Passion in racing is powerful, good, and needed more in 2014

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As a generally good gauge of the public consciousness at any particular moment, Twitter tends to erupt in moments of controversy, outrage or shock value. In the racing world, that’s usually after a big crash, a questionable team order issued on track or a jaw-dropping “Did you see that?!?” pass.

But back outside the racing bubble, the thing that made Twitter blow up yesterday was Richard Sherman’s now-infamous post-game interview following the Seattle Seahawks’ win in the NFC Championship Game. Sherman was, as you’d expect, purely jacked up on adrenaline after a game in which he’d made a game-saving defense of a Colin Kaepernick pass, which caused an interception. And he exploded.

Still, the man has a Master’s degree from Stanford and writes a weekly column for Peter King’s TheMMQB.com, so he’s clearly no dummy. He’s a bright individual, a talented player and able to enter into a state during the game where he can be so intense after the game, that it all came flying out in the immediate moments after it finished.

Motorsports has those moments, but they’re rarer. The immediate post-crash interview comes to mind, if a driver has only just got back to his pit and speaks to a pit reporter.

In IndyCar for example, I don’t remember the specifics of most 2013 victory lane interviews, but I do remember Will Power saying of Sebastien Bourdais, “He once was a champ, now he’s a chump” after the two collided at Detroit back in June. I remember when Scott Dixon went off at IndyCar Race Control in succession at Sonoma and Baltimore, which was even crazier because the Kiwi is so calm and collected.

Sadly, both Power and Dixon were penalized for their emotional outbursts. Power’s this past year was probation while Dixon got probation and earned a $30,000 fine. Power got the same fine in 2011 after his infamous – but legendary – “double-bird salute” to former Race Director Brian Barnhart at the series’ race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

If IndyCar is going to be in the headlines beyond the bubble which it currently exists, it needs that emotional moment – likely more than one – and it needs to not carry a penalty for expressing it in the heat of battle. I have to admit I’ve changed my stance on this. For consistency’s sake, enforcing the same penalty year-on-year made sense, and as Power and others had been docked for previous infractions, Dixon was justifiably fined last year to match. It’s a new year though, and with it comes a fresh opportunity to right this in the rulebook.

Emotion in other series is also hard to find. We often think of modern-day Formula One drivers as corporate, emotionless automatons devoid of the lady-killing charisma of James Hunt or the “don’t care what we say” attitudes of a Jacques Villeneuve or Eddie Irvine – two drivers I grew up with in my F1 fandom infancy in the ’90s. Truth of the matter is they aren’t, but that can be the stereotype from the outside.

Still, when Kimi Raikkonen answers a question in the old school, “don’t care” mentality with six or seven words or when Sebastian Vettel does donuts after winning, we dig it because it allows them to be them and it’s freeing from the shackles of being reined in by their corporate overlords.

NASCAR interviews are probably the worst for this. You often can’t get through a victory lane interview – which usually occurs after a TV ad break and delays the spontaneity to begin with – without the first half of the quote being some variation of “Oh man, I just want to thank Pepsi, Doritos, Taco Bell, KFC, Chevrolet, Mr. Owner, ‘Slugger’ and the crew,” before you get to any tangible sound that actually describes how you won the race. Or, more importantly, how it feels to win the race.

I get that the sponsor parade is a necessary evil of the victory lane interview, but I’d love to see more erupting in pure emotion first, then getting to your sponsors second. Want to talk about how to do a NASCAR victory lane interview? Watch Kurt Busch, in an unsponsored car, winning the July 2012 Nationwide Series race at Daytona for the underdog James Finch team. And take notes. (Wait, maybe being unsponsored is the key to this victory lane thing…)

Or, alternatively, just watch any John Force interview over the last two decades. Yes, the man is one of the greatest drag racers who has ever lived with 16 NHRA Funny Car championships. But he’s as widely revered as he is within the motorsports world as much for his mouth as his 4-second blasts at 300-plus mph.

There’s a reason Talladega Nights is as funny as it is, because Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby lampoons the sponsor-laden culture of NASCAR and comes up with a pair of catchphrases in Victory Lane: “Shake ‘n Bake,” and “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” To this day, those two are still part of the lexicon.

In today’s entertainment-over-populated, soundbite-heavy world, the simple fact is competition itself is not going to get racing back into the public sphere beyond the series’ bubbles. If it did, IndyCar would be the most popular and widely watched form of motorsports in North America.

It’s going to take a series of moments throughout 2014 of passion … of pure joy … of anger … of “What the hell did they just say?!?” to help propel any of the racing disciplines to greater heights.

Because if racing has moments in 2014 that catch on like Richard Sherman’s last night, that will only help to collectively grow the sport.

“Fast Ed” Carpenter takes 3rd career pole for Indy 500; Danica to start 7th

Pole winner Ed Carpenter is hugged by teammate Danica Patrick. Photo:IndyCar
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Ed Carpenter, the king of the front row at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reigned supreme again Sunday, taking the pole for next Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

It’s the third time Carpenter — nicknamed “Fast Ed” — has started the 500 from the top spot, having also done so in 2013 and 2014, along with starting second in last year’s race.

Carpenter led off with the fastest one-lap speed of the day at 230.088 mph – the only driver over 230 mph – and continued on to accumulate a four-lap average speed of 229.618 mph, nearly a full mph faster than Simon Pagenaud (228.761 mph), who will start second and in the middle of the front row.

Will Power (228.607 mph) will start on the outside of the front row. Team Penske grabbed second through fourth and also the eighth position.

Chevrolets make up four of the top five and seven of the top nine. The only Honda driver in the top five is Sebastien Bourdais in fifth.

The first driver of the Fast Nine to take the track, Danica Patrick – who will make the final start of her multi-faceted racing career in the 500 – qualified seventh with a four-lap average of 228.584 mph.

Here’s how the first three rows stack up (inside driver, middle driver, outside driver):

Row 1: Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power

Row 2: Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot

Row 3: Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon

Here’s comments from the Fast Nine:

Ed Carpenter (229.618 mph, 1st): “I’m the 11th to get three (poles), but I want to add my name to the list of winners here. I can’t wait for Sunday. The car was perfect. It was awesome to drive that car. Hopefully, we’ll be able to close the deal this year.”

Simon Pagenaud (228.761 mph, 2nd): “We have good cars, fast cars and I’m just super proud. Obviously, I wanted to get the pole, but it’s racing. Luck is on my side today. We’re in a very good position and I’m thinking positive today.”

Will Power (228.607 mph, 3rd): “Just a couple little bad shifts and little less downforce and it would have been a little closer. It all makes a difference, it all adds up, but that’s Indy for you. You can’t second guess.”

Josef Newgarden (228.405 mph, 4th): “We’re competitive. We want all four of these cars to be up-front. It’s good to be with Chevrolet, they do a lot here at Indianapolis. It was an overall good run, so I’m satisfied. You always feel like you had something to do different after you did it. Hindsight is always 20-20, right?”

Sebastien Bourdais (228.142 mph, 5th): “It was pretty stressful. The car was very much on top of the track, very little downforce conditions. The guys did a good job, gave me a fast car and I really had to wheel it.”

Spencer Pigot (228.107 mph, 6th): “Starting inside the top 9 is a big achievement for us. For me, it’s at least 20 positions better than I’ve ever started here. Now that qualifying is over, we’ll focus on the race. … It’s a massive improvement for me. I like our chances.”

Danica Patrick (228.090 mph, 7th): “It was fairly consistent. All in all, a good feeling. It’s good to have that part done. I was pretty nervous. … Now it’s time for 500 fun miles.”

Helio Castroneves (227.859 mph, 8th): “I was praying for rain but it didn’t happen (he said with a laugh). Congrats to Ed (Carpenter). We took a gamble, had nothing to lose here and that’s what we did. It is what it is. Eighth position, we can win the race from there. Now, I’ve got to think about the big number.”

Scott Dixon (227.262 mph, 9th): “We didn’t run this morning so it was following the conditions. We struggled a little and maybe had a couple things that didn’t pay off. We’ll keep trucking on and see ourselves move up next weekend.”

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As for qualifying for positions 10th through 33rd:

* Defending 500 winner Takuma Sato qualified 16th.

* 2016 500 winner Alexander Rossi qualified a disappointing 32nd. Rossi had a strong run in the first of his four laps at 227.454 mph, and then suddenly dropped off to 224.152 on the third lap and a very disappointing 221.619 mph on his final lap, plunging him from potentially starting on the fourth row to the last row.

* Another disappointing effort came from Graham Rahal, who will start 30th, on the outside of the 10th row.

* Also, Matheus Leist, driving for Indy 500 legend A.J. Foyt, qualified 11th, making him the highest-qualifying rookie.

Here’s how Rows 4 through 11 lineup look (inside driver, middle driver, outside driver):

Row 4: Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist, Marco Andretti

Row 5: Zachary Claman Demelo, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball

Row 6: Takuma Sato, Kyle Kaiser, Robert Wickens

Row 7: James Davison, Max Chilton, Carlos Munoz

Row 8: Gabby Chaves, Stefan Wilson, Sage Karam

Row 9: Zack Veach, Oriol Servia, JR Hildebrand

Row 10: Jay Howard, Ed Jones, Graham Rahal

Row 11: Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly

Here’s some driver comments on their qualifying efforts:

* Tony Kanaan (10th): “What a great effort as a team. A.J. and Larry (Foyt) put so much effort into this over the winter and gave us everything I’ve asked. They’ve spent every single dime to give us a great car. I told them today our pole was 10, so we’re sitting on the pole.”

* Matheus Leist (11th): “The car was pretty good since the beginning of the week. I’m so happy for the whole team. I love this place. Last year I won my first race in Indy Lights here, so let’s see what I can do in my first Indy 500 here.”

* Marco Andretti (12th): “I thought it was alright. I was chasing balance end to end. It kind of caught me out. … I’m excited about the race, that’s for sure. Yesterday, we wouldn’t have made the Fast Nine, so I just want to go forward and get it done.”

* Ryan Hunter-Reay (14th): “I was hoping for more but I think that’s the speed the car has in it. I had a good balance in the car. I’m looking forward to focusing on the race car tomorrow, and if you have a good race car, none of this qualifying matters.”

* Robert Wickens (18th): “We were able to do a 228 this morning comfortably, and then I go out and do a 226 (in qualifying) and didn’t change a thing. … It’s still cool to start it.”

* Carlos Munoz (21st): “I want this race, I’ve been so close for so many years. I love this race, everything about the 500. I think the most important thing is to have a good car for the race.”

* Jay Howard (28th): “Obviously, I’m just real happy to have the opportunity to go out there to give the car a good qualification effort. The pace is not there, we’re a little disappointed with the speed, but we’re in the race, that’s the most important thing and we’ll see what (the race) brings us.”

* Alexander Rossi (32nd): “It’s the mystery about this place, we don’t know yet. Certainly, that hasn’t been our performance here. We should have been 10th through 12th, but that’s what makes this place what it is. It’s a new challenge and new opportunity to show what we can do.”

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