- Terry Blount, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
IRL team owner John Barnes was 100 percent right when he said the league needs to run some companion events with a Nextel Cup weekend.
Publicly, IRL officials say they don't want to run second fiddle to a Cup race. But three years ago, the IRL wanted to run a Saturday race at Michigan Speedway and California Speedway on Cup weekends at those tracks.
The IRL put on some spectacular races at those 2-mile ovals in the past, but few people attended the events. IRL officials thought they could gain interest from NASCAR fans if they held those races the day before a Cup event.
International Speedway Corp., which owns both facilities, declined the offer from the IRL. Adding an IRL event could have caused schedule changes for a Busch or Craftsman Truck race.
The IRL no longer has California Speedway on its schedule, but the league probably would add it for the chance to show its wares on a Cup weekend.
The IRL still races at six oval tracks that hold Cup events -- Miami-Homestead, Kansas, Texas, Richmond, Chicagoland and Michigan.
Texas Motor Speedway is the only one not owned by ISC. TMS is a Speedway Motorsports Inc. track. So would TMS president Eddie Gossage want to run an IRL race on a Cup weekend?
"I would love to find a way to do it, but it's not going to happen," Gossage said. "For many reasons, it's just not something that everyone involved would agree to do."
Gossage didn't want to go into the details, but some things are obvious.
Busch races draw more fans at most of these tracks than the IRL races, but the IRL has higher sanctioning fees in some cases.
The two NASCAR feeder series bring more sponsorship dollars at their events for signage, naming rights and hospitality.
But why not have a Busch/IRL doubleheader on a Saturday? Again, it's money. No track promoter would pay double sanctioning fees for one crowd.
A day-night doubleheader with separate tickets is possible, or even a Friday night Busch race and Saturday IRL race. But NASCAR officials wouldn't want to do it.
Why? Cup races at these intermediate ovals haven't always produced the best racing. A Cup event the day after an IRL race might pale in comparison to the three-wide racing and consistent passing up front IRL events often have at these tracks.
Martin back in driver's seat
Mark Martin returns to the No. 01 Chevy this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in a much different position that he enjoyed when he left.
Martin surprised a lot of fans when he stuck to the plan and got out of the driver's seat after the first four Nextel Cup races of the season.
After taking a little two-race break for the first time in 20 years, Martin went from first to 15th in the standings, not that he cares.
Martin continues to insist he isn't racing for the championship, and that he's loving every minute of it. It's a no-stress season for the first time in his career.
But were he so inclined, making the Chase remains within his grasp. Martin still has more points than 21 drivers who have competed in all six Cup events. He easily could move back into the top 12 if he stayed in the car the rest of the season.
You have to feel for rookie Regan Smith, who replaced Martin in the short-track races at Bristol and Martinsville. Smith finished 25th at Bristol and 26th at Martinsville after Martin had guided the car to four top-10s.
No one expected a rookie to continue the same success level as one of the top drivers in the sport, but any comparison is unfair.
First, Smith wasn't even driving the same type of car. Smith was racing the first two events for the Car of Tomorrow. He inherited a No. 1 team, but took over in a car that no one had raced.
Now Martin gets back in the old version that worked well in the first four events. And Martin has six top-10s, including a victory, at TMS.
Uphill climb for Bourdais
We're going to find out this season just how good Sebastien Bourdais really is. The Frenchman was impressive in winning the last three Champ Car titles, but he also had the resources behind him on one of the league's top teams at Newman-Haas Racing.
Things have changed this year. Bourdais still races for the new Newman-Haas/Lanigan Racing venture, but all the teams are using the new Panoz chassis.
The cars are almost identical and changes are limited. Champ Car has managed to do what NASCAR is trying to do with the COT by giving the lesser teams an equal chance at winning.
Whatever team advantage Bourdais had in the past is gone now. He has to win with the same equipment everyone else has.
Bourdais has proved he can do it. He won an IROC event at Texas Motor Speedway in 2005, becoming the first Champ Car driver to earn an IROC victory in eight years.
But his first outing under the new Champ Car package didn't go well last weekend at Las Vegas.
Bourdais qualified 16th, the worst starting spot of his career. Clutch and tires problems during the race, along with contact with the wall, forced Bourdais to park the car after 31 laps, finishing 13th of the 17 starters.
"We had the worst weekend I can even remember," Bourdais said. "Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong."
Australian Will Power (yes, that's his real name) earned his first victory and gave team owner Derrick Walker his first win in eight years.
But it's just one race. Bourdais still is the best driver in the series. One bad day won't keep him from that record fourth title.
Hamilton's star rising
Two things are clear after the first two Formula One races this season: McLaren is back and rookie Lewis Hamilton is the real deal.
Hamilton, the first black driver in F1, showed his talent with a second-place finish last week in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Hamilton was remarkable in the final laps, holding off the faster Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
The Ferraris dominated preseason testing, but Fernando Alonso's victory and Hamilton's runner-up effort gave McLaren a 1-2 finish in Malaysia.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.