DiZinno: Alonso’s test proves overkill, occasionally, is good (VIDEO)

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It’s been said before that watching testing is the racing equivalent of watching paint dry. The days are long, arduous, monotonous and more often than not, boring.

Calls to televise or stream test days are often met with a shrug or “you’re kidding” from the production staff. The reasoning is that there’s a lot more behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting the cameras up, getting the feed live and paying the production costs than is worth the ROI. You’re lucky if you hit four digits worth of people on site for a test day.

Which then makes what happened yesterday both all the more staggering, and all the more impressive.

Tens of thousands of people around the world stopped what they were doing, or multi-tasked the hell out of their days, to watch a test that wasn’t even a full test. It was one car and one driver only.

This, indeed, is the true power of Fernando Alonso and what his star power is bringing to this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

And it’s the first tangible, statistical measure that Zak Brown and McLaren’s gamble to bring the two-time World Championship-winning Spaniard over to America for a shot at the race on Alonso’s own request will indeed pay off in metrics.

Photo: IndyCar

The day began first with a social media blitz to reveal the car’s livery, similar to what McLaren did for its F1 launch in the middle of the night in February earlier this year. The drama was whether this time, with a rare second chance to get it right, McLaren would actually nail the proper color of papaya orange. These are the key details… clearly.

But the livery launch worked. Already, the buzz was going with the car going for a simpler look than the busy, Arrows or Spyker-esque, knockoff orange and black that adorns the McLaren MCL32 Honda on the Formula 1 grid this year.

That came with the full photo shoot, Alonso, the car and helmet now having been revealed in full kit to the world to know what he’d be wearing when the stream started.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

The anticipation built. Before the test had even started and NBCSN’s Kevin Lee moderated the live stream, posted on INDYCAR’s YouTube and Facebook channels in addition to embeds via IMS and the IndyCar Race Control website, as well as simulcast here via the NBC Sports App, the YouTube feed alone had 34,000 viewers watching Lee host while Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford were adding insight and telling stories, while pitching back-and-forth with Robin Miller on pit lane.

Even in an absolute best-case scenario of 15,000 fans on site at Phoenix this past weekend for a race – and the number was likely much lower than that – that was already at least double the number of people paying to watch a race in the grandstands than were watching in whatever clothes they had on at their home or work to watch Alonso’s first crack at the Speedway, on the Internet. And that was just the YouTube figure, to say nothing of Facebook and our NBCSN feed here, which only adds to the numbers.

The number, like Alonso’s speeds as he got more comfortable, grew greater. It surpassed the 50,000 watching threshold, where it stayed most of the rest of the day. It exploded past 75,000 not long after Marco Andretti had completed his shakedown run in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry and Alonso was set to take over for his first running.

By the end of the day, INDYCAR had sent a message saying its Facebook Live streaming coverage had attracted more than 1 million views and 800,000 unique viewers. A total number of more than 2 million hits was achieved between the YouTube and Facebook numbers. It was entirely unique circumstances, but no less staggering.

And it says something about the quality of the IMS Productions presentation and the presenters on screen – which had to have come together quickly as word this test would be streamed was only announced to the world on Monday, with NBCSN’s late add confirmed on Tuesday – that the number of viewers continued to escalate with anticipation rather than going down.

F1 teams chimed in on Twitter, even as the official F1 Twitter account was conspicuously silent.

Mercedes, Renault and Sahara Force India were but several that joked they wouldn’t dare think of releasing news now, for Alonso, McLaren and Honda – and for once, IndyCar – was winning the racing Internet.

Joking hashtags began to emerge beyond the official one of #AlonsoRunsIndy. The overkill of Alonso-mania was in full tilt.

And yet for every amount of snark offered asking how much Alonso was too much Alonso, the amount of disappointment (and justifiably) that Stefan Wilson doesn’t have a ride as a result of this, and the cries over whether a NASCAR star or the Taylor brothers might have been better for metrics, there was positivity ringing out to drown on the doubters.

Positivity? Numbers? For an IndyCar live stream?

The overkill was justified. Because for a one-day, one-car, rookie test, it had to be.

With no disrespect to the other three confirmed rookies in this year’s field, Ed Jones, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey – the last of whom is actually one of Alonso’s teammates – none has the name recognition or appeal beyond the most ardent, diehard of IndyCar fans who’ve paid explicit attention to the Mazda Road to Indy and Indy Lights where all three have won races and in Jones’ case, a championship. Where they could afford to feel aggrieved today was in seeing Alonso practice some of the procedural items – pit lane entry off Turn 4 and yellow flag simulations being two examples – since those aren’t official parts of ROP.

Alonso, however? He’s a rookie in name only, same as Kurt Busch was years earlier. He had the eyes of the F1 world watching along with the IndyCar world. And if Wednesday proved anything, it’s that the number of eyeballs from that aforementioned F1 world were locked in in a laser-focus unlike anything IndyCar could begin to generate from its own.

But while Wednesday was awesome from an overkill standpoint, with Alonso dominating all the stories, all the headlines and all the videos, the challenge from here is ensuring the overkill does not supersede the rest of the month – and how Alonso fits into it.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

As a similar and recent example, Jeff Gordon ran this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona as part of the Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R with the aforementioned Taylor brothers, Ricky and Jordan, and the retiring Max Angelelli. Gordon’s name, inevitably, drew headlines from beyond the specialist sports car media that covers the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship full-time, which was a good thing… except that it wasn’t.

By Gordon’s presence existing at the Rolex 24, it allowed the focus for some to be only on Gordon instead of fitting Gordon into a greater editorial plan. And perhaps, that’s by design. However the story of the Taylors’ win was not about Gordon’s presence in the car, but rather it was the Taylors’ breakthrough after years of heartbreak and in particular, Ricky Taylor’s star turn on his own. And with three other class winners, including Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT in its second straight 24-hour race and two youthful lineups in the pro-am classes, there were plenty of other great stories to write as well.

Alonso actually said it well yesterday in the post-practice press conference when he described how he fits into the overall sphere of the race.

Photo: IndyCar

“At the moment I’m coming to have a great experience, that’s for sure. You cannot lose that perspective and that target. It’s one of the best races in the world and you’re one of the 33 drivers on the grid. After that, when you close the visor on Sunday or in qualifying, you don’t like when you are in second.

“It’s the same in every sport. NBA players, they’re doing the playoffs. Sure they enjoy they’re in, but if they lose the game, they’re trying to recover for the next day. First priority is to enjoy the experience and the event, but we are all competitive drivers. We are here to do the best we can.”

Alonso is one of 33 drivers. He is the mega star in this year’s race and provides a massive bump to the race’s worldwide interest, but he is not the only story line. We’ve had four winners in four races to kick off the year, plus we have at least six past Indianapolis 500 champions in the field.

Over the course of this month, ensuring Alonso doesn’t hog the spotlight but is highlighted along with the stars of the full-season championship, and his other trio of rookies, will be key to the overall success of this race beyond May itself.

Alas, Wednesday was his day to be singularly under the spotlight, because no one else was there to take it away.

Photo: IndyCar

NHRA playoffs kick off with Beckman, Crampton, Line, Savoie wins

Photos and videos courtesy of NHRA
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(NHRA media release)

MOHNTON, Pa. – It’s been over a year since Jack Beckman parked his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in an NHRA winner’s circle but on Sunday at the 35th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil he came out on top.

Not only did Beckman defeat John Force in the final round at Maple Grove Raceway, he also took over the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series points lead.

“Our Sunday, I think it was perfect,” Beckman said. “That car was consistent, and it was fast. It’s one thing to be consistent and be a 10th (of a second) off the field but to run numbers as good as any other car out here, up and down the race track all four runs on race day.”

Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were victors in their respective divisions at the first race of the 2019 Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Beckman has been the runner-up four times in 2019 but it was his 3.958-second pass at 330.07 that gave him the holeshot win over Force’s quicker 3.952. One of the runner-up finishes was just two weeks ago at the U.S. Nationals against Force.

“In NHRA, you have zero control over what the car and driver in the other lane are doing,” Beckman said. “Did I want to beat him? Of course. Did it sting that he beat us in the Indy final? Duh. But none of that was going to help me be any better. Some fans came over before the final and said, ‘Hey, we’ll go razz John.’ And I said, ‘Don’t poke the bear.’ That guy, always seems to find a way to get motivated and win more races.”

It was a battle of Kalitta Motorsports in the Top Fuel final round but it was Crampton who raised the Wally trophy when he defeated his teammate Doug Kalitta with his 3.738 pass at 329.10 in his DHL dragster. Crampton now ties team owner and NHRA legend Connie Kalitta with 10 career wins.

Doug Kalitta snagged the Top Fuel points lead when previous leader and reigning champion Steve Torrence made an early exit in round one.

“It was definitely a great day for the whole team,” Crampton said. “All four cars are running good, particularly the dragsters, of course. But for Doug to take the points lead heading out of here, and we made a good jump in the points as well, that’s what we need to do. It’s that time of the year. It’s time to execute on race day and Connie and (crew chief) Kurt Elliott gave me the car to do it.”

Line earned his 50th Pro Stock title when he defeated Fernando Cuadra in the final round of eliminations thanks to his 6.553 pass at 210.60 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. Line also took over the points lead from his KB teammate Bo Butner. Cuadra, who was completing in his first career final round, is also a KB powered car.

“It was a big victory, for sure,” Line said. “Not one of my shiner moments, but big victory, nonetheless. I was a little tardy (leaving the starting line) so not what you want to do in the final round. But 50 wins just means I’ve had some great race cars to drive and some great people I’ve gotten to work with over the years. It’s been a fun ride.”

Savoie picked up his second consecutive win on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki. He took down Steve Johnson with his 6.774 lap at 198.55 in the final round and went on to claim the Pro Stock Motorcycle points lead.

“It was just a great, great day for everyone. My whole team. I don’t take any of this credit. (Crew chief) Tim (Kulungian) and everybody on the team worked their butts off and here we are. At my age, I can do it. I didn’t count on making the top 10 because I took three races off. And, bam! Here we are. No one, not even myself expected this.”

The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues Sept. 27-29 with the second race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Richie Crampton; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Austin Prock; 4. Brittany Force; 5. Clay Millican; 6. Mike Salinas; 7. Leah Pritchett; 8. Antron Brown; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Jordan Vandergriff; 11. Dan Mercier; 12. Terry McMillen; 13. Todd Paton; 14. Billy Torrence; 15. Lex Joon; 16. Smax Smith.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman; 2. John Force; 3. Ron Capps; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. John Smith; 6. Tim Wilkerson; 7. Matt Hagan; 8. Robert Hight; 9. Shawn Langdon; 10. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 11. Jim Campbell; 12. Cruz Pedregon; 13. Jonnie Lindberg; 14. Mike McIntire; 15. Bob Tasca III; 16. Terry Haddock.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line; 2. Fernando Cuadra; 3. Matt Hartford; 4. Jeg Coughlin; 5. Deric Kramer; 6. Bo Butner; 7. Erica Enders; 8. Alex Laughlin; 9. Aaron Stanfield; 10. Kenny Delco; 11. Chris McGaha; 12. Bob Benza; 13. Greg Anderson; 14. Wally Stroupe; 15. David Miller; 16. Val Smeland.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Steve Johnson; 3. Matt Smith; 4. Karen Stoffer; 5. Angelle Sampey; 6. Eddie Krawiec; 7. Andrew Hines; 8. Hector Arana Jr; 9. Angie Smith; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Kelly Clontz; 12. Jianna Salinas; 13. Michael Ray; 14. Scotty Pollacheck; 15. Hector Arana; 16. Ron Tornow.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Richie Crampton, 3.738 seconds, 329.10 mph def. Doug Kalitta, 3.779 seconds, 331.28 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.958, 330.07 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.952, 328.78.

PRO STOCK: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.553, 210.60 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.594, 208.78.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.774, 198.55 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.805, 196.59.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Austin Prock, 3.698, 331.61 def. Jordan Vandergriff, 3.757, 322.34; Mike Salinas, 3.818, 252.80 def. Billy Torrence, 4.727, 163.53; Brittany Force, 3.691, 326.79 def. Todd Paton, 4.265, 207.98; Leah Pritchett, 3.731, 326.40 def. Lex Joon, 4.858, 152.73; Doug Kalitta, 3.722, 330.96 def. Smax Smith, 8.356, 74.14; Richie Crampton, 3.733, 329.26 def. Dan Mercier, 3.892, 310.63; Antron Brown, 3.743, 328.30 def. Terry McMillen, 4.130, 237.59; Clay Millican, 3.752, 329.67 def. Steve Torrence, 3.741, 330.15; QUARTERFINALS — Crampton, 3.781, 324.44 def. Brown, 9.080, 81.48; Kalitta, 3.740, 329.83 def. Salinas, 4.354, 196.39; Prock, 4.735, 219.51 def. Pritchett, 5.736, 105.48; Force, 3.784, 306.67 def. Millican, 3.927, 266.42; SEMIFINALS — Crampton, 4.656, 164.57 def. Force, Broke; Kalitta, 3.740, 333.91 def. Prock, 4.015, 295.66; FINAL — Crampton, 3.738, 329.10 def. Kalitta, 3.779, 331.28.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — John Smith, Dodge Charger, 4.280, 245.05 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 6.422, 144.74; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.926, 320.36 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 10.025, 83.22; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.909, 327.51 def. Mike McIntire, Toyota, 5.898, 119.98; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.908, 331.45 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.204, 249.21; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.938, 326.40 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.752, 172.94; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.919, 331.04 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 5.774, 127.88; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.915, 329.58 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.977, 327.66; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.899, 332.02 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.961, 329.91; QUARTERFINALS — Force, 3.944, 331.61 def. Wilkerson, 7.140, 133.20; Beckman, 3.927, 331.61 def. Hight, 9.203, 83.25; Capps, 3.916, 329.18 def. Hagan, 8.623, 79.91; Todd, 3.949, 324.75 def. J. Smith, 4.013, 313.80; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.916, 331.12 def. Todd, 5.501, 167.26; Force, 3.929, 329.42 def. Capps, 4.262, 240.25; FINAL — Beckman, 3.958, 330.07 def. Force, 3.952, 328.78.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Fernando Cuadra, Chevy Camaro, 6.588, 209.75 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.578, 209.75 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.622, 211.06; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.549, 210.21 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.557, 210.54; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.552, 210.08 def. Bob Benza, Camaro, 6.593, 208.10; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.564, 209.92 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.587, 209.30; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.540, 210.44 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 17.922, 45.55; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.554, 209.36 def. David Miller, Dodge Dart, 19.609, 36.81; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.568, 210.44 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Hartford, 6.591, 209.75 def. Laughlin, 7.169, 205.82; Cuadra, 6.578, 209.56 def. Enders, 6.581, 209.07; Coughlin, 6.568, 209.65 def. Kramer, 6.571, 209.92; Line, 6.549, 210.41 def. Butner, 6.575, 210.41; SEMIFINALS — Cuadra, 6.598, 208.46 def. Coughlin, Foul – Red Light; Line, 6.572, 210.57 def. Hartford, 6.604, 210.73; FINAL — Line, 6.553, 210.60 def. Cuadra, 6.594, 208.78.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Matt Smith, 6.843, 198.15 def. Scotty Pollacheck, 7.109, 192.91; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.807, 195.11 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.891, 196.36 def. Angie Smith, 6.902, 196.19; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.837, 194.72 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.971, 193.18; Hector Arana Jr, 6.897, 197.19 def. Ryan Oehler, 6.946, 194.46; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.822, 197.31 def. Ron Tornow, Buell, Broke – No Show; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.865, 195.03 def. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 6.976, 191.40; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.871, 197.31 def. Michael Ray, 7.009, 189.71; QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.862, 199.58 def. Sampey, 6.857, 196.07; Johnson, 6.854, 195.42 def. Arana Jr, 6.967, 192.08; Stoffer, 6.847, 196.96 def. Krawiec, 6.878, 196.70; Savoie, 6.818, 197.10 def. Hines, 6.904, 196.44; SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.834, 195.70 def. M. Smith, 6.847, 198.64; Savoie, 6.818, 196.42 def. Stoffer, Foul – Red Light; FINAL — Savoie, 6.774, 198.55 def. Johnson, 6.805, 196.59.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 2,180; 2. Brittany Force, 2,147; 3. Steve Torrence, 2,133; 4. Antron Brown, 2,127; 5. Richie Crampton, 2,126; 6. Mike Salinas, 2,104; 7. Austin Prock, 2,094; 8. Leah Pritchett, 2,093; 9. Clay Millican, 2,092; 10. Billy Torrence, 2,032.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 2,179; 2. John Force, 2,160; 3. Robert Hight, 2,155; 4. Ron Capps, 2,136; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,105; 6. Matt Hagan, 2,092; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,089; 8. Bob Tasca III, 2,072; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,057; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,043.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line, 2,194; 2. Bo Butner, 2,155; 3. Alex Laughlin, 2,139; 4. Erica Enders, 2,116; 5. Matt Hartford, 2,103; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 2,099; 7. Deric Kramer, 2,095; 8. Greg Anderson, 2,092; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,041; 10. Val Smeland, 2,031.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie, 2,166; 2. Andrew Hines, 2,160; 3. Matt Smith, 2,143; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,134; 5. Karen Stoffer, 2,120; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,117; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,083; 8. Angie Smith, 2,062; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,042; 10. Hector Arana, 2,032.