Random Thoughts On Iowa

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Sometimes, it’s tempting to claim that a mediocre race was fantastic – just to put a nice spin on things. Such was not the case with the 2010 edition of the Iowa Corn 250. This really was a great race. This race had it all. For those that get into crashes, you had a few of those. If you are into lots of pit action, you walked away satisfied. There was the mechanical gremlin that jumped out of nowhere to claim a leader. There were several close calls on the track, along with several lead changes among many different leaders. In the end, we were treated with a pass for the lead with ten laps to go – to see the oval string of the Penske/Ganassi cars broken by a guy who was extremely deserving of a hard-fought win.

It has been a while since I’ve stood in front of the television to watch the end of the race, but in the last thirty or so laps, that’s exactly what I was doing. I normally pull for Helio Castroneves over just about anyone on the track. But when Tony Kanaan passed Helio for the lead and ultimately for the win, I was behind Kanaan all the way. For someone who has been a loyal soldier and the ultimate team player like Kanaan has been – this was certainly well-deserved.

TV Coverage: For the most part, the Versus crew did its usual good job. I wouldn’t say that Bob Jenkins was completely on top of his game – he had a few minor gaffes along the way, but Bob is still solid and so easy to listen to. Robbie Buhl and Jon Beekhuis both shined in their respective analyst roles, as usual. Lindy Thackston and Robbie Floyd excelled as the pit reporters, but Jack Arute is just getting tiresome with his pit-road props. We’ve seen the cheese grater before, but pouring marbles everywhere was just a little much. There’s a fine line between being funny and simply drawing attention to yourself. I think the tanned one has crossed that line.

I was a little miffed that Versus chose to cut away from such a tight fight with less than twenty laps to go. At roughly eighteen seconds a lap, they were getting dangerously close to the end. One more Brazilian coffee commercial and we might have missed Kanaan’s pass for the lead on lap 240.

Milka’s Woes Continue: I’ve had some fun tweaking the nose of the local Nashville wannabe journalist who claims Milka is an excellent driver who just happens to be stuck in bad equipment. But Milka’s act is becoming anything but funny. She almost took out the leaders on lap twenty-one when Will Power apparently caught her completely off guard as he passed her down low. Her quick jerk of the wheel almost took out Marco Andretti as he was attempting to pass her on the high side. Nine laps later, the leaders were passing her again. She was mercifully parked soon afterwards. Again, the racing gods spared the other drivers of a Milka catastrophe – but how long will that luck hold out? It just seems that it is a matter of time before something disastrous occurs due to Milka Duno’s incompetence.

Enough is enough – Brian Barnhart needs to park her permanently. It’s a tough call, because such a move affects the entire Dale Coyne team. I’m sure some of the CITGO dollars are indirectly propping up Alex Lloyd and the Boy Scout car. I can’t imagine that a non-profit organization is able to supply the cash needed for a fully funded team, but is it worth risking the safety of twenty-four other drivers just to keep a sponsor happy?

She was completely oblivious to the fact that Power and Andretti were approaching from behind. Getting passed is not an unusual situation for her; she should be pretty used to cars approaching from behind by now. As I’ve said before, Milka Duno is a nice person and a wonderful ambassador for the IZOD IndyCar Series – she just has no business in these cars.

Where’s Marco?: How on earth did Marco Andretti go from being so racy in the early stages of the race to being a backmarker near the end? Marco started third, quickly moved into second and was challenging Will Power for the early lead when they both encountered Milka Duno. Even though Marco had to get out of the throttle and lost all sorts of momentum, he quickly regained his form and actually took the lead on lap thirty-four and led for eleven laps.

As we watched on the little “Non-stop” window while commercials played, Marco began dropping like a stone. As Versus went to a break, Marco was in the lead. When they resumed coverage, Marco was in fifth. By the end of the race, he was having trouble staying out of the leader’s way. He finished fifteenth and was six laps down at the end. I am no driver nor an engineer, but how does a car get that bad throughout the course of a race, when it started out so good? Marco might have more explaining to do besides forgetting to buy a father’s Day gift for Michael.

KV expenses continue: Although the first lap crash on Sunday was certainly not his fault, Mario Moraes has now crashed out of five of the first eight races of this season. His car has very little funding and the repairs bills have been mounting. Takuma Sato added to the tab by drifting into the turn four wall and tearing up the right side of his car. Fortunately, EJ Viso salvaged the day for KV Racing Technology by finishing a very respectable third.

I haven’t seen Kevin Kalkhoven’s bank statement, but surely he is tired of paying for wrecked equipment after every race. Unless his funds are virtually unlimited, he needs to either get a better sponsorship situation or drivers that are better at taking care of their equipment.

Ganassi woes: It was not a stellar weekend for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Before the race even began, Scott Dixon’s day was in question. His crew discovered a faulty fuel pump that required removing the fuel cell before it could be fixed. His crew did a great job completing that task against a schedule that was moved up because of potential rain. Then Dixon’s car was bumped heavily by Helio Castroneves, leaving the pits. All in all, he should probably feel very fortunate to finish sixth.

The same can’t be said for his teammate, Dario Franchitti. Although he qualified an unspectacular fifth, Franchitti was near the front all day. Then, while leading, his gearbox stuck between fifth and sixth gear – and his chances of winning were done.

While some hate to see someone’s race end like that, this is what I was talking about a couple of weeks ago with engine failures. Running equipment on the ragged edge sometimes produces equipment failures. It’s a part of racing. It always has been and adds to the intrigue and excitement of the sport.

Penske Rebound: Team Penske had a day that was reminiscent of the great Rick Mears. Each car pretty well had the same pattern. They started at or near the front, then fell back early and toiled around mid-pack at the halfway point. They fiddled with the car, found the right combination and were back at or near the front at the end. Helio Castroneves was all but forgotten when he suddenly re-emerged at the front of the field and battled eventual race winner Tony Kanaan before finally settling for second. Ryan Briscoe was as far back as fifteenth at one point, before suddenly fighting for fourth. Will Power started on pole, fell way back, but came back to finish fifth.

Sarah’s future: It pains me to say this, but I’m wondering if we are seeing the end of Sarah Fisher’s driving career. Sarah doesn’t seem to be having fun behind the wheel anymore. When she was sitting on the pit box while Graham Rahal was driving the Dollar General car, she seemed to relish that role. I think she realizes she may serve her team better as a team owner more so than a driver. When she finishes her driving commitments this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if she hangs up her helmet for good. I’m just not sure that the future of her team lies with Jay Howard.

Vitor’s weekend: I was glad to see Lindy Thackston giving some recognition to Vitor Meira and the good drive that he had. Meira crashed the AJ Foyt/ABC Supply car in practice on Saturday, yet he still managed to qualify thirteenth. He had a good day on Sunday, stayed out of trouble and finished seventh.

The Foyt team has been competitive most of this season. If they can quicken the pace of their pit stops, they may actually be a factor in some of the upcoming road course.

All in all: I thought this was a great race. It had every element that makes racing exciting. If you didn’t like this race, you need to be checked for a pulse. Surely, the naysayers on Track Forum won’t be complaining about this race. If they do, nothing will satisfy them.

This is the sort of race that Randy Bernard and the IZOD IndyCar Series can build on. Although I like the Versus coverage, it’s a shame that the ratings will probably be abysmal, with a small outlet going against Father’s Day, the US Open and a NASCAR race. It’s unfortunate that there is another two-week break before the next race. With the race being on ABC on the Fourth of July weekend, there is lots of momentum. Some will be lost over that two-week stretch. Let’s hope that the next race is just as compelling and that the ABC coverage can be as good as Versus – only with more eyeballs.

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Iowa”

  1. Rick Austin Says:

    Great call on the Tony Kanaan win.

  2. Mostly almost totally agree, George. I really like the Versus booth guys and Lindy is solid. Arute is like your uncle who tells awful jokes but you laugh at anyway. Robbie Floyd seems like the weak link to me. The ratings won’t be good–I think Versus is going to have to grow some more before anyone knows where it is. I think it will grow, but not for a few years.

    Your point about building momentum into the schedule is important. There are too many off weeks where it’s easy to forget about Indycar.

    Milka is an awesome person who needs a new job–so maybe the IIRS should hire her. And I can’t see Sarah –again, awesome person–as anything but a backmarker. Maybe she could put Ana Beatriz or JR Hildenbrand or Paul Tracy in the seat. And speaking of women drivers, I don’t see Danica as ever being anything but average. And cute–average and cute.

    But that was as entertaining a race as I’ve seen for awhile–good on Iowa. Good for TK.

    PS. I watched Nascar at Sonoma after the Indy race. I’ve never seen so many yellows called when they shouldn’t be or not called when they should’ve. And the racing was nothing but bumpercars. Everyone was wrecking everyone else: it looked like the high school parking lot at 3:15. Awful.

  3. Great summary, George, and very in line with what I saw from the stands there. There really was something going on all the time someplace in the pack.
    I also have to agree about Milka. I expected that she’d factor into someone else’s race in at least some way, but not to the extent we saw. That was horrible. I sincerely hope someone can put her into a role where she can use her talents to promote racing while staying out of the car.

  4. Stephen_P83 Says:

    Good pick on TK George and also an excellent article. I agree completely on your feelings about Milka. Not even 30 laps into the race and she almost took out the leaders. While I’d hate to see the car count drop by parking her, I’d rather have that than the leader of a race taken out while lapping someone that is asleep at the wheel.

  5. George,
    You called it. TK had a heck of a drive. I have to say this was the most exciting race I have seen in person. There was passing going on the whole race, both in the front and back in the pack. I hope the Vs. camera’s caught some of it. I know our heads were on a swivel.

    While it was great to see so many lead changes, and different cars running up front, I have to say that some of the most surprising racing all day was between Dario and Dixon. I’ve never seen two teammates going at it as hard as they were for awhile.

    This was our second year in Iowa, and I am still amazed at both the facility, and the crowds. Good clean track with nice amenities, and friendly, knowledgeable race fans. The fan walk access alone is worth the price of admission. Indycar really does make the fans feel welcome. We were standing in the garage a few hours before the race, watching the teams get the cars ready for tech inspection, when one of the mechanics walked up to a little 7 year old boy who was there with his Dad, and lifted him into the cockpit, and had the Dad sit on the sidepod, and took their picture. Moments like that make for priceless memories. Just a small gesture by a nameless mechanic, but I’m sure it made another fan for life.

  6. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    Hi George,
    Regarding Milka, I wonder if the League is working with Coyne on some level to help find replacement / funds / pat driver before permanently parking Duno.
    Rather than cripple the team at this point, it’s possible that they’re all searching for a stop-gap replacement too – it’d be a shame, because right now Alex Lloyd is doing a great job and it would be bad to see him fall off the radar because CITGO’s money is gone.

  7. Agreed on most points. Some of the stuff about the tv coverage is interesting: I prefer the VS over ABC/ESPN, but one problem both have is that a lot of weird things happen that gather no comment at all, and are never pursued. This week it was Marco. Often it’s Milka who disappears without a trace.

    That’s one of the problems with being a sport with relatively little coverage; we only have a couple of primary sources for news and if something it’s mentioned, it never will be. That happens less in a sport like NFL football where every little thing will be analyzed by 10 people.

    One other comment to something brought up here: I have nothing against Sarah, but she’s been a back-marker driver for pretty much all of her Indycar/IRL career. I was hoping she’d sign G Rahal and just be an owner. But I people who compete on very high levels find it extremely difficult to give it up. I suppose it’s too much to expect her to retire when she’s still in her 20s.

  8. Jim Bob Says:

    Graham Rahal was a backmarker driver with Sarah’s team too. He had one decent race, but the other two he was painfully off the pace.

    I think any driver they put in a SFR car would be a backmarker. Howard couldn’t even qualify with a brand new Dallara at Indy.

    Sarah is doing the best with what she has. She is running a limited schedule, with limited funding and driving a 7 year old car with no teammate at most races. If you think its “the driver”, for why SFR is not competitive, you are clueless. Its a very small team. Small teams have no chance of running near the front on ovals. NO chance.

    If and when she does step out of the car (to start a family), it will be a young American driver who replaces her. That is what Dollar General wants, when Sarah retires.

    • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

      It’s also possible that the fact Sarah is a driver may be potentially holding the team back. As much as I like Sarah, sometimes you need to just take one thing at a time and she may be realising that being both a driver and team owner is too huge to give full attention.

  9. Jim Bob Says:

    BTW, I enjoy Milka being in these races. She is a nice moving pick, that always spices up the racing action.

    And Lloyd is pissing more and more people off by the week. He is making very few friends, with the way he drives.

    • True that with Lloyd. However, I’d say Milka has even fewer friends. I think there’s a difference between providing spice and adding an element of danger that doesn’t have to exist. I’m glad you can enjoy it. After seeing it live, though, I’m definitely fully on the “park Milka” bandwagon.

  10. I don’t know, Sarah’s has had some good oval runs, like Chicagoland 08 and I think it was Kentucky 08. She’s kinda like Carpenter, not good on road courses, but solid on ovals.

  11. I disagree with filling all weekends like Nascar does. I believe that IndyCar drivers should instead compete in other series, be it ALMS, Grand-Am or Nascar. They should visit Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta, Road America, Laguna Seca, Pikes Peak (the hill), X Games, Baja, Irwindale, Eldora, Knoxville, whatever.

    In Argentina, there are four main tin-topped series (Top Race and Turismo Nacional race on the same weekends, the others in the rest) and top drivers race in two or three. 11 to 16 races each fill the racing season.

  12. I used to be a bit of a Milka apologist, but it’s getting harder and harder these days. So I’m not intending to defend her, cuz she was waaay off the pace at Iowa, but I’m pretty sure the sudden move to the high line was due to contact with Power. There’s an onboard from the next time they come around to lap her, and you can pretty clearly see a donut on the side of the car. Either way, she should have been out of Power’s way to let him by.

    Agreed that it was a spectacular race – best in the four years I’ve been going to it!

    • A couple things can be said about Milka. 1) she didn’t wreck anybody despite the leaders attempting to go high and low. Sarah was the one who couldn’t safely get out of the way.
      2) The league is walking a fine line by parking Milka without a rule to back it up. Especially when they let Marco keep running later when he was 2 seconds off the pace and the 500 winner was a result of running off rhe pace. Sweepstakes laws don’t look well at inequity. They need to define real rules soon.

      • Milka didn’t wreck anybody on Sunday, but she got real close. And I still haven’t watched the race on the TiVo yet, but I suspect that the TV coverage didn’t show that the leaders weren’t the only ones to miss her by inches when they came by to lap her. I’d guess that 10 or so of the 22 cars who lapped her between lap 19 (when the leaders got to her the first time) and lap 27 (when the leaders approached her again) had what they would call “a moment” when they were lapping her.

        There’s a level of indecision when it comes to Milka’s driving that you can tell even from the grandstand. She has a tendency to turn into a corner, regardless of whether a lead lap car is approaching or is already alongside her, and sometimes she winds up in the middle line, making it very difficult for anybody to lap her inside or outside (and creating situations like what we saw at Barber and when the leaders got up to her at Iowa). It’s this indecision that makes her so dangerous, especially on the ovals when approach speeds and consequences are so high. You just can never count on where she’s going to go on any given lap, and that’s what made it borderline miraculous that nobody hit her when they were lapping her.

  13. One of the things that was really great to see in this race was TK pass and hold the lead. Previously, it seemed as if the drivers had the ability catch up to Penske and Ganassi, but the cars simply get around and/or hold the lead. Nice to see that finally disproven. — on the track and not on the pits. Plus, TK hasn’t had the wind at his back for a while; it was a great race and a great win.

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