Three years after the floodgates opened on an open-wheel NASCAR invasion, it appears the bleeding has finally stopped for the IRL. As the curtain rises on this year's Indy 500, Dario Franchitti finds himself running open-wheel after just one failed season attempting to transition into Sprint Cup. He joins Jacques Villeneuve, Sarah Fisher and Patrick Carpentier as recent examples of how success in one form of motorsports doesn't always translate somewhere else -- failures that make others wary of attempting to make the jump (Danica, are you listening?).
Of course, seasons can be made or broken on any given lap of every race, but even before the first engines fire for the new season, a handful of races loom as key moments. Mark your calendars for these five.
Jacques Villeneuve, the reigning Formula 1 World Champion, approached Jeff Gordon, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, in 1997 with a plan that could have taken Gordon to F1. Gordon was interested and agreed to listen.
It once seemed like America in microcosm, a high-banked land of opportunity where a hard-worker with a gleam in his eye and lead in his foot could make something of himself, where money and fame flowed like high-octane gasoline.
The Sprint Cup season is upon us, officially getting underway Saturday with the Budweiser Shootout, followed by Daytona 500 qualifying Sunday and NASCAR's biggest race a week later. Then it's 35 more events until the championship. Indeed, this promises to be one of the most interesting of the circuit's 60 seasons.
NASCAR's major stories for 2007 are behind us. We know Dale Earnhardt Jr. is headed for Hendrick Motorsports and Kyle Busch for Joe Gibbs Racing, Gibbs for Toyota and Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick have completed a dominant championship run and will collect a enormous check at the Nextel Cup awards ceremony in New York on Nov. 30.
Racecar drivers are usually the last ones to succumb to any sort of peer pressure. Considering what they do for a living, why would they? It takes a special mix of confidence, ego and guts to go 200 miles an hour into the corner time and again each weekend.
Any bona fide NASCAR historian can tell you that Jeff Gordon's first Nextel Cup race in 1992 was also Richard Petty's last, marking a transition from the great champion of the past to the great champion of the future. They should also take note of what is happening this weekend, on two different tracks in two different series.
There were two winners on Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. Obviously, there was Jimmie Johnson, who, from the pole, won his second in a row in his quest to repeat his NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship. Then, surprisingly, there was Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jr. whose engine blew while battling for second place with five laps to go.