Random Thoughts On Edmonton
One thing that we all love about sports is that things can drastically change in the blink of an eye. It is also what we hate about sports. Racing is no different. That’s what happened on Sunday when the IZOD IndyCar Series made its annual visit to Edmonton. After a snoozer of a race for the first three-quarters, things suddenly became interesting at first, and then things suddenly boiled over in the final two laps.
Before I get too far into this, I’ll post my disclaimer. For those new to this site, I am an unabashed Helio Castroneves fan. I always try to be objective. When Helio makes a mistake, I’ll usually acknowledge it. Yesterday, I saw no mistake.
When Helio Castroneves held off Will Power’s attempt to pass with two laps to go, I thought I had just witnessed a brilliant piece of driving on Helio‘s part. To hold off your teammate while both of you are going for the win, is a risky proposition. The only standing team orders at Team Penske is to not take each other out. I thought Helio did a masterful job at holding the position while avoiding contact between the two teammates. Brian Barnhart saw it differently. He penalized Helio for blocking. When Helio refused to answer the drive-through penalty, Barnhart scored him at the end of the lead lap. Helio was dropped from first to tenth.
Those on the Versus crew were carefully choosing their words, but they said diplomatically that they did not see a block. The two drivers interviewed on the telecast were not quite innocent bystanders; Will Power was the recipient of the alleged block and Scott Dixon was handed the win as a result of the penalty. What do you expect them to say?
But after watching the replay several times; I’m appalled that this was called a block. Yes, Helio swung to the left before entering the right-hander. So did everyone else. That’s called entering the turn. All other drivers had already swung out much further to the left. Power and Castroneves began their entry much later, due to Power’s challenge. Helio was the leader and he held his line. Power carried too much momentum into the corner while trying to make the pass and got sideways. I don’t blame Power for trying to pass, but don’t blame Helio for fending him off. It’s called racing. They are fighting to see who can cross the finish-line first – not to see who can accumulate the most points on technical merit. That’s what figure skating is about.
Brian Barnhart has acquired the not so complimentary nickname of “the iron hand of justice” for a reason. His arrogance outruns his common sense more often that not. How can he steal a win from Helio Castroneves by calling him for blocking, yet allow Danica Patrick to cut across the bow of her teammate, Tony Kanaan, at Texas and do nothing?
It’s time for Brian Barnhart to go. He has worn out his welcome. He is pretty much the last holdover from the Tony George regime. That regime was known for governing by arrogance. This new regime run by Randy Bernard seems to use reason and logic. Plus, they genuinely care about what their core audience wants. The Tony George-Brian Barnhart regime was more interested in talking down to the core fans by telling them what was best for them, whether they realized it or not.
I was concerned when I heard that Barnhart was on the ICONIC committee. He made it clear months before that committee was formed that he thought that Dallara was the clear choice for the future of the league, since they had been such a good partner. Of course, the teams didn’t think they were such a good partner as they continued to charge top-dollar for a car that had been in use since 2003, with little or no research going into the design for years – yet they continued to extort money from the teams for replacement tubs. Where else could a team go if they needed a new tub? I wonder what decision would have been made had Barnhart not been a part of the process.
When USAC did a poor job of officiating the IRL races in the early days, they were given the boot. The scoring debacle at Texas in 1997 that ended with AJ Foyt slapping Arie Luyendyk into the bushes also resulted in USAC being sent packing. It was then that the IRL decided they would take over the officiating. It’s time for Randy Bernard to step in and send Barnhart on his way.
To make a call of this magnitude is unconscionable. This is arrogance at its highest level. Yet, when Brian Barnhart was asked to explain himself and be held accountable for his actions, he was cowering in the trailer supposedly reviewing the tape. Of course, the ruling stood. No one that stubborn or arrogant would ever admit a mistake.
Helio’s reaction was pretty much predictable – except for the suicidal act of grabbing security chief Charles Burns by the collar. Burns is only about three and a half times bigger than Helio. That’s the one move on Sunday that Helio seriously needed to re-think. Fortunately, Burns just kind of seemed to laugh it off. He knew Helio was just blowing off steam – and rightfully so. He was robbed.
In most sporting events, the officials do their best job when they do not become part of the story. They maintain control, but they let ‘em play. In this case, Brian Barnhart should have just let’em race. Instead, he inserted himself and his ego into the fray and allowed himself to alter the outcome and become a major part of the story. Randy Bernard needs to get control of this situation to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
TV Coverage: It was not the Versus crew’s finest day, although a mediocre Versus telecast is still better than any ABC/ESPN broadcast over the past few years. Their pre-race show was good, but there seemed to be a more than a few minor gaffes in the booth. I also thought that Robbie Floyd’s post-race interview was weak. Granted, they were trying circumstances and Helio wasn’t giving him much to work with, but he completely lost control of the situation, by first begging him to watch the replay of the alleged block and then asking what Helio meant by saying “…talk to my attorneys”. Lame.
On another note, Versus is getting a little too cute with graphics. They now have a large obstructive box that drops down on the right side of the screen, when they are using the in-car camera shot. It obscures the shot of an upcoming right-hander or any traffic up ahead. The whole effect of the in-car shot is to give the audience the same view that the driver gets. I’d prefer to watch how a driver enters the upcoming turn or deals with traffic rather than watch a picture of Will Power in front of a waving Australian flag.
All in all: The first three fourths of this race was about as boring as it gets. Perhaps I worked too long in the yard in the heat over the weekend, but I was literally having trouble staying awake in the first half of the race. Paul Tracy added a little excitement as he moved up, and his KV Racing Technology teammates had a stellar day for the most part – but the front of the field was static, stagnant and very predictable. Three Penske’s and two Ganassi’s made up the top five throughout the day.
Things did get a little interesting just past the midway point. Suddenly, a race that had been caution-free had three cautions within seven laps. The Castroneves took it upon himself to end the Will Power juggernaut and passed him in earnest – on the track. An odd full-course caution for Simona de Silvestro’s car which had gone way off into the grass, set up the last ill-fated re-start. It’s a re-start that may be talked about for months.