Random Thoughts On Homestead

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Who would have thought that when Team Penske moved from CART to the IRL in 2002, they would only have one IndyCar championship in their trophy case nine years later? Target Chip Ganassi followed suit with his CART operation one year later, and they now have won four championships in just eight seasons. When Will Power brushed the wall two-thirds of the way through the race, he completed a four race meltdown. When Power left the final road course of the season at Sonoma, he boasted a fifty-nine point lead. After three races on ovals, that lead was down to twelve points. His season was effectively done, when he brushed the wall causing suspension damage that was significant enough to pull him out of the car.

The man that seemed untouchable for most of the season, could only watch and hope that bad luck would befall Dario Franchitti and cause him to finish outside the top ten, so he could still hoist that lovely trophy at the end of the night. Franchitti finished eighth.

This is the second year in a row that a Team Penske driver has held a comfortable points lead late in the season, only to have their championship derailed by enduring unforced errors. Last year, Ryan Briscoe was sitting comfortably when he spun on his own leaving the pits in Motegi. Briscoe finished third in the championship for 2009. It will be interesting to see what lingering effect this collapse will have on Power’s season in 2011. Briscoe seemed to carry a hangover from last season’s brain-fade into this season. Although Briscoe finished fifth in the standings and won a race, he was never a factor in this year’s championship.

It should be remembered that this is a new team. This was the first year since 1994 that Roger Penske had run three cars full-time. Sharing shop space with the established teams for Helio Castroneves and Briscoe – this team was certainly considered the third stringers at Team Penske. But Power served notice that he was going to be a major contender by winning the first two races of the season.

Aside from the championship battle, this was a much more engaging race than last year’s. There were enough yellows to keep things interesting, although the caution period for Power’s brush with the wall was way too long. Supposedly, the lights that indicate the pits were closed were malfunctioning – hence the extended yellow. If this were a NASCAR race, I would swear it was to give Power enough time to effect repairs under yellow and resume the championship battle – but this isn’t NASCAR.

Oh, and by the way – Franchitti’s teammate Scott Dixon won the race, giving Target Chip Ganassi two winners last evening and salvaging some respect for an otherwise disappointing season for Dixon. Andretti Autosport had an excellent night as Danica Patrick edged Tony Kanaan at the line for second place. Their teammate, Marco Andretti finished seventh. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the only AA driver to finish out of the top ten, coming home eleventh and one lap down. Besides Will Power’s untimely miscue, Team Penske drivers Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves had decent runs to finish fourth and fifth respectively. Vitor Meira completed his first full season driving for AJ Foyt on a high note. Meira drove the ABC Supply car to a sixth place finish.

I thought we would hear more out of Ed Carpenter, but he was quiet most of the night and finished thirteenth in Panther Racing’s second car. His teammate, Dan Wheldon, finished ninth in what may or may not be his last race for Panther Racing. Now word has it that he may actually re-sign with the team that he sued back in August.

Milka Duno ended what may be her last IZOD IndyCar Series race by nearly taking out Dario Franchitti as she spun and crashed in turn four. Rumors are that Brian Barnhart will respectfully ask her to find another line of work before next season. The series has been lucky that her driving habits have not impacted a championship, much less had more serious consequences. If that happens, hopefully Citgo will find another driver to their liking. It would be a shame if such an action ran off a sponsor, but it needs to be done. She is a very nice person and a good off-track ambassador for the sport, but she is a menace on the track.

TV Coverage: I missed the pre-race show. I was too busy watching the Tennessee-LSU game, which had the most bizarre ending for a Tennessee game that I’ve ever seen in my more than forty-five years of following the Vols. Still reeling from that game, I turned over to Versus just before that clumsy command to start engines by Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves, who were sitting in their respective cockpits.

Bob Jenkins seemed to have more gaffes than usual, calling drivers Scott Briscoe or Ryan Carpenter-Reay. Jack Arute had more props than ever, but I’ll give him credit for laughing at himself on the qualifying show for his geographical blunder at Japan. Using a globe as a prop, he acknowledged he goofed when he said that Japan was on the other side of the equator. He could have just let it lie, but he was a good sport about the ribbing he took.

But the guys in the booth got way too confusing trying to explain what fuel strategies different teams were using. They were only guessing as the threw all of their theories out there, but I was totally confused when Robbie Buhl and Jon Beekhuis were finished with their conjecture. It also got a little uncomfortable as Jon and Jack Arute were bickering like two kids on a playground over when Helio Castroneves might be pitting.

But the worst TV moment was the championship trophy presentation. At first, Jack Arute’s microphone didn’t work. When they finally got it working, there was a very distracting humming that would drive you nuts. It was accompanied by the sound of someone’s heavy breathing overpowering everything else. I don’t know if someone was too busy staring at IZOD girl or what, but it was certainly annoying. Mercifully, during the discussion of the new trophy – they never showed a close-up of the new hardware.

Saluting Dario: Dario Franchitti took a huge step this season, in cementing his legacy as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. Skeptics will scoff at that statement, but in the last three seasons that Franchitti has driven in IndyCars, he has won three championships and two Indianapolis 500 victories. Had he not left IndyCar for NASCAR in 2008, there’s no telling what his record would look like.

As Curt Cavin pointed out on Friday, Franchitti now joins only four other men who have won the Indianapolis 500 twice and the championship three times; Louis Meyer, AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. That group of names is a virtual Mount Rushmore in IndyCar history. Unlike some drivers whose careers run dry at age thirty, Franchitti is only getting better with age. The thirty-seven year old Scot seems to be just now hitting his stride.

For the third year out of the last four, the IndyCar trophy will reside in Middle Tennessee. Dario and wife Ashley Judd live in the next county outside of Nashville, less than thirty miles from my house. I’ve never seen them out and about, but I understand they make the rounds occasionally in Nashville. Maybe he’ll take that beautiful trophy around with him, the next time they go out. That will certainly guarantee them a good table somewhere.

All in all: I thought the race was much better than last year’s. The racing was much closer than we are used to at Homestead. I was shocked to see three-wide racing in the corners, but the drivers made it work.

As for the championship, this was a true example of experience paying off. Even on the qualifying show, the pressure seemed to be getting to Will Power. Having never been in this situation before, he cracked under the strain of having to wrestle the momentum away from a savvy veteran like Franchitti. Although I’m not a fan of road courses being in the majority, this championship spoke volumes for the diversity of tracks the IZOD IndyCar Series visits each season. Had this been an all-road course series, Will Power would have wrapped this up a month ago. But you have to be great on various types of tracks. Will Power is a great street course driver and almost as great on road courses. He is only good on ovals, but not good enough to have ever won on an oval. Franchitti is great on all types of tracks. That’s why he is a three-time champion.

Will Power’s day will come, but he needs to raise his game on the ovals to the point where he can win on an oval and win consistently. I have no doubt that before Will Power hangs up his helmet for good; he’ll have a couple of ugly trophies, as well.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Homestead”

  1. Will Power is one of my favorite drivers, and while I was bummed he didn’t win the championship, my hat’s off to Franchitti and the whole Target crew – they got it done. They know what to do and when, and they deserve it. As for Will, considering at the beginning of the season they weren’t even sure if this would be a full time ride after Indy, I think he’ll still be a threat to win next year. If anything, his oval performances are getting better.

    The good thing was that nothing stupid happened – with some of the three-wide for the lead stuff going on between Franchitti, Power, Dixon, Briscoe, and Kanaan, it just seemed like a crash waiting to happen. But those guys showed they are some of the best. That was fun to watch! I really enjoyed watching this race.

    I also agree about the bickering between Arute and Beekhuis – that was really uncomfortable. It seems that the Versus crew is ready for a vacation.

    Was it just me, or was the championship presentation kind of awkward, too? Not only because of the microphone, but just the timing of things. I don’t know what they had for microphones out there, but when they introduced Chip Ganassi, I swear only one person was clapping. I didn’t get too many good looks at the stands, but I don’t think the attendance was the greatest.

    Nonetheless, I thought it was a great race, and a nice end to what I thought was a pretty damn good season. It’s been a big year with all the off-track things going on for 2012, etc., but the racing has been pretty decent this year, in my opinion.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      I was at Homestead last night and the attendance was abysmal. It was almost embarrassing…. I think that the racing was good between the red cars this year, but I cannot say it was much good with any consistancy any further back in the field. I am not sure if this series can take another low viewer low attendance season like the last couple….

      • Robin Miller nailed it… most high school football games draw more people :!: Any doubt why Indycar is leaving Miami Homestead :?:

  2. Great race with a class Champion getting it done. Dario showed why he is a champion. And maybe why he is so good is I remember back when he left Andretti/Green, he was the chassis guy who provided a lot of key feedback for that team. Maybe that is why they still struggle in qualifying, but are racing a heck of a lot better.

    Another super year of tremendous races and quality finishes. If we could just get a couple more teams on the Ganassi/Penske tier, then we could have our cake and eat it too.

    And the spirited fight between Danica and Tony was great. Apparently Barnhart copuld not see Tony was having steering issues late in the race. As we all know, it is hard to drive in a straight line when you are looking in your mirrors. In case anyone needed convincing, that girl can drive! And I beg to differ with Curt Cavin, there are people who care, so why do you think NASCAR wants her so bad?

    In closing, a good start for next season with the announcement of Graham Rahal securing “Service Central” as a major sponsor with a multi year deal. Soon it will be another season upon us, and it will be May in Indianapolis. And just maybe the “100 Year Century Celebration” race, the o’l girl will give us a race we could never forget. God Speed!

  3. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    I very much enjoyed that race – it was definitely up there with last years Homestead event (I believe I’m one of the precious few that loved the 2009 finale), but I felt bad for Power when he rubbed the barrier.
    To be honest, I don’t see him falling by the wayside like Briscoe did – in fact, I see him getting stronger in ’11 and believe he’ll break the Ganassi string of titles.

    Roll on March 2011 – can’t wait.

  4. For a long time I was going to call it an Honorary Road Course, and I swore it was going to be some mix of a Penske-Ganassi Top 5 and Dario would win. So when Power went out I was pleased, and when Franchitti decided to play it safe and went into Miss Daisy mode, it became a race again.

    I gave up my satellite so I watched on the Indycar.com feed. Last year it was painful, and I couldn’t get Montegi to work (buffering… buffering…) but Homestead came in great. The pre-show video was great: the sun was setting and the images were beautiful. PLus I like just looking around the stands and the track at whatever there is to see, just like being there in person. Plus when they started up, the camera went into a super-tight shot of a guy at the back of the car with the starter turning, and I thought that was too cool for school.

    When Power went behind the pit wall, we got some nice Le Mans-style shots of the car being worked on. You don’t see that.

    I had only two complaints. One was when a pit reporter said that Viso was on fire after ripping the fuel hose, and yet he went out for a lap and came back in. Meanwhile there was no video of it at all. That was maddening. My only other complaint is that I couldn’t record it. I would have liked to have kept parts of it to see again–particularly the pre-race.

    Overall, I thought it was an upbeat ending to a season that I’ve found lacking. It left a good taste in my mouth.

  5. Jack The Root Says:

    Will Power flat out gagged. He looked scared to death on Friday and anyone who didn’t see that sort of mistake eventually happening, wasn’t paying close enough attention.

    Some guys handle pressure well. And some don’t. Will Power obviously played small, when the stakes were highest. And if I am Roger Penske, that would concern me for the future.

    Its almost as if Dario and Ganassi knew Power would blow it, if they put enough heat on him. I think most inside the sport, had that inkling as well.

    I thought it was a typical Scott Dixon win. Over-shadowed as usual. Mike King almost fell out of the booth slobbering over the great “battle” for 1st loser between AA arch-enemies/teammates. You would have thought Ricky Bobby Patrick had won a race, the way King described it. Sorry Mike. 2nd place, in a race that most teams (and unfortunately fans) had mailed in and who’s Series Champ could care less about winning, means very little.

    The post-race celebration on TV, had all the technical wizardry of a high school AV class. Loved the “buzzing” effect too. Very minor league looking/sounding and the embarrassing looking trophy added to it. You gotta do better then that presentation, Indy Car and Randy.

    I heard one of those inferior AOW oval track grads (and a USAC midpacker too) won the Indy Lights race. Kinda funny that very few American oval trackers have gotten opportunities in Indy Lights over the years. But you look at the race winners, and I see the names Fike, Carpenter, Chesson, Chesson, Gregg and now Wagner on the list. Just think if the REALLY good AOW short-trackers ever got into Lights or Indy Cars.

  6. I doubt that before Will Power hangs up his helmet for good he’ll have a couple of the ugly championship trophies. He doesn’t win oval races like Castroneves, Hornish, Dixon, Franchitti, & Wheldon have. While Indy 500-winner Castroneves wins oval races, he doesn’t ever win a championship. So I don’t anticipate Power winning a couple of the hideous championship trophies.

  7. “Had he not left IndyCar for NASCAR in 2008, there’s no telling what his record would look like.”

    Considerably worse. There was not a ride open at Ganassi in IndyCar because Wheldon was still contracted there for 2008. There was a ride open at Penske due to Hornish also going to NASCAR, yes, but Briscoe was the heir apparent to that before Franchitti left IndyCar. It’s doubtful he would have landed either of those rides, so he would have been forced to remain at AGR, which was going rapidly downhill thanks to Marco and Danica being unable to set up a car. Franchitti would be about as irrelevant as Kanaan is now, winning 0-1 races a year and finishing 5th-7th in points. He HAD to make that move signing with Ganassi, even not in IndyCar, to remain relevant.

    I suppose he still could have signed for AGR for one more year waiting for the Ganassi ride to become open, but I don’t think he would have sniffed a title or an Indy win in 2008. That was the year AGR started struggling for the most part after all, although who knows how much of that was due to Franchitti’s departure.

    I pretty much knew Power had no chance when he entered the last four races with ONLY a 59-point lead, because I figured Franchitti would win a race or two while Power would struggle to be in the top five in any race.

  8. Shame that Power threw it away, really. I’ve liked Will ever since he was a rookie in Champ Car. He’s one of the drivers that will dominate IndyCar in the future, I think, unless he winds up in F1. But let’s be honest – he didn’t deserve it as much as Dario. He hasn’t shown consistency on the ovals yet. Until that happens, I don’t feel like he’s as deserving as a driver who knows how to win on both types of tracks.

    I agree that the presentation needs to improve MARKEDLY next season. This is where IZOD, IndyCar, Randy, and the other “major sponsor” to be announced in a couple of weeks need to come in and figure things out. I love the way that things have improved this year, but I think we’ve only gone from AA to AAA. We need a lot more work to get to the major leagues. Hopefully a Vegas finale will help.

    But more frustrating is 7-Eleven’s decision to cut their sponsorship of Tony Kanaan to back Danica in a smaller role. Combine that with the management of our local 7-Eleven calling the fuzz on my band practice a few days ago, and I am completely done with that brand.

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