Jane Miller's motorsports column for July 6
Fourteen-time Funny Car champion John Force is on board with the NHRA's decision this week to shorten races in the nitro classes to 1,000 feet — for now.
The sanctioning body and the drivers' association (PRO) agreed on the rules change, which goes into effect at the Denver race July 11-13. The other pro classes will continue to race the traditional quarter-mile distance (1,320 feet).
'As a PRO member, I support the NHRA decision, for now,' Force said. '(Shortening the race course) was one of several options they considered, but it's one of the few things that could be done immediately to reduce speeds.'
The change was made because of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta's death during qualifying June 21.
Force has made safety considerations his No. 1 priority since the death of one of his drivers, Eric Medlen, following a testing crash last year. Since that accident Force was seriously injured in a crash and his other drivers, daughter Ashley and son-in-law Robert Hight, also had major incidents but were not injured.
On the other hand, Top Fuel driver Rod Fuller, whose car is sponsored by Caterpillar, is not in favor of the new rule.
'In my eyes, it's a knee-jerk reaction,' said Fuller, who was runner-up in the points in 2007. 'There are better ways to slow these cars down. It will confuse the fans to see us running in the three-second range. My favorite years of watching Top Fuel was when they ran in the high fours (seconds) at around 300 mph.'
The break from the traditional quarter-mile also is a problem for Fuller.
'Everything in the history of drag racing is based on the quarter mile,' he said. 'There are a lot of smart people in our sport — get them together and figure out a way to slow these cars down and make them safer.'
Before the Daytona 500, I wrote a column which posed some questions about the hottest topics going into this season.
The first was how Dale Earnhardt Jr. would adjust to being at Hendrick Motorsports and whether the team would remain dominant.
The answer: Junior has done well — he's the top Hendrick driver in points (third) — but the team certainly has not been dominant in the first half.
The second addressed Joe Gibbs Racing and how it would do with its Toyota affiliation. The answer to that is spectacularly well. All three drivers are in the top nine, and Kyle Busch, at this point, is the favorite to win the championship.
Finally, with the large number of open-wheel drivers joining the stock-car set this year, I wondered who, if any, would find success.
The answer is, not many. Jacques Villeneuve was gone practically before the paint was dry on his name above the door. Dario Franchitti just lost his Cup ride for lack of sponsorship.
Only one, Sam Hornish Jr., is in the top 35 in owner points (33rd). Patrick Carpentier did win a pole last week, but his highest finish this season is 28th.
What issues will we be looking for in the second half of the season?
The costs of racing will probably be No. 1. Sponsor cutbacks, perhaps loss of support from manufacturers and the rising costs of everything certainly will affect the sport.
Can Busch keep up his torrid pace? He's shown no signs of cooling off.
Will Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon finally visit Victory Lane? Will Stewart get out of the final year of his contract with Gibbs? Where will Casey Mears, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. decide to go next year?
The answers will come in the next 18 races.
ON THE WEB: Four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon will participate in a live Webcast on Wednesday from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The broadcast will air from 12:30 to 1 p.m. Peoria time and may be accessed at www.allstate400atthebrickyard.com.
Gordon will answer questions submitted in advance by fans. To ask a question, go to www.allstate400atthebrickyard.com/askjeff. Questions must be submitted by 11 a.m. Monday.??
Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3207.?