Random Thoughts On Kansas

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Just about the time that the green flag fell at the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 from Kansas Speedway; a deluge of rain, lightening and tornados struck the Nashville area. While I understand the importance of making the public aware of potential danger, I don’t know why a crawler or split screen can’t be utilized. Instead, the last sight I saw of ABC’s race coverage was around lap 76, just as they were showing a replay of Ryan Briscoe coming in to get a new left-front wheel. It was at that point that our local ABC affiliate decided to dump the race and show their radar showing potential tornados and flash flood areas. They came back for about two laps and a round of commercials at around lap 134 before returning to the giant radar screen. The race never returned. Granted, the flooding was bad – some of the worst I’ve ever seen here, but the tornados never amounted to much.

In frustration, I  went to the computer to watch the race online. It was spotty and kept freezing up. Despite the three or four in-car camera views that were offered with no commentary; I chose the track feed featuring commentary from the IMS Radio Network. Actually, the radio feed was fine. I’ve always said Mike King does a decent job as a lap-by-lap announcer. It’s when he slips into commentary mode, when I have a problem (see below). But the video feed was lacking, to say the least. It was one camera placed on top of the press box that seemed intent on following Mike Conway and Sarah Fisher for most of the race, rather than ever showing any of the leaders.

But based on what I did see and have since read – if there was going to be a race that I couldn’t see, this would be the one to choose. It was better than last year’s race, but that isn’t saying much. I still maintain that there is a correlation to moving this race from the heat of the Fourth of July weekend to spring, that has turned it into a snooze fest. Ever since they moved this race to the spring in 2007, they have had cool temperatures and boring races.

The crowd was also terrible. My girlfriend walked in while they were interviewing Ryan Hunter-Reay during the pre-race show. She asked if the interview had been recorded this morning, because there was no one in the stands. When I told her it was live, her mouth dropped. Although I hate to see yet another oval fall off of the schedule, if ISC refuses to give an earnest effort in promoting this race – I say let it go.

IMS Radio Network: As I mentioned earlier, I think Mike King does an OK job as the lead announcer for races. But when he starts talking about things outside of what is going on directly in front of him – he gets into trouble. There have been multiple gaffes over the years where he makes it painfully obvious that he doesn’t have a clue what is actually going on in the IZOD IndyCar Series. He did it again on Friday.

For over a week now, the racing world has known that Mike Lanigan was no longer involved with Newman/Haas Racing – to the point where Newman/Haas went out of their way to make sure that everyone knew that they had gone back to their old moniker. I suppose Mike King isn’t part of the racing world, because when Hideki Mutoh was on his qualifying run – Mike King blurted out that he had just noticed that the sidepods no longer said Newman/Haas/Lanigan, but simply Newman/Haas. Davey Hamilton went on to explain the move that we all had heard a week earlier. Maybe this is a coy way of setting up Hamilton to deliver the news, but I’ve heard King say similar clueless things far too often.

As far as I know, this is King’s day job. If that’s the case, it’s almost criminal that he can’t pay $22 a year to subscribe to Trackside Online. Maybe he does, but just doesn’t bother to read their e-mails. But it is inexcusable for fans that have real jobs, to know more than the professional does about what is going on in his own work environment.

TV Coverage: Bear in mind that I only saw one-third of the race from ABC. In that time, the only thing I saw that made me cringe was the seemingly obligatory in-car reporting. This week, Dan Wheldon was the victim. They chose to check in with him just as the cars were about to roll off of pit road. Wheldon blathered on with the meaningless conversation and then proceeded to stall his engine as the cars were pulling away.

I don’t know if the interview had anything to do with his stalling the car, but this is a practice that needs to go away. Most of the time, the radio hook-up doesn’t even work; leaving the booth announcer to annoyingly keep asking if the driver can hear him. When it does work, it comes off as awkward and contrived. It is racing’s equivalent to the ridiculous halftime coach’s interview at a college football game. You know, when the pretty sideline reporter sticks the microphone in a coach’s face. The coach rambles on in pure coach-speak about how they’re going to have to do things differently in the second half; when all the while his face says that the only reason he is talking to her is because it’s in the conference TV contract.

The race: Even though the race was dull, it did tend to shake up the point standings. Race winner Scott Dixon jumped to second in the points, while Will Power saw a good chunk of his lead evaporate by finishing twelfth and two laps down. Dario Franchitti finished second, yet remained fifth in the much tighter point standings. Likewise, Tony Kanaan finished third but remained mired in the eighth spot in points. The drive of the day had to belong to Ryan Hunter-Reay. He took a car that started twenty-second and was a sled on Friday, and moved it steadily through the field to finish fifth. Still he dropped from third to fourth in the standings.

Helio Castroneves drove a steady if unspectacular race to finish fourth. He too dropped one place in the standings, sliding from second to third. Two drivers drove well but lost positions in the pits. Due to the dropped TV coverage, I don’t really know what happened to Ryan Briscoe, other than he had to come back to get a new left-front wheel. I am assuming he didn’t leave the pits without one, so I’ll figure his crew somehow screwed up. Still, he battled back from seventeenth to finish sixth and remains seventh in the points. I was pulling for Briscoe. He had such a strong qualifying run and he desperately needed a good finish. At least he didn’t lose ground.

The driver that drove his heart out, only to be repeatedly let down by his crew, was Vitor Meira. He had a fast car all day and drove a strong race. Yet every time he pitted, he lost positions. The first round of stops, he came in fifth and left in seventh. By the second round, he had regained fifth on the track yet came back out in ninth. His car owner, AJ Foyt, wasn’t there yesterday. He was at the Kentucky Derby. I’m not sure Foyt’s presence would have made a difference.

If you look at most teams, their crews are physically fit athletes. A lot of the crew guys on Foyt’s team look like couch potatoes. I hate to keep picking on this guy, but Meira’s outside front tire-changer looks like Chris Farley and moves about as fast. Whatever talent this guy brings to the table, agility isn’t it. They need to hire someone a little more svelte and mobile for that job. Otherwise, they will continue to have strong runs negated by slow pit work. After starting sixth and running as high as fourth in the early going, all Meira had to show for his hard work was a tenth place finish. He deserved better.

All in all: ABC sure didn’t get a very strong product as an enticement to get new fans to watch the Indianapolis 500. It was a dull race that didn’t offer much in the way of entertainment. However, it was a relatively clean race with only a handful of incidents. Milka Duno continued her stellar season by being oblivious to everyone around her as she left pit lane. If only she were in better equipment.

Jay Howard apparently committed a major no-no. Due to my lack of video, I never saw a replay, but based on what I’ve read; Howard reportedly almost took out his boss – car owner Sarah Fisher, just before hitting the wall. Not a wise move. The last time Howard was slated for a car in the Indianapolis 500, his owner-teammate Marty Roth decided on the morning of pole day, to drop him in favor of John Andretti. Sarah was reportedly very upset with Howard. It probably wasn’t a great career move to almost take out his new boss during his debut.

Speaking of John Andretti…he continues to be my favorite Andretti. In his first time in an IndyCar in eleven months, he drove a solid race from a starting spot of seventeenth up to a ninth place finish. John is one of the smartest drivers out there. If I won the lottery and started up a team from scratch – he would be my driver. His career has been chocked full of potholes, but he just keeps on plugging along and does the most with very little. Now that he has a ride for Indy in good equipment, I would love to see him do well in May.

But, now we are in May. The Speedway opens for practice in less than two weeks, but the Month of May has already started. With forty cars already entered for the Indianapolis 500 and a new qualifying format, this month has the potential to be something special. To help celebrate the coming of May, I’ll return to daily postings for the entire month (except for the first two weekends), before reverting to my usual Mon-Wed-Fri pattern in June. It should be a lot of fun.

George Phillips

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19 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Kansas”

  1. JohnMc Says:

    If Kansas goes, which I think it will, then let’s get Nashville back on.

  2. Attendence looked spotty. But that is probably what Chicago will look like now that you only have to buy single event tickets. Sad to say, but the IIRS is going to miss those N-car fans who had to buy a ticket previously.
    It bugs me that the IIRS was the Saturday back-up race to the “big” truck event on Sunday.

    The racing might have been good if Dixon would’ve blown an engine. Daniker blocking Helio was hilarious, Jay Howard’s in the doghouse and it was unfortunate for both that Mutoh and the Lotus car met late in the race. Good for John Andretti.

    But by far the worst thing of the day was the ABC/espn coverage. I thought it was horrible. It was as if they’d never seen an IIRS race this year. The broadcast was lackluster, emotionless, dull and amateurish. Marty Reid was clueless and Goodyear was too tired to correct him.

  3. Not a very good race. I was hopeful after qualifying, with so many differant teams and drivers in the top 10 we’d have a good race, but in the end, it was pretty dull. What’s sad is Indycar is so close to having compelling oval events. The cars can run close together, they can pass, all of the things NASCAR isn’t doing. But when two teams are almost guarenteed a victory, and then there’s only one other team with a shot, that’s not exciting. And then you’ve got the fact Dixon wasn’t challanged at all, and it’s just boring. Then compare that to the MotoGP, where Padrossa looked like Dixon, but Lorenzo managed to work his way through the field, catch and then pass Padrossa on the last lap. Indycar at kansas? Dixon dominates, no one can catch him, and then the caution flag, which potentially could have made the race interesting, had 7 lap down cars between first and second, which guarenteed a Dixon snoozefest. And Danica ran worse than Sato, Mutoh, and John Andretti. So much for her being an oval specialist.

    • Worse than having a dominant winning driver is having a dominant car. Nobody can claim “Wow, Dixon is an awesome driver! Look how fast he was at the race!” because he just had to stand the lateral accelerations and move the steering wheel a few degrees while pushing the throttle to the bottom the whole race. He won because he had a well set-up car. Perhaps he made it so, perhaps the engineering staff made it for him or with him. But the driver didn’t win, and that sucks in a spec series.

  4. Of course Goodyear was too tired to correct him. He can’t watch an Indycar event without boiling in anger at every restart without a pace car. Now that he can see that 1/3 of the field is hitting the push to pass in 3 and 4 under caution he’s on the edge.

  5. I think that at about 2:45 EDT yesterday Randy Bernard realized the honeymoon was over. A promotional genius can’t sell a bad product. He never once had to deal with PBR’s biggest fans being bored during an event because the event was inherently exciting.

  6. Scott Scheller Says:

    JohnMC, the very nature of the Nashville track led to a single file parade worse than anything you’ll ever see on a road course. I went to the last event held there, and if given free tickets to another Indycar event there I’d probably sell them. BORING even in person.

  7. Speaking of restarts, aren’t they supposed to line up two by two (like at the beginning of the race) on restarts? I thought they were, but must be mistaken. That long single file line with random acceleration kinda drives me crazy. I thought restarts were bad on twisties until I saw them on this oval. Is it just my OCD kicking in or does it look that bad to anyone else?

  8. Ugh. That wasn’t pretty. And to think at the start of the season I was complaining about the number of street races. I have to confess though, Sao Paulo, St. Pete, and Long Beach were far more entertaining that yesterday.

    This track used to produce some close racing, but since they moved it to the spring, it has been like this. I know the track is getting some grief, but I think the real issue is the weather. It sure seems to race differently in Mid July, than in April/May.

    I doubt that IndyCar wil return now with a 2nd cup date coming. Judging by the attendence, I don’t think either party will be sad about that. It’s a pity, because I think it could be a great event given the right date, and promotion.

    As for the IndyCar product, well… let’s just say they still have some work to do. After Knetucky it seemed like they had solved the racing problem. But this race looked more like Homestead last year, than Chicagoland.

    Redd, I think we can all agree that they need to do something about restarts. Having 5-6 lapped cars between the leaders does nothing but create trouble. I’m surprised they only had one wreck on a restart. I’d like to see them wave the cars around, and line them up in running order for the restart. I’d like to see 2 wide on the restart, but would settle for single file provided they were in running order. At least then there’d be some hope of passing.

    I think I’d have been more sad to see Kansas go if not for the recent statements by Bernard about keeping the 50/50 split. With the recent settlement of the SMI antitrust suit, it sounds like New Hampshire may be going from 2 cup dates, back to one. Let’s hope that opens the door for Incycar to return.

    Oh well, it’s behind us now. No sense worrying about it. On to Indy!

  9. Sorry, I don’t know how much the guy weighs who changes Ryan Briscoe’s left front tire.

    I only know that he didn’t locate the wheel on the drive pins during one of the pit stops yesterday. The resulting loss of the wheel and the track position was not a killer, as both the botched stop and the second one were under the same yellow.

    The result was that Briscoe lost a set of sticker black tires that he was prepared to make a charge with. He went back out with a set from qualifying, and they lost grip long before the stint was to end.

    That was the race. Vitor should be quite content that a fat guy who isn’t nearly as speedy didn’t botch his.

    One day last October, when the ISC ticket package ammendments were announced, was the day that dedicated promotional efforts should have begun. A lot of fat guys and skinny guys missed the drive pins. So another wheel fell off yesterday.

    And just to deflect the criticsm which is likely to follow, neither of these tasks are abstract concepts to me. What I will not understand is how the immersion in all the festivities and tradition of the month of May will continue to distract people from what kind of shape this deal is in.

    There has to be a party to race to. And you had better have all four wheels in place before you think about racing to it.

    • Well, Andy, you knew the criticism was coming, so here it is.

      George’s point, one which he’s been presenting since sometime last season, is that A.J. Foyt’s team is consistently much slower than most of the front line teams, and a good portion of the time it’s because they’re waiting for the outside front tire changer to finish his work. This makes races like yesterday quite frustrating, because on the occasion that Vitor finds himself able to maintain pace with the front runners (as he did for most of the first half of the race and beyond), he invariably loses spots in the pits. Is the Foyt squad alone in this characteristic? Hardly, but they have one of the most graphic problems in pitlane (yesterday during the race, on Twitter I floated an over/under of 4.5 spots lost by Vitor during one stop; the under won, but only barely). Meanwhile, Briscoe’s problem was an isolated one, the kind that can befall any pit crew, even of the highest quality, even at the highest levels of the sport (IndyCar and F1 included; even Ferrari and McLaren have had similar pit mistakes in recent years). Your comparison, while somewhat interesting, is not an apples to apples one.

      As to your other point, as we cover here, at your blog and in many other venues, yes, we still have problems. Does that mean we’re not allowed to enjoy the month of May, the Indy 500 or anything else in our sport? Should we all walk around with our heads down in perpetuity until a new TV contract is negotiated, every race is a sell out, all the races pull a 2.0 rating and every team has a Fortune 500 company on the sidepod? Please let me know so that I can nip my month of May buzz in the bud right now.

      • Congrats for using the word “buzz” in a sentence. First time I read it all weekend.

      • AJ knows as well as anybody that it is going to take a heck of a lot more than replacing a tire changer to win one of these races.

        Will the fastest outside tire guy allow them to beat a red car out of the pits? Maybe, but probably not.

        If they do beat the red cars out, are they going to hold the position and win the race? Not likely, but there’s an outside chance.

        Does AJ feel like its worth putting a friend out of his job on an outside chance? No.

      • JohnMc Says:

        Andy, answer Speedgeek’s question. Should we all walk around with our heads down in perpetuity until a new TV contract is negotiated, every race is a sell out, all the races pull a 2.0 rating and every team has a Fortune 500 company on the sidepod?

  10. Stephen_P83 Says:

    So we get an Oilpressure post everyday and a Trackside podcast every day….what a great month!

    I’m not an oval fan and this race justified my long held oval racing thoughts. It did have it’s moments though, they all do. Ryan Hunter-Reay was awsome. Takuma Sato was having a great drive until the end. Milka Duno still doesn’t deserve to be in a car!

  11. Not me John, my eyes are up and looking for ways to make things better. The right people are noticing.

    But I’m not a seasoned marketing professional. So rather than poke a finger in a stranger’s eye, I’ll wait to read your suggestions.

    Geek, you have a habit of pointing me out in a crowd. You can waste a lot less time by looking right where you know you can find me.

    • Hey, pal, all I’m saying is that we were having a nice chat here about what people thought about yesterday’s race. You came in and dumped your usual garbage truck worth of buzzkill and off-topic material all over the place. I chose to offer my opinion that a comparison you’d made was not a fair one, and that you’d kind of missed George’s point. Then, I asked you a question which you chose to “answer” with a pithy one liner, like you’ve done when I’ve asked you direct questions a couple other times in the past. You also came in here (George’s comments) a few weeks ago and called us a “support group” which you had no interest in belonging to. So, next question: what are you still doing here?

      I’ve read (I think) most of your stuff on your blog, and like I said a couple of weeks ago, you’ve had a couple of good ideas. Again, though, you’re not going to win any followers by coming in here and acting like a…pick your epithet. I’ll go with smartass for the time being. You like to use words like “distraction” when it comes to the month of May. I’ve got news for you: most of us are here because we like the month of May, so coming in here and attempting to crap all over our enthusiasm for it is going to get you nowhere. I’ve read about 15 comments from you where you either directly or imply that people here and elsewhere are fools for not seeing the things that you do and for (gasp!) actually enjoying IndyCar racing. When you’re here because you truly enjoy the sport, as I and many of the rest of us do, being called a fool for liking what you do like isn’t going to be taken lightly, either. Most of us agree that things could be better. Only a couple of people steer every…single…conversation…toward all the things that are wrong.

      That last thing is what I’m asking you to take away from this. Give the negative crap a rest. Not every single conversation needs to be a critique of what’s wrong. Randy and his guys are on it. That’s their job. He’s only been here for 60 days. I’m happy to give him a chance to do his job.

    • JohnMc Says:

      Andy, you already got my reply to your ridiculous thoughts on the Oval and Road Course championships. I noticed, too, that my points on the Championships were not challenged by you. Obviously, you know when to cut bait and run.

  12. Hey George, thanks for giving props to John Andretti. He’s been my favorite driver since he drove the Pennzoil machine back in the day. I had his poster on my wall and have had the pleasure of meeting his two brothers and his little sister. I have to say he’s an under-appreciated driver who, as you said, has hit some potholes in his career. However, I think he shows time and again that he is a capable driver who may have fared better if he had some different circumstances. Anyhow, I will be another person who wants to see him do well at Indy. Man, I hope he wins.

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