Craig Murto: There was an F1 race?

By Craig Murto

Last Friday a popular racing magazine created a bit of a stir when it published an on-line story about an A.J. Foyt comment, in which Foyt said that the NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) near Dallas-Fort Worth would outshine the Grand Prix of the United States F1 race at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin.

The majority of the readers of the popular publication were obviously road racing fans. The usual slams against NASCAR were contained in the social media posts, demeaning NASCAR racing as well as its fans.

But which race were you talking about all week?

COTA was packed, and TMS looked like it was only about two-thirds full. But COTA seats 120,000 at capacity, and TMS seats more than 190,000, so appearances are deceiving. But the fact that TMS had to compete against a Dallas Cowboys home game did not help attendance.

How about the racing? COTA enjoyed one — count it — one on-track pass for the lead all day. TMS not only enjoyed the usual competitive NASCAR racing, but the kind of controversy at the end only this new Chase format creates.

As for the controversy, well, you’ve seen it all over the cable sports networks all week, and you’ve talked about it at the water cooler.

Jeff Gordon created his own misfortune. It is obvious that his car moved down the track after Brad Keselowski’s car was already well up to Gordon’s driver’s door. Even by proper road-racing standards it was a good pass and Keselowski’s line. The anger you saw from Gordon after the race was the result of the stress this Chase format puts on the drivers. Gordon was wrong. Period.

But Kevin Harvick? Exactly how was it Harvick’s business to push Keselowski into Gordon’s grasp, escalating the situation into the melee we’ve seen repeated all week? Then, of course, after pushing Keselowski, Harvick ran away like a little girl, possibly because his crew and/or his wife wasn’t there to protect him. After his actions at Charlotte a few weeks ago, it may be popular to pick on Brad Keselowski, but Harvick had absolutely no business getting involved.

If I were NASCAR, Harvick would be told that for not minding his own business and for his instigation he now finished eighth in points. Period. The little girl’s not going to be allowed to go to the prom. And if his bumper touches one of the Chase competitors’ cars in the next two races, he will then finish the season 38th in points. Period.

And the crew member who proceeded to land punches on Brad Keselowski’s face? I hope you enjoyed your involvement in the sport, because you are now banned from life at every NASCAR-sanctioned event. Period.

I agree with former NASCAR driver, race winner and ESPN analyst Ricky Craven; Brad Keselowski is the closest thing we’ve seen to Dale Earnhardt Sr. since Earnhardt died. Keselowski would be Ayrton Senna if he were a road racer. He races without a conscience, with a single-minded determination and aggression that’s going to ruffle the feathers of those more passive. If I were a car owner, I’d want Keselowski behind the wheel; he makes things happen, he’s always hungry. The trials he’s enduring now at the hands of his fellow competitors will only make him stronger and even tougher to beat in the future. He seems to be the magnet for the other drivers’ frustration because he’s the one guy who exhibits the aggression it may take to win this championship.

The Chase is conducive to no-holds-barred racing. As we head into Phoenix, all eight drivers remaining in the Chase have a shot of making the final four and racing for the championship at Homestead-Miami. Usually at this point of the season — even under the old Chase format — it’s mathematically down to two or three drivers, and most are trying to hang on to their current points position. Unfortunately, it’s also conducive to so much stress that there will be paybacks on the track, and it will affect the outcome of the championship.

But that’s what’s keeping fans tuned in, and keeping the TV sports shows’ attention.

In fact, I didn’t hear a single TV sports show make note of the fact that Lewis Hamilton’s victory at COTA made him the winningest British driver in F1 history. That’s huge, but nobody mentioned it. Why? Because A.J. Foyt was correct.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.