Random Thoughts: Milwaukee

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If we had any hopes that the Versus TV coverage would cause ABC/ESPN to step up their game, those delusions were quickly doused early into Sunday’s telecast. Yes, there was some ample pre-race time with the usual cast of drivers interviewed – but when the green flag fell, Marty Reid informed us that they were going to put the race in a small box, in order to watch Helio’s ineffective start in another box. Just because they have that capability, doesn’t mean they should use it. The overuse of disproportionately sized screen boxes has always been a drawback to the ABC/ESPN coverage. Fortunately, somebody in the truck realized that this was pointless and they abandoned it. After ten laps, it was already time for a commercial. At about twenty-five seconds per lap, that amounts to about four minutes. They returned on lap seventeen and then went away again on lap twenty-five – this time with no side by side.

To be fair about it, at this point ABC has so many critics, I’m not sure there is anything they can do to get out of most IndyCar fan’s doghouse –but it didn’t appear they were even trying. Marty Reid sounded like he was bored with the whole process and Brienne Pedigo seemed completely lost. Even the usually stellar Vince Welch was not on top of his game, as he made several minor blunders. I guess we can take solace in the fact that more people had the opportunity to see this race. Now the question is…did anyone actually watch it?

Since we’re bashing the media coverage…while listening to Mike King and Davey Hamilton on the IMS Radio Network on Saturday, a listener e-mailed a question about the potential road-course/oval double-header at Cleveland. Granted this race is just speculation at this point, but Robin Miller reported this story almost two weeks ago. King and Hamilton both acted as if they had never heard of any such talk; saying that Cleveland is not even in any discussions for the 2010 schedule. Then they both went on a five-minute discussion about what a stupid idea the whole road-course/oval concept was.

First of all, say what you want about Robin Miller’s reporting, but most of his “scoops” have a solid element of truth behind them. You know full well that both King and Hamilton have heard the rumors. If they didn’t want to discuss them, fine — they shouldn’t have read the e-mail. But to act as if they had heard nothing about it, does one of two things…it either makes them appear to be very out of touch, and are not hearing what we fans hear; OR it makes them appear to be arrogant and condescending to their listening audience – possibly both. In either case, it undermines their standing as credible sources of information and reinforces the belief that they are nothing more than talking heads for the league.

Long day for PT; In my bold predictions on how well Paul Tracy would be able to take a mediocre car and muscle it around the track, I did leave myself an out. On Friday, I said that the PT-Foyt pairing could either produce great success or tremendous failure. I should have stopped there. Instead, I proceeded to explain in great detail how this being a driver’s track, Tracy’s ability would certainly make up for any deficiencies in the car’s set-up. I guess I didn’t realize just how bad the car would be. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Tracy be so far back in a car that had not been previously damaged. If they choose to carry this marriage into Texas Saturday night, I hope the two of them can get closer to the same page.

Red cars, again; If it weren’t for Helio Castroneves having his usual bad day at the Milwaukee Mile, the Penske-Ganassi stronghold could have been four-for-four in the final standings. After five races, we have four different winners — all from the Penske or Ganassi stables. A couple of years ago, everyone complained about the “Big-Three” (Penske, Ganassi, Andretti-Green Racing) winning every race. Well, AGR’s regression over the last two years has made it the “Big Two”. Indy was a battle between Penske and Ganassi – in qualifying and in the race. The only lead-changes at Indy were between these two teams. Kanaan gave us a glimpse at a little variety on Sunday by leading the first twenty-five laps. But his car got loose and then later caught fire…literally. He suffered his second DNF in a row and plummeted from first to seventh in the point standings, within one week. The rest of the race was between Dixon, Franchitti and Briscoe.

As ABC was signing off, Scott Goodyear was giving his obligatory annual recital of how fascinating this points race was going to be. It may be a close battle, but to KNOW that the championship will be determined between only two teams, when we are not even one-third through this season, is not what I call suspenseful.

From the formation of CART in 1979, until the split in 1996 — Roger Penske won Indy 52.9% of the years he was entered – a staggering percentage. The IRL was founded on the supposed principal of everyone having access to equal equipment, so no one would have an unfair advantage. Well guess what…since the formation of the IRL, Roger Penske has won 55.5% of the years he has entered the Indy 500 under this formula. This socialistic racing society of Brian Barnhart’s isn’t working.

Milwaukee was actually a pretty good race and certainly had better racing than Indy. Sunday, there were actual passes for the lead, green-flag pit stops and some really good mid-pack racing. But there was never any question which team, other than Penske or Ganassi, would win. It’s like Formula One in the early part of this decade – if you weren’t driving a Ferrari or McLaren, there was no real point in even showing up. It’s the same in IndyCar right now.

I’m not happy with the status quo and I’m an admitted Penske guy. If I’m not happy, imagine being a fan of Panther, Dreyer and Reinbold or their respective drivers.

Next week: The traveling circus heads south to Texas this Saturday night for the first night race of the season, so there are a lot of things to look forward to. The cars always look very good at night under the lights. Versus gets back in the broadcasting booth, so that should be a big plus. In past years, this was always an entertaining venue. The pack of cars raced side-by-side all around the track, staying together like a swarm of bees, producing some of the closest finishes in motorsports. It was probably a little TOO dangerous, as witnessed by Davey Hamilton’s crippling accident in 2001 or Kenny Bräck’s horrifying crash in 2003. But in the last few years, this former white-knuckler has turned into a snooze-fest. With the tape-delayed broadcast a couple of years ago that didn’t start until after 9:00 central time, I literally fell asleep during part of the race. Of course, ESPN was thoughtful enough to us viewers that may be getting sleepy…they ran the eventual winner across the scroller with thirty-five laps to go.

Until new chassis (which should be plural, but isn’t) are introduced, I expect more of the same Saturday night. I’m still a Penske guy and pull for both drivers for different reasons, but if a car from another team – even AGR – finds its way into Victory Lane this weekend, it could actually make the season a little more interesting. The IndyCar Series needs some interest to be generated anywhere they can get it.

George Phillips

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One Response to “Random Thoughts: Milwaukee”

  1. As much as I’d like to get excited about Texas, I’m worried that it’ll be another Penske-Gannasi snooze fest. At least we will be done with ABC for a few weeks. That was painful yesterday. Showing all 7 laps of the Yellow-flag sweeper caution, only to cut to commercial when they went back to green flag racing pretty much summed up the coverage right there.

    I should have listened to the IMS radio coverage with the TV sound off instead, although that wouldn’t have spared me from seeing commercials for the mind-numbingly bad ABC programming. I had to make sure I wasn’t tuned into FOX for a few minutes there. Here’s my silver lining for the day. As bad as ABC’s coverage was, at least they didn’t use a cartoon Gopher to insult our intelligence.

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