Friday, July 11, 2008

Nashville Firestone Indy 200 Preview

The Nashville Superspeedway, owned by Dover Motorsports, is a relatively new track, constructed in 2001. This is almost an exact opposite of the previous venue, Watkins Glen. The Glen is a road course set in the beautiful forests of upstate New York and steeped in decades of grand prix racing, whereas the Nashville Superspeedway is a new 1.3 miles of hyperfast concrete oval racing action. There are some similarities, however. Scott Dixon has been dominant at both tracks for the past two years. The IndyCar Series has held an event every year since the track was first constructed, and every one of the races have been sponsored by Firestone. Depending upon how the 2009 schedule shakes out, this may be the last IndyCar race at this venue. Firestone has already made it clear that its primary interest is in the health of the series. They'd like to see the Nashville race continue since Firestone's North American headquarters are in Nashville, but first and foremost, they would like a healthy and robust series to whom they can sell tire. One of the unique aspects of the event is its trophy. The winner will receive a genuine Gibson electric guitar custom painted for each year's event.

Last Year:

Last year's race was delayed by rain and held on Monday instead of Sunday. That certainly hurt the attendance numbers, and the TV ratings. The on-track product, thought, was out of sight! Although it was Scott Dixon sitting on the pole, Dario Franchitti jumped ahead to take an early and very dominating lead. It really looked like it was going to yet another Dario win and that his championship lead was going to extend to a near insurmountable gap. Dixon in the meantime had fallen back to third. Dixon would regain the lead for keeps by making the most impressive pass of the 2007 season, blowing by both Dario and his own teammate Dan Wheldon on the low side as the trio caught up to lapped traffic.
With a lot of racing action throughout the field, and especially up front, the 2007 Firestone Indy 200 was a great race to watch. Dario finished in 2nd, thus minimizing Scott's gain on his lead. A driver that was, if you can believe it, somewhat overlooked during the race was Danica Patrick. After posting practice times that were routinely in the top three, she qualified 7th. During the race, she stayed clean on the very green track and motored her way up to 3rd. Tony Kannan, however, found the wall in what's become an all too familiar scene: TK passing on a line that's too high on the track, swapping ends, and hitting the wall.

What to Watch:
Unfortunately, due to a tight personal schedule, there won't be time to include an analysis of the Friday practice sessions, so we'll just skip to things to watch for in this year's event. First of all is the carnage. At just 1.3 miles in length, Nashville is somewhere inbetween a short track and a superspeedway. This means that you have cars moving at superspeedway speeds of over 200 mph, but on a rather narrow, short, and concrete track with only two racable grooves. Lapped traffic comes up early and often, and was a major contributor to Scott Dixon being able to make his pass for the lead from P3 last year. Lapped traffic was also a major contributor to a few incidents including Tony Kannan's unfriendly meeting with the T2 wall. Considering the increased level of competition and aggression, and the decreased level of driver respect and restraint we've seen this year, expect another outbreak of yellow fever. Restarts will be critical! This plays well into the hands of TK and Jaime Camara. Their restart skills are fantastic, with Tony's being near legendary. On the other end of the spectrum are Danica's restart skills, or lack thereof. Once up to speed, she will be able to pick her way through the field, provided the oversteer that's plauged here all season doesn't show up again. During the restarts, however, she always seems slow, loses a couple of spots, and really bunches up the field behind her. It really wouldn't be a bad idea for her to practice those restarts once she has her qualying and race setups dialed in.

There are a number of drivers that could win this race. So far this season, there have been eight different winners of eleven different races: Dixon, Rahal, Patrick, Power, Wheldon, Briscoe, Kannan, and Hunter-Reay. We just might see a ninth unique winner. This type of track really favors Marco's style, and if he can keep from running into someone, look for Andretti 3.0 in the top 5. Vitor Meira is hungrier and faster than ever! Its really a wonder that he hasn't won a race yet this season. This could be the site of his first win. Many of the new teams and drivers are starting to really figure out ovals and the Dallara chassis. Bruno Junquiera will be fast and should be fun to watch, even if he won't be in the top 5, but drivers like EJ Viso, Oriol Servia, and Justin Wilson just might! There's a lot of parity amongst the teams and drivers, so its really hard to have n outright favorite. It should be a fun-filled, if a bit chaotic, race down in Music City.

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