Tuesday, March 06, 2007

NASCAR's Mexican debacle

I've been left with a rather bad taste in my mouth after watching Juan Pablo Montoya's maiden NASCAR victory this weekend. The fact that it was on a road-course was appealing to me, so I was looking forward to seeing something new.

It all started rather well, with most of the top road-racers (Boris Said, Scott Pruett, Ron Fellows, Marcos Ambrose, Adrian Fernandez and Montoya) running near the front, with some close racing. Bear in mind that the first race of the Aussie V8 Supercar season was still fresh in my mind, with it's dramatic V8 stock car action, so comparisons were inevitable.

As the race progressed I began to become aware of how dog-slow these cars were. Those being driven by oval racers were especially pokey, but even with a quick road-racer behind the wheel these things just looked rather boring. I had hoped to witness an Aussie-style race full of door-banging action at speeds that would seem far too high for such big, unwieldy beasts.

The worst was yet to come: Montoya's car suffered a fuel hose failure during a pit-stop, requiring him to make an additional green-flag stop. This put him back in 21st position, from which he started to fight back. Right around now a series of seemingly endless yellow-flag periods begun, certainly helping the #42 car in its quest to regain the lead. Finally he got back up to second position behind his team-mate Scott Pruett at another of the unnumerable restarts. Team boss Chip Ganassi had moments before told ESPN2 that their were no team orders except "don't crash into your team-mate." So what does Montoya do? He tries a "there's no way you'll make it" pass on Pruett and takes the poor guy out. Montoya ended up in the lead, Pruett in 17th.

My irritation with this race was due to a number of reasons: firstly, it was clear that Montoya was the quickest car out there, and had a number of laps remaining to make that pass. Instead he let his impatience get the better of him. I expected much more from such an experienced driver.

Secondly, it's all very well trying a risky pass, but you never do that to your team-mate - you always hold a little something in reserve when they're involved.

Thirdly, Montoya made everyone else in the field look stupid by carving his way back from 21st. I don't believe this was good for the sport because it basically showed how average the rest of the drivers were.

Fourth, in any other form of motor-racing, this pass would have incurred a drive-through penalty. The fact it didn't leads me to believe that NASCAR were colluding to make sure Montoya got the win (it's newsworthy, and would help attract the interest of Latin-American race fans).

Fifth, Montoya's crew-chief had been making deals with crew-chiefs of competitors as the fight-back was progressing, basically saying "you have no chance of beating Juan, how about you move over to let him by so no-one gets into any drama?" By my estimation, racing is supposed to happen on the track, not as a result of conversations between crew-chiefs. If these deals hadn't been made, perhaps Montoya might have taken longer to hit the front (if he made it at all) and we'd have had a more realistic result. I don't believe this win was a legitimate one, and that can only be a bad thing for NASCAR.

I watched this race with as open a mind as possible - I wanted to be captivated in the same way that the Aussie racing holds my attention. Instead I saw what appeared to be a bunch of amateurs driving slow cars, with a winner that had to resort to cheating and collusion to take the victory.

1 comment:

patrick said...

I did think Montoya's victory was very convenient for NASCAR promoters.

Now, must watch my recording of the Aussie V8 race some time...