Craig Murto: Weekend huge for racing

The Memorial Day weekend is here, and it is the biggest race weekend of the year.

Sunday, specifically, is the biggest day of the year in motorsports. Beginning with the Monaco F1 Grand Prix, continuing with the 99th running of the Indy 500, and wrapping up with the Coke 600 NASCAR race at Charlotte, North Carolina, there’s racing on TV all day.

But 2015 has been a strange year in racing. The current formula in F1 is not the most popular, and the only question may be which Mercedes will grab the win. In fact, the powers that be have proposed a number of changes be implemented by the 2017 season to increase competition, such as wider tires on the cars and a return to refueling on pit stops. For now, however, we’ll see which Mercedes wins, or if somebody can upset the status quo as Sebastian Vettel did in his Ferrari once this season.

Scott Dixon has the pole for the Indy 500, but the biggest news from qualifying was the sudden change in format.

When Ed Carpenter became the third car to get airborne when turned backwards, IndyCar officials made sudden changes to Sunday’s qualifying program. First, the cars had to qualify in race trim, so all the research that went into aerodynamics for qualifying was for naught. Teams were not allowed to use the extra boost they were originally given for qualifying, and points were not awarded. Some of the Honda teams were unhappy as it was only Chevrolets that had an issue, but all agreed the changes had to be made for safety.

IndyCar should be applauded for taking quick and decisive action, but didn’t anybody think this was a possibility? Dixon’s speed of 226.760 mph is fast; he most likely would have been in the mid-230s if changes had not been made.

The issue of cars getting airborne is simply a function of speed; Indycars are not supposed to be going backwards. It’s surprising this did not occur last year or the year before. The side pods on the current Indycar design are large enough to act as wings. And there’s plenty of room on them to install NASCAR-style roof flaps to open when needed to keep the cars on the ground.

The 2014 NASCAR season was one of the best, most competitive seasons ever. So, in their wisdom, NASCAR changed the rules. So far 2015 has not generated the same level of excitement as 2014. Cornering speeds are actually greater, and that reduces the chance of a lot of side-by-side racing. The All-Star race, for example, was great for Denny Hamlin, but the 2015 format and the racing wasn’t the best for the fans.

And then there’s the officiating. Is NASCAR going back on its promise to allow drivers to work out their own differences?

If anybody watched the Xfinity race from Iowa, they saw J.J. Yeley get loose all by himself. Then they saw him dump Brennan Poole, obviously mistakenly thinking Poole bumped him. It was obvious retaliation on Yeley’s part for something that didn’t even happen.

Poole — a Late Model Stock Car standout in the Carolinas in recent years — doesn’t have unlimited opportunities to prove himself in an Xfinity car. He thought he was going to be able to shine on the Iowa short track, only to have his race ruined early on by Yeley. It was not surprising that Poole later dumped Yeley in the same fashion.

But NASCAR not only parked Poole — a move to be expected — they suspended him. Whatever happened to “boys have at it?” If there was ever a situation NASCAR needed to stay out of, this was it; this was short track justice, pure and simple, and no other cars were involved.

Yeley told the TV audience that he didn’t mean to wreck Poole, he was just trying to get back in line. Sorry, J.J., but we saw what you did. And as we watch your career slide into mediocrity, we’ll see Poole’s continue to rise.

Marvin Winters rose to the top of the pack at Hagerstown Speedway last week. At Winchester, Kenny Moreland grabbed the Late Model feature and Jonathan DeHaven won in Limited Lates. Be sure to make your Memorial Day weekend extra special by spending time at a local racetrack.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.