A Closer Look At This Past Weekend
Now that we are a few days removed from crowning Dario Franchitti as the 2009 IndyCar Series Champion, I must say that I am a bit perplexed over the endless supply of negative comments regarding the race at Homestead and the way in which Dario won the race and consequently the championship. It seems that anyone who thought that Saturday’s race was exciting is in dire need of psychiatric help. Well…get me an appointment, because I thought it was very exciting.
I’ve read where people think that the other twenty cars on the track were supposed to slow down and get out of the way of the three contenders. Talk about an insane idea! I’ve been fairly critical of Brian Barnhart this season, but this is something he would never do. First of all, there were too many other battles to wage. Some drivers needed to improve their final standings for 2009, while others wanted to defend their positions. Others were driving to maintain their jobs, while others were auditioning for potential jobs next year.
I fully believe that the reason that the top three cars were the only ones on the lead lap was because these three cars were set up by the two best teams in the business. The engineers utilized their data and were able to hit the setup, while the other teams missed it. This is pretty much the way the season has gone with Penske and Ganassi. Why would this last race be any different? Plus, the top three drivers were driving as if there was no tomorrow – because there wasn’t. This was literally a trophy dash and all three drivers had a winner take all attitude. There was no need for point racing. This was not the time to play conservative and collect a lot of points and hope for a better race next week. It was now or never.
It just so happened that one of the three drivers realized early on that they didn’t have the car to keep up with the other two. Rather than putting his car into the fence while driving it beyond its capabilities, he and his team re-evaluated the circumstances and changed their strategy midway through the race. They played their cards right and benefited by a good bit of luck when the race was run caution-free. This is called knowing your limitations and maximizing your strengths.
I’ve made it clear that I was pulling for Ryan Briscoe on Saturday. I’ve come to appreciate his driving ability, especially with the driving clinic he put on Saturday; but I’ve really gained a great deal of respect for the man and how he has handled so much adversity over the years. He again displayed those qualities over the last few weeks.
It would have been very easy to dodge questions regarding his mistake at Motegi. But he remained upbeat and stood there and faced the music – and the questions. I go back to May of 2008 when Danicamania wanted his head on a platter and practically the entire racing community was placing bets on how much longer he would remain at Team Penske. He never wavered and won his first race at Milwaukee the following week. All the while, he handled himself with class and dignity.
But even though I was pulling for Briscoe, I don’t feel as if he was robbed on Saturday. Like it or not, he was still accountable for his shunt in Japan. Had he not allowed his car to veer out of control while leaving the pits, he more than likely would have arrived at Homestead with at least a thirty-five point lead. All he would have needed to do was post a decent finish. Instead, he entered the weekend not entirely in control of his fate and even though he drove the race of his life, the Motegi slip-up ultimately cost him the championship – and he will have to live with that throughout the winter. And he should, but that’s not such a bad thing so long as he learns from it.
But getting back to Dario’s victory; the other two cars had the option to conserve fuel as well, but expecting one to do it voluntarily while the other had a car to keep up the pace would be asking a little too much. Remember – this was not Dario’s plan at the start. He had to do this out of necessity. Fortunately for him, it paid off in droves…whatever a drove is. That reminds me…late in the race, Bob Jenkins kept saying that Dario Franchitti could end up being in the catbird’s seat. What exactly is a catbird’s seat and why is it so advantageous to be in it? Just wondering.
But the complaints I’ve read defy explanation. The race was suspenseful, nerve-wracking, full of drama and provided an unexpected twist at the end. Above all else, I thought it was entertaining. And isn’t entertaining the fan base pretty much the goal of any sporting entity? I guess it goes back to an article I wrote a couple of months ago entitled The Legions Of The Miserable. Some people just aren’t happy unless they’re complaining. I was married to someone like that, once. That’s why she’s now my ex.
The race at Homestead didn’t offer the side-by-side racing we saw at Chicago. But it never has. This track doesn’t lend itself to that type of racing. But the storylines were endless. Unless you were a devoted fan of Jaques Lazier and had no reason to watch after he departed after twenty-three laps; or if you were watching to see the crashes – I personally see no way that anyone could call this race boring.
It’s sort of like when I hear my female friend (we’re too old to call her a girlfriend) say that baseball is boring. It’s only boring when you don’t understand it. A teenager requires non-stop action in order to maintain their attention. As an alleged adult, I appreciated Saturday’s race for what it was – the playing out of two distinct and separate strategies to see which one would prevail.
Dario Franchitti earned this championship and it irritates me when race fans want to cheapen it by saying he backed into it. I say he played it smart and did whatever he needed to do to take home the trophy. He should be congratulated for earning a championship and winning an exciting race.