Random Thoughts On Richmond

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In all the years I have been following IndyCar racing, I never thought I would utter the words I am about to say (type); I’m glad we’re going back to the road courses. It has gotten that bad. At least, road courses have the potential to throw a curve to all of the predictability we have seen thus far, this season.

Like Iowa, the race at Richmond showed some promise at first. Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick chose not to pit when Ryan Briscoe crashed on lap 26, which gave them the top two spots respectively. It looked as if it might have paid off, as everyone seemed to be cycling back into the pits under green. Everyone that is, except for Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Graham Rahal. When Mike Conway crashed on lap 136, it allowed those three the luxury of pitting under the yellow. That effectively ended any suspense for the evening.

From that point on, it was the all too familiar single-file oval parade that we have seen way too much of this season. It was pretty much the same song, sixth verse for the ovals in 2009. I’m not sure that I even saw any slower traffic get lapped on the racetrack. The only time cars were lapped was when they were in the pits. I won’t belabor the point that has been made many times now, since they are at least going to try and fix this problem before Kentucky. Let’s hope that they do.

So much for my predictions — I said that Danica would not do well and she did. I also said that a red car would not win at Richmond and they did. The two Ganassi cars finished one-two, as Scott Dixon got out of the pits quicker than his teammate, Dario Franchitti. For the second-half of the race, the positions pretty well remained static (read: stagnant). Franchitti pretty well summed it up when he apologized to the fans that had come out or tuned in expecting a good race.

Good night for Versus: Despite having a boring race to televise, Versus rebounded nicely from what I thought was a sub-par performance at Texas. All three in the booth brought their A-game and were very engaging. Jan Beekhuis is exceptionally good at explaining some very technical aspects of racing, in terms that even I can understand.

The two new pit reporters, Lindy Thaxton and Robbie Floyd seem to be getting more comfortable in their roles and are starting to develop their own personalities. While I thought Jack Arute’s “In Color” segments (why are they in black & white???) were a little over the top at Indy, he did an admirable job interviewing Tony Kanaan.

The post-race salute to the Versus cameraman that lost his wife was tasteful and a nice touch.

Points shuffle: Both Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves did serious damage to their championship hopes, by both crashing out of the race…especially Castroneves. Briscoe entered the weekend with a three-point lead in the championship standings. By the beginning of the race, it was down to two by way of Dario Franchitti winning the pole. By the time the race was over, he had slid to third place – twenty-six points behind Franchitti, the new points leader. Dixon moved to second, trailing Franchitti by a single point. Castroneves remained in fourth, but is now fifty-four points from the lead. Graham Rahal, who finished third, remained in ninth place but actually lost ground to the leaders and is now ninety-nine points back.

AGR rebounds: After a disappointing race at Iowa and a disastrous qualifying session at Richmond, Andretti-Green had a surprisingly good night at the track with all four cars placing in the top seven. Danica had her best finish ever at Richmond, by placing fifth. Marco Andretti was very impressive at the start moving from sixteenth to eleventh on the first lap. Kanaan had a much needed sixth place finish to stay reasonably close in the points chase.

Hideki Mutoh had his second consecutive strong run. He finished fourth at Richmond after placing third at Iowa. He also led seventy-four laps at Richmond, albeit by pitting out of sequence. Still he held off Dario Franchitti all that time, while Franchitti had fresher tires. Had Conway not crashed before Dixon, Franchitti and Rahal pitted; there’s no telling where Mutoh would have finished.

Mutoh may be driving for his professional life. It is heavily rumored that the Formula Dream sponsorship may move to Gil de Ferran’s new team with former Formula One driver Takuma Sato. If that happens, it will be a shame. Mutoh has been, by far, the best Japanese driver to ever drive an IndyCar. That’s not saying a whole lot given the Hiro Matsushita’s, Tora Takagi’s and Kosuke Matsuura’s that we have seen. Still, he has been steady, yet unspectacular; and has been in position to win a few races. Personally, I hope he can continue in the series.

Danica commercial: I’ve got to admit that the new Danica commercial where she autographs the guy’s “rack” is so bad, that it’s funny. These new Motorola Boost commercials at least let Danica show a humorous side, rather than the supposed glamour shots for Go-Daddy and Peak Antifreeze.

Overall: All things considered, it was a dull race, especially in the second half – as has been the case for most of the ovals this season. The second half of races have been yawners. I was glad Bob Jenkins and the crew acknowledged that the racing has been a little below expectations. I don’t expect him to trash the product that they are trying to build, but Jenkins knows to be honest with the viewers. He did a good job explaining that the league recognizes the problem and will hopefully have things better by the next oval at Kentucky. Hopefully, the race at Watkins Glen will offer the same amount of unexpected twists as last year, when Ryan Hunter-Reay battled Darren Manning for the win.

George Phillips

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9 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Richmond”

  1. It’s more interesting to read the blogs and talk silly season stuff than to actually watch a race. I don’t think it should be that way.

  2. We had company over last night for a campfire & cookout. I just had the race playing in the background in the other room and would peek in from time to time. From the sounds of it, I did not miss much. My goodness, they have got to do something. When diehard fans (the ones that read & comment on blogs) are happier discussing schedules, and driver transfers than watching races, the end is near.

  3. loose cannon Says:

    I looked really cool watching it in fastforward.

  4. Worst oval race I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of oval races. Getting customers to buy the current IndyCar product is like offering a used Yugo to customers and then being shocked when they take their money elsewhere.

  5. George,

    I’m 34 years old. I’ve been an American open-wheel racing fan for nearly 20 years, and I’ve never been more unsatisfied or disgusted in a season than I am this year. With the possible exception of St. Pete, every race has been nearly unbearable to watch! If they don’t fix this mess, no one will have to worry about who’s running the ICS next year because there won’t be any fans left to watch! Seriously. Granted, I get annoyed by reading the musings of all the internet doom-and-gloomers out there, but I’m sad to say I’m now one of them. Think about all the hours of our lives we’ve wasted over the course of at least 7 of the 8 races this season. This is a joke. Right now, the caliber of racing in the IndyCar Series simply sucks. I’m sorry….I don’t know what else to say. Oh, yeah, I do……I’m sad.

  6. Travis R Says:

    Another great piece, George – keep up the great work!

    I found the Jack Arute “In Color” piece with Tony Kanaan a little bit awkward – particularly the question about if Tony ever worries about losing his son. I dunno, maybe I’m a bit sensitive about that kind of topic because I have two small kids ages 3 and 1, but that’s just not something that anybody wants to think about. Other than that, it was a pretty good interview and I generally do like those pieces.

    I’ve always like the short tracks over the big tracks, but this race was pretty bad. There were a lot of storylines and drama, but I expect more from a short track. I thought it was kind of interesting that Dario even said something about how boring it was during his post-race interview.

    I find myself starting to like Hideki more and more. He’s had a couple of good weeks lately. He seems to be getting some more camera time and is doing pretty well with it. The improvement in his English is amazing, and he seems like a really likable guy. With all the Danica-to-NASCAR/Danica-to-F1/Marco-to-F1 talk, you would hope that Hideki can keep sponsorship and stick around next year. AGR needs some stability so they can continue to rebuild and become competitive again. Not that I’m an AGR fan exactly, but it would be nice to see a little bit more competition and a new face in the winner’s circle.

    I do get a kick out of the Danica Boost commercials. I don’t watch many commercials, thanks to my DVR, but I do think these are some of the funniest commercials I’ve seen in quite a while.

    One last thought – E.J. Viso finally finishes a race this year! Well, OK, so he was a couple of laps down, but it’s better than the rest of the season so far…

  7. uggghhh…

    Why is that open wheel racing seems to want to destroy itself in 2009 (and I include Formula 1 in that!)?

    I was very disappointed when Mike Conway crashed; not because I was shouting for Conway, but because i really thought Mutoh might win the race.

    The Versus coverage was a big improvement on Texas, but that won’t make up for an awful race.

    …one last thing – Jacques Lazier?? He was far far too slow in qualifying and threw in the wall at turn 1; only one week after getting lapped 13 times at Iowa.
    Is the IRL so desperate for drivers and teams so hard-up for sponsorship that the quality of competitor has been lowered significantly??

  8. I thought the pit crew Boost Mobile ad was funny. The one they showed during the Richmond race was…let’s just say I want that image out of my mind.

    While anticipating this race, I felt pretty good given that Iowa was a pretty decent show in the first half and that nothing could have been worse than last year’s Richmond race which was a crashfest followed by follow-the-leader). As far as Hideki and Danica, they still had a shot at victory had the last yellow occurred about 5 laps later than it actually did.

    I don’t know if anyone else feels this way but I feel just a hint sorry for Briscoe. Granted, he’s FAR, far from Viso-territory misfortune but it feels as though he should be having the sort of start of a season Dixon had last year. Then again, I guess that’s what makes racing so great even if it has been less-than-stellar this year.

  9. John McLallen Says:

    I can’t believe that they axed Nashville and kept Richmond. Short Oval Indy racing has never been pretty.

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