Random Thoughts On Sonoma
When I had heard that there was a 6.1 magnitude earthquake near Sonoma in the wee hours of yesterday morning, I was afraid that would be the only excitement to come out of that region all day. Instead, we got a fairly entertaining race, by Sonoma standards.
Fortunately there were no fatalities, but more than one-hundred people were injured – some seriously; so this is no joking matter. There were also many homes and businesses destroyed and some lives were changed forever. Let’s keep the people in the Napa region in our thoughts and prayers.
As for the race…based on his history at the track, his qualifying performance and his early dominance – this race was shaping up as a snoozer to be won by Will Power. But just before the halfway point, that all changed. First, Power was beaten out of the pits by Scott Dixon. Then on the first lap of the re-start, Power put the power down (no pun intended) and spun coming out of Turn Seven. By the time he recovered, he was the last car in the group.
This was an unforced error, when he was in a position to all but put this championship away. On Lap One, his closest threat in the championship chase and teammate, Helio Castroneves, got caught up in a Turn Two melee. By the time Helio got a new nose, he was way back in the pack and his day looked done. But after Power’s spin on Lap Thirty-Nine, Helio found himself in front of his teammate. For a while, it appeared that Helio might actually make up ground on his teammate in the points, but it was not to be. Helio finished eighteenth, while Power was eventually scored in tenth place.
At the beginning, one would have thought the race would be won by one of the occupants of the front row, either Power or Josef Newgarden. Newgarden was coming off of several races he could have won, and it was announced yesterday morning that he had re-signed with what will next year be known as CFH Racing. But Newgarden lagged at the start and never seemed to be much of a threat, on his way to a sixth place finish.
Tony Kanaan spent his time up front, but had to pit late and finished thirteenth. Graham Rahal led a total of eighteen laps, but had to come in for a splash of fuel with three laps remaining. He finished twentieth. After leading twenty-one laps earlier, Mike Conway was in fuel conservation mode late in the race as well. After Rahal peeled off, Conway crossed the line with the lead. But Scott Dixon had been sitting back patiently in third for several laps. Once Rahal was out of the way, Dixon made his move and took the lead from Conway heading into Turn Two. Dixon never looked back and took the checkered flag for his second win of the season. Meanwhile, Conway ran out of fuel and coasted across the line to finish fourteenth.
It was a whacky day that started with a terrifying earthquake. Then it looked like there could have been a major blow dealt to Power in the championship standings. In the end, both could have been much worse than they turned out to be.
TV Coverage: This was substitute-weekend in the NBCSN booth. There has been so much shuffling this season, I’m not really sure who the regulars are anymore. I think they are Leigh Diffey, Wally Dallenbach and Townsend Bell. For various reasons, none of them were there yesterday. Instead, we got Brian Till, Sam Hornish and Paul Tracy.
Brian Till is OK, but I prefer Diffey or Bob Varsha. Paul Tracy has been the most pleasant surprise as an analyst this season and he just keeps getting better and better as he gets more comfortable in that role. I think he has made a strong case to become part of their regular team next season –and that’s from a person that never cared for Tracy in his driving days.
When I watched qualifying on Saturday night, I was a little worried about what Sam Hornish might bring. He seemed justifiably nervous on the qualifying broadcast, but he seemed to get that out of his system by Sunday and did a decent job. I don’t know that I’m ready to campaign for Hornish to become a regular, but for a fill-in gig, he did just fine.
GoPro Shot: During the pre-race show, they did a segment on Ryan Hunter-Reay doing a lap with a GoPro camera mounted in or very near the cockpit. This seemed to give perhaps the most realistic view of what a driver sees. The camera mounted over the airbox gives a good wide-angle view, but you always feel like it looks nothing like what a driver sees.
In the early to mid-nineties, ABC used to use a “nose-cam” mounted near the front of the car. Bobby Rahal and Scott Pruett both used to have that camera mounted on their cars from time to time. I always thought that was a fairly realistic view, but what GoPro showed us yesterday was the most realistic yet. Too bad they probably can’t use that view in a race.
Newgarden’s Future: As I mentioned earlier, Josef Newgarden re-upped with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, the team that gave him his start in the series and is merging with Ed Carpenter Racing next season. I was glad to see that happen for a number of reasons, but I’m not totally convinced it was the best move for Newgarden.
As everyone keeps saying, the Nashville native is the future of the Verizon IndyCar Series. He is bright, articulate, good-looking and one heck of a driver. Why sponsors and marketers have not flocked to Newgarden is beyond me. His name was being mentioned for possible openings at Schmidt, Andretti and Ganassi – all perceived as better rides than his current one. Maybe he knew something we don’t and he had no other options. But I’d like to think that Newgarden showed loyalty to those that showed it to him three seasons ago, when he was trying to break into the series, They both experienced some growing pains along the way and they both seemed poised to be on the brink of good things happening.
With the leadership and money that Wink Hartman brings, along with the feel-good stories of Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher – this could be a fun team to watch in the coming years.
Who Wants It?: After the Mid-Ohio race, I caught flack for suggestion that the ultimate winner of this championship may eventually win it by backing into it. After Will Power’s performance at Milwaukee, I was convinced that he was the one to emerge and act like he wanted it.
But mediocrity set in again on Sunday. Power had a self-inflicted bad day, Castroneves had a horrible day that was not of his making – except for being penalized during Fast Six qualifying, which put him back in the third row to begin with. Had he been further up – he may have come through unscathed on the first lap.
Simon Pagenaud was the benefactor. He finished third and crept within eighty-one points of Power; thus keeping him alive for the championship heading into Saturday night’s finale at Fontana. Helio entered the weekend trailing Power by thirty-nine points. Even with his bad race, Power still managed to extend his lead over Castroneves to fifty-one points. If it were not for double-points at Fontana, this championship would be all but over. As it is, Castroneves has a realistic shot at winning it and Pagenaud could still by winning the race and Power having a DNF. Stranger things have happened.
Backing into a championship may be a bit harsh, but I cannot remember a championship where all the front-runners kept allowing competitors to climb back into it.
All in All: This was about as exciting as I would expect from Sonoma. I’ve made it abundantly clear that this is one of my least favorite tracks to watch a race on television. It may be great in person, but for those of us on the couch – it’s one you dread to see show up on the schedule. This is the first time this race has been run this close to the finale, so the championship implications kept things interesting. There were a few good passes and some interesting strategies to watch – some more successful than others.
But overall – I’m glad to see Sonoma in our rearview mirrors for another year.
On Another Note: Whether or not you are on Facebook, you have no doubt seen the Ice-Bucket Challenge to raise money and awareness for the ALS foundation. For those unaware, people challenge others to either make a donation for ALS or get dunked with a bucket of ice-water. What is happening is that people are doing both.
Personally, I was among those that had gotten tired of the whole thing and I was hoping I would eventually slide through. But on Friday night, Paul Dalbey from More Front Wing challenged me to do it. Although I winced at the thought of getting drenched with ice-water, I was not about to shy away from it. Plus, I thought it would make me look like a stick-in-the-mud, as if I were above it all. So, I decided it was better to poke fun at myself than to be a Grinch about the whole thing.
The problem was, Susan seemed especially giddy about the whole thing on Friday night. So, I decided to give her the honors of dunking me. Unfortunately she gladly accepted. Please watch the following video through to the end. You’ll see she played along and was a very good sport about the whole thing. That’s why I married her.