Random Thoughts On Homestead

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Sometimes, certain sporting events just don’t live up to all of the hype. The 2009 IndyCar Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to decide the championship did not fall into that category. They promised drama and they delivered. The race, in what amounted to a battle between three drivers, had so many twists and turns that it was hard to keep up with the many subplots.

From the drop of the green flag, it appeared that the race and the championship would be decided between the two Ganassi cars, as Ryan Briscoe fell back behind Ed Carpenter and settled into fourth. It looked like this would be a two-car Target fight. But then out of nowhere, Briscoe dispatched Carpenter to fourth and set his sights on the leading Ganassi duo. He was then able to get around an ill-handling Dario Franchitti and take second place. From that point on, the battle was between Briscoe and Scott Dixon for the rest of the day.

After the first set of pit stops, Briscoe took over the lead. In that stint from about lap 50 to 90, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more masterful display of driving than what was exhibited by Ryan Briscoe. He carved his way through the field as if they were standing still. His utilization of the high side was reminiscent of Sam Hornish and Tomas Scheckter. There were a couple of times when I was convinced that he would get too far up into the gray and stick it into the fence, but he obviously knew what he was doing.

Saturday was a frustrating day to be a Briscoe fan. He literally did all that he could do to overcome and eight point deficit to Dixon. In the end, it was not enough. As I said yesterday, this was not all about Dixon and Briscoe. Franchitti seemed to be the overlooked player in all of this, but ultimately he had the final say. Briscoe’s blunder at Motegi will haunt him throughout the upcoming offseason. All he can do is learn from it and build for next year.

It became readily apparent that Franchitti’s car was not going to keep pace with Briscoe and Dixon. Having two cars in the hunt as compared with only one from Team Penske, Ganassi split their fuel strategies to give at least one of their two cars the chance to win the championship, if not the race also. Dixon would be the hare while Franchitti would be the proverbial tortoise. And we all know how that story came out. The only way Franchitti’s strategy would have worked would be for the race to remain green throughout the race. That had not happened in the short history of the IRL. Well guess what…it happened.

Franchitti set out on a strategy to conserve fuel as his only hope to pull off this race. He managed to conserve enough fuel to make one less pit-stop than Briscoe and Dixon. No matter how off the pace he was, there was no way that Dixon and Briscoe could compensate for the additional time in the pits. It paid off as Dixon and Briscoe both pitted for a splash of fuel with less than eight laps to go. While pitting, Dario Franchitti surged ahead and held on to win the race and the championship. Briscoe would ultimately finish second and Dixon third. Briscoe would finish one point behind Dixon in the final point standings.

I have already read where some claim that this race was no different than Danica Patrick’s winning strategy at Motegi last spring. Well, I disagree. If this were Dario’s first and only win, I might say they had an argument. The difference is that Dario has won races. Lots of races. He also now has two championships under his belt. If you’ve won races the hard way, you are excused for stealing one through a fuel strategy. Had Ed Carpenter won at Kentucky, no one would say “Yeah, but” because he earned his way to the front through passing cars with sheer speed and talent – not waiting for cars to drop out for fuel. Danica has her one win and that’s fine, but don’t start cheapening Dario’s championship by comparing Saturday’s win with Danica’s sole trip to victory lane.

TV Coverage: As usual, Versus did a stellar job for all 200,000 viewers to see. It’s a shame that so few people get to watch the efforts of a tremendous group of talent at Versus. From a hardcore fan’s perspective, the Versus crew far exceeded my wildest hopes for what they might provide for fans this season. It’s what they do (or don’t do) for sponsors that have me worried for the future of their product.

But based on what they did this weekend, they earned an A+ in my book. Yes, it was unfortunate that almost every single pass for the lead was executed during commercials. But at least we got to see it in the little box to the left of the commercial. Yes, they ran the male enhancement product with the guy in the bad Santa suit more than the dreaded Izod commercial. But when they were on the air, their product was superb as it had been for practically all season. They also earned a star for breaking into the middle of a commercial break when Ryan Briscoe had one of his pit stops. ABC/ESPN would have just told us what we missed when they came back.

If I had to come up with a negative, it would be the silly lead-in shots when coming back from commercials. We would be watching the little commercial side-box and it would appear something was about to happen. Then when the telecast resumes, the graphically enhanced helmet and car is sitting there while they showed beach scenes of Miami and then a local hotel. Meanwhile, who knows what is happening at the track. They can show the Firestone and Honda logos while we’re still seeing the track can’t they?

Breast Cancer Awareness: There was plenty of pink at the track. Sarah Fisher did the best job promoting breast cancer awareness. She started her promotion a couple of months ago and really did a good job of keeping her pink car in the headlines for the past few weeks. Versus did a nice job of publicizing Sarah’s efforts as well as showing Firestone’s Al Speyer presenting a check to Sarah for $10,000 to be donated to the Susan G. Komen foundation. Versus also publicized the pink shirted IRL race officials and the pink checkered-flag. Where they dropped the ball was with Alex Lloyd’s car.

Lloyd’s car carried a special five digit number that fans could send a text to in order to make a donation for breast cancer. The number was mentioned in Friday’s mid-afternoon qualifying show, which unless you had the foresight to set your DVR, most people missed it. Unless I missed it, the number or Lloyd’s program was never mentioned throughout the race telecast.

Overall: You’ve got to tip your hat to Dario Franchitti and the entire No. 10 team. Contrary to the article I wrote this past Wednesday, they have now legitimized themselves. They had a spectacular season. When they realized they didn’t have the best car out there, they improvised and did what they had to do.

This was a race that I really didn’t want to see any coverage of other cars other than the three in the championship hunt. Versus pretty well played it that way.

With all of the off-track issues that have gone on and the boring oval races in the middle of the season along with total domination between two teams, it was still an exciting season overall and also a nail-biting race on Saturday. To have fourteen lead changes in the point standings throughout a seventeen race season is something that other racing series can only dream about. If other series had this kind of competitiveness, they wouldn’t have to fabricate excitement with chases and such.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll take a closer look back at the season and analyze the good the bad and the boring. But for now, I’ll salute Dario Franchitti for a job well done. At age 36, I believe he is also the oldest IRL season champion in their short history. Who says this is a young man’s game?

George Phillips

* – Please note. This article will count as Monday’s article. I will return with another article on Wed Oct 14.

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25 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Homestead”

  1. I have already read where some claim that this race was no different than Danica Patrick’s winning strategy at Motegi last spring. Well, I disagree. If this were Dario’s first and only win, I might say they had an argument.

    ————————————————-

    That’s because IT WAS exactly the way she won in Japan.

    Dixon and Briscoe were faster than Dario all race long, he knew it and opted for a different strategy and won the race, same way Danica hung in the top 6 at Japan last year all race, knowing she didn’t have the speed that Dixon/the other front-runners did, opted for a different strategy and won.

    Nobody is comparing their careers, George, just how they won a race.

  2. All in all, it was a decent enough race – definitely not the most exciting, but tense enough to keep me on my toes
    Very happy for Dario, but part of me was routing for Briscoe, but I have a feeling that Ryan will be back stronger next season.

  3. Jim in Wilmington Says:

    In retrospect, Ryan should have pitted about 5 laps sooner than he did. That would have given him enogh time to run down Dario. Of course, if he had done that and a caution had occrued we’d have all been talking about how conservative Roger was for bringing him in so early. This is what makes this such a fascinating sport.

  4. You guy’s acually enjoyed the race? Well, I didn’t have any Tv coverage, but, still, 3 cars on the lead lap, all red cars, and a championship decided by fuel mileage, not the most gripping thing around.

    • Dylan,

      For me, that only 3 cars were on the lead lap is irrelevant – what I saw was the three best drivers in the series with the best cars having a constant sparring match.

      In one sense, it reminded me of the old days with the likes of Senna, Prost and Mansell dominating F1 – they were often streets ahead of everyone else, but the battle between them was often much more thrilling anything else happening on track. It was the same last night.

      I was quite happy that a caution wasn’t thrown, as the race was decided on merit – and let’s be clear; Dario making it on fuel strategy was just as good a racecraft as Briscoe and Dixon going tooth and nail.

  5. tim nothhelfer Says:

    I enjoyed the race from above pit exit. For me the race was a barn burner from start to finish. Dario had one of the fastest cars all weekend, Saturday was no exception. Had Helio been able he may have run up front too and forced the pace slightly higher….but not much if any was left in the cars or track. Right to the end three deserving drivers could have won the race and the championship.

  6. John Menard's driver Says:

    “For me, that only 3 cars were on the lead lap is irrelevant – what I saw was the three best drivers in the series with the best cars having a constant sparring match.”

    No, it was a complete bore.

    And the only reason they are “the 3 best drivers” are because of who they drive for. You could put a trained monkey in a Ganassi or Penske car nowadays, and kick everybody’s ass.

    The gap between the 2 big boy teams and the rest has never been greater. 16 out of 17 race wins and over 95% of laps led for the season, will tell you that.

    This is a boring, PREDICTABLE sport that better get fixed soon (if its not already way too late). That display yesterday does not help.

    • That’s an accusation that you could lay at nearly every form of motorsport right now.

      The likes of Dario, Dixon, Briscoe and Helio are there because both Ganassi and Penske saw something in them that has marked them out from the rest of the field and those drivers have rewarded their respective teams by winning regularly.

      You mustn’t forget that this is a team sport and that includes driver, pit crew, management and strategy team (amongst others). The domination by the big two has shown that those four elements are working at their peak and I don’t believe that they should be open to undue criticism due to their successes.

      Money is one thing, but teamwork is a wholly different animal and as such the onus is on the other teams to get their act together if they truly want to make the grade – if anything is going to harm the IRL, it’s that the other teams are not trying hard enough to break the Ganassi / Penske stronghold.

      • I agree with Leigh. “Predictable”? Ye, if you only look at numbers, which, it seems, John Menard’s driver, is what you did. THe bottom line is that Ganassi and Penske have the best cars, best drivers, and best teams. That is a borne out, proven fact. It is the responsibility of the other teams to do what has to be done to hang with them, and so far that isn’t happening. It would be really nice if you could congratulate Dario and his team-as I will do right now, Congratulations, Dario and Target Chip Ganassi Racing Team #10-instead of finding something to complain about, becasue that cheapens what happened yesterday.

    • I don’t believe that a trained monkey or Milka Duno or Dennis Vitolo could pilot Ryan Briscoe’s car ahead of “everybody’s ass.”
      They’re not “The 3 best drivers… because of who they drive for.” They’re employed by the top-tier teams because they’re winners. Two of them are champions. Scott Dixon began winning at this level as a young gun in PacWest.
      “The gap between the 2 big boy teams”: I am pleased to see Justin Wilson and teammates win and to see Graham Rahal and teammates win. I expect to see Newman Haas Lanigan drivers win next season.

  7. I was glad to see Dario win. He and Kanaan and (to a lesser extent) Helio are the reasons I shake my head when I hear people complain about not having Americans as stars. They’re tough but they race clean. They don’t air their laundry in public. They’re articulate and they seem like the kind of people I’d enjoy meeting and hanging with. I get the feeling like they enjoy being in the US and competing here–the kind of feeling I used to get from Jackie Stewart. Not like they’re slumming and just using the IRL as the minor leagues to Real Racing.

    I look at some of the Americans (Marco particularly) and I’m left cold.

    To me, one of the big shortfalls of the IRL has not been somehow using Dario, Helio, and TK’s personalities to court new fans.

    • I was happy to see Tony surge toward the front from his embarassing starting position. I hope to see more podium finishes and wins from him next season.

    • You’re right about them, but, we still really need at least two or three winning American drivers. 0 Americans winning is called Champcar.

      • I’d be curious to know how much it really matters to fans. I’d also be curious to know how many people could correctly match a driver with his nationality. I’m guessing a lot of people would think Marco is Italian, Paul Tracy is American, Graham Rahal is a Brit, and so on.

  8. George, it’s good to see an “old-school” assessment of the race. 20 or 30 years ago, it’d be fantastic to have three teams with a chance to win it at the last race and the team that makes the best decisions walk away with both the win and the championship.

    The only thing different between this and races from the “good ol’ days” is that, instead of the engineer (someone like George Bignotti) being the big deal on the team, it is now the crew chief/strategist (someone like Tim Cindric) who gives the driver the tools to win. Races back in “the day” were largely won on engineering prowess mixed with driver skill, while races today (that aren’t decided by aero) are won on strategy mixed with driver skill.

    …and yes, I do like F1…how did you know? :-)

  9. Breast Cancer coverage: Yes, Alex Lloyd’s 5 digit number was mentioned & his car shown very briefly. However VS must have a graphics program that only allows for 2-digit numbers… it read as “40” in the scrolling bar.

    Sarah Fisher got the most “PINK” press. Highlighted her car + pink tires & mentioned the special pink helmet (but did not show it). The surprise was the 10K check from Firestone.

    Why VS. never went “thu-the-field” is a complete mystery!!! :( :( 5 cars on the lead lap at lap 80? 3/4ers of the field is LAPPED & they remained focused on the Top 3??? At times Dixon or Briscoe were rocketing away… not compelling TV (sorry, sad but true IMO). Going through the field helps sell sponsorship. If I was Mc Donald’s or Venom why would I be geeked to write a big $$$ check to be a title sponsor again? Surly not for the TV coverage you could get… Just sayin’!!!

  10. “Breast Cancer Awareness: There was plenty of pink at the track. Sarah Fisher did the best job promoting breast cancer awareness. ”

    thanks for mentioning the Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

    Pink has made the news and the more people that take just a moment to mention breast cancer, the more likely donations will go up and an eventual cure will be found.
    again, thank for mentioning Pink,
    Ariel

  11. I just love reading your posts, George, almost to the point of printing them out and posting them on my wall at home. Almost. :)

    Keep up the wonderful work.

  12. I’m following Jeff’s request to let our favorite bloggers know they are wonderful today. I’ve told you before, but it is worth repeating, George, that I really enjoy your writing! Keep it up!

  13. Found your blog through Ianinuchi, glad I did, consider me a regular from here out.

  14. This series gets worse every year. So predictible! I wonder what drivers will be racing for the title next year?

  15. I was extremely disappointed in the race. ANY race with just three of 20-some on the lead lap at the end — let alone the same three that win every race — is disappointing. If a casual fan watched that race, I doubt he or she would come back. If you’re the kind of sports fan who loves a 1-0 19-inning pitchers duel, great. Otherwise, move along. Nothing to see here.

    • Sadly, as a fan I have to agree. I posted the same type of comments on one of the Indycar.com ICN Forum threads! :( :(

  16. It would be fine having only three drivers on the lead lap if they were dicing it up for the lead! But they weren’t, they were ducks in a line. Lots of drivers on the lead lap doesn’t mean much, USAC and WOO rarely have more than four cars on the lead lap, but it’s O.K. cause they’re duelin’ for that lead! The IRL needs to make the cars drive more like sprint cars so there’s real action at the front, get rid of those wings!

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