Random Thoughts On Kentucky

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Although the last two races on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule were still won by a Penske or Ganassi car, you can’t say they were predictable. Last week’s race at Chicago featured a last-minute flip in the points, while last night’s race at Kentucky Speedway looked like the victory would go to a Panther Racing car, only to have a gamble by the team of Helio Castroneves pay off for, yet, another win by Team Penske.

Longtime readers of this site know that I am a fan of Helio Castroneves and Team Penske. I have already received e-mails with the basic tone of “I guess you’re happy”. My response? Not really.

I am not a fan of fuel mileage gambles for victory. Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to think that a car that spent the majority of the race running outside of the top ten has no business being in victory lane. It’s sort of a cheap and hollow feeling victory. But all drivers will take them…and celebrate them. It’s hard to win these things, no matter how you have to do it. When a multiple race winner along with being three-time Indianapolis 500 winner does it, you tend to cut them some slack. When that type of win is the only win on a driver’s resume, it tends to have an invisible asterisk beside it.

Still we as fans wonder what just happened, when a car comes out of nowhere to steal a victory. So before I get accused of being an Helio apologist, I’ll state for the record that near the end of the race, I was pulling for either Ed Carpenter, Dan Wheldon or Tony Kanaan to win. But since I am an Helio fan – if they couldn’t, I’m glad he did.

The race itself was entertaining, albeit not to the level of the Chicago race. It started out with a familiar site – a KV car into the wall. Then there was a scary moment when a three-car accident produced about five heavy hits as Ryan Briscoe and Simona de Silvestro both hit the outside retaining wall before crashing into the inside wall. Simona’s second hit was especially frightening as she hit the inside concrete wall head-on. Fortunately, none of the drivers seemed to be seriously injured.

The remainder of the race ran green which provided a lot of green-flag pit stops. With all cars, besides Helio, needing quick stops at the end; there was a lot of intrigue and a shuffling of the race and point standings. Will Power’s lead continues to shrink. It is now down to a mere seventeen points. Everyone keeps saying that Power will win one of the remaining ovals, but I just don’t see it. He’s never done it before. Why would we expect him to suddenly do it now, with so much at stake? He is a great road racer, but he is merely good on the ovals – not great. He may still win this championship, but it won’t be because he won an oval. He may do that next year, but he is still way too inexperienced to pull it off with a championship in the balance. If Power gets too aggressive in these last two oval races, he is liable to find himself in the fence and out of the points.

TV Coverage: I thought last evening was a sub-par effort from Versus. I was probably not in a pro-Versus mood when I flipped over and saw their lead-in programming before the race. Whacked-Out Sports does not lend a whole lot of credibility for Versus as the mainstream network that they hope to be someday. After watching football on many different channels all day, to watch a home video of someone swallowing a giant knife just didn’t tell me I had tuned in to a major channel.

Once the IndyCar programming began, the channel suddenly seemed good and familiar again. I was glad to see drivers like Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter get a lot of airtime on the pre-race show, which has been an area that Versus excels in. Lindy Thackston does an excellent job as host of IndyCar Central.

I couldn’t say the same for her performance as a pit lane reporter last night. Her interview with Takuma Sato, after his first lap shunt, was awkward and stilted. There were long pauses as they both seemed to struggle to find the right words. Her victory lane chase-down of Helio was also painful to watch and made for some bad television.

One thing that everyone at Versus failed to point out was – what happened to Hideki Mutoh? He started the race in fifth, but was quickly running in the twentieth spot before finally finishing seventeenth. That’s a pretty significant drop, yet it apparently escaped the eyes of the Versus crew.

On the bright side, I don’t think Robbie Buhl gets enough credit for being so objective in the booth about his own Dreyer & Reinbold team. It’s a very unusual thing to have a team owner in the booth every week. If I was a car owner watching my drivers incur huge repair bills, I don’t think I could contain myself as well as Buhl. He does a great job of keeping his duties separate.

Outside passing: Based on comments from the drivers involved, it sounds like Vitor Meira was to blame for causing the accident that involved not only himself, but Simona de Silvestro and Ryan Briscoe. It seems that Brian Barnhart told the slower cars to stay low to the inside thereby forcing the overtaking car to pass on the outside. Since when is the outside passing lane, the preferred racing line on an oval? I’m not a driver, but over the years it seems that I’ve witnessed a lot of classic passes being made by setting up a pass then darting down to the inside to complete it. Why should the leaders be forced to pass slower cars on the outside? That’s like posting a sign on the interstate that says “Slow cars – stay left”. It just seems to go against all racing logic.

All in all: The IZOD IndyCar Series race at Kentucky Speedway was entertaining and most of the night, it looked like the winner wouldn’t come from the usual cast of characters. But in the end, it was Helio Castroneves that came out of nowhere. The side-by-side racing wasn’t near as intense as Chicago, but that’s not such a bad thing. With Chicago going away, we need more tracks like Kentucky to stick around. I’m glad it’s not going anywhere.

George Phillips

*Note – There will be no post on Labor Day (Monday Sep 6). I will return on Wed Sep 8. Enjoy the holiday!

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28 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Kentucky”

  1. The race was really good right up until the end. It was kinda of unbelievable the red cars pulled out another win, and Panther was about to be the first team outside of the Big Three to win an oval since 05… And Helio REALLY lucked into that one, because if I remeber correctly, he and his team didn’t plan on pitting like that. What do the non red cars have to do to win this season? Unless someonen new wins in the next two races, for the second season in a row, only 3 teams will have won a race…

    Yeah, I don’t like fuel finishes either. Especially when the on track action was good. I mean, it’s like seeing Motegi two weeks early. At least the first 2/3rds weren’t run as a fuel race

    • dylan… I finally understand all of your “Mid Ohio sucks” comments ! :) Most of this race was a snooze fest. Helio winning at least gave a very excited winner & the Spider Man routine does wake one up…

  2. HooverOnTheWeb Says:

    Someone must stop the red cars. I’m looking at you Tonya Harding!
    The racing was good and we were all pulling for Ed. He should be proud to have 2 2nds in a row.
    Why can’t Swiss Miss catch a break. Such talent. Such luck. Where is KV finding more cars?
    I will also be reading the blogs to see what happened to Fisher. Long stop.
    I did not get a look at the crowd. Did anyone else?

    • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

      Fisher had gearbox issues – she lost 5th gear in the early stages. Tried to carry on, but it wasn’t giving.

      • Brian McKay Says:

        Thanks. I had wondered why Sarah was so far back. She’s one o’ the racers whom Versus resolutely refused to show or discuss.

        I hope that IndyCar broadcasts move to NBC Sports next year.

      • Rahal also had gearbox issues… a GB supplier is gonna get a call on Tuesday!

        Brian: Moving to NBC won’t mean much IMO, but more people might be able to view the race… ABC/ESPN & VERSUS have been 5 minutes of racing & 5 minutes of commercials in 2010. That crap has gotta change. NASCAR & F1 don’t need to do this. many of the stick ‘n ball sports would LOSE fans if they peppered their fans with the advert schedule the ICS throws onto their base!!! :(

  3. Jack The Root Says:

    Crowd looked way down from last year. This was a terrible date for KY. Next year will likely be worse. After Labor Day, people tune out most forms of racing.

    Fisher had gearbox problems. Of course, Versus never told us. They are good at not telling you stuff.

    They were also lost at the end of the race. If Helio runs out of fuel, they had no clue Carpenter was going to win the race. In fact, they didn’t mention him finishing 2nd, until he crossed the start-finish line. Pathetic reporting, as usual.

    I have tried to give Versus the benefit of the doubt, but they suck. Their reporters seem lost much of the time and they always seem to be trying to dig up trouble (“here, lets look at the replay and see if you will get mad”). The Sato interview was a joke. The guy sucks. What is he supposed to say? “I suck and crashed again. Thank goodness I am a ridebuyer so my boss won’t can me”.

    Decent race, but wasn’t all that exciting.

  4. I’m glad you raised the point about Barnhart instructing cars about to lapped to drop to the lower line, this seems completely counter intutive to me in the sense that a car about to be lapped is proabably an ill handling car and now you are asking them to take the line that requires a well behaved car (or so we are told for quals). While milka managed to do that successively by lifting and essentially pulling over, other cars like Simona are racing for meaningfull positions (and rides for next year) and should have the option to take the line that gets them safely out of traffic without requiring them from breaking contact withwhomever they are racing. As much as I understand the passing lane rule for road courses, this one seems bone headed.

    It irked me to hear Mike King unload on simona for 20 minutes on the Radio. He kept going on about being in the drivers meeting and GOD (BB) reviewing the rule umpteen times and ‘this rookie ignoring what she was told to do’ paraphrasing. EEEsh

    The crowd was better than last year but not back to where it was the first two years I attended the race.

    Also Really stupid for the PA to interview Sebastian Saavedra durring the yellow where two BHA cars were on the hook.

    More stuff to discuss, but my thumbs are about asleep!

    • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

      I just thought the Saavedra interview was awful – he really did himself no favours and came across quite brattish

    • As a racer, all you want from the car you are lapping is for it to drive a consistent line. If Barnhart says “lapped cars stay on the white line”, it is much easier for them to be where they need to be than any ambiguous ‘high line’. Additionally, on these mile and a half tracks, it is very possible to pass high. What this comes down to is making one clear-cut instruction that is as easy as possible to follow. Simona wasn’t on the white line and wound up being taken out by an overly ambitious Vitor Meira. If she had stayed on the white line as instructed, there would have been no grey area.

  5. Mike Silver Says:

    Another poor telecast for Versus. It seems as if they are showing fewer laps each race. They pulled away from the action to show their logo, which could have been superimposed over the race. It seemed like fewer side by side spots tahn usual. Overall, I’m quite disappointed int he job they’ve done this year. They have lowered their standards to ESPN/ABC’s level.

  6. Sooo, where was the uproar in Motegi when Danica won her ‘historic’ race on fuel stategy? Hmmm? Helio was P2 lacking just a splash. Where was the uproar when Dario won by taking no tires stategy? Hmmm?

    So sue me. I’m a huge Helio fan, so congrats to Helio, Tim, the Black Knights, and the entire Team Penske. Go get ‘em in Motegi, Helio!

    • The American Mutt Says:

      I too wondered why Helio “stole” this win, but Dario takes no flack. Take into account Darios “defensive” (or as Barnhartt calls it BLOCKING) line at Chicago and one seems more inclined to claim Dario “stole” it.

      I honestly found this race to be considerably more exciting than Chicago. Cars actually passed each other on the track in the top ten. It wasn’t like, oh they’re side by side but it doesn’t matter because the outside guy can’t really make a pass.

    • Come on delta… Danica didn’t drive around Motegi @10-12MPH off pace to take that win :idea: I’m a HCN fan… but lets NOT poop on another driver to defend a controversial strategy.

      For the record, I’m with what Ed Carpenter said: “The FASTEST car doesn’t always WIN the race.” No crapping on Danica… just one statement that rings true.

      • Technically, over the 300 mile distance, Helio was the quickest car…

        Surprised that Ganassi (or Panther) wasn’t able to do the math and realize they had to split strategy just in case a yellow didn’t come out…

  7. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Versus coverage is clearly getting worse, but hey, it’s a good thing that ovals are a great deal easier to cover right. More exciting to watch too, so I am told.
    Sorry George, way too much sarcasm.
    It was nice to see that someone at Versus prop department had the forethought to keep Jack Arute out of the Sparta Dollar General this week, I see they actually came up with some real carbon fiber downforce side pod extensions and ramps. When do you suppose that they, Versus, will 1.) Get an entire cutaway car, or sections of one for demonstration purposes (they ought to be able to put something together out of what has to be a mountain of unserviceable parts in KV’s garage)… and 2.) Find someone knowledgeable like Tim Brewer to do the technical commentary? I think we all know that it’s time to give JA the hook. Although there is clearly some culpabilitiy on the part of the Versus production staff who allow him to continue to make a fool of himself on air each week.

    • When Jon Beekus was the pit/ tech reporter on another network… he did a stellar job explaining the “nuts & bolts” side of Indycar. JMO

  8. Gotta love Panther.

  9. “It irked me to hear Mike King unload on simona for 20 minutes on the Radio.”

    Mike King is clueless.

    Go back and watch the replay and tell me what Simona was supposed to do? She had Briscoe on her top side and Vitor stuck his nose in (too late) to her bottom side. She either moves up (while trying to make the turn herself) and hits Briscoe or she moves down and hits Meira.

    Vitor gets a pass too often. He makes too many boneheaded moves. That one had about a .00001 % chance of working out. And he wound up exactly where he should have….ass backward into the wall.

  10. I thought the race was exciting. I know some don’t like fuel-mileage gambles winning races, but if you truly understand the sport, then you understand that there are many ways to win races. Sometimes you win by being faster than everyone. Sometimes you win by being smarter/luckier than everyone.

    A few other odds & ends:

    Kudos to Ed Carpenter. Hopefully, he can put a deal together to run the ovals next year; he’s clearly not a street/road racer.

    Dan Wheldon had a very good run. However, he might not be in the Panther National Guard #4 much longer. Internet message board chatter suggests Graham Rahal will be in that car next year. Of course, imb chatter isn’t always the most reliable.

    Thankfully all of the drivers in the three car crash-Vitor Meira, Ryan Briscoe, and Simona De Silvestro seem okay.

    The Crash Test Dummies-a.k.a. KVRT-had another crash last night, although in fairness, the crash wasn’t Takuma Sato’s fault.

    The driver who really impressed me last night was Bertrand Baguette. Most deried him as just another ride buyer, but he and Conquest Racing really did good for most of the weekend, outqualifying a few better funded cars. Considering he never raced on an oval until he came to America, that’s really impressive.

    Versus’ coverage may not be spectacular all the time-and yes, a lot of the non-IndyCar programming needs a SERIOUS upgrade, but compared to ESPN’s lackadaisical, slipshod approach, I’ll take VERSUS 10 times out of 10.

    • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

      I’d go further and say that Baguette has been pretty good for much of this season, although he has really started to get into the swing of things in the second-half of the year.

      Having watched him race in Europe, I never considered him a ride-buyer and I think he’s beginning to prove his worth – slowly, but surely.
      I really want to see how he does next year, because he could be a gem.

    • Who’s at fault for Takuma’s crash?

  11. Weldon seemed concerned about a ride. Kentucky is a great venue for a race. I assume the other teams all knew Helio has gas when they didn’t, so they could have made a move, and didn’t. So I got no problem with the end, other than Ed C. would have been a very popular winner.

    But since everyone’s talking about Versus…I’ve always been a fan of Versus–the little engine that could. I was enthusiastic about their coverage of the series, especially when compared to ABC/ESPN.

    But it seems like they’re not growing into their jobs and the production as much as I had hoped. They seem content with producing a show that comes across as underfunded and sometimes amateurish. The three booth guys are okay, although they’re all so nice–I wonder if they don’t need someone with a bit more edge sometimes. I’m not sure if Floyd has the knowledge and the desire to be a pit reporter, there have many many awkward moments. While I like Lindycar, she was embarrassing in that Sato interview and the “wrecked driver” interviews went on way too long. It also seemed strange to have Lindy as both host and pit reporter and that Victory Lane thing was not very well organized. She also seems a bit robo-reporter at times. Jack Arute is worth watching but they don’t seem to have found the right place for him yet–that video trailer thing he’s in is just dumb–they spend all that money so he can do the amazing magic of moving a photo of a driver from one screen to another…using only his finger. wow. So, I still am okay with Versus, but they can’t stand pat. They need to make personnel additions/subtractions–mainly additions. They need to dump a bit more money into their coverage. They need a weekly Indycar program and they should cover at least Indy Lights, if not the lower ladder series.

    I did notice what seemed like a big uptick in commercial sponsors. No longer was it alternating Izod/Brazilian coffee commercials, but some big guns like Miller Lite and Progressive. And strangely, two of the sponsors were Toyo Tires and Madza.

    • All the examples that you supplied, plus poor direction, including camera-switching, show that the Versus broadcast team is lousy. – pa-thetic

  12. Everyone keeps saying that Power will win one of the remaining ovals, but I just don’t see it. He’s never done it before. -George
    :shock: Its his 2nd year in the IRL… CCWS was basically oval-free. However, I agree with you on Lindy… was she channeling the AZ governor’s brain delay/ deer in headlights moment or something? :)

  13. Spot on, redd. I agree with what you wrote.

  14. I have to go along with JP and Jim Bob about how annoying and clueless it was for Mike King to go on and on and on and……………………on about Simona and how this rookie ignored the word of God. She is a gutsy, talented driver with a racer’s temperament who should continue to do well even though she is (GASP) not an actual American. She seems to be getting Americanized pretty quickly since her favorite thing about the Iowa race was pork chops on stick and corn on the cob.

    I also get really tired of listening to some of the drivers and commentators whining about “backmarkers” as if they were never backmarkers. With the exception of the crash test dummies, most backmarkers are young drivers learning their craft (Simona, Bertrand Baguette) and more experienced drivers in 2nd rate equipment (Rahal, Fisher, Meira, etc.) They also have sponsors and fans and getting into the top ten or fifteen is important to them. What the hell are they supposed to do if they get a lap down, just pull over and watch the black and red cars?! Working their way through traffic for leading drivers has never been easy nor should it be.

    I’m beginning to think Mike King is a backmarker. And when did it become against the rules to pass on the inside. You should be able to pass any damn way you can without wrecking someone. I believe they call that “racing”.

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