Briscoe Should Return To Penske Next Season
Normally, I don’t get too riled up from what I see in the comment section of other IndyCar blog sites. I’m usually doing good just to keep up with what’s going on over here. But after Ryan Briscoe’s much needed victory at Sonoma this past weekend, I saw a lot of the vile and almost hatred toward Briscoe pop up again on more than a couple of my fellow blogger’s web sites. I’ll stress – these were comments, not the words of my fellow bloggers. There was none of that here, fortunately, so this rant is probably aimed at the wrong people. Still, it’s something I had to get off of my chest.
I’ve been accused of hating a lot of things; Japan, dust, holly bushes and tattoos come to mind of some of the things people claim that I hate. Actually, a couple of those are true – but we won’t get into that – but Ryan Briscoe is not one of them. Yet for some strange reason, there are those out there that talk of Ryan Briscoe as if he were the anti-Christ. My question is: why?
What has Ryan Briscoe done to stir up such hatred among IndyCar fans? This is not a controversial personality we’re talking about here. I can understand if a few people find him boring, bland or just too nice; but are these really the traits that should get blood to boiling? It boggles the mind.
We’re talking about a genuinely nice guy here. I met him a couple of times in 2005, when he was driving for Target Chip Ganassi and was saddled with the sluggish Toyota engine and the ill-handling g-Force (Panoz) chassis. Although he was struggling mightily, he was always quick to chat it up with us fans. Then he was unceremoniously dumped by Ganassi while recovering from injuries sustained in a horrifying crash at Chicagoland Speedway. He drove a few races the following year for Dreyer & Reinbold – one of which was Nashville, where he finished ninth.
Susan and I were both at that race and we each had our own separate encounters with Briscoe prior to the race. Susan was volunteering for DownForce in their tent, when Briscoe was introduced as the surprise guest. Except for the cronies in DownForce who traveled around from race to race, none of the locals visiting the tent had a clue who Briscoe was. He had not yet won a race and his only claim to fame was surviving that crash a year earlier – but no one there even connected those dots. Susan says they paid him no mind whatsoever and he was sitting there like a bump on a log. Susan knew who he was and started talking to him. She said he was friendly, engaging and seemed genuinely thrilled that anyone here in NASCAR country knew who he was.
My meeting with him was not as glamorous. We both hit the restroom in the garage area right at the same time just before the race and ended up…er, um standing next to each other. There were other fans in there, but again – they had no clue who he was. We started talking, making sure to maintain eye contact – that’s what guys do in that situation. I asked how he liked driving for Dreyer & Reinbold, if he had anything lined up for the next season (he didn’t) and how he was feeling after his terrifying crash. He could have ignored me since we were so close to race time, but he was cordial and again seemed honored that anyone knew who he was or who he was driving for. In fact, that big Briscoe smile lit up as we discussed his chances for the race that night. Is this the type person that fans are wanting to vilify?
For those that like to keep a running tally on things that I’m not fond of, add Sam Hornish to the list. I’ve never been a fan and he just sort of rubs me the wrong way. But do I hate him? No. But when Hornish left for those supposed greener pastures and he was replaced by Briscoe, I welcomed the change. Hornish was super-talented, I’ll give him that – but he also came across as very aloof and generally gave the impression he was not fully comfortable in his role. If I were a sponsor, Sam Hornish is not the driver I would want as my representative off of the track.
Ryan Briscoe is a much more suitable spokesperson for Team Penske and the IZOD IndyCar Series in general. He is pleasant, affable, conversant and always interacts with the fans, no matter what the circumstances. He also gels with his team much better than Sam Hornish ever seemed to. Hornish and his Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, never quite seemed to mesh at all – although Helio and Briscoe give the appearance that they get along quite well. It’s hard to believe that Briscoe has already been at Team Penske for one year longer than Hornish was there.
Both drivers can claim winning eight races while driving for Roger Penske. But the name of the game is winning the Indianapolis 500 and championships. In his four-years stint at Team Penske, Hornish won both in 2006. In almost five complete seasons with Penske, Briscoe has come close to a championship (2009) but had not come close to any success in the 500 under Penske, until this past May when he won the pole and finished fifth – equaling his one-off effort in 2007 with Luczo-Dragon Racing.
The talent is definitely there with Briscoe, but he does have one problem that has plagued him at Team Penske – brain fades. Sometimes, he just seems to lose focus at the worst times – whether it’s letting the car get away from him while leaving the pits at Motegi with a huge lead, or just allowing a car to aimlessly drift into the wall on numerous occasions.
It’s probably these brain fades that have all of the silly-season experts so willing to give his seat at Penske away to a promising newcomer like Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal or Simona de Silvestro. They just assume that Briscoe’s results have worn thin with The Captain, and he will be out of a job soon. I don’t think so.
Although he has a hard-nosed reputation, Roger Penske hasn’t fired too many IndyCar drivers over the years. He finally cut Big Al loose from his part-time ride with Penske following the 1989 season. Kevin Cogan, Danny Sullivan and Paul Tracy all come to mind, but I don’t think he has let anyone go since Al Unser, Jr. following the 1999 season. We now know that Little Al wasn’t just dismissed due to his lack of results, there were other factors involved.
Roger Penske is very loyal to his drivers and generally won’t be quick to fire them unless there are other things going on. His NASCAR team has seen recent turnover, but both Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger were fired for cause – not poor results. Ryan Briscoe hasn’t given Roger Penske any headaches away from the track. All of his problems have taken place on the track. He either loses concentration and tears up equipment or just has frequent lackluster weekends. The right attitude and image can cover up a lot of honest driver mistakes at Penske.
After a disastrous 2011, Ryan Briscoe has bounced back. He won the pole at Indianapolis, he won the race at Sonoma and is currently eighth in points. So before these Briscoe naysayers that read other sites start giving away Ryan Briscoe’s seat, they need to check Roger Penske’s history of firing drivers – it’s rather short. I’ll be shocked if Ryan Briscoe isn’t back at Team Penske for 2013. He’s earned that chance. Now – go find someone else to pick on.