Friday's Winston Cup race at Loudon, New Hampshire, was interesting primarily because viewers saw Jeff Gordon actually lose his temper for once.
Or did they? Would Gordon have thrown away 10 positions if he had been in a tight race for the championship, instead of having already clinched it? Would NASCAR have penalized him a lap if the points battle had been close? With the lines between sport and entertainment almost obliterated in NASCAR, who knows
what is real and what is smoke and mirrors?
In any event, all the discussion of right front tires and points battles from second through 10th took a back seat to the Gordon/Gordon confrontation. This, of course, resulted in newly crowned Champion Jeff a lap down after leading nearly the whole race, and Robby with his first Winston Cup win. Maybe next year NASCAR will start a tag-team division.
Might we see more ex-CART drivers in NASCAR and IRL next season, as the rats begin to stampede off the sinking ship? Casey Mears (who sat in for Alex Zanardi in the final races of the 2001 CART season) ran the season finale Busch race at Homestead. He plans to run for Busch Rookie honors in 2002 in
the Welliver-Jesel Motorsports No. 66 Dodge.
He was joined at Homestead by CART Newman-Haas driver Christian Fittipaldi, who was noncommittal about his 2002 plans in a stock car. In addition, former CART interim CEO Bobby Rahal
confirmed last week that his team would be at the Indianapolis 500 in May, with driver Jimmy Vasser and Miller Lite sponsorship. It will be the team's first appearance at the May classic since 1995, when Rahal was still in the driver's seat. But dona?Tt look for Max Papis in a second Rahal car, if the
team should field one. His contract expired at the end of this season, and he, too, may be contemplating a NASCAR career. Rumors are flying that Papis will test with the Cal Wells Winston Cup team. Wells first put him in a Champ car in 1996, but the team maintains that no tests have been scheduled. Rahal
has indicated that his team may run more than just the Indy 500 with IRL in 2002, but certainly less than a full season.
And what of the persistent rumors of the Penske team's defection? There is still no definitive word from either Penske or CART. Forsythe Championship Racing has shut down, leaving Brian Herta once again without a ride; but Herta, with impressive road-racing skills, is looking more to Formula 1 than to the IRL. So there's another North American driver out of the series. Now
comes news of a letter from a number of CART's race promoters that unless sanctioning fees are substantially reduced, CART will be off their schedules. About the only good news for CART of late has been Federal Express' announcement of continued title sponsorship, and the announcement by the PacWest team that it will stay with CART for 2002.
And what's happening with local racing? Well, I spoke with Jim Martin, General Manager of Champion Speedway, earlier in the week. They are proceeding with plans for 2002, and the first event will be the 2001 Awards Banquet, with is tentatively scheduled in mid-January. Jim told me he would have information on the exact date, time, and place in time for next week's column. All the divisions that ran at Champion last season: Stock Cars, Legends, and Outlaw Karts, will be invited to the banquet and presented their awards.
Looking further out, the management team and competition committee are looking at rules and trying to determine equivalency formulas and adjustments for out-of-area cars prepared to slightly different rules. The idea is to make the rules sufficiently flexible to allow as many cars as possible to run, while maintaining a level playing field. This will ensure big fields of cars in every division.
It was gratifying last season to see the large regular crowds, the participation by local businesses in sponsorships, and ever-increasing car counts. If you haven't been to Champion
yet, I highly recommend putting it on your list of things to do in 2002.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.