Indy 500 ROY: The Great Hardware Robbery

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Photo from en.f1i.com

Fernando Alonso being awarded the 101st Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors over Ed Jones is the  biggest heist since Lufthansa. It shall henceforth be known as The Great Hardware Robbery.

The Dubai born Brit clearly deserved the award after turning in an impressive third place finish in Sunday’s wild ride of a race. Instead, the Spanish born international celebrity who led before retiring with a blown Honda in 24th somehow won the distinction. If you followed the month long Alo saga in the media, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

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Photo from indycar.com

The argument from some voters – more on them later – seems to be about Alonso’s engine failure, a story we’ve been on top of since the beginning. The trouble with that reasoning is that Ed Jones had the same motor, a Honda. Difference is, he not only finished, but also finished on the podium. This coming – remarkably – in his first ever Indy 500 and only sixth IndyCar race.

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Image from twitter.com

Plus there’s Continue reading

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How IndyCar Is Like Bernie: A Study In Socialism

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IndyCar and The Bern share several similarities, surprisingly. They’re extremely popular amongst a certain smallish segment of the population, about a century old and hoping to upset a younger favorite who enjoys better press.

It’s astonishing just how many things IndyCar and Senator Sanders share in common. So much so that perhaps the series should consider renaming them “Bern outs.” You’re probably asking yourself, how can a Socialist from Vermont be anything like a “greedy corporation,” as he’s fond of disparaging? Primarily, both have a demonstrated admiration for socialism. Translated as a central authority (e.g. the federal government or the Board of Directors) exercising vast control over people’s money and freedoms, racing rulers and politicians already do this in spades. Regardless whether it’s government or racing, we the fans pay for it all. “Fairness,” huh?

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Photo from washingtontimes.com

IndyCar’s “Leaders Circle” approach to prize money is, at its base, pure redistributionist socialism. Referred to as “profit sharing,” similar models exist in major league baseball and football as well. Sports’ version of the Marxist principle that we must redistribute wealth, it’s another example of how Bernie’s way has crept into all aspects of modern life, often going unnoticed. Under these strict rules, successful teams are forced to subsidize unsuccessful teams – or the “less fortunate” – to the tune of millions of dollars every year. As every IndyCar fan knows, encouraging more teams like Dale Coyne’s is precisely NOT what’s needed.

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Photos from dailymail.co.uk

Problem is, there’s no real choice. Owners, sponsors and teams are required (i.e. forced) to share the wealth, or else. In common practice and to most Americans, freedom is all about choices. Under socialism, there just aren’t any. Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review: Double Secret Edition

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Image from Indy Race Reviewer

Aero Kits Finalized, On Strict Need To Know Basis: If you’ve already hit the pay wall you may have missed Indy Star’s wacky ‘reporter’ Curt Cavin’s piece on the more hype than substance IndyCar aero kits, Chevy and Honda’s soon to be introduced body work. Apparently the series has finalized the designs and decided to keep them secret for at least a few more days, with Derrick Walker promising a release of photos – something! – from the manufacturers “soon.” We recommend you prepare yourselves for a major let down when we finally are allowed to see them.

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Images from Indy Race Reviewer

Irritatingly, Walker admitted that the designs of Chevy and Honda  may not even look that dissimilar. Continue reading

An Interview with Brian Carroccio Previewing IndyCar’s 2015 Season

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Image from Brian Carroccio

Widely read AutoRacing1 columnist and one of IRR’s favorites is Brian Carroccio, a thirty eight year old family man who hails from Rockville, Maryland near our nation’s crime and politician ridden capital. Charmingly Brian or BC as we call him doesn’t know how many Twitter followers he has – it’s in excess of a thousand – though he does know good racing, has attended the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and plans to do so again. Interestingly, he said the most surprising country in which his readership can be found is the Ukraine.

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Photo from Indy Race Reviewer

BC loves his family, the Washington Redskins and racing, and we say two out of three ain’t bad. He grew up a Newman-Haas IndyCar fan in a racing household with his dad doing duty in sports car pits on weekends. Brian began watching IndyCar in its latter day hey day with superstars Mears, Unsers, Andrettis, Sullivan, Rahal and Foyt battling it out on track. His favorite drivers growing up were Al Unser, Sr. and Paul Tracy. He also admits to following soccer – some club called Man U – but we’re willing to overlook that. Rooting for the Redskins however is unpardonable.

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Photo from ap.org

We began the interview by asking BC about the Andrettis and their legacy in IndyCar. His response was rather surprising.

BC: “Mario’s Mario, a legendary winner. What can you say? As far as Michael, he was a vastly under-appreciated driver who had an epic career. To have raced and won against the level of competition that Michael did is amazing, and that was with the Andretti name and all its expectations. But as good as he was as a driver, he’s an even better owner. What he does for the sport, from team building to promotion to resurrecting Milwaukee, exceeds what the other owners have done.”  Continue reading

NASCAR: ‘A Clockwork Orange’ Series

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Image of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ from fanpop.com

With Kurt Bush being investigated for domestic assault, brawling becoming commonplace on NASCAR pit lane and Tony Stewart’s accidental killing of young Kevin Ward, 2014 has provided a chilling look into the bleak future of racing, much less society. It is American society that is the target audience of this madness and of course a certain segment eats it up to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. While many movies may come to mind when pondering the troubling state of NASCAR – Rocky, The Jerry Springer Movie, or even Idiocracy – it seems compellingly clear instead that NASCAR has morphed into ‘A Clockwork Orange’ series.

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Photo from sports.yahoo.com

Continue reading

IndyCar Driver Test: James Hinchcliffe

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Photo from usatoday.com

Popular and slightly off-kilter racer James Hinchcliffe was born outside Toronto in Oakville, Ontario in December, 1986 back when “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Platoon” were also new. After a breakthrough third season in 2013 scoring an impressive three wins, Hinch had a disappointing 2014 and recently changed teams leaving Andretti Autosport after three up and down seasons. That’s not the only conversion the comic Canuck has undergone recently, either.

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Last week the madcap Mayor of Hinchtown announced his signing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in usual style – at an Indy brewery over some “oat sodas.” Before that he became an ordained minister through the wonderful convenience of the web, performing the ceremony at his friend and fellow driver Charlie Kimball’s late September wedding. A few years back, Hinch hilariously dawned a long black wig while replacing Danica (more diva than driver) in the late GoDaddy ride at AA. Today’s question of the quirky, quotable Canadian comedian is, did he pass the driver test?

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Photo from foxsports.com.au

In his fun filled four year IndyCar career, Hinch has a gaudy eighteen top five finishes and thirty four top tens to go with his three wins. He’s also led over four hundred laps in his career, although funnily he’s never earned a pole. A past winner of the Tony Renna Rising Star Award, the racin’ reverend displays obvious driving talent. Even after an off year in 2014, his winning percentage in sixty eight big league races is an impressive 4.4%, better than most in the field. Without question Hinch is in the top half of IndyCar drivers, but that’s not the only part of this rigorous, uncomfortable and thoroughly invasive driver’s test. Now reverend, turn your head and cough.

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Photo from racing.ap.org

The other half of the exam is how well the driver handles media and public relations, as well as interaction with fans. In this regard, James’ talent may well surpass his on track gifts, which are bountiful. From his virtual Hinchtown site to his practical jokes and unorthodox, goofy-cool style, the mayor excels in the realm of media and PR. More than that he embraces his comedic racing role and enjoys it to the hilt, adding some much needed funniness to the sometimes somber, strangely sober series.

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Photo from bostonherald.com

A merry prankster, our humorous man of the (greasy) cloth lightens the mood wherever he goes, his charismatic personality nearly as infectious as a giggling fit in church. Joining his third team in less than five years, Hinch has made light of this inconstancy and likened his wandering ways to that of another waifish star, calling himself “the Taylor Swift of racing.” James is an exceptionally likeable and funny guy who’s not afraid to laugh, especially at himself. That quality translates extremely well in the modern age of racing, media and widespread weirdness.

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Photo from onthego.to

We at IRR salute and congratulate Hinchcliffe on his recent off track accomplishments – for weddings be sure to book early – and commend his silly slapstick style and Python-esque panache to other, less media-savvy drivers in the paddock (most of whom certainly will need a backup career). Hinch is easily the most likeable Canuck since John Candy – at a quarter his size – and along with his WAG is just adorable. How could a guy with the talent, face and personality of our favorite fast funnyman not pass the test? As Sam Schmidt may well have sung to the Rev of revs (and if he didn’t he should have), “Get out of my dreams, get into my car.”

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IndyCar News Week in Review

  • Silly Season Dominoes Tumble: Canuck James Hinchcliffe announced Tuesday that he’s signed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport, filling Pag’s vacant seat as he’s now at Team Penske. The Canadian comedian did so in characteristic style, making the announcement at a local brewery in Indianapolis. This after officiating the marriage ceremony of fellow driver Charlie Kimball last week. Beer, change of scenery and honeymooning – what a charmed life IndyCar drivers lead.

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  • The Game of Musical Seats continues: Ryan Briscoe’s now a free agent again with reports linking Sage Karam to Ganassi’s fourth car next year. It seems as though in IndyCar as in life the rich continue to get richer, the poor poorer. Rumors have linked young limey Jack Hawksworth to A.J. Foyt Racing’s famed 14 car. IRR predicted both Briscoe and Sato were in trouble months ago, as both underperformed rather spectacularly in 2014. With Hawksworth a free agent, Bryan Herta Autosport joins the list of teams looking for a fresh pilot, as does Andretti Autosport. Got all that?

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Mr. & Mrs. Briscoe – photo from indystar.com

  • A.J. Foyt Racing Expanding to Speedway: According to reports, A.J. Foyt Racing purchased a large building on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. They plan to renovate, rent out part and use part of it as a satellite base in Indy during the season while maintaining their main base outside of Houston, Texas. A.J. is quoted on his team’s website: “We’re happy to be part of Speedway’s redevelopment.” It’s a positive sign for the team and a plus for Speedway. Plus it’ll be a little bit of A.J. in Indy, where he belongs.

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Photo from usatoday.com

  • Finale at Sonoma? Regrettably, it looks as though one of the dullest and dreariest tracks in the country will host the grand finale in 2015. Curt Cavin’s sidekick and minor television/radio personality Kevin Lee tweeted about “more speculation about #IndyCar schedule” and then Cavin posted his own. It’s now down to a matter of dates, as it’s no secret as to the tracks which will be visited. Happily, all of the ovals from this season return in 2015 and the only subtraction is Houston, which was a dangerous joke of a parking lot track that nearly killed Dario and others last year.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

  • Another possible change is Toronto losing its twin billing, with the date changing due to a conflict with the Goodwill Games or some such obsolete international nonsense. Seen any pro sports lately? We blame Ted Turner for this amongst many other things. Both Brasilia, the planned capital in central Brazil, and New Orleans NOLA Motorsports Park, south of the Big Sleazy will host new races on road courses next season. Yippie. Otherwise, no major changes are forthcoming apart from some date changes which make sense, such as Pocono moving off the weekend of July 4th.

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Photo from economist.com

  • Odds and Ends: IMS upgraded their website, a long overdue move. IndyCar reporter for AutoRacing1.com Brian Carroccio showed IRR a kindness and followed us on Twitter, so a superspeedway sized thanks to him. Be sure to check out his work on the web. Finally, couldn’t resist this take on celubu-tard Gwynnie (a fave of ours to look at) and the recent fundraiser held in her California home for the once popular commander in chief. Wake me to your leader.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

IndyCar Driver Test: Jack Hawksworth

Likeable IndyCar rookie Jack Hawksworth who hails from Bradford, England faces our first ever driver exam, a new series of features at IRR. Hawksworth drove the number ninety eight car during the 2014 campaign for underfunded Bryan Herta Autosport with backing from Curb-Agajanian. He made headlines during the season and already again this off season, winning an award and answering some questions in a softball interview for indycar.com. The hardball question we’re asking is, did the twenty three year old Englishman pass the driver test?

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Photo from jackhawksworth.co.uk

Young Jack finished 17th in IndyCar standings in his inaugural campaign, out of twenty two full time cars. The highlight of his season came in the second race at the now defunct Houston parking lot “track,” where he stormed forward from twenty third and last starting place to finish third, taking his first and only podium of the year. Above him that day on the podium were Simon Pagenaud and his Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports teammate Mikhail Aleshin, Hawksworth’s fellow European rookie rival.

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Photo from indystar.com

Jack was awarded the Tony Renna Rising Star Award for 2014 even though the mad Russian Aleshin finished ahead of him in the championship, despite missing the double points finale 500 in Fontana due to an accident in the final practice. Nonetheless, Hawksworth impressed several in and out of the paddock, scoring five top ten finishes in seventeen races while also suffering several encounters with walls, particularly on the ovals. In July Hawk himself missed the double points Pocono 500 after a nasty practice accident.

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Photo from jackhawksworth.co.uk

He’s already announced that he’s left BHA behind thank you very much and currently isn’t under contract for next season. Recent rumors have linked him to AJ Foyt Racing as well as other possibilities and he doesn’t seem too concerned about landing a ride in the series for next year. HIs driving skills seem solid enough while there’s definitely room for improvement, although that’s not the sole component of the IndyCar driver exam.

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Photo from indystar.com

A secondary yet still crucial aspect of this exam is the driver’s savvy in interactions with the media – his PR capabilities. As with most rookies, Hawksworth needs some serious study and improvement in this area. In a recent interview on indycar.com, the northern Englishman came off sounding superior and at times cocky. Interestingly, England is the opposite of the US in its internal biases, where northerners like Hawk have the “accent” and are looked down upon, often considered backward hicks.

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Photo from indycar.com

He said in answer to a question about his rookie year results: “I think this has probably been the best season I’ve ever put together and I’m very pleased with my performance.” Depending upon one’s perspective, Jack’s statement ranges anywhere from the typical professional driver’s supreme confidence to a touch overly self-congratulatory, particularly considering his rather scurvy on track results. Remember, Marco, Graham and as recently as this June in Houston Carlos Huertas all actually won races in their rookie seasons. Since Hawk’s a seemingly congenial bloke, we’re willing to over look that comment.

But the naive northerner wasn’t finished. As per indycar.com, Hawksworth continued his lofty praise for himself. “I think I did a very good job. I made mistakes but also got the most out of the car and look back on the year pretty happy without sounding arrogant.” Oh really, young Jack? To some, it does come across arrogantly, especially for a seventeenth place points finisher. He continued, describing his desires for the future. “It’s given me solid ground to go out next year and win races, which is what I want to do.” He concluded “I don’t just want to be an IndyCar driver – I want to win races.”

Obviously the upstart Brit needs some media coaching although that’s not uncommon amongst rookie racers, who are after all death defying daredevils who pilot jet cars for a living. In fact, several aforementioned veteran drivers have had their own notable, recurring lapses in the realm of public relations. One major difference between them and our British subject however is that they all have wins in IndyCar, while Bradford’s favorite son hasn’t any as of yet.

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Photo from indycar.com

The rookie’s result in the driver test? We recommend working on your driving skills as well as management of your mouth whilst with the media. Study your fellow northern countryman Justin Wilson’s career and his model handling of media in IndyCar’s spotlight, then come back next season for another attempt at passing the driver exam.

IndyCar’s Great Schism: A Brief Comparative History of the Split, Part 2

In early 1996 the IRL held its first race in Orlando, Florida, proving naysayers who’d predicted the series would never turn a lap wrong. Making the most of his Papal power with an ultimatum of his own, George instituted the controversial 25/8 rule that year for Indy 500 qualifications, reserving 25 of the traditional 33 starting spots for IRL teams, in practice shutting out (all but a few) CART teams. As Hinton wrote, Tony George “didn’t want partners” and he didn’t want to deal  with the corrupt CART Cardinals, either. They protested George’s Papal Bull by not participating in the Indy 500, instead doing the unthinkable and holding a competing race in Michigan called the “U.S. 500.” Clearly IndyCar’s Great Schism wasn’t going away anytime soon.

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Photo from ap.org

The upstart U.S. 500 – the Avignon of motorsports – featured plenty of controversy of its own. A first lap, front row pileup led to a hasty decision to allow the affected drivers to restart the halted race in backup cars from their previous positions – with no penalty. Pole sitter Jimmy Vasser, who’d been involved in the opening lap melee, went on to win the race. The conflicting open wheel events that Memorial Day Weekend in 1996 set the tone for the entire split, as to many observers both sides appeared misguided, mad and wrong. In retrospect, that Sunday clearly was the nadir of the sport.

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Photo from caranddriver.com

As in Church history some principles in the open wheel war changed their minds and dramatically switched sides. By 2002, former CART Cardinal Roger Penske had defected to the IRL and was back at the Indy 500. CART loyalist Chip Ganassi had won the 500 with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000 and became a full time member of George’s series in 2003. The hand writing was on the wall in Gasoline Alley. Trouble is, the owners of CART weren’t in Indy to read it. Left with the carcass of CART were the likes of Jimmy Vasser, Australian Kevin Kalkhoven and the unlikable air conditioning magnate Jerry Forsythe, who together with others would struggle in vain for the next four years to keep CART alive, merely prolonging the ordeal.

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Photo from autosport.com

Both the IRL and IndyCar’s schism lasted thirteen years in total, obviously an ominous period of time. This, along with thirty years of the owners’ Babylonian Captivity, had taken a toll. In 2008, after lengthy negotiations and previous failed attempts George finally reached a deal to purchase and absorb what was left of the former CART series, creating a unified series called IndyCar. Once the Council of Indianapolis was underway it wouldn’t be long before a new Pope Martin would be elevated and the Schism would finally be brought to an acceptable and merciful end. While the corrosive split now appeared in the rear view mirror, as with the Church’s Great Schism much of IndyCar’s magic, appeal and luster had been squandered, lost – possibly forever.

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Photo from caranddriver.com

As Hinton noted, in one sense George had won the open wheel war and emerged in command, just as he’d envisioned. In another sense he’d lost, as IndyCar had become what CART had been and he’d hated, swerving away from its oval racing American roots. To make matters worse, the series had been lapped by NASCAR during the war. George himself – now the undisputed Pope – lasted barely a year in the position, when his own sisters ousted him for his sins. This abruptly ended his free-spending and grandiose Pontificate and opened the door for the transitional Randy Bernard, the Pope Martin of IndyCar.

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Photos from autosport.com and quizlet.com

Attendance, viewership, media coverage and public perception all suffered mightily during the split, along with the prestige of IndyCar and most troubling of all its Holiest of Holies, the Indianapolis 500. Divided down the middle, the two open wheel series not only bitterly opposed one another as did their adherents, but also lessened the overall standing of the entire institution in the public’s eyes, precisely as the Great Schism had done to the Church six hundred years earlier.

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Chart from americanpopularculture.com

The Indy 500 was negatively affected over the years as it and its series faced stiff competition from CART then from Champ Car and finally, from apathy. Sadly during the protracted conflict both sides had faded in NASCAR’s dust. The media coverage of the series quickly had become divided and reduced during the schism, adding to the sickening spiral of decline in IndyCar. After bankruptcy, a name change and ultimately imminent failure, remaining CART true believers finally saw the error of their ways and sold out. The few dead-enders who hadn’t already come back to the IRL fold like Vasser and Kalkhoven either did so or simply refused and instead closed up shop, such as the peevish Forsythe.

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On the bright side, the respective Great Schisms taught invaluable lessons, even if they weren’t immediately or in some cases ever put to use. One could argue that positive motivations drove all of the competing sides during both splits, with generally good people fighting for what they believed in and loved, although egos and base emotions certainly played their roles in these surprisingly similar sagas.  One could also argue that human nature took over – as it always does – and egos and arrogance crept in where good intentions retreated or never existed. This sometimes happens even with good, high-minded people supporting diametrically opposed yet compelling causes.

Happily, these devastating divides finally ended after decades of acrimony and destruction and the respective institutions somehow survived and have moved forward. Like Church members in the fifteenth century when the great Schism was still recent, IndyCar fans today hopefully await the arrival of badly needed reforms. Sadly, such reformation wouldn’t come to the Church for over a century after the Schism’s end. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a fifteenth that long for IndyCar to see the light and complete its penance, so that a true American open wheel Renaissance may begin.

Danica: More Diva Than Driver, Part 2

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Photo from abcnews.go.com

Danica endured a disappointing 2010 IndyCar season though she remained well lighted under the media klieg lights. The pressure mounted on her to prove that the historic 2008 win at Motegi wasn’t merely a fueling fluke, an accidental outcome as it started to appear. She managed only eight top ten finishes in seventeen races that year, though she did score a couple of podiums at Texas and Homestead along the way. There was nary a win in sight and it’d been nearly three years since her triumph in Japan.

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Photo from washingtonpost.com

The same fans, press and admirers who had helped propel her to such dizzying heights of driver-diva fame now demanded more from her, or else the media machine threatened to move on from “Danica-mania” to the next fabricated folksy focal-point of their choosing, say Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. Undoubtedly, her star had dimmed over the last couple years as the up and down cycles of big league racing took their toll. That glorious Danica glow already had begun to fade amongst the fans, if not yet amongst her dedicated followers in the press corps.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

By 2011 it was apparent that Danica would be leaving IndyCar and her on track results showed it. Emotionally she’d already moved on that final year in IndyCar, merely going through the motions and acting interested, all the while secretly looking forward to trading up for obscene riches. In one of her worst years in racing she managed only seven top ten finishes in seventeen starts, not counting the Las Vegas finale, which was canceled after Wheldon was tragically killed. Her best finish was fifth at the Milwaukee Mile, but it was her only top five finish all year with a couple of paltry sixth place results at New Hampshire and Baltimore for good measure. She led ten laps at Indy but finished a disappointing tenth in her final appearance to date in the Greatest Spectacle in racing.

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Then in 2012 with the usual amount of hoopla and media fanfare she married into NASCAR and its multi-millions, leaving IndyCar jilted, attention-starved and somewhat stunned at its losses. As Elvis once asked, “Are you lonesome tonight?” The divorce complete, her relationship with suddenly shaky IndyCar was behind her and the desirous diva-driver didn’t look back. Whether or not she actually could drive a hulking stocky behemoth around a racetrack was another matter altogether, as her waifish size and weight were no longer advantageous in her new series.

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Photo from news.softpedia.com

If DP’s record of one win in a hundred sixteen IndyCar starts was poor, then her record in NASCAR has been even worse. She’s currently oh for seventy seven and counting, with a best finish of sixth quite recently in Atlanta. She has three top ten finishes so far this year along with two ninth place finishes last year. That’s it in two-plus lengthy – by which we mean seemingly never ending – NASCAR seasons.

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Photo from examiner.com

The media hype surrounding the driver-diva remains disproportionate to her performance to this very day, and it’s been that way since she made her debut a decade ago. It’d be another matter if she were a consistent or even sporadic winner, but such effusive media coverage starts to become insulting after so many years without results. Just ask her dumped ex-IndyCar colleagues.

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Photo from examiner.com

No other racer with one win in nearly two hundred starts gets a fraction of the attention she does. Clearly, Danica’s far more of a diva than she is a driver. The record – both photographic and otherwise – proves it. The only question is, will the media finally wake up and roll over for a clear eyed, sober morning view of their bodacious bedfellow to acknowledge the obvious fact? We predict no, and that she eventually moves on from NASCAR to fall for her next passionate love interest (media, anyone?), when yet again her utter lack of results will be completely ignored.