Sunday, April 6, 2008

IndyCar jinx

The open-wheel merger and Sunday’s astonishing victory by young pup Graham Rahal in his first race are showing that the IndyCar Series has a bright future. Not even the loss of some of Indy’s most popular drivers - including defending champ Dario Franchitti - have slowed the series down this year.

While times are good for the IRL, the same can’t be said for its ex-patriots. Of the five open-wheel names to transfer to NASCAR over the past couple years (Franchitti, Juan Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier and A.J. Allmendinger) only two are in the top-35 in points. Those “honors” go to Montoya at 19th place and Hornish in 34th. None of the five drivers has a single a top-10 this season.

It’s unlikely Hornish would be racing right now if team owner Roger Penske didn’t hand him the No. 2 car’s points to ensure he would make the first five races. Allmendinger couldn’t qualify for a single race and has since been replaced in his No. 84 Toyota by Mike Skinner, who has proven over his career to be nothing more than a Sprint Cup scrub. Carpentier has made just four of the seven races this year and Franchitti’s owner, Chip Ganassi, voiced his displeasure this week over how his three teams are communicating.

Give credit to all of these drivers for making the difficult leap from open-wheel to NASCAR, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the transition usually fails. Tony Stewart, arguably the best driver on the circuit, made it look too easy when he left the IRL for Cup in 1999. Like Stewart, many of the former Indy drivers said they wanted a new challenge and more prestige (i.e. money). Now it’s becoming an embarrassment.

In an effort to find the next best thing, NASCAR owners are striking out with these foreign drivers. It may attract sponsors and interest during the off-season, but the open-wheel experiment isn’t leading to success on the track. Nor should it. This season is proving it’s difficult to drive the heavier and bulky stock car, although, open-wheel fans have been known to rip NASCAR drivers for having less skill and never turning right.

Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing Kurt Busch shimmy into a Penske Dallara and take a few laps at Indy this year.

Juan Montoya - 7 starts - 19th
Sam Hornish Jr. - 7 starts - 34th
Dario Franchitti -6 starts - 38th
Patrick Carpentier - 4 starts - 43rd
A.J. Allmendinger - 0 starts - N/A


"Matt" said...

This just goes to show that the IndyCars are much more about the machine than the man. However, it should be noted that not much was expected of any of these drivers (with the possible exception of Montoya). I find it very plausible that two of these drivers will be out of Winston Cup by the end of the decade: Hornish, Carpentier, and Allmendinger (who's already out; he's on par with Jason Leffler in terms of driver usefulness, anyway).

And maybe Kurt Busch should just go there and stay. Take his brother with him.

Brant said...

All this just goes to prove what a great driver Tony Stewart is. He's arguably the greatest all-around driver alive. The guy could climb into a soapbox derby car and win with it. Wait, no he couldn't. He couldn't fit in the soapbox derby car, but if he could ...

Mike Jones said...

I still can't fathom why Penske moved Hornish - a proven champion in the IRL - into NASCAR after he struggled mightily to qualify during the last few races last year. The same goes for Allmendinger, who destroyed the Champ Car competition in his rookie season of 2006. There was no better driver in that series that season, not even Sabastien Bourdais.