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Formula One? An F1 team running out of North Carolina? Skeptics abound


Hey, y'all: can any of us good ol' boys play this game too? (World champion Lewis Hamilton looking for a way around Jarno Trulli.) (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.
   The prospect for a Charlotte-based Formula One team – a project being pushed by a former NASCAR team engineer and an F1 journalist – is drawing skeptical response in the NASCAR garage, where some ex-F1 engineers who now work in this sport are calling the promotion little more than talk, because it would take $500 million to launch such a venture and nobody has that kind of money to spend right now.
   Ex-Formula One drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Speed, now Sprint Cup tour regulars, have increased links, and interest, between the two branches of motorsport.
   And Charlotte's new Wind Shear wind tunnel is F1-capable, with some Formula One teams having used it.
   However Toyota, for example, has spent billions of dollars since joining F1 in 2002 but has yet to win a race.
   Honda, once an F1 powerhouse, has just decided to abandon the series and is trying to sell its operation (perhaps helping give rise to the Charlotte project).
   Ford was involved in Formula One for a while but gave it up.
   And General Motors has declined to get involved in the tour.
   Hence the great skepticism, particularly in this economic climate.
   Few people, or companies, could muster the clout it would take to field an F1 operation. Maybe Wal-mart, if it wanted to.
   Plus, running an F1 team out of anywhere in the United States would seem questionable, considering the world-wide venues (principally in Europe) the series plays at.
   However, the man who runs the Formula One tour, Bernie Ecclestone, would like to get his series back in the American sports consciousness, and an American team – and an F1 race in the U.S. – could make a difference.
   There is no F1 event in the U.S. now. Indianapolis dropped it, in the wake of the 2006 tire debacle. And Ecclestone's hopes of getting an F1 event through the streets of Las Vegas haven't gotten very far, particularly given the resistance of Bruton Smith, who runs Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


Martinsville Speedway's Clay Campbell: 007 work for the Frances?
(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Martinsville, Va., is a long way from Los Angeles, so Clay Campbell's appearance here has caused some double-takes.
   Campbell, who runs Martinsville Speedway for the France family's International Speedway Corp., says he's out here "because I haven't been out here for a while."
   But Campbell is probably on a study mission for the Frances, who have been struggling to get California Speedway/Auto Club Speedway established in the key Los Angeles market.
   This track has been up and running since 1997, but its crowds have consistently been less than hoped for.

   Bruton Smith's Kentucky Speedway venture appears to be faltering, with no indication that the Cincinnati track's former owners have any inclination to give up on their lawsuit against NASCAR.
   While Smith has talked about wanting to add Kentucky to the Sprint Cup tour, saying he'll expand that track's seating capacity considerably, NASCAR executives have remained very cool to the idea. For one, the track is pretty far out in the sticks, with little fan-infrastructure around it. Another point, Indianapolis is less than three hours away.
   Smith himself continues to promote the Kentucky track, though even the very issue of where a Cup date there might come from is still very ripe for debate.
   However when Smith hosted the sport's media in Charlotte three weeks ago, and provided a dais filled his various track bosses from around the country, noticeably missing from the program was Kentucky Speedway, a point that Smith himself even referred to.

   There is a sense that Smith might be trying to help NASCAR on that legal front by his moves – if Smith could make that lawsuit go away, then NASCAR executives might be willing to reward him in some way, such as perhaps a second Cup date at Las Vegas…a much more promising venue (with some 150,000 hotels rooms).
   Want to throw some hardballs at NASCAR president Mike Helton?
   He'll be facing-the-fans in a 20-minute session, dubbed Fast Chats, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next week, just outside the track, so there will be no charge.
   Also on the hot seat: Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.


March 18th. Put it down on your calendar: Jeff Burton on General Hospital.
   "I played me, so I dressed like me….and I don't walk around every day with my fire suit on, believe it or not," Burton said dryly.
   Ford crew chiefs say part of Chevrolet's edge in speed at Daytona was related to an aggressive chassis setup that put extra stress on the tires. "We could have done the same thing, and gotten some more speed," Bob Osborne, crew chief for Carl Edwards.
   Chevy teams were quite fast across the board at Daytona, but they had tire problems. Jeff Gordon had to make an early stop for tires late in the race, which probably cost him a shot at the win.
   Chevy's Ryan Newman twice had tire issues, but it's unclear if they were related to the aggressive setups Ford pointed to. 
   Gordon indirectly confirmed part of this scenario: "We were having some issues with wearing out the inside of the tire." That is evidence of excessive camber (which is the angle of the tire in relation to the track); increasing camber can make a car turn more easily in the corners, at any track, but excessive camber can cause tire failure.
      Car-count is a big question this season, with the economy so sluggish. But NASCAR will have full fields for all three national divisions here, albeit with more than a dozen who-are-they teams and drivers.

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