It’s been eight years since “Talladega Nights” was released, and NASCAR has changed a lot since

3 Comments

The Will Ferrell goofball comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby premiered in theaters eight years ago today, and it’s been fascinating to see what’s happened to the world of NASCAR since August 4, 2006.

Here’s just a brief summation of the things and moments captured in Talladega Nights that are either still relevant today or have changed in that time frame:

  • NASCAR has been through two new generations of cars, as the Car of Tomorrow premiered in 2007, went through enhancements and then launched the new Generation-6 car in 2013.
  • NASCAR’s last season on NBC was in 2006… it will return in 2015. The booth crew changes, from Bill Weber, Wally Dallenbach Jr. and the late, great Benny Parsons to Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte next year.
  • SPEED Channel is no more, as it chronicled Ricky Bobby’s return to the track at Rockingham (which no longer holds a Cup race) for a test after his accident at Charlotte that led to the whole “Help me Tom Cruise!” gag.
  • Nextel was still the series title sponsor; Cup did not become the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series until 2008.
  • Kurt Busch has followed a Ricky Bobby-like odyssey of his own, with a high-profile fall from grace from Team Penske at the end of 2011, to then actually driving a Ricky Bobby-inspired “ME” paint scheme with permission from all involved at Talladega the spring of 2012 with, fittingly, Phoenix Racing as the team. And that was to raise awareness for the Armed Forces Foundation. With Furniture Row Racing a year later, he drove a Wonder Bread-sponsored car. Now, Busch is back with a top team in Stewart-Haas Racing, and also been one of the stories of the 2014 racing season with his double attempt at Indianapolis and Charlotte Memorial Day weekend – the former event where he won the rookie-of-the-year honors after a sixth place finish.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in his eventual second-to-last season at Dale Earnhardt Inc. (2007) before his first at Hendrick Motorsports (2008). “Junior” switched from the 8 to 88 in ’08.
  • Jamie McMurray has gone from Chip Ganassi Racing to Roush Fenway Racing and then back to Ganassi.
  • Michael Waltrip called Talladega Nights great.
  • No “Jean Girard” type has entered NASCAR, but Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya entered NASCAR at the tail end of 2006 to provide the first consistent, full-time foreign driver from 2007 through 2013. JPM didn’t sip macchiatos; he did manage to hit a jet drier once, and that’s spawned an endless barrage of bad jokes since the 2012 Daytona 500. Of course now, JPM is back in IndyCar where he races against a guy who can pull off a wicked Jean Girard imitation – actual Frenchman Simon Pagenaud.
  • A litany of corporate sponsors – some of which were lampooned in the movie – have since left the sport.
  • One of the actors in the film got arrested for domestic violence… and that came only a month after he was arrested for reckless driving. Surprisingly, that actor wasn’t one of the two who played Ricky Bobby’s troublesome twosome of kids, Walker and Texas Ranger – it was the actor who played a young “RB” himself.
  • Talladega Nights-inspired restaurant was sued by Sony Pictures.

There’s undoubtedly more, but for now, we’ll simply leave you with those moments to chew on.

INDYCAR Preview – KOHLER Grand Prix

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

One of the great road courses in the United States, Road America, plays host to the next round of the Verizon IndyCar Series – the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday June 24, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

A staple of IndyCar between 1982 and 2007, IndyCar returned to Road America amidst great fanfare in 2016. And the two visits since its return have not disappointed.

Will Power held off a hard-charging Tony Kanaan to win in 2016, while Graham Rahal survived a thrilling battle for third to round out the podium. And last year, Scott Dixon made an outstanding outside pass on Josef Newgarden in Turn 1 to take the lead on a late-race restart, and he held on to win from there – it was also his only victory of 2017.

And if the previous road and street courses are any indication, Sunday’s race could be another thriller on the 4.048-mile road course.

Major talking points ahead of the KOHLER Grand Prix are below.

The Rise of Dixon

Scott Dixon celebrates victory in the DXC Technology 600. Photo: IndyCar

The 2018 IndyCar season is beginning look a lot like a Scott Dixon year.

After a somewhat slow start to his season, Dixon caught fire in the month of May. He finished second at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, then third at the Indianapolis 500.

He followed that up with a ferocious first two weeks of June, winning Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit and finishing fourth in Race 2. He followed that up by dominating the second half of the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway to take his second win of the season, and his second in three races.

That stretch has put Dixon into the championship lead for the first time this season. And he is also the defending winner of the KOHLER Grand Prix, after passing then leader Josef Newgarden on a late-race restart, so he likely enters the weekend as the favorite.

“Obviously I’m happy with where the team has been running these past few weekends, but we’ve been there the whole season. We just haven’t shown the results for one reason or another,” Dixon explained. “While most had the weekend off, we had the opportunity to compete again at Le Mans, which is a very special deal. So now we’re back, and after a few short days at home, it’s Road America. We had a great car here last year picking up the win for the No. 9 team, and I’m hoping we can do it again this weekend with the PNC Bank car.”

Dixon won’t go nearly as far as to talk anything championship-related at the moment, but a fifth championship is most certainly possible.

Road America Could Become Very Tire-some

Tire strategy will likely be at the forefront in Road America. Photo: IndyCar

The primary “black” and alternate “red” Firestone tires have created genuinely intriguing racing in recent weeks.

The difference in grip levels between them saw Will Power and Robert Wickens engage in a fantastic and tactical mid-race duel at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, and it created a lot of drama across both races in Belle Isle, culminating in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s charge to victory in Race 2.

And last year’s KOHLER Grand Prix ultimately came down to tire strategy. The aforementioned Dixon passed Newgarden because he was on the alternate “red” tires, while Newgarden was on the primary “blacks” – Newgarden also took the lead earlier in the race using the same tactic, getting onto reds when other leaders were on blacks, which helped him pass Helio Castroneves for the lead.

It’s within reason to think this weekend at Road America will be more of the same.

Newgarden’s Season Slipping Away?

Josef Newgarden. Photo: IndyCar

Josef Newgarden entered the month of May on a hot streak, having won two of the opening four races to lead the championship as the series headed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The wheels have metaphorically come off a bit since then. He finished 11th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix after spinning late in the race, eighth at the Indy 500, ninth and 15th in Detroit, and 13th at Texas Motor Speedway.

That stretch has dropped him from the championship lead to fifth in the standings, 68 points off Dixon for the title lead.

If he is to get himself back into title contention, he’ll need to get back on the podium this weekend. And fortunately for Newgarden, the Road America circuit ranks at the top of his personal favorites.

“I’m not shy on saying that Road America is probably my favorite track. I really love racing there. It’s a fun road course with a lot of great INDYCAR fans, so what’s not to love?” Newgarden asserted. “These cars with the new aero kit have been super exciting on road courses and this weekend will be no different. The entire No. 1 Verizon Chevy team and I are pumped to get on track there. I thought we were strong at Texas after not living up to our standards at Detroit, but we just ran out of luck. Myself and the entire team are ready to really come back strong to gain more points to continue our hunt for another championship.”

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay is quietly beginning to put together a title-contending year. Outside of a 20th at Long Beach, and 18th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, Hunter-Reay’s worst finish is fifth (three times), and he three podiums to his name, including his Detroit Race 2 victory. He sits 49 points behind Dixon, well within striking distance. This is about the time of the year when he started his title run back in 2012, which culminated in a series championship for him, and 2018 could be headed in that direction.
  • Graham Rahal sits sixth in the standings, 107 points back. His crash in Detroit Race 1 undoubtedly hurt his title chances, but he has been incredibly consistent outside of that, finishing inside the Top 10 at every other race. However, he’ll need some victories later in the year if he is to put himself back in the title picture.
  • Juncos Racing returns to the grid, with Alfonso Celis making his IndyCar debut. A standout and race winner in World Series Formula V8 3.5, he previously raced with Juncos in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at Barber Motorsports Park, where he finished seventh and eighth.

The Final Word…

From Robert Wickens, who made his IndyCar debut in Friday practice last year at Road America – he subbed for Mikhail Aleshin, who was delayed in arriving at Road America following the 24 Hours of Le Mans:

“I’m really looking forward to Road America. I think, in the last few races, we’ve shown our potential. We’ve shown that we’re quick. Now we need to try to get back on the podium. Road America is always a fun track, and it’s where I got my first taste of INDYCAR with SPM so I can’t wait to actually race the Lucas Oil car here.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 22
11:00-11:45 a.m. (12:00-12:45 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:15-4:15 p.m. (4:15-5:15 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 23
11:00-11:45 a.m. (12:00-12:45 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. ET) – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (5:30 p.m. same-day delay)

Sunday, June 24
11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET) – NBCSN on-air
12:05 p.m. (1:05 p.m. ET) – KOHLER Grand Prix (55 laps/220.77 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s Top 10:

1. Scott Dixon
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Helio Castroneves
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. Will Power
6. Charlie Kimball
7. Ed Jones
8. Graham Rahal
9. Max Chilton
10. Mikhail Aleshin

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Helio Castroneves
2. Will Power
3. Josef Newgarden
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. Scott Dixon
6. Graham Rahal

Follow@KyleMLavigne