Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Photo Slideshow from ARCA Winchester 200 Won by Dakoda Armstrong

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Following up on last night's thrilling win by Dakoda Armstrong in the #ARCA race at Winchester Speedway, here is a slideshow of people and race action from the event. We can't wait to shoot this series again and are appreciative of the help from the folks at Winchester in making this possible for me and my assistant. See you at the next race!

Young Guns Rule #ARCA Winchester - Dakoda Armstrong Steals Show

Dakoda Armstrong Takes Winchester Win

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On a perfect night for racing in east-central Indiana, Dakoda Armstrong saved his best for last at Winchester Speedway's high banked half-mile, passing Ryan Blaney with just 10 laps to go in the 200 lap affair. Blaney, son of NASCAR shoe Dave Blaney, had dominated the race from pole position after setting a new track record in qualifying. In fact, the first five starters all topped the previous ARCA track record for Winchester and starting the night, you just new it was going to be a dogfight. That was true for everyone behind Blaney as he checked out early and was leading easily until a right front tire went down with less than 40 laps to go. He surrendered the lead to fellow rookie, and current ARCA rookie points leader Ty Dillon, but a gamble for right side tires on his last stop left Dillon a sitting duck for Armstrong who charged ahead and won going away.

Tires were the name of the game on this night. ARCA legend Frank Kimmel was one of the first to lose a right front tire, going a lap down in the process so he was never a factor again. Recent Pocono winner Tim George had a tire go down - he ended up making numerous pit stops just to keep his Richard Childress Racing car in the race. Youngster Chris Buescher ran in the top five most of the race but tire problems knocked him back late, then Blaney and Dillon had their tire issues and Armstrong was ready to pounce. And pounce he did, with style going into Turn 1.

Dakoda Armstrong waits to qualify at Winchester
This young man has a big future in racing, as he is not even 20 years old yet and Winchester could be regarded as a home track for him, since he hails from just down the road in New Castle, Indiana. Having extensive experience at Winchester from USAC races probably put Dakoda ahead of the game on this night, as the ARCA series had not raced here since 2007 and it looked like many of the teams were caught off guard by the heavy loading on the right front that this fast track always produces and numerous tire failures were the result.

Jared Marks fuel fire was brief

Winchester always produces some great and entertaining racing and I've been going there off and on since the early 1990's. Tonight's ARCA race had a little of everything. Crashes, including one big mess that brought out an early red flag so oil could be cleaned up. A fire involving the car of Jared Marks who somehow managed to stay in the race. More pit stops and blown tires than I think I've ever seen in a short track race. Late race excitement from Dakoda, the kid with the movie star looks and the race savvy of a man far beyond his years. He's got some races coming up this year in the Camping World Truck Series and has won three times in ARCA already at tough race tracks - Talladega, Salem and now Winchester. I was there at two of those wins and can honestly say I love to watch him race and am glad I got the chance to see him on his way up the ladder. I'll have more pix to upload as time allows but for now, this little sampling will have to do. Congratulations to the New Castle Kid who is about to hit the big time!
Winchester ARCA Winner Dakoda Armstrong enjoys the spoils of victory

Maryeve Dufault and others brought out the red flag in this Turn 1 crash

Friday, June 24, 2011

IZOD Indycar Series Title Race All Even for Iowa Showdown

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Dario Franchitti
Will Power

Now the nail biting really begins for Dario Franchitti and Will Power. Last year's primary contenders in the IZOD Indycar Series are now level on points heading to the Iowa Speedway for this weekend's Iowa Corn 250 short track event. Following the contentious Texas doubleheader where the luck of the draw favored Will Power and vaulted him into a 21 point lead in the championship, Dario Franchitti made up the whole points gap last weekend at the Milwaukee Mile. Ten more races remain in the 2011 season and with the shift of Motegi from an oval to a road course event, there are only four ovals remaining, including Iowa. Based on last year's results, this could favor Power in the season championship as he has been dominant on road courses with more poles and wins than anyone else recently. By no means is this a done deal, however, as Dario knows how to get around a road course as well as anyone, and already has a win this year on the St. Pete street course under his belt. Now that the points race is even, perhaps everyone can forget about what happened at Texas and get down to the business of winning the championship.

Dario Franchitti eyes another Indycar Championship

Even though the top seven in Indycar points are separated by just 106 points, I still think it will come down to Penske and Ganassi teams fighting it out with Power and Franchitti showing the way. There is a maximum of 53 points available for each race and points for pole position and most laps led could end up deciding the championship when all is said and done. If Power can avoid DNF's or poor finishes on the remaining ovals, he should be in position to make a strong charge for the last road course segment of the schedule which begins in August at Sonoma. Since I was not able to shoot Milwaukee, it looks like my next opportunities to work an Indycar race will be at Mid Ohio and then Kentucky, where the season championship will be on the brink of being decided. My January prediction of Dario winning the season title still looks pretty good and it will be exciting to follow.

Will Power eyes his first Indycar season title

There could still be plenty of surprises as the rest of the season unfolds, as Graham Rahal and Oriol Servia have looked very strong charging into the top five in season points. Tony Kanaan has led the resurgence of KV Racing, sitting sixth on points with teammate Takuma Sato in ninth. Alex Tagliani has Sam Schmidt's effort in eighth with several strong showings while Power's Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe lurks in seventh. Danica Patrick has finally made it into the top ten for Andretti Autosport but the big spoiler could be Dario's teammate Scott Dixon who has not won yet in 2011. Scottie D could have a huge impact on how the championship is decided, especially if he gets on a roll with good finishes over the next month. My original predication for second place in the season title was Helio Castroneves, but he is mired in 13th, 138 points behind Dario and Penske teammate Power; he has a lot of work to do but he has shown the ability to mount late season charges in the past. With 2011 being the last season for the current chassis spec, teams will be willing to do about anything to get a race win and I expect the competition between the Penske and Ganassi teams to be as fierce as ever going down to the wire.

Indy fans check out 2012 spec car examples

Indycar continues to make big news as the official test team for the 2012 Dallara chassis was named this week. Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon and the Bryan Herta Autsoports team will take on those duties beginning in August when the first roller is to be made available. I will be keeping an ear to the ground for test dates at Indy so I can get some pictures of the new design on the track. I hope they bring it to Kentucky so the fans there can get a peek in October as development work continues. I can't wait to hear the next generation of Indycar engines once Chevy and Lotus join Honda in developing the new chassis.

While many of my Indycar friends are in Iowa this weekend, I will be going to Winchester Speedway's high banked half mile oval to shoot the ARCA series with my assistant Saturday night. It has been four years since ARCA ran at Winchester and other than Frank Kimmel, there may be no one with any experience at this fast and racy facility. Sparks will surely fly as ARCA's young guns like Ty Dillon get acclimated and challenge what is called "The World's Fastest Half Mile". Perhaps Kimmel can snap his non-winning streak which is close to three years now and show those young whippersnappers how it's done. Wherever you are this weekend, be safe and take lots of pictures. I know I will. See you at the track!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Indycar Spotlight on Milwaukee After Texas Fallout

Dario Franchitti

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Dario Franchitti won one battle at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday night but hopes he didn't lose the war. After winning the first race in the Twin 275's at Texas, the made-for-TV draw for starting positions in the second race relegated him to 28th and even though he fought his way back to a 7th place finish, he still lost 14 points in the season championship to Will Power. Starting 3rd based on the draw, Power had a relatively easy cruise to a win in the second 275 and Dario was fit to be tied afterward. The likable and normally very cool Scotsman had plenty to say when the evening was over, and not all of it was fit to print. I can't say I blame him for being irate as the lottery draw played well with fans and drivers who got good starting spots, like Tony Kanaan, but Dario certainly has a point about its potential effect on the series championship point standings. Something must be done for next year to correct this inequity, as it now stands as the only race where drivers do not have to earn their starting spot. Having the fast guys run through the pack to the front was definitely exciting, but the series can do better than this.

If they stick with the Twin 275 format in 2012, many have suggested inverting the field for the second 275 based on results from the first race. At least then everyone is at the same relative disadvantage. Lots of variations on this theme are possible, such as inverting the top 8 or 10 finishers to at least reward them for good performances in the first race. I'd rather see them race their way to determine starting spots. Why not have two 50 lap dashes for no points to determine the main race lineup? Run it like a short track event where the field gets split based on qualifying times into two heats and then line them up for the main race based on how they finish in their heats. The main race could be longer as teams wouldn't end up running any more laps on the night than they would have under the Twin 275 format, and the fans would actually get to see more racing in the process.

While the Texas weekend results on track will likely be debated the rest of this season, the television numbers were up compared to 2010, so that is good. Those numbers are still woefully small but improvement remains a good thing, and this follows on the heels of a fairly solid TV showing for the Indy 500 just two weeks before Texas. Now the Indycar crews prepare for their first short oval of the season, at Milwaukee's State Fair Park this weekend, and while I should be preparing to shoot this race, another credential snafu unfortunately means I will be couch racing Sunday. I would expect that Dario will not have cooled down much by Sunday and his main therapy would consists of winning this race in dominating fashion. Power has finally gotten his first oval win, but the circumstances merit and asterisk. As much as I like Will, I still think Dario will be the man to beat this weekend. It burns me that I can't be there to get pictures of what should be a thoroughly entertaining short oval weekend.

Pippa Mann
On another note, it is great to see Pippa Mann earn some rewards for her smooth and steady May at Indianapolis. With the recently announced three race deal at Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Pippa will have a chance to show her oval track wares at New Hampshire, Kentucky and Las Vegas. I know she will do the team proud and, as Bertrand Baguette showed in this year's Indy 500, that team knows how to put a fast car on the track. Here's hoping that all the #hirepippa work her fans and friends have done on Twitter over the last year will result in a full season ride for her in 2012. Indycar has an awesome group of Lady Racers and Pippa deserves to be running with them on a full time basis in my opinion.

SunTrust Grand Am team during test at IMS September 2009

Finally, it looks like the 2009 Grand Am test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway may finally pay off in a road course race at Indy during the Brickyard 400 weekend next year. Something has to be done to shore up Brickyard attendance and s sports car enduro to kick off the weekend could be part of the package. Let's run 600k into the twilight on Friday night after all the stock car teams are done for the day! If they bring the Nationwide Series in for a Saturday race, the combination would do much for what has become a boring Sprint Cup parade with too little action on the track spread over three days to keep fans interested. SInce NASCAR owns Grand Am something will likely happen and the Speedway can't keep showing all the empty seats on television each year for the Sprint Cup race. If it does happen, you can bet a lot of Sprint Cup drivers will partner up with Grand Am teams to get more road racing experience and from my experience at the 2009 test date, it would be well received by fans in this area who turned out in droves to watch Grand Am find their way around IMS two years ago when nothing was at stake.