Random Thoughts On Iowa

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When Marco Andretti made what turned out to be the winning pass on Tony Kanaan, I think most of us had flashbacks to previous versions of the Andretti name. That quick and decisive move to the inside was reminiscent of a move that Michael Andretti perfected in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Marco Andretti throughout the years that were worthy of the last name he is sometimes burdened with. We’ve also seen too many lackluster performances that have tarnished that same name.

Although it is sometimes a curse that Marco will constantly be compared to the rest of the Andretti clan, there are also times that we’ve all thought that if his name were not Andretti, he would have been relegated to the sidelines long ago. Although it may or may not be fair to compare Marco to his famous father and legendary grandfather – the comparisons will be inevitable throughout his career.

If you consider years at his craft, then Marco has underachieved compared to his forefathers. This is Marco’s sixth full season in IndyCars, and Saturday night was only his second win, although he did score his first win in his rookie year – something Michael or Mario did not accomplish. But once the two older Andretti’s started winning, they did so with great regularity. But if you look at Marco’s age (24), he has scored victories earlier than the two most famous Andretti’s.

I’ve been very critical of Marco over the years, mainly because I didn’t see much desire from him to hone his craft. He seemed content to rest on his God-given ability. I may be dead wrong on that, but that’s the way it appeared to an outside observer like myself. But based on what I saw Saturday night, it looked as though he willed himself to that win. That is what we expected to see from Marco all along.

Things came too easy for Marco in that first season. His father’s team was still riding the wave of an Indianapolis 500 victory and a championship the previous year, all courtesy of Dan Wheldon. In 2006, he came within a couple of hundred feet of becoming the youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500. Then he won a race later that summer – perhaps the beneficiary of a well-timed spin by teammate Bryan Herta. Great things were expected, but they never materialized – not until Saturday night.

It takes some a lot longer to grow up than others. Although Marco has been around for over half a decade, he is still younger than most rookies in the field. If winning becomes a habit for Marco, we can chalk up his previous underachievements to growing pains. I’m not ready to anoint Marco as the next great Andretti – not yet anyway. But if he can start putting together several performances like he did Saturday night, I’ll be willing to concede that he was a late bloomer. Personally, I hope he can. The IZOD IndyCar Series desperately needs for Marco to become a star.

The race itself: Lost in all of my rambling about Marco was the outstanding race that we witnessed at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night. As Dan Wheldon kept saying; “This is what makes IndyCar so great”. As good as Indianapolis and Milwaukee were, I would say that this was the best race of the season, so far. Indy was good just because it was Indy and it featured those last thirty-five laps that set up that unforgettable finish. But people tend to forget that there was a lull where it looked like it was nothing more than a battle between the two Target cars. Milwaukee was a great race, but it was overshadowed by an embarrassingly sparse crowd, controversies and an ill-timed whine in victory lane.

Iowa had a sellout crowd that seemed to enjoy every minute they were there. The crowd seemed to be an educated crowd that understood everything they were watching – which was more than I could say from some of the crowds that attended the Nashville race over the years. I think had Saturday night’s race been a parade, the crowd would still have enjoyed it. But they were treated to a great race that showcased great driving skills and featured lots of passing for the lead – especially towards the end. Best of all, no one was low on fuel at the end.

Dario jumped from sixth to first in just a matter of laps. Pole sitter Takuma Sato was strong all night, before the Turn Two wall grabbed him as it did many drivers. Franchitti made everyone think it was going to be Dario and everyone else, but at the end he faded to fifth and was not a factor in the closing laps. Of course, he didn’t need to be. Will Power, his main competitor for the championship, collided with Charlie Kimball in the pits, forcing a change of front-wings. He was lucky to stay on the lead lap. Then, like so many others, Power found the Turn Two wall. Unlike the others though, he backed into it with probably the hardest crash of the night.

It was no surprise to hear that Power sustained a concussion from the crash. All you had to do was listen to the Versus interview after the crash. He sounded like he was talking in slow-motion as he slurred his words and let an S-Bomb drop on live television. He is now trailing Franchitti by twenty points. Hopefully, he’ll be cleared to be back in the car in two weeks at Toronto.

From all appearances, they did things the right way in Iowa. For the past few years, I’ve always said that if I were to go to a third race in a season, it would be Kentucky. After what I saw on Saturday night, I think Iowa may have jumped up to number three. Scheduling conflicts and low budgets will keep me home for the rest of this season, but I’m seriously thinking of adding Iowa to my schedule next year.

TV Coverage: For the most part, I thought Versus did a very good job Saturday night. They were on the air for five hours with the Firestone Indy Lights race, then an extended pre-race show, the race and finally many post-race interviews. Kevin Lee did another excellent job splitting duties as host of IndyCar central and one of three pit-reporters. I still think it is ridiculous that Kevin has to wear a suit while sitting outside at a racetrack. At least it was cool in Iowa; in fact sometimes it looked downright cold. Regardless of the conditions, though – a suit does not belong on pit road. Lighten up NBC.

One negative that does warrant mentioning was the pit-walk with Robin Miller and Dan Wheldon. It sounded good in theory and seems to work well in Formula One coverage, but they needed a little better coordination with whoever was directing the camera shots. Too many times, they accidentally cut away to the one that was in the process of grabbing the next interview. Then at the end, Kevin Lee was talking over both of them as they suddenly cut to a commercial. It was all way too awkward and is still a work in progress.

Kudos Kanaan: I thought Tony Kanaan was going to give me my first predicted win of the year, but it was not to be as Marco put on a clinic on how to pass for the win with seven laps to go.

Kanaan would have had a gripe had he chosen to discuss a possible chop from Marco, but he was a good sport and recognized that Marco was going for the win. Kanaan took the high road and was very sincere in congratulating Marco and seemed genuinely happy for his old team. After being unceremoniously dumped by AA last fall, and then being the target of some pointed comments by Marco last spring; no one would have blamed Kanaan for being a little distant sharing the podium with Marco. Instead, he just seems ready to put it behind him and move forward. Good for him.

All in all: It was a great race, simple as that. Not only that, it was a great event. The IZOD IndyCar Series needed that. The crowd looked full and festive on television. There were some spectacular crashes; if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. There were some unusual twists and turns and it never got boring. The drivers put on a good show and it was a very entertaining evening.

The series takes a well-deserved break this weekend, then heads to another stint of road/street courses; the first being the streets of Toronto. Michael Andretti used to rule at this track back in the nineties. Maybe some of his magic will rub off some and Marco can start a streak of his own. If Will Power is cleared to drive, he may have something to say about that.

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Iowa”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Barring what has become an all too typical caution / crashfest, this was perhaps the best oval race I have ever seen on TV…. Marco drove like he did back in his Skip Barber and Indy Lights days, congrats to him and AA.
    It’s always nice to see a full field of cars and considering the economy, this season is somewhat remarkable in that respect, however, it would be even nicer to see nearly as many of them finish the race as started. I’m afraid that too many underfunded teams with inexperienced drivers fill out the bulk of the field, while guys like Dan Weldon are sitting wasting their considerable talents in the broadcast booth.
    Will Power was right, he should not have been back out on the track in race car with a damaged steering mechanism, especially on a track where one is turning more than 60% of the time. A small wonder
    he backed it into the wall in that manner. A somewhat desperate Penske Racing, should know better.

  2. Most enjoyable race with plenty of thrills. Watch the KV team. They are on the way up. Also, I liked seeing Marco win and the way he did it. He beat TK and that says a lot. This weekend’s race makes me wish we still had the Tuesday INDYCAR show to DVR. I’d like to see them go over it again, talk with Marco, TK and Dario. Also ask Dario about Helio, ect..

  3. Steve K Says:

    A sellout crowd but a small crowd (30-40K?). Is that really all that impressive? I think it’s expected. But then I would have thought that last week as well.

    Big miss by Dario. He could have had a 40 point lead had he stayed in front.

    Congrats to Marco. Can Graham win another now so we can get this rivalry jump started?

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Dario finished further ahead than his starting position, ahead of Power, formerly third-in-points Servia, and front-row Sato and Whanica

  4. Bob White Says:

    “A sellout crowd but a small crowd (30-40K?). Is that really all that impressive?”

    When your TV ratings are as low as Indy Cars are, what are you hoping for?

    That’s about as much as you can expect to get, with Indy Car’s lack of interest in this country.

    And don’t buy the street racing attendance stuff. Most of those folks have no idea what is going on and aren’t racing fans.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      That’s true; I’ve seen at several sports car, IndyCar, and ChampCar street races in several states and Canada that general-admission attendees wanted to be where other humans, race car noise, rock music, show cars, umbrella girls, and aerobatic airplanes were. Persons in grandstands and hospitality suites whose tickets were bought by corporate sponsors didn’t know/care about racers other than Danica or whoever’s sponsored by ABC Supply or Marlboro or whoever paid for attendees’ seats.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Ah, the post race rays of sunshine/blog comments.

    Great racing at Iowa. I’d lobby for it to be on the schedule twice if the track thought they could sell the tickets.

  6. Am I the only one who thinks that Charile Kimball needs to be pulled? He is in equipment that is too good to be running like he does, he gets in the way because he has fast cars but can’t drive them well….

    I hope this doesn’t hurt Will’s title chances, in theory Kimball could decide the Indy 500 and the champioship with his poor driving!

    • Easy as it is to blame CK, I think he was an innocent victim on pit road.
      The problem is the main camera angle Versus uses to show pit stops. It made it appear as though Kimball were very far away when Power was released. Other subesequent shots (shown only briefly) revealed that he was much closer, and that the Penske crew should have seen him and held Power for another second.

      • Simona Fan Says:

        I thought the replays showed that he was clearly in the outside lane and then came dive bombing into his pit. I believe the proper procedure is to move to the inside lane first and then come into the pit. I don’t know if it’s a rule (would it matter if it were?) but it he certainly came from a long way away.

      • Brian McKay Says:

        I agree: “I thought the replays showed that he was clearly in the outside lane and then came dive bombing into his pit.” And Will could’ve stepped on brake and clutch when seeing CK cross his path.

  7. I wonder if Dario fell to fifth because his car slowed down or because he was being conservative?

    I thought I read that Iowa didn’t have that many seats-25k or so? Which makes a sellout easier than even Milwaukee, but Iowa is also in the middle of nowhere.

    It does seem to be a popular destination track, as you’re not the only one thinking about rearranging schedules and finances to make next yar…

  8. james t suel Says:

    Marco drove like looked like a Andretti! I think he may be better than his team has been. Marco drove TK like TKdrove him. TK did just as much chopping as Marco. IIf you live in a glass house dont throw rocks!That was a great race! It was a sellout ,doesnt matter how many seats! All in all it was a win for AA and INDYCAR.

  9. Travis R Says:

    I’ll be the first to admit that I really don’t care for Marco’s attitude and have often questioned his privilege to race. Even as a big TK fan, I enjoyed that race thoroughly, and was happy for Marco to break his drought with a well-executed run. That was fun to watch. I definitely want to get to Iowa soon.

    On a semi-related note, I heard some rumblings about Randy Bernard wanting to make this a double-header. Honestly, I think there are other races on the calendar that need more spicing up than Iowa does now.

  10. indygrrrl Says:

    What do you mean adding this race and dropping Kentucky–I want both races added to our schedule!

  11. “It takes some a lot longer to grow up than others. Although Marco has been around for over half a decade, he is still younger than most rookies in the field. If winning becomes a habit for Marco, we can chalk up his previous underachievements to growing pains.”

    That’s what happens when you switch from karts to Skippies at the age of 16 (normal) and debut in IndyCar at the age of 19 (too early). With three years of previous experience, nobody should expect anyone to fight championships after three seasons. I think that drivers should do two years of under-powered formula cars (e.g. USF2000), two years of F3 / Star Mazda, two or three years of powerful cars (Formula Renault 3.5, GP2, Indy Lights) and only then try to climb to the top step of formula racing ladder.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Andretti won eight races in the 2003 Barber Formula Dodge Eastern Championship, and was champion in the Barber National and Southern class the following year.

      After Skip Barber, Marco did a season with Star Mazda, along with a partial season in Indy Lights in 2005, winning his inaugural race in St Pete in 2005 along with two others that season; finishing 10th in points despite only starting half the races.

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