012 ride with Eddie Sharp Racing.
No. 51 - Josh Richards returns to the seat, replacing German Quiroga. The team has a rotating series of drivers this season.
No. 66 - Ross Chastain returns to the seat, replacing J.J. Yeley. This entry will go the distance this week.
No. 93 - Mike Garvey returns to the seat, replacing Josh Wise. This entry will start and park.
Since there are only 32 trucks entered, no one will fail to qualify. However, these trucks still must qualify on speed:
No. 21 - Ty Dillon for Richard Childress Racing
No. 51 - Josh Richards for Kyle Busch Motorsports
No. 57 - Norm Benning for Norm Benning Racing
No. 68 - Clay Greenfield for Alger Motorsports
No. 87 - Chris Jones for Jones Motorsports*
No. 92 - Clay Rogers for RBM Motorsports
No. 98 - Dakoda Armstrong for ThorSport Racing
*- Expected to start and park
No. 38 - RSS Motorsports
No. 61 - Wes Burton
No. 73 - Sacred Power Racing
No. 75 - Norm Benning Racing
No. 96 - Peck Motorsports
Izod IndyCar Series Kentucky Indy 300: 29 cars entered
No. 17 - Wade Cunningham is in the seat, replacing Hideki Mutoh.
No. 19 - Alex Lloyd returns to the seat, replacing Sebastien Bourdais.
No. 22 - Townsend Bell is in the seat, replacing Giorgio Pantano.
No. 34 - Dillon Battistini is in the seat, replacing Joao Paulo de Oliveira.
No. 77 - Dan Wheldon is in the seat, replacing Alex Tagliani.
No. 06 - James Hinchcliffe for Newman/Haas Racing
No. 2 - Oriol Servia for Newman/Haas Racing
No. 3 - Helio Castroneves for Team Penske
No. 4 - JR Hildebrand for Panther Racing
No. 5 - Takuma Sato for KV Racing Technologies
No. 6 - Ryan Briscoe for Team Penske
No. 7 - Danica Patrick for Andretti Autosport
No. 9 - Scott Dixon for Target Chip Ganassi Racing
No. 10 - Dario Franchitti for Target Chip Ganassi Racing
No. 12 - Will Power for Team Penske
No. 14 - Vitor Meira for AJ Foyt Racing
No. 17 - Wade Cunningham for AFS Racing/Sam Schmidt Motorsports
No. 18 - James Jakes for Dale Coyne Racing
No. 19 - Alex Lloyd for Dale Coyne Racing
No. 22 - Townsend Bell for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
No. 24 - Ana Beatriz for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
No. 26 - Marco Andretti for Andretti Autosport
No. 27 - Mike Conway for Andretti Autosport
No. 28 - Ryan Hunter-Reay for Andretti Autosport
No. 30 - Pippa Mann for Rahal Letterman Racing
No. 34 - Dillon Battistini for Conquest Racing
No. 38 - Graham Rahal for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing
No. 44 - Buddy Rice for Panther Racing
No. 59 - EJ Viso for KV Racing Technologies
No. 67 - Ed Carpenter for Sarah Fisher Racing
No. 77 - Dan Wheldon for Sam Schmidt Motorsports
No. 78 - Simona de Silvestro for HVM Racing
No. 82 - Tony Kanaan for KV Racing Technologies
No. 83 - Charlie Kimball for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing
Hey Frontstretch Readers!
We know you love the roar of raw horsepower under the hood that powers 43 of the best drivers in the world every weekend, but did you ever wonder how the sponsor on top of that hood also contributes to keeping the sport moving? What about the contributions of official NASCAR companies? If you think they are simply writing checks, think again. Check out our newest feature - Sunday Money. This weekly Frontstretch exclusive provides you with a behind the scenes look how NASCAR, its affiliates and team sponsors approach the daunting task of keeping fans interested and excited about the sport for 38 weeks of the year.
What's Vexing Vito
by Vito Pugliese
- With the issues that the No. 22 Penske team had with getting Kurt Busch's car through inspection on Sunday morning – and apparently, the past few weeks – some have suggested that the issue lies with Busch's constant berating on the radio, then subsequent demoralization by way of despondent driver. But who in this dysfunctional relationship represents the chicken and the egg? It was Busch, after all, whose squeaky wheel got the grease and apparently unloaded some dead weight of its own after the first Richmond race this year. It was a rant that began last year at Charlotte and never did let up; performance suffered until he finally lost it tenfold earlier this spring, and who could blame him?
Remember, it was a number of nagging faults, shortcomings, and things with the car that NASCAR didn't like and warned the No. 33 team last year to be mindful of before they repo'ed Clint Bowyer's car following his win at New Hampshire in 2010. It was one that brought about a 150-point penalty, essentially ending Bowyer's Cup hopes just as they started. NASCAR Series Director John Darby confirmed there would not be additional consequences for the No. 22 team – however, having your car behind the pit wall while a B-52 passes overhead during the National Anthem is more likely to be the mark of a start and park team, not the typical Penske perfection and excellence of execution that has long been their hallmark.
Yeah, Kurt can be crass on the radio, but if recent results are reflected upon, apparently it's needed – and in the long run produces tangible results.
- A few weeks ago, I wrote a column detailing how Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were going to falter and stumble into the Chase with no hopes of recovery. Three weeks later, these three drivers sit first, sixth, and 11th, respectively. Hey, one out of three in baseball gets you into the Hall of Fame, so save those angry spittle-stained letters Smoke fans and Junior Nation.
One thing that is refreshing is seeing two of the more popular and brutally honest drivers in the sport become relevant and title contenders again – and giving more than "track position is important/thank all the guys at the shop" sound bite after exiting their car. You had Tony Stewart referencing getting rid of "dead weight" earlier in the week – many interpreting that to be related to a relationship matter – and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s underrated explanation of too much camber gain and travel in the right front of the car, a problem which led to a couple of flat tires. During playoff time, when there are more eyes on the sport than normal, it's always great to get a smart-assed remark from Tony Stewart, or mechanical racecar jargon that the casual fantasy football fan will go slack-jawed listening to and have no idea regarding the relevance of what was just stated.
That being said, I am pleased to announce that MarkItZeroDude went to 2-1 this week on the strength of big games from Tom Brady and Jermichael Finley; that whole football fan/racecar guy works both ways, too, you know…
- Mark Martin's season of discontent had another chapter added this Sunday at NHIS - site of his last victory in 2009. After finally getting a car under him capable of running in the top 5 and potentially challenging for the win, a right front tire failure relegated him to one lap down in 21st. After pitting under green, Martin was still in the fight mentally, asking his spotter what position they were in. Upon finding out he was in 27th and down a lap, he shot back, "Lance, where are we, get me some info…" McGrew confirmed they were indeed a lap down, day ruined. Martin was deflated, uttering, "That's not right…"
That phrase pretty much sums up 2011 and the final season for Martin in the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolets he has piloted since returning to full-time competition in 2009. The preseason switcheroo that saw him take over Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s cars, while Jeff Gordon hopped into the ones that revived Martin's career two years prior, the 52-year old driver had so badly wanted to get the former No. 88 team into Victory Lane, and get back to some semblance of the season that just a couple years back had him winning five times and challenging for a championship.
- Kind of ironic that Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team decided to switch over to TRD engines because of greater reliability and fuel economy, but then runs out of gas after being given the green light to race with ten laps left. Kyle Busch may have came home 11th, but that almost-a-top-10 has him 40 points closer to the lead than Hamlin. To put that into perspective points wise, that's akin to a 126-point gap under last year's points system – which is even worse this year since there is no graduated points decrease the further you finish down the running order. As has been played out time and time again in Championship scenarios, you always dance with the one who brung you; that is, of course unless you're Chad Knaus and you change crews with a couple of races left and win the title.
Speaking of which…is the bickering and banter between Knaus and Johnson the crack in the armor and harbinger of the end that their detractors (and competitors) have so longed, hoped, and prayed for? Johnson's "Dude, your cheerleading sucks/it's not motivation, it's actually kind of annoying" message was actually pretty funny Sunday – but also telling, and I don't believe in a bad way. I think it's more of a healthy marriage sign rather than "we need to talk…"
As counselor to the stars, however, I would caution Johnson about getting too negative to the architect of his five straight championships. Yes, Jimmie Johnson is a great driver – but as Hendrick Motorsports' technical advantage has waned, strategy not speed has won the first two Chase races and is going to play a bigger part than ever this year for the No. 48 to work themselves back into contention. He's not out of it yet; but 29 points out two races in, is about as far back as you'd want to be in this field for 2011.
Vito Pugliese is a Senior Writer for Frontstretch. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
How To Stop Worrying And Love NASCAR
by Brody Jones
NASCAR fans feel like they have plenty to complain about these days. From the ever-changing rules, the implication of selective enforcement of the sport's by-laws, fans hating fuel mileage racing, how the Sprint Cup Series has no personalities in it, how Cup drivers come in and beat up the weak sister Nationwide and Truck Series regulars... the list could go on and on. With all the pessimism, it was best summed up by a Dave Moody quote on Twitter several months back that some fans would bitch if NASCAR gave out free ice cream because it had sprinkles in it.
Speaking as someone who grew up a fan of NASCAR before covering it for a living, it was easy to sympathize with those who complained about everything. It's safe to say this year has been a trying one for old school fans, too, considering such traditions lost as Lucas Oil Raceway for the Nationwide Series combined with the traffic nightmare that was Kentucky this July. But this year has been a reminder in this humble columnist's opinion why he loves NASCAR and why he doesn't worry about the sport's issues anymore.
For starters, this Sprint Cup season has been a fun menagerie of the unexpected. You have a plethora of first-time winners, a five-time defending champion not looking quite so dominant, and many other things along the way that have shocked fans and, despite most of the general jaded cynicism in our line of work, the media.
Apologies in advance if this seems like "cheerleading," but at the first of the season had anyone said that NASCAR would see Trevor Bayne, a relative unknown in only his second career race win the most prestigious race in NASCAR in the Daytona 500, you'd be marked as crazy. Other first-time winners have followed, too, such as Regan Smith, a guy whose racing career up to that date had been mostly filled with bad luck or no luck, at Darlington. You also have the oft-maligned David Ragan, who it seems has been on the perennial hot seat for several seasons, winning at Daytona in July. There has been Paul Menard winning the Brickyard 400 at the track where he spent his youth with his father, home improvement mogul John Menard, who tried for over three decades to win a race at Indianapolis only to have his son take home the big prize.
To wrap up the parade of first-time winners, you have Marcos Ambrose, a guy who had come oh-so-close to his first win last year at Infineon until stalling his car under caution while trying to save fuel. He would find redemption at Watkins Glen in a frantic, hellacious two-lap dash for the victory, beating out Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch down the stretch.
Speaking of Keselowski, here's a guy who was practically persona non grata last year in the Sprint Cup ranks. Oh sure, he tore it up in the Nationwide Series, but let's be real here fans: that's honestly like a UFC fighter beating up a 98-pound high school freshman. On the Cup side of things, he was somewhat of a disappointment in his freshman season, struggling in mid-pack with no hope of making the Chase. Even after successful Nationwide crew chief Paul Wolfe moved up to Cup, Keselowski struggled as the pairing re-gelled during much of 2011's first half. But since June, it has been like someone has flipped on a light switch for Brad and he's been finishing consistently in the top-5 to top-10 range each week, with three wins during the course of the season. It certainly seems as if Brad has finally started to realize his potential and left himself with a legitimate chance to win a Sprint Cup championship. Not too shabby for a guy who was 25th in points earlier this year!
And oh yes, how can anyone forget the "fuel mileage" races? Eight out of 28 of NASCAR's races this year have been decided by fuel mileage. Admittedly, it can get irritating to constantly see races come down to who has the most gas left at the end, but for NASCAR fans who have been long in clamoring for a new top dog, there is a silver lining in these races. Thanks in part to Jimmie Johnson's lack of mastery in the fuel mileage department, the door has been left ajar for a new savior to be anointed. Johnson has started off his 2011 Chase on the ropes, in tenth, 29 points back from points leader Tony Stewart. There's also been signs of strain between Johnson and Chad Knaus over the radio. Now the $64,000 question (dated reference) is can a new face capitalize where Denny Hamlin failed to do so last year in the next eight races?
By the way, let's not forget NASCAR's Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series and mention the great points battles for those championships. In the Nationwide Series, this has truly been the "coming out party" for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Last year, he was trying his damndest (albeit inadvertently) to live out the infamous "I want you to hit the pace car!" line delivered by Robert Duvall in "Days of Thunder." This year? Night and day difference. Stenhouse, Jr. has finally blossomed into the potential future star he has long been hyped to be by Jack Roush. Plus, he has a teammate in Trevor Bayne who overcame a mystery illness to come back into the racing fray with a mighty roar of his Roush-Yates powered chariot.
There also has been the continued resurgence of guys such as Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson in the Nationwide Series. These guys have gone from mid-pack (at best) Cup drivers to rebuilding and reinventing their careers elsewhere. Also, one would be hard-pressed to forget Justin Allgaier, dumped by Penske after a successful Nationwide career only to find himself a home with Turner Motorsports.
It's also hard to not talk about the exciting "Rookie Of The Year" battle in the Nationwide Series between Timmy Hill and Blake Koch. While it's uncertain what these guys will do in the long-term scheme of things, the battle for top rookie honors has most certainly been worth mentioning.
Speaking of fantastic rookie battles, the conflict in the Truck Series has just been ferocious between Cole Whitt, Joey Coulter, and Parker Kligerman. Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Miguel Paludo have also been competitive at times and even Johanna Long, in her limited funding and limited starts, has showed signs of promise. But the true future stars of NASCAR are Whitt, Coulter, and Kligerman. Whitt came out of the gate strong, even leading the overall points at one time before falling back in the latter part of the season. Kligerman and Coulter both struggled initially but have found themselves becoming legitimate contenders as of late.
As for the Truck Series points battle, it's been a dogfight between Johnny Sauter, James Buescher, Austin Dillon, and Timothy Peters. All but Buescher have managed to win races this year, even against Cup drivers. Make no mistake, the ascension of Dillon, Sauter, and Peters is remarkable, but Buescher's rise to this position is nothing short of almost selling ice cubes to eskimos after missing a race at Phoenix earlier in the season.
Sure, there's still some problems in the lower series, such as the issue of start & parking to fill fields, the annoying Cup presence, and so on in addition to the complaints fans have about the Cup series that were listed earlier. But for now, why don't people just kick back, take stock of this season, and actually (Gasp!) focus on the positives of the year for once, hmm?
Brody Jones is a Contributor to Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Phil Allaway
Just last week, the film opened in Albany, NY at the Spectrum 8, Albany's longtime independent movie theater that tends to focus on more adult-oriented (not that adult-oriented), independent films and art house movies. I knew I had to see it (been looking forward to seeing it for months), and I got my chance just last night.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Senna, he could be best described as a force of nature. In the car, he was Kyle Busch times about 14 or so, combined with Ryan Newman. Super aggressive during the races, and always a threat for poles (he is second all-time with 65 poles, three behind Michael Schumacher, who has over 100 more starts than Senna). Senna was a three-time World Champion (1988, 1990-1991) and an absolute grandmaster in the rain.
The movie starts out with a Senna voiceover. He's talking about his very first trip to Europe, which took place in 1978 so that he could participate in the World Karting Championships. Even then, it was evident that Senna was going to be something. Of note, Senna was in contention to take the overall win that day. However, he got nerfed off the track late in the going, which allowed a 28-year-old from Mississippi to take the world title. Who was that guy? None other than Lake Speed, he of the one career Winston Cup victory at Darlington back in 1988. This fact, of course, was not mentioned in the piece.
The movie then skips Senna's entire run up through the minor ranks and goes right up to 1984, his first year in Formula One for Toleman (today, after multiple ownership and name changes, this is the Group Lotus-Renault team, which just so happens to field Senna's nephew Bruno in one of the seats). The movie then focuses on a few notable moments in Senna's career. The first of these moments was the 1984 Grand Prix of Monaco. This race was one that was shortened from 78 to 31 laps due to heavy rains and unsafe conditions on-track. Senna charged up through the field from 13th to second (mind you, this is Monaco we're talking about here). Until the race was finally stopped, in controversial fashion, Senna was running down eventual winner Alain Prost by three to five seconds a lap while using no boost at all from his turbocharged four-cylinder Hart engine. It's truly an amazing race. I'd recommend checking it out on YouTube.
Another race that was covered was the 1985 Grand Prix of Portugal at Estoril, where Senna earned his first career victory. Or, more appropriately, he stomped the field, lapping everyone but second-place finisher Michele Alboreto, who was nearly one minute and three seconds behind at the finish. The Japanese Grand Prix from 1988-1991 was also covered, mainly because of the craziness that always seemed to happen at Suzuka at the time.
The 1989 race was the most controversial because of the accident between Senna and Prost at the Casio Triangle. Aerial views made it look like Prost intentionally steered into Senna in order to cause a collision. That crash resulted in Prost dropping out of the race. At the time (and presumably, today as well), Prost denied turning into Senna. Decide for yourself whether Prost is being truthful. That situation also led to showing just how much Senna disliked Jean-Marie Balestre, the President of FISA (now the FIA) and apparently, a chum of Prost. Let's be honest here. The guy came off as nothing short of a tyrant. Balestre was shown during a driver's meeting shouting that the only correct decision is my decision. Then, he put a proposal to replace tires in a chicane runoff at Hockenheim (Germany) with cones to a driver vote, therefore making himself look good, when he was being a jerk just two minutes earlier.
Interspersed with looks at the most notable events of Senna's career were some home movies straight from the Senna family that showed Ayrton unwinding with some boating and water skiing and such. That is pretty much what Senna did during the offseason: go home to Brazil and unwind.
The movie also accurately showed just how much of a celebrity/hero/demigod Senna was in Brazil. Basically, he was so famous and beloved that living in Brazil at all would have been very difficult. He needed a police escort to walk down the street since the throngs of fans were so huge. When he went home after his third World Championship, the Brazilian Air Force gave his private plane an escort. Clips of random people talking about what Senna meant to Brazil were interspersed throughout the film.
Senna was very much into helping the children of Brazil better themselves. To that degree, he began the setup of the Ayrton Senna Institute before his death in order to better educate children in Brazil. However, Senna died before the Institute could open. For some reason, they really didn't talk a whole lot about Senna's philanthropy. Since the film had the expressed consent of the Senna da Silva family, I'd figure that they would have included a little bit more.
The movie ended up with a detailed look at the infamous Grand Prix of San Marino weekend, where both Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were killed in separate crashes, and Rubens Barrichello was injured in another nasty crash on Friday. There was significant talk about how Senna just seemed outright morose all weekend. In reality, he was bummed out all year due to the lack of handling from his Williams and perceived cheating from Benetton. This part wasn't mentioned in the movie, but at one point early in the season, Senna begged Prost to come out of retirement, claiming that no one on the current grid could bring out his best. I think that the film should have given a little more time to the post-championship period of his career (1992-1994), especially 1994, since he showed what amounted to a complete personality change.
The film ended with the state funeral and funeral procession in Sao Paulo a couple of days after Senna's death. To give you an idea of what that was like, it wasn't dissimilar to when Ronald Reagan died, although it was not mentioned whether Senna's body lay in state like Reagan's did. No mention was made of the insane court proceedings that came out of Senna's fatal crash that stretched on all the way to 2007.
There were no talking head-type interviews in the film. Instead, there were a few carefully selected people that provided audio interviews. John Bisignano was the only American interviewee in the film. At the time, Bisignano was a pit reporter for ESPN's Formula One coverage. Other interview subjects included Professor Sid Watkins, Formula One's head physician (and good friend of Senna), Ron Dennis (Team Manager: McLaren), Senna's mother, Neyde and sister Viviane, along with representatives from TF1 and TV Globo.
Senna's love life was covered in the film as well. However, the film took a somewhat controversial, but to those who have read about Senna's family, completely expected turn. It's no secret that Senna's family hates Adriane Galisteu, Senna's girlfriend when he died (to make a long story short, they thought she was a gold digger). They had to mention her because otherwise, it would have looked weird if they didn't. They outright omitted the fact that Senna had actually been married very early in his career, but was divorced. However, they loved Xuxa Meneghel (often referred to simply as Xuxa), whom Senna dated previous to Galisteu. Xuxa was best known for a children's show that she hosted in Brazil from 1986-1993, followed by an aborted attempt to import her show to the United States. It should be noted that none of Senna's former lovers contributed to the documentary.
I have to understand that most people that went to see this film might not have the knowledge about Senna that I already had going in. Mainly because of the fact that I'd read at least two books about Senna previously, as well as watched multiple races from his era, I came in knowing quite a bit about the Brazilian legend. I would have to liked to see something about his rise through the ranks of European racing because I think that would have been interesting. But nothing was shown.
Ideally, I would like a documentary on a notable figure to be completely unbiased. Unfortunately, that is not always possible with some subjects. Senna is one of them. Without the support of his family, it would have been difficult to get to know Senna away from the track since they would not have had access to the home movies. To get that side of the famous driver, the filmmakers had to abide by the family's wishes. Oh well. That's life, I guess.
Regardless, I found the film to be enjoyable to watch. You'll definitely see Senna's drive to succeed come out in a huge way. His religiosity really did turn off some of his rivals (especially Prost), who believed that it allowed him to drive recklessly. However, it was more a way to help himself (Senna claimed to have seen God while in the car, and once claimed to have what amounted to an out-of-body experience at Monaco).
I hope you enjoyed this look at the feature film, Senna. Depending on where you live, it might be playing at a theater near you right now. Next week, I'll be back with a look at the Kentucky Indy 300 from Kentucky Speedway. Until then, enjoy the action from Kentucky, Road Atlanta and Dover.
Phil Allaway is a Senior Writer and the Newsletter Manager for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Critic84.
Frontstretch Line of the Week
"Katie is feeling pretty good today, and I got to learn something new....how to put a bra ON!" - Matt Kenseth, looking on the bright side of things after his wife's battle with a concrete wall while practicing at Charlotte Motor Speedway for next month's Better Half Dash. I guess there are benefits to one's wife being laid up with a broken collarbone. I'd go into more detail, but we're a family-oriented newsletter.
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MPM2Nite: Fundamental Disconnect
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NASCAR and the Four-Lettered "F" Word
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Q: The 1993 SplitFire Spark Plugs 500 at Dover was a caution-plagued event. After 103 laps run behind the pace car (not including pace laps), Rusty Wallace went to Victory Lane after nearly five hours in the seat. Mark Martin was well-placed to have a good run that day, but he fell into the same issues that a lot of other drivers had that day. What happened?
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Q: The 1996 MBNA 500 was the final 500-mile fall race at then-Dover Downs International Speedway and turned out to be an epic event that lasted well over four hours. However, Chad Little didn't even make it past the five-lap mark in a race that Jeff Gordon won in dominating fashion. What happened?
A: On lap 3, Little, driving the No. 29 Cartoon Network Chevrolet for Diamond Ridge Motorsports, spun exiting Turn 2 after contact with Jeff Burton. Burton's Exide Batteries Ford ended up guiding Little hard into the inside wall, head-on. Little's car then spun around and collected the front end of Burton's No. 99. Both cars were out of the race on the spot. The crash can be seen at the 3:10 mark of this clip. Eli Gold, Buddy Baker and Dick Berggren have the call for TNN.
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-- In Case You Missed It by Brett Poirier
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Four Burning Questions: Dover by Mike Lovecchio
We'll have a preview of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races this weekend at the Monster Mile.
Holding A Pretty Wheel by Amy Henderson
Voices From The Heartland by Jeff Meyer
For the rest of the season, Jeff's weekly column will run on Fridays. This week, Jeff will be talking about Joyce Julius & Associates' recent NASCAR Driver Exposure Ratings.
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