Random Thoughts On New Hampshire

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First things first – please remember those that lost family members and those that suffered serious injury in the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair. Please keep them all in your prayers.

So, on to more trivial matters…The IZOD IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio last week was a snooze fest. Yesterday’s MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 was anything but. This was a bizarre race. It was strange from the very beginning; all the way back to a Thursday practice with no track activity on Friday. Then, those of us on Twitter saw that the start of the race had been moved up to account for the threat of rain. And then the race started.

By the time a green-flag lap had been completed, there were three cars behind the wall with damage. The cars of Mike Conway and Graham Rahal never completed a single lap. Helio Castroneves spun in the exact spot on the ensuing restart and suffered suspension damage. He returned to the track twelve laps down and out of contention.

When things finally got going, Dario Franchitti completely checked out. Before the yellow flag waved for rain on Lap Seventy-Five, it seemed that the only drama was whether or not Franchitti would lap the entire field. How things would change later on.

Shortly after the rain let up and the race went back to green on Lap 107, the yellow waved again – this time due to a crash that found Tony Kanaan upside down, and Marco Andretti and Tomas Scheckter out of the race. I could never really decide who was at fault. To me, it looked as if Kanaan and Scheckter both converged onto Marco who was caught in the middle – but I’m really not sure whom to blame. It doesn’t matter, because they all were OK but out of the race. Not only did Kanaan end up on his hat, his crash caused a Port-a-Potty to turn over. Fortunately, no one was using it at the time.

After the mess on the track was cleaned up, a drama-free race at the front became much more interesting. From where I sat (in my living room), it appeared that Dario Franchitti veered over into Takuma Sato on the restart. Dario said differently, as did Sato, but I don’t think either of them had watched the replay closely. Whatever the case, Dario was turned around and slapped the inside wall on the front straightaway. His day was done.

Suddenly, the race at New Hampshire, Will Power and the entire season had new life. Franchitti held a commanding sixty-two point edge over Power coming into yesterday’s race. At one point, it looked as if that would grow significantly by the day’s end. But then Franchitti was out and Will Power did his best to seize the opportunity. Power worked his way up. At one point, he even led before the pit stops cycled through. Even then, he was running as high as fourth and looked like he was going to close a lot of the gap to Franchitti.

Most of the race after Franchitti’s exit was led by Ryan Hunter-Reay. That was no fluke. He had qualified fifth and was quick most of the weekend. He was leading when the yellow flag waved again on Lap 205. After riding around in the rain for several laps, it was announced that they would be going green with just a handful of laps remaining, although it was clear from all of the drivers that it was still raining and the track was still very wet. It didn’t matter.

Michael Andretti was furious. His driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was poised to win his first race of the season and give Andretti Autosport its third win of a very inconsistent season. Will Power and Tim Cindric were more furious. They pleaded their case to not go back to green – not in those conditions. It didn’t matter. Apparently all of the drivers on track begged to not go back to green. It didn’t matter.

The green flag fell along with Will Power’s hopes to gain ground on Franchitti. As Danica Patrick eased on her throttle, the slick conditions put her car into a slow spin. Will Power spun around in the melee where he was facing backwards. Ana Beatriz nudged him into the path of Ed Carpenter who speared Power just before Power backed hard into the inside wall. The front straightaway was chaos.

Thinking he had just lost any chance to make up ground on Franchitti, Will Power eventually jumped out of his car and marched toward the garage area. He was stopped by the massive Chief of Security, Charles Burns, and was pointed towards his pit and Tim Cindric. A well-timed ABC camera shot caught Will Power giving a double-barreled one-finger salute towards Race Control, clearly aimed at Brian Barnhart for making the wrong decision to restart the race in the rain.

In the process of the restart, Oriol Servia had gotten past Hunter-Reay before the race was eventually red-flagged. Confusion and indecision reigned. ABC didn’t know what was going on. The drivers and teams didn’t know what was going on. Brian Barnhart and Race Control didn’t know what was going on. Finally, the decision was announced that the calamitous restart never happened, they would revert to the running order just before the aborted restart and the race was over. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the winner. More importantly, Will Power would keep his fifth place finish and the points that go along with it to close the gap to only forty-seven points behind Dario Franchitti.

The aftermath: I suppose it was the right call, unless you’re an Oriol Servia fan. It was certainly the wrong call to ever restart the race. I’m not overly thrilled with the idea of reverting to the last lap, but I really don’t know of a better or more equitable way to satisfy this.

Brian Barnhart made a mistake – a big mistake. This, in a long line of big mistakes and a history of inconsistencies. To his credit, he owned up to it on ABC and then in the post-race press conference. He didn’t try to lay the blame on anyone else. He said that he made the call and he realized quickly that he had goofed. He tried to make the best of a bad situation by giving the points and positions back to those that had suffered due to his mistake.

Brian Barnhart is an easy target right now – especially to those of us who sit in anonymity behind our keyboards in the sanctity of our living rooms, hundreds of miles from the track. He has a hard job and it’s very easy to second-guess someone after the fact

That being said, I’m not sure that Barnhart will or should be back next year. Robin Miller made a good point on Wind Tunnel last night when he said that a Chief Steward should be a former driver. Barnhart is a former mechanic. I can see him finishing out the season, and then being quietly shifted somewhere else within the organization. There are just too many instances over the years where Race Control is the main factor in determining the outcome of races or championships. I don’t remember hearing the name of Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach being mentioned with much frequency at all during his tenure at CART. No matter what the sport, anytime the officials are interjected into the discussion determining the outcome of an event – it’s not a good thing.

TV Coverage: Given the circumstances, I thought ABC did a very good job. It was not their decision to scuttle the pre-race show that had been planned. They adjusted on the fly and rolled pretty well with it.

It was good to see and hear Gary Gerould back on the broadcast after several years, as he subbed for Vince Welsh who was at Watkins Glen for the NASCAR race. Gerould flubbed a couple of early pit stops, but recovered nicely with some good and in-depth driver interviews. I’ve missed his presence.

I was a little surprised that there was no mention of ABC securing the Indianapolis 500 through 2018 – at least, I never heard it mentioned. It makes a little more sense after Randy Bernard explained that he had heard “rumors” that NBC would not guarantee that the 500 wouldn’t be moved to NBC Sports Network (the channel currently known as Versus) or that the race wouldn’t be moved to Saturday. If that was truly the case, then I applaud the decision to remain with ABC – although I certainly questioned the move when it was announced last Wednesday.

No Pippa: A bad weekend for Pippa Mann got progressively worse, until she wound up in a local hospital with a sore back and a withdrawn car. Pippa spun twice in Thursday’s practice. The first session, she spun and hit nothing. The second session, she spun again – this time doing slight damage to her car. On Saturday, she smacked the wall hard and limped to a stretcher. She was in a local hospital while the field was being qualified.

I was looking forward to seeing her race on a short oval. This can’t be good for her confidence after she had a promising run in the Indianapolis 500. I’m hoping everything is still a “go” for her to race at Kentucky and Las Vegas at the end of the season. She’s a good driver and needs something to give her confidence a boost.

The crowd (or lack thereof): I agree with New Hampshire Motor Speedway President Jerry Gappens that 30,000 is better than it looks in a facility that seats 90,000. That’s good, because it looked terrible on television. I saw bigger looking crowds for IndyCar practice at Nashville Superspeedway on Fridays. The stands at New Hampshire are much bigger than Milwaukee, but the shots on television certainly gave the impression of a smaller crowd at New Hampshire than at Milwaukee. Apparently, the track has until September 1 before deciding to have INDYCAR return in 2012.

The Double-Bird: As mentioned, Will Power treated ABC viewers to a double-bird salute to Brian Barnhart. Apparently, the normally mild-mannered Power went absolutely ballistic after he got out of his car. The shot of him with both middle fingers in the air with a crazed look on his face is priceless.

Double Bird

The question remains…will he or should he be penalized for such an act? I’ve spoken to some that laughed at it when it happened, but think that such an act cannot go without a penalty. Others, like Robin Miller, think that Randy Bernard should pay the fine for all the publicity the incident has garnered for the series. Roger Penske told ESPN: “…if Will gets fined or penalized, I’ll pay for it. I’m not worried about what he said or did."

Personally, I don’t think Power should be penalized – this time. He is not a loose cannon that has a history of running his mouth. He simply demonstrated the level of passion he has for the sport. We fans have been clamoring for drivers to step out of their corporate persona and show us that they are human. Well, Power showed us he’s human. His emotions got the best of him. I say, given the circumstances – let it ride. Now, if he does it again – that’s a different story. Warn him, let him know that this will not be tolerated again, let him know the consequences of a similar occurrence and let it go.

All in all: It was a bizarre ending to a strange weekend. The first of the race was disjointed with no green flag laps for a while. Then Dario Franchitti looked like he was going to have his way with the field. When he crashed at the halfway point, there was a lot of good racing for position, at the front and throughout the field.

Looking back, the remaining ten laps should have been run under yellow and RHR declared the winner. That would have given us the same running order that we ultimately ended up with. Instead, we got the same results surrounded in controversy, with a lot of torn up race cars. Ultimately, this decision may end up costing Brian Barnhart his job.

George Phillips

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26 Responses to “Random Thoughts On New Hampshire”

  1. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    It is a shame what this series has become… I would not be surprised to see Ringling Brothers brought on as a sponsor… Very disappointing….

  2. I actually enjoyed the race–at least until the fiasco at the end. I like the “quirky” track and hope they get to come back next year.

    It looked like Sato was too close to Dario, but it also looked like Dario turned down into Sato and caused the wreck.

    Like Gerould and J. Little but Scott Goodyear is the most boring, unenthusiatic announcer I’ve ever heard.

    As for the ending, two wrongs don’t make a right. The winner is the person who is leading when the yellow comes out and that was Servia.

  3. Truly a timing and scoring nightmare, IF what Barnhart said on ABC is true, then there is a serious communication glitch in the program. BB claimed that the only advice he was getting was from his people and spotters who were calling the track “raceable.” Was no one tuned to any of the cockpit communication channels? Every driver who was interviewed after the race claimed that they were BEGGING race control not to try and re-start in those conditions.

    If the series is not going to listen to its most valuable asset regarding track conditions, (the drivers themselves,) someone is going to get KILLED. What I saw on the btoadcast was reminiscent of the finish of the ’75 Indy 500, when the cloudburst hit and cars were spinning everywhere.

    As it is, there are going to be some people pretty pissed off that they have bent up equipment because no one listened to the drivers.

    Having said that, I thought Barnhart was forthright in admitting that race control “screwed the pooch.” I can’t say that I expected that.

    As to Will Power, I think we all had the feeling that the re-start was definitely a major Charlie Foxtrot (use your imagination; if that fails, go to Meesh’s blog where I am CERTAIN she’ll spell it out for ya’,) but some credit has to be given to young Mr. Power for NOT “going off” immediately on ABC and letting loose with a well deserved bevy of f-bombs.

  4. HURRY……… HURRY………….. HURRY……..

    STEP RIGHT UP FOLKS ………

    Don’t Be Bashful……….

    Spin the wheel and see what the green flag rule means…….

    Spin the wheel a second time if you don’t like the first answer…..

    Spin the wheel a third time if you don’t like either of the two answers…….

    Spin the wheel………….

    Racing is racing dry or wet conditions.

    F1 Drivers do it in the rain !

    Other professional drivers do it in the rain !

    Drivers understand the color green when it is shown and race according to the conditions.

    The decision shown to rescind the green flag on the OFFICIAL restart after the track was OFFICIALLY given the green flag is indicative of the state of indecision not to adhere to race rules.

    HURRY HURRY HURRY…….

    STEP RIGHT UP

    SPIN THE WHEEL AND SEE WHAT THE GREEN FLAG RULE OF THE MINUTE WILL BE……..

    • F1 drivers don’t race on wet ovals.

      • Jim in Wilmington Says:

        Nor with slicks

      • My comment was – “Racing is racing dry or wet conditions.”

        I then went on to write that “F1 drivers do it in the rain.”

        The “It’ that I used interprets as “race.”

        Those involved in “racing’ and who follow F1 naturally know that F1 “don’t race on ovals.”

        Enjoy … :o)

    • F1 drivers don’t race on wet ovals

    • Brian McKay Says:

      One doesn’t wish to race on wet tracks with slick tires. And I haven’t seen Formula One racers or anyone aside from IndyCar drivers racing on wet ovals using slick tires.

  5. carburetor Says:

    This race was a reminder of how much more fun ovals are than parade road or street courses. It was really a shame the crowd was not much better. It would seem to me that one measure of the strength of this series would be if Indycar could draw at least 50% of what a NASCAR race draws.

    I’ve heard Bernard talk about these drivers being the “best in the world” but one has to shake their head at that claim. It really is a travesty that someone with Dan Wheldon’s talent sits on the sideline, while clowns like Sato and Viso have a ride. It makes one wonder how truly committed Lotus is to winning when they put these guys in their cars. Viso just snow plowed Hildebrand into the wall, with no regard or penalty yesterday, while Sato was, well Sato.

    I like Power, and thought he was justifiably upset yesterday, but lately he’s letting his bad luck and emotions overtake his previously displayed professionalism. It isn’t becoming to the series.

    I guess w/ABC we can just figure on tons more advertisements. I agree with the earlier sentiment about Goodyear–it’s like we awoke him from his nap to bother him with providing commentary and neither announcer is fully aware of the drivers and cars, hence Hinchcliffe gets referred to as Servia while pitting. ABC infatuation w/Patrick continues as she got more coverage yesterday than the previous 4 races combined….makes you wonder what they’ll do next year when she’s gone. Oh yeah, show more commercials!

    • I wasn’t going to comment at all, because I’d thought that George had ‘said it all.’ But Skip reminded me that I’d wondered why racers’ gripes to their engineers weren’t forwarded to Race Control a.s.a.p. Barnhart said that he hadn’t heard from “pit techs.” Seemed to me that Cindric, Hull, etcetera would phone or radio to race Control.
      And you reminded me that I was irked by ABC doing traditional (full screen ad breaks when we’d want side-by-side, then later doing side-by-side during cautions!

    • Ben Twickerbill Says:

      Regarding ovals being “more fun”… If anyones idea of racing fun is, Dario Franchetti and a few others lapping the field at least up until the point where he clearly came down on Sato, then I have to say that your expectations are somewhat less than mine….
      Further, if ones idea of fun is a wreckfest with the so called fastest drivers in the world at the wheel, again I think we are shooting way too low.
      What I am looking for is some good competitive side by side racing and that is not defined in my book by 80-90% of the field be lapped by 10-20% of the field… And as far as race control goes, I’m sorry, you cannot tell me there isn’t someone in race control listening to what the drivers are saying about race conditions… The so called fastest drivers in the world are being led by what is a semi professional organization at best. Time to at least put a former race car driver into the “race control” position…

  6. I agree that ABC’s coverage just seemed like a long string of commercials with a few bits of racing mixed in at random. (Having said that, their coverage of the twin birds in high definition was quite good)

    Scott Goodyear should be checked for a pulse.

    ABC’s infatuation with Danica (as with others) is no different then the continuing NASCAR fanbase infatuation with Dale Jr. So what?! It’s publicity. We don’t need publicity?

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Positives:
    – The track. Hope they come back next year for a race that’s not wet and should have more than two teams who have figured out how to set the car up.
    – Some very good action from 2nd to 10th when they were green.
    – Gary Gerould. How is he not on every ABC broadcast? Great interviews, great personality, and some nice nostalgic memories
    – Championship fight, we may have one again.

    Negatives:
    – Rain. chopped the race into awkward segments, no doubt hurt the crowd, and obviously led to the mess at the end
    – Pippa’s miserable weekend.
    – Sato, Viso, Conway, and Schekter lived up to their current or one-time reputations as wrecking balls
    – Rahal not getting a chance to slice through the field.
    – Race Control/IndyCar for many reasons, the worst not yet mentioned being their failure to communicate with ABC on when yellows were expected to end and the what was going on at the end.

    Neutral:
    – Dario making a mistake. Sato does share some blame and I don’t wish ill on Dario, but it’s hard not to appreciate being witness to something so rare as Dario screwing up.
    – ABC’s coverage. The booth is still terrible, but the pit reporters shined. Not their fault Race Control didn’t communicate with them.
    – Race Control’s final decision. They painted themselves into a corner with the late green and then red. They made the best decision they could after that series of serious mistakes.

  8. Sort of funny how that race and the post-game shenanigans overshadowed any talk of no aero kits in ’12.

    And today I learned that racing is racing and the Indycar drivers should have been skilled enough to drive on a wet oval on slicks .

  9. I have thought Pippa was terrible ever since she flipped under caution in her FIL debut, why is she in this ride? Why is Wheldon not in this ride?

    The only people who say suspend Power are TCG fans, I say throw Dario a crying towel, so tired of his nasty attitude when he doesn’t win. Much like Danica, when you wreck with Dario it is your fault no matter what!

    Good race but bad officiating, that being said, they got it right at the end, that finish reminded me of Sanair I think in 1985 (it’s on Youtube) when Pancho passed Rutherford under the yellow white flag coming to the checkers, same deal, would have liked to see Servia win but would not have been fair.

  10. BB probably thought he was doing the right thing and making everyone happy when he went on TV and got asked the hard questions, but I think he shot himself in the foot. First, NO ONE told him it wasn’t safe to start??? Michael Andretti (who admittedly had a vested interest in keeping it yellow) was storming up and down pit road begging every one he saw to keep the green from coming out. Then BB threw his own team under the bus, saying that they all told him it was a raceable surface. First, did they really say that? The way the car sspun, it was obviously wet; the roostertails off of the tires were another clue-surely there were clues visible to live-on-the-scene observers we didn’t see on TV… And it’s their fault they still chose to go green? Not the kind of guy I’d want to work for…

    And I would have loved to have seen Dario make a go at lapping the field. How is it that he is so much faster than everyone else (including his teammates)? That’s the kind of performance I’d have liked to have seen live.

  11. OK, I just watched the highlights of the Cup race at Watkins Glen, and I don’t feel so bad about the carnage in New Hampshire. Jayzus, them boys in the bumper cars are going to kill someone. That Reutiman & Ragan wreck at the end was frightening. Brought back bad memories of the J.D. McDuffie crash in 91.

  12. I would love to know why that toilet happened to be sitting there…

  13. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    Circling the toilet….

  14. OK, sorry for the delay on the comment, everybody. Just got back into town. What’d I miss this weekend?

  15. I think if Will is to be fined it should be for the facial expression more so than the twin birds. Scary!

  16. I think the poll kind of asks the wrong question (or at least only half of it) — Should Will be fined for the gesture? Probably not. Should Will be fined for the two minute rant on live television about how stupid Race Control is in general and Barnhardt specifically by name? Absolutely. You can’t let any competitor publicly question the integrity and/or quality of the officiating like that (no matter how correct Will was). Unfortunately, if I’m Randy, I think I have to keep Brian for at least another race as you can’t let one of the drivers chase off your Chief Steward.

    Just a bad situation all around. As I said on twitter, last time officiating was this bad, AJ hit somebody and we changed a sanctioning body.

  17. For those of you who have not read the recent article on speedtv’s web site, their article, based on their thorough review of the INDYCAR rulebook, is indeed enlightening with regards to the how the ruile book applies to the conclusion of the Loudon race.

    Take a read of their three pages article at

    http://auto-racing.speedtv.com/article/indycar-loudon-rewind

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