Sunday, February 17, 2008

Open-Wheel Talent At Daytona 500 In A Big Way

Dario Franchitti's "Car-Of-The-Future" / Dodge Journey Charger - The latest big name open-wheel champion to jump into the waters of NASCAR. Image Credit: Freewheeling Daredevil at Daytona during Speedweeks 2008

Open-Wheel Talent At Daytona 500 In A Big Way

That's right, open-wheel racing talent will be represented at the 50th running of the NASCAR stock car season kickoff Daytona 500 in a big way.

Champions League is what we'll choose to call them here at The EDJE. It’s a league within a league and frankly, these drivers, and their skill coming to the most prolific and commercial of world autosport racing series, NASCAR, is long overdue.

The chasm that had existed in the culture between open-wheel and “stock” car racing series was a little like Television actors not respecting Feature movie actors or either not respecting Broadway actors and visa-versa.

Get over yourselves and do what you all do best – RACE!

Sign of the Times – This 50th anniversary Daytona 500 logo will be seen early and often in the countdown the 2008 running of the “Great American Race.” Image Credit:

Why is it that only two open-wheel racing team owners are fielding teams at NASCAR, and conversely, NO stock car team owners field teams at Champ Car World Series or Indianapolis Racing League?

Those drivers with recognizable names with ample open-wheel racing experience are as follows (past open-wheel champions in BOLD):

Did Not Qualify - AJ Allmendinger (2004 CCWS Rookie of the Year), Patrick Carpentier (1997-2004 CART, 2005 IRL), Jacques Villeneuve (1995 CART Championship, 1995 Indy 500 winner, 1997 F1 Championship)

Quailfied Car #/Position: Tony Stewart #20/6 (1997 IRL Champion), Casey Mears #5/9 ( 5 CART starts, with one top-5 finish, 3 IRL starts, no top-5 finishes/nephew of four time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears ), Juan Pablo Montoya #42/15 (1999 CART Champion, 2000 Indy 500 Winner,F1), Sam Hornish Jr #77/19 (2001, 2002, 2006 IRL Champion), John Andritti #43/22 (1988 CART Rookie Of The Year [61 top-10s in 74 career races in CART], IRL), Robbie Gordon #7/26 (1992-1999 CART [106 starts], Indy 500 [10 starts] ), Dario Franchitti #40/40 (1997-2002 CART, 2003-2007 IRL, 2007 IRL Champion, 2007 Indy 500 winner)

Starting lineup for the 2008 running of the 50th Daytona 500. Video Credit: nadeau1064

This excerpted from ABC News -

An open-wheel invasion of NASCAR is in full swing for 2008.

By TERRY BLOUNT - Feb. 7, 2008

Since NASCAR's early days, stars of open-wheel racing have occasionally stopped by to visit.

Things have changed. Now they're coming to stay.

The 2008 Daytona 500 will have at least three Indy 500 winners on the starting grid -- Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti. Jacques Villeneuve will make it a historic foursome if he qualifies.

Having Indy 500 winners at Daytona is nothing new. Even 45 years ago, four men who would win Indy competed in the Daytona 500 -- A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Troy Ruttman and Parnelli Jones. But two of them -- Jones and Rutherford -- hadn't accomplished the feat at the time.

The 1981 race was the last time two men with Indy 500 wins on their résumés -- Rutherford and Foyt -- competed in the Daytona 500.

In the past, the big names of Indy were just passing through, racing in NASCAR's biggest show as a little sidelight before heading back to the open cockpit.

And for the most part, they were Americans who sounded the same (well, sort of) and didn't have hard-to-pronounce names. They just happened to spend most of their racing careers in a different discipline.

They could make more money and gain more fame by concentrating on Indy cars. Frankly, the idea of racing full time in NASCAR was laughable.

2008 Daytona 500 Pace Car - Image Credit:

Who's laughing now? Indy-car racing did everything possible to destroy itself over the past decade with two competing leagues and constant feuding.

The open-wheelers are here now because it's the place to be. The men who won the past two Indy 500s -- Hornish and Franchitti -- will race full time in Sprint Cup. Neither will race in the 2008 Indy 500.

Montoya coming to Sprint Cup last year was just the beginning.
Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier are Canadians who plan to race full time in Cup this season.

Cup will have four foreign-born drivers competing for the first time. Montoya is Colombian and Franchitti is a Scotsman.

They are bringing attention to the sport from people and places that never cared in the past. But there's also an element of NASCAR's old guard that doesn't like it.
NASCAR officials have embraced a "return-to-its-roots" theme for the 2008 season to try to regain the trust of the old-school fans. Obviously, the open-wheel invasion doesn't help sell that concept.

Most of the veteran drivers don't care. The open-wheelers are just other guys they have to beat.

"To me, it makes no difference," said Ryan Newman, Hornish's teammate at Penske Racing. "I was an open-wheel driver [sprint cars] when I came in. I just wasn't an IndyCar driver.

"The bottom line is they're drivers, they're competitors. I don't care whether they're male or female, open-wheel drivers or late-model drivers from the local short track. They will learn if they deserve to be here. In the car owners' and sponsors' eyes, they feel that they are."
This is an uphill climb on an icy slope. It's unlikely any of them will enjoy the type of success Montoya had last year when he finished 20th in the standings. Montoya won the road race at Sonoma and had six top-10s.

For now, Montoya is in a league of his own among the open-wheel newbies.
Talent isn't always enough. Carpentier and Villeneuve don't have guaranteed spots in the field, racing in cars that never have come close to winning.

Hornish, a three-time IndyCar Series champion, does have a guaranteed spot. He swapped points with teammate Kurt Busch. But Hornish is part of a new third car at Penske with a new crew, an almost certain recipe for struggle.

Franchitti is going to an organization (Ganassi Racing) that hasn't won an oval-track race in five seasons.
"It was a tough decision to make," Hornish said. "But I got to a point in my career where I decided this was the next challenge.
Money tops the list. NASCAR is their best option for cashing in while they can. Villeneuve and Carpentier are 36. Franchitti is 34. Time is running out.

Another reason is safety. NASCAR has become a much safer form of racing compared to open-wheel cars. Franchitti was lucky to escape unhurt from two terrifying airborne crashes last year en route to the IndyCar Series championship.
"I know it's going to be hard," Franchitti said. "But every year since I started racing, I've always asked myself one question at the end of the season: 'Do I still want to do this?' Being in NASCAR is what I really want to do."
Reference Here>>

UPDATE - Post Race Results For "The Champions League" (the league within a league) -

50th Daytona 500 Finish – Video Credit: Mikey2448

The race was won by Ryan Newman, Sam Hornish's teammate on the Roger Penske Racing team. So the race was won by an open-wheel racing series team owner.

Order of finish for those who have open-wheel racing experience:

Tony Stewart - 3, Robby Gordon - 8, Sam Hornish Jr. - 15, Juan Pablo Montoya - 32, Dario Franchitti - 33, Casey Mears - 35, John Andretti - 40
Reference Here>>

... notes from The EDJE

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