A Wild And Crazy Finish

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Well, this day was nothing like I expected when I woke up this morning. I’m sure there are a few drivers and team owners who can say the same thing. I thought that Tony Kanaan would probably post a fast number first thing this morning and then work on his race setup for the rest of the day. Instead, he crashed his car in almost the exact same fashion as yesterday – putting his crew behind the eight-ball for the rest of the day.

As he kept making practice runs, it was obvious he was not comfortable at all in the car and he never turned a lap in the mid-afternoon that looked like it would even threaten Sebastian Saavedra. Kanaan was growing more and more frustrated, as it was becoming readily apparent that the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 might possibly be run without crowd favorite Tony Kanaan. As the five o’clock hour approach, suddenly the 7-Eleven crew found the speed necessary to bump Saveedra.

They decided “Why wait?”, so a little after five, they decided to make a qualifying run. He put the makeshift car through four strong laps. Kanaan admitted that when the car was being put through the line and the crowd was cheering loudly for him – he got emotional. Buit he put the emotion out of his mind and did what it took to get his car into the field.

The drama that unfolded and the way the crowd cheered when the checkered flag flew to finish his run – is what makes this event so special for drivers, teams and fans alike. Those that say this race has lost its luster, must be blind if they didn’t take anything special away from today. That run brought chills as I sat in the stands and watched him pull that run off.

Now, about some of the other things that transpired…If anyone remembers the way Eric Bachelart bungled Bump Day last year; his driver Alex Tagliani sat helplessly and watched as he was bumped out of the field. I guess this year, he figured that wouldn’t happen again, so he withdrew Mario Romancini’s time and so he could re-qualified the car at a hopefully higher speed. It was a gutsy move that I seriously questioned at the time – but it paid off as Romancini ended up improving his time by six spots.

At that point, I guess everyone thought that was the proper tactic. After Sebastian Saavedra crashed while sitting on the bubble, it looked like his Indy debut wouldn’t happen. Then, Paul Tracy’s team decided that it would be wise to withdraw his time before he got bumped. Oops! He couldn’t bump his way back in, so that put Jay Howard back in the field. But Sarah Fisher’s team apparently didn’t appreciate the gift, as they gave it back. They followed Tracy’s cue aqnd withdrew their car. Oops! Same result. The end result was serving up a starting spot on a silver platter for Bryan Herta’s new team with Saavedra’s wrecked car back in the starting field.

There is an old adage in football – you never take points off of the board. Well, I think that if you’re on the bubble with ten minutes to go – you don’t give up your spot in the Indianapolis 500. Make someone take it away from you, but don’t give it away. I’m happy for good-guy Bryan Herta and his young team – but had either of these drivers sat on their times, chances are – they would be celebrating tonight instead of kicking themselves.

I was a little surprised at the sparse crowd today. It was warm, but there was a nice breeze blowing. It was a great day at the track and the drama was every bit as compelling as yesterday’s.

As much as I enjoyed my “media” experience at Barber, this was a whole new level. I’m still pinching myself that I’m having this experience. All this has done is make me even more excited for next weekend. Now, I have to wrap up and hit the road to Nashville. I’ll have a post with final thoughts and photos first thing in the morning. Thanks for following along this weekend.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “A Wild And Crazy Finish”

  1. Jack in NC Says:

    Thanks for all the commentary and personal notes, George. I wish I could have been there, but reading your posts was the next best thing.

  2. Can’t really call it “BUMP” day anymore, not when teams are stumbling over themselves to put a slower car back in the field.

    Can’t really call it the fastest field of 33 either…. this year it was the fastest field of 32 and the guy who was 35th fastest.

    The casual fans (defined as the millions who will watch the 500 in person or on TV but did not watch bump day in person or on TV) will hear about this day and think less of the series for this idiotic outcome.

  3. Scott, this was one of the better BUMP days in 10 years. Who gives a flying hoot about whether or not Saavedra didn’t bump into the field. Bump day is about the human condition. How we make our gut decisions for glory. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. The failure of those choices today made it that much more interesting. I was unable to sit and eat my chips and salsa like I had been for the prior 5 hours of the day. I was compelled to stand up 5 inches from my TV and feel their pain when the realization that their choice failed fell upon them.

    If there was 15 cars going for that final spot in the last hour the drama would not be the same. We would be watching 1 car after another take shots at it, but because it was down to 3 cars, it was constant rotation, pull out of line, get back in line, sign papers and play chess. Some drivers got multiple shots at it and got more anxious and concerned.

    That is what Indy is all about, it brings joy and despair and it breeds heroes.

    • TJ, I guess that depends on what makes a bump day good. Personally I think bump day is about filling out the field with the fastest cars remaining. The human condition and drama are an interesting part of that, but this is auto racing, no Survivor.

      I don’t believe for a minute that it would have been less exciting to watch PT sit there while Howard and Lazier tried to beat his time. I’m baffled by the thought that heroes can be bred by a faster driver opting out of a run and handing over their starting spot.

      If you want to grade this bump day on action then you can give it an A. Thats fine. If you want to grade it on the fastest 33 drivers making the field then it is a resounding F.

      More importantly to the league right now: If you want to grade it on entertaining the casual fan you give it an F. If you tell somebody the events of the day it takes another 5 minutes to explain exactly why it seemed like a good idea to give away a starting position to try and get it back… and even then they’re confused.

      Even the Star has run multiple stories just trying to clarify the events of the day…. and every one of them is attracting less attention than a new sports talk radio change in Indy.

      Imagine that… a story about a talk radio host has interested more Indy Star readers than all 3 stories about bump day COMBINED!

  4. Wow, I enjoyed it & Bryan Herta got the worldest COOLEST 40th Birthday gift for his very small “TWO GUYS WITH A TRUCK” Indycar team (formally known as the William Rast/ Bryan Herta Autosport #29 Dallara) :!: :)

  5. Great bump day, I agree with TJ but nervously chomped my chips instead…

    Stopped by for this reason:

    TONY KANAAN:” Yeah, obviously this morning was something that we didn’t understand. And I totally get it when I’m trying as hard as I can to put the car in the top 9 and I hit the wall. But when I’m going at 211 miles an hour and I hit the wall, that’s something wrong.”

    Don’t know what happened Saturday, but Tony’s car crashed Tony on Sunday morning. Last time I brought up the subject here, I got crucified for something or other.

    Hope you had a good weekend George, it’s a shame more people wren’t there to share it… couldn’t have been much better.

  6. Mike Silver Says:

    Thanks for the inside reports, George. Sunday was by far the best bump day in years.

  7. Scott: What are you talking about? To the casual fan, I can’t think of much more excitement than people putting it all on the line like they did.

    Again, the best Bump Day in 15 years. I enjoyed every minute of it, and the casual fans I took with me seemed to as well.

    • Why would the casual fan be excited that PT opted out of the race in hope of getting back in? Why would he or she care that Howard opted out of his first run which still stood after his second run was too slow?

      This is Indy. The casual fan thinks he saw bump day in person when it meant something. They aren’t impressed when somebody makes the race by DEFAULT. Not when they witnessed Little Al fail to qualify in person.

      Be realistic here. The channel 6 news gave higher billing and more time to both Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelorette on Monday mornings 6:00 news than they gave time trials. The casual fan isn’t impressed or excited.

      If they want bump day to matter again two things have to happen. 1) the fastest 33 must make the field. 2) the race has to become relevant again.

      No trick formula or rules twist is going to make it happen if they can’t accomplish that.

      • Jeez, an “F”? Tough curve.

        By your reasoning, why should the “casual fan” (and I’m not sure who you’re talking about there; people who stumbled across Bump Day on Versus? People who came out to the track to enjoy some sunshine? People who only know IndyCar racing by the two column inches it gets in their local paper every two weeks?) care about any of what happened on Bump Day? To my mind, the story of Howard/PT/Saavedra/Lazier was just as compelling (if not more) than anything that would have resulted from PT not being able to opt out. If everybody were made to stand on their time, then we’d have had only Lazier (who almost crashed a car that was not quick enough in the first place) and Milka (who wasn’t fast enough to make the field at any time all week) trying to bump into the field. Saavedra had no back-up car to try to get back in the field with, had he been bumped. PT and Howard may have been even slower in their back-up cars, had their times been the ones bumped by TK or Taku at the end of the day. Would that have been fun to watch?

        I don’t see how the goings on right at the end of the day result in the legitimacy of Bump Day being thrown into question. No, we don’t have the “fastest 33″ as you’ve gone on and on about, we’ve got the fastest 32, plus the 35th. You see that as half empty, I see it as not that big a deal. What happened happened because of the way the rules are written. Are they perfect? No, but if the rules were the way they were “in the old days” (read that: before 2004 or so), then we probably might not have had more than 3-4 attempts TOTAL in the last 90 minutes of Sunday, because a bumped car couldn’t re-attempt. Would that have made for compelling TV? Would that have gotten more buzz in the local media? Would that have sucked in casual fans? I say no.

        Look, you gotta give this aspect of qualifying some time. I think it’s going to be better once we have even more cars, as I hope will be the case in 2011 and 2012 going forward. If we wind up with another “farcical” outcome, as some people think that Sunday produced (I’m not one of them), then I don’t think that Randy will hesitate to change to rules to something more appropriate.

        You’re talking about making the race more relevant again. The guy who is trying to do that has been at it for 87 total days now. It’s not going to happen overnight. Give him a chance.

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