• Jeff Kingsley

Racing Roundup: NASCAR Keeps Things All in the Family 

Dalton Kellett hopes to be back at Foyt, Petit Le Mans and all the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald October 19, 2020
Comments

When I first heard that NASCAR, er, International Speedway Corp., was bulldozing its California Superspeedway and would replace it with a half-mile oval and repositioned grandstands and VIP suites, I thought they were nuts.

Not that it’s a mistake to add more short-track races to its Cup schedule and there are plenty of short ovals around that would give anything to host a NASCAR race.

But NASCAR doesn’t like to share the wealth. That’s why, when the pressure was on in recent years to add more road races to its schedule of two – Sears Point and Watkins Glen – it invented a “roval” at the speedway in Charlotte it owns instead of going to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park or some of the other permanent (and available) circuits out there. Why let anybody else make money when you can keep it all for yourselves?

Ditto the thinking when it came to adding short tracks. “We don’t own many, so let’s make one.” Ergo, Fontana gets destroyed in order for NASCAR to have its very own new short track instead of going to, say, Eldora Speedway in Ohio, which has been primed to build grandstands and suites once it got the signal it had a race. That the half-mile in California likely won’t happen till 2022 (at the earliest) is small consolation.

But NASCAR must be congratulated for finally coming to its senses, so far as road courses and short tracks are concerned. Focus groups and surveys showed that its fans were fed up with a never-ending series of mile and mile-and-a-half oval races (if you want an example, that race at Kansas Sunday, won by Joey Logano – click here for a full story – was coma-inducing) and they had to make changes. The 2021 lineup will look vastly different than anything that’s come before.

The short-track lineup in 2021 will see six in total – two at the Martinsville half-mile, two at Richmond and two at Bristol (where they’ll put down dirt over the pavement for one of them). Road courses will be Indianapolis, the Charlotte “roval,” the Circuit of the Americas, Sonoma, Watkins Glen and Road America. The rest will be roundy-round with two stops at the usual suspects (Phoenix, Vegas and so-on) and I predict right now that the TV ratings for the road courses will be consistently better than the ovals (except for Daytona and Talladega) and the attendance at new places like COTA and Road America will be gigantic.

Maybe the next road-course expansion, CTMP will get the nod it deserves.

Oh, before we leave NASCAR: Can anybody tell me why they have a white line around the bottom of oval speedways if the drivers don’t pay any attention to them? The drivers were below it frequently at Kansas Sunday and whenever they race at Phoenix they’re down there at least half the time. I think if there’s a line there they should stay above it, just as Formula One is starting to crack down on the drivers who are taking liberties at some of the corners at some of the tracks they race on.

Now, Formula One is racing next weekend in Portugal and while it has a way to go before officially crowning a champion at Abu Dhabi in December, IndyCar is finishing its season on the streets of St. Petersburg next Sunday. Scott Dixon is leading the points race with Josef Newgarden second and Colton Herta third.

One interested observer will be there, cheering on his team, but won’t be racing. The crazy 2020 cobbled-together schedule means Toronto’s, er, Stouffville’s, Dalton Kellett is out of races with A.J. Foyt Racing and the best he can hope for is an announcement that he and the Foyt team have agreed terms on a full slate of races for 2021.

Kellett and I were chatting over the phone a few weeks ago now and I asked him how he’d seen his season – good, bad or indifferent? Rather than writing a story, I’ll just let the recorder run for now.

“There were highs and lows, but from a side-angle view, I’m happy with what I learned and the experience I gained. We’re in talks for next year. We’re focused ln coming back with Foyt but there’s nothing signed. To come back full-time is the goal. They’ve expressed an interest in retaining me. We’re in discussions.

“I’m happy with Foyt. We had a good first season. It was up and down. I would have liked better results on the road courses but I’m encouraged by what they did last off-season, bringing in new engineering talent, and that sort of thing looks like it’s in the works again for next year, so I’m confident in the trajectory of this team. We did have some discussions with other teams around the paddock but we’re focussed on coming back with Foyt.

“To quote A.J., he doesn’t like to lose so Larry (Foyt) and others have said that they want to do the best they can to bring the program up and having Seb (Sebastien Bourdais) aboard is a great asset. It was great to work with him at Indianapolis (for the double-header Harvest GP). It was quite a thrill for me. I remember being a young go-karter watching Seb race when he was in Champ Car. He’s still a huge name and it was really something to actually learn from him and be in the same engineering room and hear how he works with the engineers to get what he wants out of the car. It was pretty neat.

“I made a point of pulling him aside and asking questions about the track and after we’d do the debrief I’d go over some stuff with him again – just to get an idea where his head was at and he was great. He has a reputation of being demanding when it comes to setup and that’s what I wanted to learn from him: what he won’t budge on, where he’d put his foot down and when he’d say ‘No, this has to be better.”

I asked Kellett when he’d been at his best and, on the flip sider, his worst. Ironically, both were at the same place, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“Best race?  I think looking at everything that it was the Indy 500. It didn’t end the way we wanted but the qualifying was great and we were competitive. We were really comfortable on the oval and we put ourselves in a position to have a good finish but it wasn’t to be.

“The worst was the Harvest GP races at Indy on the road course. It was confusing because the race pace was good at the race on the road course in July. It was one of our stronger weekends and we came back here and with the cooler temps we just didn’t have it figured out and I think all three cars struggled. Maybe we haven’t figured out the aeroscreen yet. I don’t know; it was a mystery.”

I asked him how he saw the health of the series and whether the sponsor search might be difficult over the winter because of COVID.

“My comments are speculative but I think the gain of Nashville (a downtown street race next summer) is a big boost. If I’m full-time next year, I’ll be sorry to see Iowa go as Iowa is one of my favourite tracks. I think the losses of Iowa and Richmond, though, are due particularly to external financial situation that these tracks find themselves in this year because of COVID and a lack of attendance as a result.

“From what I’ve seen on the inside, IndyCar is very strong at the moment and the series and IMS are in a great place with Penske taking over. For next year, I think the teams with long-standing partnerships, I imagine they will be safe, but it’s going to be difficult for teams like us who are trying to bring new partners into the sport when there’s so much uncertainty around. Will there be a second wave? Can we do VIP-style entertaining at the races? My only concern would be how hard it will be to bring new partners in. Hopefully, things will calm down and that won’t be an issue. I want to add that we are talking to a few potential partners for next year, so we’re making headway.”

I told him, as an observer, that I’d always thought he was a better sports-car racer than a single-seat pilot and would he consider a competitive IMSA ride rather than continuing to struggle in IndyCar?

“My strength has always been on the ovals and because of circumstances we did just one this year (the Indy 500) so if I go full-time next year there will be more. At Texas, Gateway and Indy, the Foyt cars were strong, so I would look forward to that.

“I did well in IMSA but from a career standpoint, I’d rather give IndyCar a concerted effort and a full-time attempt rather than doing a partial season and not being able to do a full year. With my engineering background, I think there’s the opportunity for a second career for me. I’d rather go full out to try to be successful in IndyCar because that’s what I love. If it doesn’t work out, I tried. I gave it my best shot.

“I don’t mean to put IMSA down but you have to do what feels right for you and for me, that’s IndyCar.”

NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS 

Jeff Kingsley

Ryan BriscoeScott Dixon and Renger van der Zande won the 23rd annual 10-hour Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta Saturday. There was a surprise ending. What I found surprising was that only 25 cars entered the race. Storm clouds on the horizon? You betcha. For a complete story, please click here.

Whitby’s Jeff Kingsley won two of three Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama races at Road Atlanta Friday and Saturday and goes into St. Pete with a 25-point lead over his chief rival, American Riley Dickinson. “I’m still focused race by race,” Kingsley said. “You can’t think too far ahead and get your hopes up because, in this sport, anything can happen. I’ve just got to focus one race at a time. We’ve got two coming up in St. Pete, a tricky track where anything can happen. I’ve got to keep it clean, keep the speed up and hope for a couple more wins.”

Chase Briscoe, a sometimes driving partner in sports cars of our Scott Maxwell, punched his ticket to the Xfinity Series championship Nov. 7 at Phoenix Raceway by winning the Kansas Lottery 300 Saturday night at Kansas Speedway. And in the trucks series, Brett Moffitt was the winner. Our Raphael Lessard, who won the last trucks race, crashed out this time.

Kyle Larson, suspended from NASCAR and fired by Chip Ganassi for speaking a racial slur during an IRacing game last spring, has applied to be reinstated. There are rumours he already has signed a contract with a NASCAR powerhouse. If true, look for him to be welcomed back. Meantime, he won the USAC Champ Car race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Sunday,

Red Bull Racing has threatened to quit F1 and to take its Alfa Romeo farm team with it unless the league agrees to freeze engine development as of 2002. Why? It wants to take over the engine program from Honda, which is quitting the sport after 2021, and wants to ride things out until the next engine formula meetings take place for 2026. It probably won’t happen and Red Bull will just have to swallow its pride and make up with Renault. I can’t see Red Bull just quitting, can you?

Canadian Mat Williamson and fellow Canuck Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake finished first and second in the Short Track Super Series Speed Showcase 200 at Port Royal Speedway in Pennsylvania Saturday night. The win for Williamson was worth $53,000.

And they had a big Enduro and Demolition Derby at Flamborough Speedway at the weekend. Who knows who won? Ace photog Derek Smith sent the photo that holds up this part of the column, though. Thanks, Derek.

Jeff Kingsley

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

FOLLOW US ON: