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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is Sergio Pena the next Joey Logano?

Now that’s what I call a race.

I hope the first big stock car race of the year is an indication of what’s to come, because the action during the All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale was fast and furious Saturday night as Joey Logano, a ripe 19 years old, raced neck-and-neck for the lead all night against Sergio Pena, who is just 16 years old.

Now those of you who didn’t watch are probably thinking one thing right now: Who the hell is Sergio Pena?

After watching him race Saturday, I would say he’s a star of the future. He had never been to this track before, is still a junior in high school, and was able to go head-to-head against a Sprint Cup race winner for more than 200 laps. He had the better car and probably should have won the race, but wasn’t as good on restarts as Logano.

I’m willing to bet that all the major teams are putting calls in to Pena about joining a development program after his impressive debut on the big stage.
In the end, Logano was able to hold off Pena to win this race for a second time, but it was a thrill ride from start to finish … both because of the constant battle for the lead and the four-wide racing that often happened behind them.

Many other young NASCAR stars on the rise were in the race, including Matt DiBenedetto and Paulie Harraka, who managed to finish in the top 10 Saturday night.

Thinking back to the 2009 Cup season, I can probably think of a maximum dozen times out of 36+ races that I was truly impressed by the competitive nature of the racing in Cup.

I would like to see racing this exciting at the top level of the sport on a regular basis, minus the endless wrecks back in the pack that marred Saturday night’s race. That kind of competition would bring back in droves the fans that may have left the sport in recent years.

There’s no magic recipe to fix the level of competition in Cup, but they are on the right track with their new policy of letting the drivers race more this year without silly penalties. I hope they actually keep their word about this new hands-off approach.

Honestly, If given the choice of watching Jimmie Johnson lap a Cup field, or watching a bunch of late model drivers I’ve never heard of at the local track actually race, I’ll take the second option every time. So I hope that in 2010, the Cup racing action can at least come closer to the excellent level of competition you see on the lower levels.

The racing would be great, so more fans would watch. As a result, NASCAR would make more money, which is music to their ears.

Everyone would win.

I won’t hold my breath until it happens, as I’d probably end up passing out, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Another open-wheeler arrives

Brazilian racecar driver Nelson Piquet Jr. is set to run in the ARCA race at Daytona next week, driving the No. 6 Toyota for Eddie Sharp Racing.
"I'm very excited. I can't wait to reach 200mph side-by-side and rubbing paint," Piquet said, "The plans for the season are coming together really well, and I am racing with two very strong teams. I can't wait to get out on track."

The 24-year-old is the son of three-time Formula One World Champion Nelson Piquet, and comes over after a controversial run in the open-wheel series, which included a role in the infamous crash gate scandal, which involved him crashing purposely to help his teammate win a race. (In his defense, Piquet claims the Renault team had "threatened" to withdraw his contract unless he followed their instructions to crash.)

Eager to get away from the politics of F1, and with his sights now set on NASCAR, it will be interesting to see how Piquet makes the transition, if he can do it at all. He’s young, and has some talent (he finished 2nd in a Formula 1 race once, after all). But it will be a long hard road for him in the stock car world, just as it was for all the other open-wheelers who have tried over the past few years.

Starting with a championship-caliber ARCA team like ESR is a good start, though. Between Piquet and Danica Patrick, there will be a lot of excitement surrounding this ARCA race ... which usually doesn't get much attention during the blur that is Speedweeks at Daytona.


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