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Q&A with Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti took some time off from not golfing– he’d rather drive the cart — to chat with me on Thursday. Here’s what he has to say about this weekend’s race at Iowa Speedway, among other things:

What is it about Iowa Speedway that fits your driving style? (He has two top-three finishes there in three starts)

I don’t know about driving style. It really has been the same thing each year. I just think we come here with a decent setup, and I’ve gotta credit that to Dario (Franchitti) back in 2007. It’s the right place and the right time for us.

You finished second place two years ago even though you had the flu, would you trade illness for a podium finish or a win?

Hopefully we can do it without getting the flu. I had a little cough going every time I went into the turn. But this track really compresses your lungs with the g forces, it’s really physical.

What is the difference with the team between last year and this year?

On the car No. 26 side, I have a different engineer. One thing in the offseason, I pushed for was that the engineering staff needs to listen to what the driver is saying. We have the computer and stuff like that, but that should be the side tool, not the main thing. I have an engineer that believes in me. He believes that what I tell him is what the car’s doing, regardless of if the computer tells him it’s doing something. I know it because I can feel it, it’s under my butt, that’s what the car’s doing. We changed the team name, and we brought in Tom Anderson as a team manager. It’s been working well. He’s a really good guy, he’s really personable, he’s good at diffusing fires as far as pressure within the team, I think it’s just more relaxed. Continue reading Q&A with Marco Andretti

Five things you didn’t know about Indy

1. The Kanaan rules

If you didn’t like Tony Kanaan before Sunday, you should now. The guy can race.Tony Kanaan

The fiery Brazilian nearly became the fourth driver to start 33rd and finish second. The last driver to accomplish that feat was Scott Goodyear in 1992, when he finished second to Al Unser Jr. in the event’s closest finish.

Were it not for bad luck on  fuel strategy, Kanaan likely would have finished second or better. Racer winner Dario Franchitti said Kanaan was the driver he was most worried about catching him. All told, Kanaan passed the most cars of anyone — 22 — and finished 11th.

2. English on parade

For a while, English drivers owned the top three spots, a feat that never has been accomplished by foreign drivers at Indy. But track officials took it away when they realized the error in their ways. After initially giving Marco Andretti fifth place, they moved him back up to third after it was discovered that he was passed illegally on the last-lap yellow.

Before the correction, the English took the top three spots with Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Alex Lloyd.  Instead the Brits had to settle for four of the top-seven spots.

3. Rule of 10s

A car with the No. 10 never had won at Indy until today. Why does that matter? I don’t know. But they keep stats on these sorts of things.

4. Always the bridesmaid…

Dan Wheldon finished second in back-to-back years. Panther Racing has taken second in each of the past three years.Dan Wheldon

In eight races with three teams at Indy, Wheldon has a win, two seconds, a third- and a fourth-place finish.

5. Hail of bullets

  • Think Dario was dominant on Sunday? He was, but not according to the record books. His 155 laps led was only the ninth highest total for a race winner. It was the most since 2000 winner Juan Montoya, also a Ganassi driver, led 167 laps.
  • You can boo Danica Patrick all you want, but she has five top-10 finishes in six Indy starts including her sixth-place finish Sunday.
  • Chip Ganassi is the first car owner to win the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in the same year. So, where’s his $20 million?

A Q-C tie to Indy

Looking for someone to root for in the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500?

How about Ryan Briscoe. No, his favorite ice cream isn’t Whitey’s.

But he has a Q-C area native on his pit crew. Maquoketa, Iowa’s Travis Law changes the left front tire for Briscoe.

I talked with him before the race today, and he said Ryan likes the car and the team thinks he has found the right setup for the weather. It is hot and humid at the track. It likely will get greasy as the afternoon wears on.

The X factor today might be the so-called “push-to-pass” button. Drivers only get 15 for the race, and Law suspects the leaders will save all of those for the final laps.  He surmised that the draft at Indy might trump the button, and if you get a good enough run on a car, you wouldn’t need the button. We will see if he’s right.

Law, 24, said feels confident that he won’t make any mistakes for his team. He has to change the tire in 4 seconds for the pit stop to be a success.

A chat with Krista Voda

Krista Voda, a Clinton, Iowa, native, returns to her home state this weekend for the Lucas Oil 200 NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series race.

Krista Voda hosts NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series races on Speed TV.

Krista Voda hosts NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series races on Speed TV.

She hosts Trucks Series race coverage on Speed TV. Earlier this week she took some time to talk motorcycle scars, UNI football and women in broadcasting, among other things. Here are the highights from that interview:

How do you make sure you’re not seen as just a pretty face, or eye candy on the sidelines?
The nice thing now, for females now, for broadcasting, it’s not so much a novelty anymore. 25 years ago it wasn’t that way, and they were hired more for their looks. Now, you couldn’t get by on that, and thank goodness because I’m wearing a ballcap and no makeup. I would be in trouble if that were a prerequisite for my job. It’s not exactly glamorous most of the time. That’s what nice. I wouldn’t want that to be part of my job. I wouldn’t want to be known as the best female reporter. I just want to be the best reporters. I’m just as guilty. If a female pops up on a game, I think, she better know what she’s talking about. My reason for that is different. I don’t want that to be the stereotype. Just because you’re female you don’t know your information. It’s a double edged sword. If you’re the only female in a group of reporters you’re going to get the first question just because you’re different, but at the same time, if it’s a stupid question, you’re not going to get a second…. It doesn’t bother me, It’s not why I got into this deal. If I didn’t expect that or wasn’t ready to prove myself, then you really don’t belong here anyway.

Do you think sideline reporters are necessary?
I hope they’re needed because otherwise I’m probably out of a job. I think it is more needed in football because you’ve got guys like Belichick, because things are so guarded and there are so many more gatekeepers. But you know, I can see the defensive line coach screaming and yelling and throwing his clip board in the air. I can’t necessarily hear the words that he said, but I can relay the information based on his mannerisms. I can say these guys are getting their butts chewed out right now because they really screwed up there. I can relay information because I have a better position than the people at home and that’s my job, that they get to come out on the field as much as possible. You’re also able to talk to these people all weekend. I can talk to coaches, crew chiefs, tire guys and shock guys, and we can get information all weekend long, and I can piggyback that and build a case and build stories that apply to the race. I hope that my job, I can supply information to viewers that they wouldn’t get. I love doing that. In fact, writing is probably my favorite part of the job. I love doing Wind Tunnel and Speed Report so much because I get to craft the angles and the trends and the stories any way I want to.
Continue reading A chat with Krista Voda

Rusty Wallace and the hangover

rustyRusty Wallace talked about the possibility of a Nationwide Series race hangover at Iowa Speedway, a return to racing, and the difficulties of watching his son race during an exclusive interview with me on Wednesday. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

How will the Trucks race on this track, what do you expect?
It’ll probably be one of the most exciting races of the year because the way these trucks are designed, for whatever reason these guys drive with reckless abandon. The cars are flat on the sides, and they really use those sides. They beat on each other. There’s really a lot of aggressive driving in the trucks series. It’s always been that way forever and ever, that’s the way they were brought up. And when you watch them on a short track it’s breathtaking. People love the series because of that, because they’re so damn aggressive. The guys have been here testing. And they love it a lot. The thing with the 12 13 14 degrees banking angle, steeper. It pretty much assures that they’re going to race two or three wide all around the race. They get a lot of momentum out of turn 2. It’s one of these races that going into it, I’m not concerned about how the trucks are going to be racing. I think the fans are going to be going whoa, oh, wow, oww whoo. They’re going to be freaking out the whole race because these guys drive so damn aggressive.

Continue reading Rusty Wallace and the hangover

A ‘treacherous’ tire and other Iowa bits

Iowa Speedway finally hit the big time Saturday and not just because it hosted a Nationwide Series race.

No, the track joined the elite tracks becasue it had a tire controversy, albeit a little one. All of the top drivers said the tires were rock-hard, potentially contributing to a series-high 12 cautions.

“The reason there were so many cautions here was because the tires were a little bit treacherous,” said Carl Edwards who finished fourth. “I think, and I hope Goodyear will work on it just a little bit, get it a little better.”

Goodyear likely played it safe on a new track and opted for durability over grip. It just makes you wonder, if these guys can’t get the tires right, what goes on at the extensive tire tests. Ther e have been quite a few at Iowa in its three years of existence.

More help: While the track drew rave reviews, some drivers can’t wait for a new car for the series, which is scheduled to debut next year. The current model is underpowered for some tracks, and a tightened-up rule book, likely designed to cut costs, leave many drivers wanting more.

Jason Leffler, for one, seeks an extra boost.

“We could use a little more horsepower in these cars,” said Leffler, who finished third. “And if they could loosen up the rules a little bit that would be good. But I’m looking forward to coming back (to Iowa) for sure.”

A theory: Why do all the drivers love Iowa Speedway so much? Kenny Wallace has a theory, and it has nothing to do with progressive banking.

“What makes the track such a success right now is that everybody likes my brother Rusty,” said Wallace, who finished a season-best seventh. “Let me tell you, my brother is working his butt off for that track. Everybody talks about how great it is because of how much work he did at the track.

“Now that we have this Nationwide and Truck Series date, they can do more, they can add on. But that is his signature on this track, and that is what made it so big so fast.”

It’s just a theory. But he might be on to something there.

Wallace watching: Even more difficult for Rusty, trickier than helping to build the track, is watching his son, Steve, race.

“It’s definitely nerve racking,” he said. “It’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. When we started this three years ago I told my wife, ‘OK, here we go, get your crash helmet on because there’s going to be a lot of people who don’t like him.’

Steve finished 17th in Saturday’s race, but ran as high as second. He was merely a passenger in a three-car crash on lap 236 that took him, and Illinoisans Justin Allgaier and Erik Darnell out of contention.

“We heard everything. We heard some really horrible things that made my wife cry. But it’s been really neat to watching the maturity that happened.”

Live from Iowa Speedway

7:30 p.m.: Brad Keselowski couldn’t be happier to win, and Kyle Busch couldn’t be more ticked off at his second-place finish. This guy doesn’t care about anything other than winning races. He lengthened his points lead in the series, but the only thing he focused on after the race was the fact that he has finished second 12 times this season. Check out qctimes.com  soon for a full story, notes and video.

6:02 p.m.: Michael Annett update: He’s in 10th.

5:40 p.m.: Time for the pit crews to make their money. This will be the last pit stop, for sure. It’s a shame for Justin Allgaier, who was having a good day. The Illinois native led the race earlier. The question now is to pit, or not to pit, and how many tires, two or four.

5:25 p.m.: Wallaces update: Kenny, who started 24th has moved up to 10th, which is where he finished last weekend in Indianapolis. His nephew, Steve, is in 12th after starting eighth.

5:15 p.m.: It’s official, today’s crowd was the largest in Iowa racing history. The total: 56,087. That can’t hurt the track’s case for a Sprint Cup date, if one ever comes open.

5:06 p.m.: And as soon as I hit the publish button on this post, the caution comes out. Debris on the racetrack. Really? I thought they only had phantom yellows in Sprint Cup. I guess not.

5:05 p.m.: This is starting to look similar to this year’s IndyCar race at Iowa. Drivers got silly at the beginning of the race and caused six cautions in the race’s first 110 laps. There was one caution the rest of the day. It appears the Nationwide drivers are settling in. Here’s hoping it continues and we can see some green-flag pit stops. The pit crews can really earn their money.

4:55 p.m.: Michael Annett update: He’s up to 18th, 6.5 seconds behind leader Brad Keselowski. He has struggled a bit with the handling of his car and narrowly missed being collected in the last wreck. The Des Moines native started the race 36th.

4:45 p.m.: Can these cars run three-wide here? Not so much. Not for long anyway. I have seen it happen a few times, usually when a lapped car is involved. But going three wide is part of what caused the last wreck. Of course, Brendan Gaughan’s cut tire didn’t help.

4:40 p.m.: After 95 laps, nine cars are out. And as a sign of the times, there was one start-and-park.

4:20 p.m.: Pole sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has slipped to 10th place. It’s only his sixth Nationwide Series start, and he’s got Kevin Harvick breathing down his neck. Welcome to the show, kid.

4:15 p.m.: Illinois native Erik Darnell was the biggest loser on that last pit stop. He dropped down to 10th. But he gained three spots on the restart. Casey Atwood was treated and released from the infield car center.

4:05 p.m.: The guys on TV won’t shut up about how many spots Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards have gained. Right behind those guys is Kyle Busch, in 14th. He started 27th.

3:40 p.m.: As the engines fire, here are some pre-race notes.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the pole in his sixth Nationwide Series start.

Justin Allgaier posted his fourth top-10 start of this season.

Erik Darnell (third) took his fifth top-10 start in nine races.

1:50 p.m.: Word is spreading around the media center that almost 60,000 tickets have been sold for today’s race. That’s unofficial, and likely an exaggeration, but we’re approaching Kinnick Stadium numbers here.

1:30 p.m.: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start on the pole for today’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway. Riverton, Ill.’s Justin Allgaier will start second. Fellow Illinoisan Erik Darnell starts third, Trevor Bayne is fourth, and Brad Coleman starts fifth.

Local favorite Michael Annett will start 36th. Kyle Busch will start 27th, Kevin Harvick starts 34th, and Carl Edwards will start 40th. I’ll post comments from the drivers when I get them and video, too.  Stay tuned.

1 p.m.: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is on the provisional pole for today’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway. That much you know, if you’re watching on TV or at the track.

The surprise in qualifying, if there can be such a thing, because qualifying matters so little in these races, is Justin Allgaier. The Riverton, Ill., native leads the Nationwide Series rookie of the year standings and has run well at Iowa in the past is in second place, provisionally.

Iowa Corn Indy 250 Bits

Overlooked no more: At Andretti Green Racing Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti get most of the attention. But it was Hideki Mutoh who turned in the best finish Sunday.mutoh

Mutoh didn’t shy away from a question about being overlooked.

“I’m really enjoying with my teammates. I mean, T.K. (Tony Kanaan) has a lot of experience and he is a really funny guy,” he said. “And Danica (Patrck) sometimes seems, you know, angry, but she’s not. She’s really focusing on winning races. But I like her very much, too.

“And with Marco (Andretti), I go out to dinner or sometimes, you know I have night life with him. We’re having fun, yeah. don’t know what he’s drinking, because I’m so drunk every time. Sorry. No, I’m kidding. We drink just water.”

Sure they do.

Smooth moves: Tomas Scheckter started the race 17th but that didn’t stop him from going to the front of the field.

scheckterHe passed seven cars on the first lap and moved up as high as second place in the first 25 laps. He finished sixth.

It was only his third race of the season.

“The car looks beautiful and it goes great,” he said. “We’re working at it here. It’s a really new program and we’ve changed a bunch of stuff. This finish pumps everybody up, but we’ve got to keep going. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Don’t fear the weepers: Water seepage in turn 4 canceled qualifying Saturday even though it didn’t rain at all. But downpours on Friday raised the water table causing water to come out.

The water stumped track designer Rusty Wallace.rusty

“We’re going to do some research after this event is over and see if there’s anything we can do to help that,” the retired NASCAR great said. “Almost all of the tracks on the NASCAR series have suffered that. A lot of problems at Pocono, at Michigan, Texas. It’s not an excuse. We’ve got to figure out what’s causing it at our racetrack.”

The middle of where?: Last year’s winner, Dan Wheldon, stayed in the top four for almost the entire race, and he finished fourth. Like most drivers at the track he has nothing bad to say about Iowa Speedway.

“I know a lot of people say that Iowa is in the middle of nowhere, but you know what, we get such a great crowd and they’re so enthusiastic,” Wheldon said. “As a driver you could put me in paradise, but if there’s nobody in the grandstands then it’s not good racing.”

Johnson in the house: West Des Moines native and Olympic silver medalist Shawn Johnson spent some time with fellowjohnson1 “Dancing With the Stars” competitor Helio Castroneves before the race. She took some laps around the track in the pace car. And watched some of the race from Danica Patrick’s pit.

“”I’ve been home for about a week and it’s great to be home,” Johnson said. “And now to come out to the track to watch the race and meet Helio is fantastic.”

Iowa Speedway gets 2-year extension

The IndyCar Series will compete at the Iowa Speedway through the 2011 season. Series and track officials announced they had reached an agreement in principle to sign a two-year deal.

“We are very excited about this, we’re excited about being here every year,” IndyCar Series commercial division president Terry Angstadt said. “When we’re here, we’re treated so well. The fans are so great, and that doesn’t happen in every market.”

The deal hasn’t been signed yet, but IndyCar Series commercial division president Terry Angstadt said the deal would be signed soon. It was a matter of paperwork and not details of the deal.

“This will solidify Iowa Speedway as one of the top motorsports venues in the world,” track president Jerry Jauron said. “It’s an exciting time to be at Iowa Speedway.”

The deal doesn’t specify on which date the race will take place, but both sides are open to moving the date.

Iowa Speedway’s sponsorship deal with Iowa Corn Promotion Board ends after today’s race.

The IndyCar Series schedule will be finalized at the end of July. The schedule will have nine ovals and nine road or street courses, Angstadt said. The current mix is 10-7 ovals to street courses.

More from Dario

What do you expect at Iowa this weekend, the track has changed quite a bit since you last ran there?

I think the big difference will be the track, not so much the cars. They’re very similar to how they were when we raced last time. The track has aged for sure since when we were there last time. It’s a little bumpier than before. But I think we should see a similar type of race to last year.

What is the biggest challenge of the track?

One of the big challenges is the balance between cold tires to warmer tires. We run the superspeedway tires because of the loads they are under and they get temperature in the tire quickly. But it definitely makes for a couple of exciting laps. It makes it a bit dicey. You’ve got to get up to pace quick or you’re going to be under attack

Do you approach a track where you already have won any differently?

You try to approach them all the same. It definitely gives you some more confidence. I really want to get to the car and drive in it. This is the car that Dan Wheldon won in last year and the same team. We tested here last week as well, so that’ll help a little bit.

There hasn’t been as much passing and as much side-by-side stuff this year, why do you think that is?

Texas and Milwaukee were a bit disappointing in that way. I think part of it is that they’ve taken away some of the freedom in the rules packages. Some of the smaller teams were complaining that that was the reason that the Target team and the AGR and Penske were running away with it was because of the rules. But you’ve still got the same cars up front now, and it’s just really hard to get any passing. I’d like to see them open up the rules a bit more to promote some passing. The fact that the cars are so similar, they’re so close is that it’s almost impossible to overtake.

How quickly did you re-adjust to being in an IndyCar? Is it like riding a bike?

I’d say there was a certain adjustment of maybe a day, day and a half. It came back very very quickly. It was a surprise because I was a bit concerned about that really. Things happen so much quicker in an IndyCar than they do in a stock car.

Are you comfortable with this team now, how long did it take to get comfortable?

I’m very comfortable. That was one of the big reasons to come back. I knew that with the Target team I had the chance to compete for wins and championships. I was lucky enough to be with AGR for all those years. And coming back to the Target team really made it easy for me. It’s slightly different than I’m used to, but it’s worked quite well and it’s going very smoothly.

How is this team different than AGR?

It’s more in the way they set the car up and in the way the engineering executes. They work just a little different. But it works very well. It’s not that one is better than the other. It’s just different.

What is it like having Scott as a teammate; you had a rivalry going in 2007, a bit, with the title being decided on the final lap?

We had all kinds of rivalries over the years. But it’s friendly rivalry. So to be teammates with him, it’s really nice. He’s really a good guy to have as a teammate. I’ve really been lucky to have some great teammates, and Scott is right there at the top of that list. Scott really works hard and pushes hard, and he pushes me too.

Do you and Scott talk much about flying? He has a pilot’s license, too.

We talk quite a bit about it. We flew together when we did the 24 hours of Daytona together. A couple of weeks ago we flew. We both share the passion for flying, and it’s great.

Why are so many racing guys into flying?

I think that people who race are into anything mechanical, whether it’s cars or planes. We’re really into that stuff.

How often do you go up in the helicopter?

I sold my helicopter when I went to NASCAR because I just didn’t have any opportunities to fly it.

Is the Iowa gas pump trophy the strangest one you have?

I have a gold hamburger from a race in Germany in 1998. I also have the guitar from Nashville, so the Iowa fuel pump fits right in there.

You would never smash the guitar trophy would you?

We were talking about that this morning and I wouldn’t personally do it. But it’s entirely up to him with what he wants to do with it. And he did it for the best of reasons because he wanted to give pieces of it to the crew. But that’s not for me.

Are you a Kentucky basketball fan like your wife, Ashley Judd?

It’s really selfish for me. I just hope it’s going well for her, so she’s happy. She’s really excited about (the new coach), so that’s really good for her.

How is your collection of Jim Clark stuff coming?

The collection is going well. One of the cool things after winning Indy in 07 is that people found out I was into Jim Clark. People come up and say, hey I’ve got this piece that you might like. And people have some really nice pictures. It’s very very cool.

Do you have room in your trophy case for another gas pump?

Absolutely. I’ve got all kinds of room and it would fit very well.