Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Meeting Bill Hoff: A Salute to LASTCAR

One of my favorite NASCAR blogs is Brock Beard's "LASTCAR." As the name suggests, the blog is dedicated to writing about the under-funded, under-appreciated, and under-followed drivers and teams in the sport. Over the last decade, the project has evolved into the premier source for NASCAR's last-place finishers and statistics. My fellow Wikipedia editor, William Soquet, is now a guest contributor at LASTCAR, covering the majority of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West races as well as the ARCA Racing Series.

On Saturday, I attended the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey. The T-shirt I wore is a tribute to Jeff Green, the 2000 NASCAR Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) champion. Last season, Green earned his 100th last-place finish in the Xfinity Series, a mark he has been able to cross by becoming a "start-and-park" driver (someone who, out of necessity, parks a healthy car after only a handful of laps due to a lack of full funding) for many of the series' smaller teams, currently driving for Ryan Sieg's RSS Racing. The shirt reads "NASCAR Champion. LASTCAR Legend."

Photo: @LASTCARonBrock via Twitter.
Jeff himself was even given a shirt last season when Brock traveled to Darlington. (More about that weekend can be found here.)

Shifting back to last weekend, as if the shirt I was wearing weren't already an indication, I'd be keeping my eye on the back of the field during the race just as much as the front of it.

The K&N Series mostly consists of two demographics. The first makes up the majority of the field: young, talented prospects who are competing to gain experience and eventually move up the NASCAR ladder.

One of those guys is Will Rodgers. Will is an all-around good driver, but he is a master on road courses. He mostly runs the in the K&N West Series, but makes the trip out East for the road course races. In three career East Series starts, Will has three wins. How awesome is that statistic?

Above is Will in Victory Lane after the race. Keep your eye on him in the coming years. He's certainly a future star.

The other demographic most often seen in K&N is older veterans who just love to race. You might have heard the story of NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Hershel McGriff, who became the oldest driver to start a NASCAR sanctioned race last month when he drove in the West race at Tucson at the age of 90.

Photo:Arizona Daily Star
Yes, NINETY. For comparison, his Bill McAnally Racing teammate, Hailie Deegan, is one of the up-and-comers currently in her rookie season. She's also only 16. That's a 74-year age difference between teammates. 

Good luck finding that in any other professional sport.

For this race, two veterans were entered. The first was 57-year-old Dale Quarterley, a six-time K&N East winner. He qualified 15th and finished 13th after dropping out with a listed reason of "rear end" problems with the car.

The second veteran, who both started and finished last, had (and has) a much more intriguing story.

The car in the above picture belongs to 53-year-old Bill Hoff. Bill is a veteran of the then-Busch Series, driving in 22 races from 1996 to 2004. I saw Bill on the entry list last week and was excited to see how he did. This would be his K&N East debut. (For the record, he did technically attempt to qualify for one race in 2000. The series was then known as the Busch North Series and at the time ran several races in conjunction with the Busch Series. At Nazareth, Bill was entered under the Busch North Series banner but failed to qualify for the event.)

Unfortunately, he never turned a single lap all day. I was not surprised to see him sit out practice and qualifying. After all, his small team is self-owned and has no sponsorship whatsoever aside from the generic contingency decals. His car is likely at least a decade old. I figured he was probably saving his equipment knowing the risk of turning a lap and damaging the car far outweighed the benefits.

Since Bill never set a qualifying time, he would start from last place, meaning his car was lined up last on the grid while us fans were granted access to the pit lane to meet the drivers and get autographs. While dozens of people surrounded Will, pole-sitter Ernie Francis Jr., and series points leader Tyler Ankrum among others, no one was at Bill's car asking for his signature.

I decided to change that.

Some of the top drivers (such as Will) had personalized hero cards of their own to autograph and hand out to fans. Others such as Cole Keatts, making his series debut, had generic K&N cards (it's tough to tell, but his signature is at the top left). Bill had neither, but he did have a Sharpie in hand.

He introduced himself to me, shook my hand, and asked, "Are you collecting cards?" I answered yes, and pulled out the one Cole had already signed. Bill signed it on the other side in the top right corner.

I really wish I had spent a few more minutes talking to him. Bill doesn't have anywhere near the amount of funding and support the other drivers enjoy, but he still seemed glad to be on the grid. It was great getting to meet him.

We then headed to our seats. I decided to sit in turn 12, the final corner that leads onto the main straightaway, so that we could watch both the start and the finish.

When the pace car pulled into the pits, 15 cars took the green flag to start the race. One car was missing from the start, though that detail probably went unnoticed by 99.9% of the fans there.

Except for me.

It was Bill's.

Photo: Racing-Reference.
I had little to no contact with anyone after the race. I rushed to Victory Lane to join in on the celebration with Will and the other fans. I walked past a frustrated Tyler Dippel and his wrecked race car after he collided with his teammate and points leader Tyler Ankrum on the final lap. I didn't see Bill or his car, though I assume they had probably already left the track. All I know is what the rest of the world knows: Bill "finished" (though he technically never even got the chance to start) in last place due to some mechanical problem.

There's very little information on Bill online; the only article I could find on him was this one from The Press of Atlantic City, which only mentioned him briefly as part of a list of drivers competing in the race on Saturday.

I did find this YouTube video, however. In the video, Bill says he drives for Ace Motorsports, a team he calls "the best group of guys I know." That's interesting, because Racing-Reference listed his sponsor as "Hoff Racing" in the results spreadsheet. In the video, Bill confirms, "I love to race. But it's expensive. Big teams have big sponsors, but our funds are coming out of our pockets." He continues, "Why are we getting back into racing? Well, we never left. We just didn't have a race car on the track....Our race team is a great bunch of guys. We're all friends first. We have mechanics, police officers, and accountants. They all help in a lot of different ways."

Bill goes on to say that he and his team are selling merchandise and, more importantly, advertising space on the car. Running unsponsored these days is virtually impossible. A tire bill for one weekend alone can cost up to $10,000. A good engine is upwards of $50,000. Bill and his team are making do with what they have.

Apparently, what they have is sadly not even enough to be able to complete a single lap at a K&N East race.

I have no idea when we'll see Bill back at the track. The East Series doesn't race again until July 14 in Thompson, Connecticut, and him being on the entry list is not even close to a guarantee. But in the meantime, I want to bring his story to attention because stories like his are rarely if ever mentioned in today's NASCAR.

This is ultimately the goal of LASTCAR. Mainstream media will talk about Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. for hours on end, beating to death the stories that most fans have heard countless times already. LASTCAR will talk about fourth-generation driver Jeffrey Earnhardt racing in the 2018 Daytona 500 for a small team owned by Derrike Cope, the man who beat Jeffrey's famous grandfather Dale Earnhardt after Dale suffered a flat tire on the last lap of the same race 28 years earlier.

One of the sidebars on Brock's website reads, "40 cars start a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. 40 fill the grid in the Xfinity Series. 32 take the green in Trucks. Yet, even when the field is short, only a handful of these stories are ever told."

Brock is right. Many of those stories aren't ever told. It's a shame, because there are some good stories out there.

And, like the story of Bill Hoff and his last-place finish at New Jersey Motorsports Park, those stories are worth telling.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Quick (and Long Overdue) Update to My Last Post

Wow, has it seriously been almost three months?

First of all, to anyone who checks this blog regularly, I want to sincerely apologize for the lack of production here on this blog. I was focused on finishing my freshman year of college, preparing for a trip to Guatemala, and life has been a whirlwind since returning home.

Second, I need to give ESPN credit for turning around their Formula One coverage. The simulcasting of Sky Sports has had a couple of hiccups here and there (as has Sky's coverage itself, namely the subpar grid walk in Canada), but the technical difficulties have been resolved and Nicole Briscoe has been in studio to serve as the lead-out of the broadcast. On another note, the races are now commercial-free! Every F1 fan in America owes Mother's Polish a big thank you for sponsoring the coverage. Seriously, go buy some and show your support.

Finally, I was in attendance for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Jersey Motorsports Park on Saturday. While there are several compelling storylines going on out in the West Series at the moment, the East Series is just as entertaining and I greatly enjoyed being there. I will have at least one (maybe two) blog post(s) about the experience up soon!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

ESPN's "Coverage" of the Australian Grand Prix Was a Total Disaster and a Complete Embarrassment

Strap yourselves into your seats, folks, because this is a long one.

Photo: Speed Channel
I love Formula One. I don't think I need to explain that. I grew up with Bob Varsha, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett, and Will Buxton bringing me personalized coverage of this great sport on Speed and later NBC Sports.

Photo: NBC Sports
So when I got the news on that Wednesday morning of October 4, 2017, that ESPN would replace NBC as the holders of the US broadcast rights, I had an uneasy feeling. I figured this meant we would, at the very least, lose Diffey as the play-by-play man. He's got enough going on with NBC, doing IndyCar, NASCAR, rugby, and the Olympics. I was hopeful, however, that Hobbs, Matchett, and Buxton would follow each other over to ESPN as they did during the Speed-NBC transition. Maybe Varsha would even come back and the original gang would be reunited again.

Your new "US" F1 broadcast team.
Photo: Sky Sports F1
Nope. Instead, ESPN announced that they would be bringing us Sky Sports F1's coverage from the UK, simulcasting it onto the ESPN family of networks throughout the season.

Well okay, but at least we would get a studio host or something to allow for smoother transitions in and out of commercials and set up the programming for us, right?

Nope, ESPN couldn't even give us that much.

Well alright then, but at least Sky did their best to make us feel included, right?

Nope. Again. Never once did we hear anything along the lines of, "we also welcome a new audience watching us on ESPN2 in the United States." Sky did not appear to have an obligation to make the US audience feel welcome as a part of the broadcast.

This doesn't mean that Sky's team is horrible, though. In fact, they're really the only positive I can take away from this "coverage" ESPN gave us. David Croft and Martin Brundle aren't as strong as Diffey, Hobbs, and Matchett in my humble opinion, but hey, the latter were given an honorable mention in SI.com's list of best broadcast teams in 2015, so they're tough to beat. "Crofty" and Brundle certainly know what they're doing, and Brundle's grid walks before the race do help fill the void created by Buxton's absence from the coverage.

Now on to the negatives. And boy, do we have a lot to cover.

Let's start with the pre-race show. ESPN2 was scheduled to air an E:60 rerun (for what it's worth, it was the "The Dominant 20" special, which aired Thursday evening) from 11:30 P.M. to 12:30 A.M. EDT. When that was over, "Formula 1: On the Grid" would come on the air.

Except it did not. After a few minutes of watching the raw world feed, ESPN cut to commercial. The raw feed then briefly came back, and before we knew it, "The Dominant 20" was back on the air. A message briefly popped up above ESPN2's bottom line that read: "Formula 1: On the Grid is experiencing technical difficulties. We are working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible."

Technical difficulties? Do you mean to say you encountered difficulty simulcasting the world feed from a foreign country's coverage? Seriously? Sky Sports wasn't having any problems. Why were you?

Regardless, the feed was back with audio around 12:50, just in time for the grid walk. The first 20 minutes of this new era of F1 coverage on ESPN consisted of nothing more than dead air and fill-in programming.

Above all, this was the single-largest problem, but the issues don't end there.

Sky Sports presents the Grands Prix with no commercial interruption. Admittedly, that's impressive. Even NBC took commercial breaks. Now, I'm not upset with ESPN for doing the same, but I am going to call them out on not, at the very least, having a studio host of their own to bring us in and out of the breaks without cutting off the Sky commentators mid-sentence without warning. Even IndyCar driver Graham Rahal called ESPN out on this. This is what Fox Sports does with their Formula E broadcasts. Ironically, this is now Matchett's new role on a part-time basis, so it's refreshing to see he's not gone from TV entirely.

Furthermore, the commercials came at the worst possible moments. We didn't get to hear anything about why Sergey Sirotkin and Marcus Ericsson retired from the race. We didn't get to hear Fernando Alonso's usual sass on the radio towards his McLaren engineers. We also missed the restart after the safety car period, one that completely changed the outcome of the race. It was almost as if ESPN had already planned out the exact moments they were going to cut to commercial and had no flexibility in changing them.

Finally, the post-race coverage was non-existent. Shortly after the race ended, ESPN took another commercial (this time without the side-by-side feature) before coming back for the podium ceremony. We saw Mark Webber interview the top three drivers, and as soon as he was finished...we launched right into a 30 for 30 rerun.

I'm pretty sure 99.999% of the viewers watching ESPN2 at 3:00 A.M. would rather watch post-race analysis than a rerun of an NC State/Jimmy V documentary.

By taking on this new TV deal, ESPN had the responsibility and obligation to maintain the interest of the F1 fanbase in the US, as well as to continue the work Speed and NBC have done for the last 22 years to grow it.

Did they do this? No. Not even close. If anything, they disillusioned us. They turned off the casual viewers. Heck, they even turned off some of the passionate ones.

I greatly miss Hobbs' perspective as a driver and Matchett's perspective as a mechanic. I miss Sam Posey, essentially F1's poet laureate here in the States, and his beautiful narrations. I miss the Off the Grid specials, F1 Countdown presented by Mercedes-Benz, and F1 Extra presented by Jaguar, among other things. And while Brundle is a talented pro, I still miss Buxton's grid walks. As a longtime US viewer, this did not feel like a Grand Prix.

I do believe there is time to make up for this farcical debut of a telecast, but only if sweeping changes are immediately made. As NBC's own Tony DiZinno tweeted last night, "without the team of good people there, the show suffers on the whole." ESPN needs, at the bare minimum, a studio host to play the same role Matchett has taken up with FS1's Formula E coverage. Having a full broadcast team to provide additional analysis and play-by-play would be ideal, and it also wouldn't be too difficult; aside from the races in Monaco, the United States, and occasionally Canada, NBC refrained from traveling onsite and instead called all of their races from their studio in Connecticut. Why can't ESPN do the same?

Above all, we need an indication that ESPN cares.
No, not a PR statement via Twitter apologizing for the first 20 minutes of last night's broadcast. That does not count.

In the statement, ESPN acknowledged that the US fans have "incredible passion for Formula 1." It is in the television broadcasters' best interest to have this passion as well. Speed had it. So did NBC Sports. Judging by the first race, I'm not sure anyone behind ESPN's production does. That's a major problem, and it leads to the disastrous things such as the broadcast that we saw last night. ESPN is capable of giving their viewers better things and ought to be held to a higher standard.

The fans who stay up until three in the morning watching it live, myself included, deserve it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Opinion: Kevin Harvick Racing in the K&N Pro Series West is Better Than Kyle Busch Racing in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series

Tired of seeing this? You're not alone.
(Photo: Sporting News)
Over the past few seasons, NASCAR has begun imposing limitations on its full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers racing in the lower national series. This process began in 2011, when it was announced drivers would be forced to choose one of the three series in which to score points. This meant drivers such as Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski could no longer run for a then-Nationwide Series championship by competing full-time in both Cup and Nationwide. While the move helped highlight young talent in the lower series, "Buschwacking" (a term coined when Anheuscher-Busch sponsored the now-Xfinity Series) remained prevalent, resulting in 2013 Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon winning the series title without winning a single race.

More recently, in 2016, NASCAR prohibited the sixteen Chase drivers from racing in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series' championship races in Homestead-Miami (along with bringing the Chase/Playoff format to both series) in an effort to highlight the season champion even more.

Last season (2017), NASCAR limited Cup drivers with more than five years of Cup experience to only ten Xfinity races and seven Truck races in a season, and prohibiting them from racing in Playoff races entirely. (This was only for drivers earning Cup Series points; Elliott Sadler and Johnny Sauter were allowed to continue racing for Xfinity and Truck points respectively.) This year, those limits have grown again, with Cup drivers limited to seven and five races in Xfinity and Trucks.

NASCAR has, however, refrained from imposing these limits on its regional level, leaving its Cup regulars free to race (and even score points) in the K&N East, West, and Whelen Modified Series, among others. While Cup drivers racing in these series is far less common, it does occasionally happen. Busch has a win in his only East Series start, which came in 2009. Ryan Newman participates in the Modified Series, NASCAR's only open-wheel division, when they come to Loudon and Bristol.

And last season, Kevin Harvick participated in, and won, the K&N West race at Sonoma, with series regular Will Rodgers finishing second.

You could see a similar image this week.
(Photo: KevinHarvick.com)
Diehard fans of the sport complained, as they always do. But they also likely remember and know Rodgers' name for this very reason. Had Harvick, the 1998 West Series champion, not raced in K&N that day, would they? Harvick doesn't think so.

I'm inclined to agree.

I'll also admit that I am one of many fans who cannot wait for Kyle Busch to win his 100th Xfinity Series race so that he'll be gone from the series entirely. Now don't get me wrong: I don't blame drivers such as Busch for racing in the lower series. They have that right, so more power to them. I also understand the argument that Cup drivers and Cup teams are more attractive to sponsors.

But all three of NASCAR's National Series are on live national television every week. It's not like the Xfinity and Truck drivers don't get enough exposure.

The same can't be said for the K&N drivers. More people probably know the names Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, and Austin Cindric than they do Derek Kraus, Jesse Iwuji, and Hailie Deegan.

This week, Harvick will return to the K&N Pro Series West, running at Kern County Raceway Park on Thursday night in his hometown of Bakersfield, California. And while every driver wants to win, Harvick explains that that is not his main goal. His desire is to bring awareness, exposure, and publicity to the series in which he won a championship two decades ago.

That's exactly what Harvick will do in a few days. More fans will be interested in this race now that he's in it. And with that, more talented young drivers will get much-deserved attention, just as the Xfinity drivers get even when Busch is absent from the Xfinity races. If Cup drivers want to do some extra-curricular racing, I'd rather them take their talents to the regional level. Doing this highlights the lesser-known series and their drivers, while the opposite is true in the national series.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Yes, Danica Patrick can Win at Both Daytona and Indianapolis in 2018. Here's Why.

I'm rather neutral when it comes to supporting Danica Patrick.

After her impressive debut Indianapolis 500 mile race in 2005, in which she finished fourth and led 19 laps, Danica Patrick was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
I've never really been a big fan of her, but I'm certainly not a hater either. In fact, I have never understood why so many race fans do hate her. She's broken barriers and set numerous records and standards for women in motorsports. Sure, to call her an "all-time great" may be a stretch, but she certainly was good enough to race in her respective divisions for as long as she has.

I was excited for her in 2008 when she won her first (and to date only) IndyCar Series race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. I was also intrigued by her move to NASCAR in 2010, which became a full-time move in 2012 when she decided to leave IndyCar. I wanted to see her succeed, but aside from a pole at the 2013 Daytona 500, there have only been a few bright spots in her NASCAR career. In the Cup Series, she has only seven top-tens and has never even cracked the top-five in nearly 200 races.

Patrick celebrates her only IndyCar Series win with second-place finisher Hélio Castroneves and third-place finisher Scott Dixon.
(Photo: Jonathan Ferry/Getty Images)
When I consider hypothetical situations, two of them that involve Patrick come to mind immediately. The first is "What if she had stayed in IndyCar?" Who knows. I'm fairly certain she would have stayed at Andretti Autosport, which means the late Dan Wheldon would have never been in the position he was to replace her in 2012, nor would James Hinchcliffe have ended up with her ride after Wheldon's tragic death at Las Vegas. She probably would have won at least a couple more races (she finished second twice in 2010). And maybe, just maybe, her face would be on the Borg-Warner Trophy, immortalized in American open-wheel racing history as the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500.

Patrick moved to the NASCAR Nationwide Series part-time with JR Motorsports in 2010 while continuing to race full-time in IndyCar with Andretti Autosport. She made the full-time switch to NASCAR in 2012, moving to Cup full-time the following year.
(Photo: Car and Driver Blog)
The other hypothetical situation is "What if she had stayed in the then-Nationwide Series a bit longer, for at least two to three more years, before moving to the Cup Series full-time?" Again, we'll never know for sure, but let's assume she remains with JR Motorsports, one of the top organizations in what is now called the Xfinity Series. I'm willing to bet she wins a race or two here as well, maybe on a road course or a super speedway. Regardless, she would have at the very least gotten valuable experience against competition closer to her skill level at the time, which would have better prepared her for her move to NASCAR's top level of racing.

Patrick moonlighted in the Nationwide Series for Turner Scott Motorsports after moving to Cup but never ran a race outside of Daytona or Talladega.
(Photo: Action Sports Photography/Motorsport.com)
But facts are facts, and the fact of the matter is that she was rushed to the Cup Series with a tremendous amount of pressure and never lived up to such lofty expectations. Frankly, how could one expect her to do so?

Patrick struggled early and often in her Sprint Cup Series career, though not every accident was entirely her fault.
(Photo: John Harrelson/Getty Images)
Eventually, the struggles became too much for her to handle. Faced with poor on-track performance relative to her Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, combined with sponsorship woes after GoDaddy.com's departure that included a lawsuit with Nature's Bakery, Patrick announced yesterday that, after tomorrow's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and (most likely) Matt Kenseth won't be the only ones calling it quits on their full-time careers.

Patrick tearfully announced her retirement yesterday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
(Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
However, Patrick also announced something that was perhaps the most surprising thing of all. She will compete in the 2018 Daytona 500 in February before returning to the Indianapolis 500 in May.

Patrick has not run the Indianapolis 500 since 2011 when she finished tenth.
(Photo: Eric Gilbert/Motorsport.com)
Now obviously, there are still several things that need to be sorted out. We have no idea of the team for whom Patrick will be driving in either event. Stewart-Haas will most likely not be an option for Daytona as they are expected to have a full four-car team once again. Likewise, her former IndyCar team is unlikely to be a possibility, as their fifth car run only at Indianapolis will be driven by the late Justin Wilson's brother, Stefan. The only rumor so far is that Patrick could possibly run both races for Chip Ganassi, who owns successful race teams in both series and is interested in making the idea come to life. But despite the unknowns, mark my word and take this down.

Danica Patrick can win both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2018.

Now before you accuse me of being an unrealistic Danica fanboy, let me explain my reasoning.

Patrick led laps on superspeedways several times in her career.
(Photo: Fox Sports)
When it comes to Patrick's performance in NASCAR, there's no question her greatest strength was running on restrictor plate tracks. Patrick has led laps at Daytona and Talladega on numerous occasions. The way those tracks work, anyone who has an understanding of the draft who plays his or her cards right can win the race. Patrick was running third on the final lap of the 2013 Daytona 500 before fading to eighth. Had things gone slightly differently, she may have been able to win that one.

Patrick collided with Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe in the pit lane on lap 171 of the 2008 Indianapolis 500.
(Photo: Michael Damsky/Reuters)
Likewise, Patrick's best track in IndyCar was undoubtedly Indianapolis. Aside from the pictured 2008 collision, Patrick finished in the top ten in every Indianapolis 500 in which she participated from 2005 to 2011. Another thing working in her favor is the new aero kit being introduced for the IndyCar Series in 2018. With new cars, every driver will have somewhat of a learning curve in next year's Month of May.

Still, Patrick will likely need to do some testing to readjust to a single-seater. If I were in her position, I would strongly consider running at least the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course to give her additional IndyCar seat time before qualifying for the 500. But given how quickly drivers such as Kurt Busch, Alexander Rossi, and Fernando Alonso have been able to adapt to IndyCars after never having been in one before, it would be foolish to think Patrick cannot do the same after her absence.

Let's also say she works out a deal with Ganassi. Ganassi has pulled off the double himself; in 2010, Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 while Dario Franchitti kissed the bricks at Indianapolis. His teams are both more than capable of winning, and while Patrick and Ganassi have never worked together, such a combination should be able to provide results should everything go their way.

Should Patrick be expected to win either of these races? Probably not.

But she absolutely can.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Opinion: Daniil Kvyat's Demotion Destroyed His Confidence...And His Career

Daniil Kvyat walks away from his wrecked
car at the Singapore Grand Prix.
(Photo: Motorsport.com)
It's hard not to feel bad for Daniil Kvyat.

The Russian Formula One driver entered the pinnacle of motorsport in 2014 for Red Bull's junior team, Scuderia Toro Rosso. Kvyat had a respectable enough season to be promoted to Red Bull after only one year at the Italian team.

In 2015, Kvyat was teammates with Daniel Ricciardo, who had just come off of a season where he outperformed then-teammate and reigning four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, winning three Grands Prix to Vettel's zero. Kvyat's 2015 season was highlighted by a second-place finish in Hungary, and outscoring Ricciardo in the Drivers' Championship (95-92).

Kvyat returned to Red Bull to start the 2016 season. After a podium finish in China, he proceeded to have a difficult home race in Sochi, finishing fifteenth after an opening-lap clash with Vettel's Ferrari.

At the same time, Max Verstappen, the teenage Dutchman who filled the void left by Kvyat at Toro Rosso, was proving he was worthy of having an F1 ride even at his young age.

After Sochi, Red Bull made a controversial decision: Kvyat and Verstappen swapped rides. Verstappen was promoted to Red Bull, while Kvyat was sent back to Toro Rosso.

Oh boy.

Now, don't get me wrong, Verstappen is a great young driver, and his win at Spain in his maiden drive for Red Bull proved that.

But Kvyat is a great driver too. I firmly believe that if he hadn't been demoted so soon, he'd be performing better than he has recently.

Since his return to Toro Rosso, Kvyat has only finished in the points five times, has a best finish of ninth (twice), and has been comprehensively outperformed by his Toro Rosso teammate, Carlos Sainz. In 2017 alone, Sainz has scored 48 points, while Kvyat only has four to his name. Only one driver who has entered every race this season (Marcus Ericsson) is ranked lower in the championship standings.

So what have Red Bull's management done now?

Pierre Gasly will be replacing Kvyat at Toro Rosso, effective beginning this weekend at Malaysia.

It looks like Kvyat's F1 career is over. That's a shame; he looked strong in 2015, and I think a lot of people have forgotten that. I also think that his drop in performance is likely due to the fact that his demotion destroyed his confidence.

Unfortunately, it now appears that it also destroyed his career.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

2017 NYC ePrix Recap

One month ago today, I attended the second of two races in the inaugural New York City ePrix. Life has been busy preparing for college, and I have not gotten a chance to properly recap my experience or share it with you all.

This was the third time I've attended a professional motorsport race but the first time it wasn't a NASCAR-sanctioned event. The previous two times have both been at Dover International Speedway, my home track. I went to Sprint Cup qualifying and the Camping World Truck race (the latter of which got rained out) in Spring 2009 and the Sprint Cup race in Spring 2012. (A. J. Allmendinger signed my diecast car!)

Now, NASCAR was my first motorsport love (thanks, Pixar), but over the years I've developed an interest and appreciation for virtually all forms of auto racing.

So when I heard Formula E, the first all-electric single-seater championship, was coming to Brooklyn...I knew I had to be there.

The timing of the event actually worked out perfectly. My family had been vacationing in Vermont the week prior to the event, so rather than going home and driving back up, my father and I arrived in Brooklyn Saturday evening. (I would have loved to have been there for the Saturday race too, but beggars can't be choosers. It simply didn't work out.) Of all people, my dad's sister who currently lives in London found us a small hotel in the city in which we would spend the night (particularly helpful considering that, being a street race on a temporary circuit, this event had absolutely ZERO parking).

With that, we were able to get up early and get there pretty much as soon as the gates opened. We walked from the hotel to the Barclays Center (home of the Brooklyn Nets and, as of 2015, the New York Islanders), hopping onto a shuttle bus that would take us to the street circuit.

It's a good thing were got there early, because we got a chance to walk in the paddock!

Aside from the race itself, this was absolutely the highlight of the day. If you're attending any racing event, get there early. You never know what kind of perks you might get as a result.

Katherine Legge was doing television coverage for the world feed. She's quite an accomplished racer herself, having raced in Formula E in its debut season and, perhaps most notably, the Indianapolis 500.

In the background of that picture is driver (and eventual 2016-17 Formula E champion!) Lucas di Grassi. After doing an interview, di Grassi posed with some fans before being called back into the garage by his team...

...and this is as close as I got to a picture with him. I did make brief eye contact with him and wished him well in the race as he was walking back in to talk to his team, but I didn't quite get a chance to pose with him. Oh well. At least he and I are in the same un-photoshopped picture.

I also got to snap a photo of this guy, Sam Bird, talking to his team prior to qualifications. Bird had won the previous day's race and ended up winning this one as well. 

Considering I bought a DS Virgin racing hat and polo shirt at the merchandise stand, I think it's safe to say I have a favorite team and driver now.

After they closed the paddock for qualifications, we looked around for a bit, visiting the Jaguar team's exhibit and the Allianz eVillage.

The video above is a clip from the "eRace." (Not ePrix, eRace. There is a difference.) This took place in the Visa Gaming Arena. All morning, fans were allowed into the gaming arena to set the fastest lap times they could on a Formula E racing simulator, with the top four fans getting to compete against four professional drivers in the "eRace."

I know what you're thinking. (Ben! Did you try it out?! How did you do?!)

Well, I wanted too, but I got to the exhibit too late. If I had headed straight there after the paddock had closed, maybe I could have set a lap time, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. (Lesson learned for an ePrix I attend in the future.)

If you want to watch the full eRace, here it is:

After the eRace was an autograph session, where I got autographs from drivers António Félix da Costa, Nick Heidfeld, and Felix Rosenqvist.

Then, it was time for the main event.

Here's the amateur video I took of the start...

and a couple of more photos...

It was around the midpoint of the race that we finally met up with the third member of our group, Lucas Marrero. Lucas is quite a cool guy. He's a longtime friend of my grandmother and late grandfather who has traveled all over the world and done too many incredibly awesome things to keep track of.

Seriously, those Dos Equis commercials are lying to you. Lucas is the real "Most Interesting Man in the World."

But anyway, back to the race. After 58 minutes and 9.388 seconds of hard racing (that's not a number I made up in my head), Bird completed his weekend sweep by winning the race. Of the two guys I saw in the paddock earlier in the morning, one went on to win the race, while the other went on to win the season championship two weeks later in Montréal. How cool is that?

After the race, we waited for a shuttle bus back to the Barclays Center (the wait for the bus might have been longer than the race itself), and had a late lunch/early dinner (linner?) at Shake Shack. (For my Delaware friends, this one was far better than the new one in the Christiana Fashion Center. I have no idea why...but it was.) After a great day of racing and catching up with Lucas, we returned to the hotel and made the two-hour drive back home.

And that's it! Formula E was a great experience. It still has its critics, but the series is really taking off. BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche have confirmed that they will be joining the series as full works teams in a few seasons, and there is a push to get a Japanese and an American manufacturer involved as well.

The series races (mostly) on temporary street circuits in some of the biggest cities all over the world. If you're interested in attending an ePrix yourself, here's the provisional 2017-18 schedule at the moment:

And while it's not set in stone, it looks like they're coming back to New York!