With the running of Saturday night’s MAV TV 500, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season has come to a close. Tony Kanaan finally got his well-deserved first win for Chip Ganassi without waiting throughout the long offseason to wonder when that elusive victory would come. It finally did, but under the backdrop of Will Power winning the series championship. Neither driver clinched their respective victories in dramatic edge of your seat excitement. Kanaan led the final fifty-three laps while Power pretty well had the suspense ended for him when Helio Castroneves was assessed a drive-through penalty on Lap 218 for a pit-entry violation. The penalty put Castroneves a lap down, and it was pretty much over with after that.
This was yet another IndyCar oval this season that went past the halfway point before the first caution period. In fact, this race had only one caution period. Ryan Hunter-Reay spun on the front-stretch on Lap 176. That was the only break the drivers had to catch their breath. It was also the only time that the field was bunched up for a re-start.
After Milwaukee, I expressed my concern that the DW12 was too easy to drive, since there have been so few yellows on ovals this season. I was corrected by a current driver who prefers to remain nameless, who e-mailed me and pointed out that the current Dallara is much harder to drive than the older version, which ran from 2003 through the 2011 season. The driver went on to explain that cars are forced to stay farther apart from each other due to the turbulence that comes off of these cars. That’s what happens when a blogger that has never been behind the wheel of any race car, starts speculating about what real drivers are dealing with inside the cockpit.
Still, it’s odd that of the six ovals on this year’s schedule, five of them went into the second half of the race before the first caution came out. Several of those races went much further than halfway and had very few cautions overall. Not that I’m advocating crashes or phantom-yellows, but a few well-spaced cautions during a race certainly makes things more intriguing.
But there was some good racing at the front and behind the leaders. There were seventeen lead changes among nine drivers. Juan Montoya led eighty-five laps, the most of any driver. Tony Kanaan led the next most, by leading a total of sixty-four – including the final fifty-three. Although Helio Castroneves started on the pole, while Will Power started in the last row; Power did what he needed to do by finishing ninth, while Helio failed to complete his part of the bargain and finished a forgettable fourteenth.
Although I was pulling for Helio, the deserving driver won the championship. When Will Power has his head on straight – there is no one that can touch him. After his meltdown at Pocono, when Tim Cindric told him over the radio to do just that – “get your head on straight” – he fell in line, did what he needed to do and took control of the championship. Even after his brain-fade at Sonoma, Power was still able to add to his lead.
Now that he has figured out the ovals, future championship contenders will have to know that the road to the championship goes through Will Power. For the second year in a row, I’ve chosen the correct champion before the start of the season. It wasn’t a hard prediction this year. The way Power closed out last season, I saw a focus with him we had not seen before. He lost that focus in the mid-point of the season, but after his embarrassment at Pocono – he got his head on straight, regained the focus and let his talent go to work.
So congratulations to Will Power and Team Penske. He is a very deserving champion. This one was not handed to him, but there were a couple in year’s past that were either taken away from him or he handed them to someone else. Tim Cindric has already announced via Twitter that Power will proudly carry the No. 1 next season, meaning that Team Penske cars will carry number 1,2 and 3. I like that. All defending champions should carry the No.1, in my book. Like Paul Tracy, I think that now that Power has won one championship – many more are on the way.
TV Coverage: Is it possible to want less coverage? While I’m glad that NBCSN had a five-hour window to cover this race, a pre-race show that lasted an hour and twenty minutes and a one-hour post-race show may have been a little much. I’m sure that those in front of the cameras would agree.
Still, NBCSN ran with it and flourished. They had many good segments explaining what the three championship contenders had to do to win, while going deeper into the background of each of the three drivers.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Paul Tracy needs to be on the broadcast full-time for next season. He does a phenomenal job. This week, they expanded his role with a well-done interview with his old boss, Roger Penske.
The in-race coverage was good. Leigh Diffey kept the viewers engaged in the late-night hours when there was not a ton of excitement on the track.
NBCSN continues to shine, year after year.
Aleshin’s Crash: There are times when I hate Twitter, but on Friday night I was glad that I was on it. After watching qualifying Friday night, I got involved in other things around the house and flat-out forgot to watch the final practice online. But I sat down around 10:00 Nashville time and checked my Twitter feed. Working backwards on my timeline, it didn’t take much on my part to figure out what had happened – and that it didn’t sound good.
By now, I’m sure most have seen the replay of the crash that sent Mikhail Aleshin out of Auto Club Speedway on a stretcher. It was a horrifying impact that resembled the crashes of Davey Hamilton and Kenny Bräck at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001 and 2003 respectively. An accident like that brings back bad memories of when Dan Wheldon was fatally injured in the season-finale at Las Vegas in 2011.
It is here that I want to tip my hat to those that I follow on Twitter (@Oilpressureblog). Compared to most, I don’t follow a lot of people on Twitter – less than seventy-five. But those that I do follow, deserve praise for not speculating on any nature of Aleshin’s health status. They expressed their concern and patiently waited to get the official news from IndyCar regarding his condition.
Fortunately, this story had a happier ending than in 2011. Although Aleshin is very banged up, he should recover physically and be able to race again. When you see the crash, you wonder how Aleshin came away with only a broken shoulder, broken ribs, an undisclosed chest injury and a concussion. I am no engineer, but you’ve got to think that the work that Dan Wheldon put into this cars development has helped a ton. The DW12 is certainly not the best looking car you’ll ever see, but it is quickly earning a reputation as a tough car that can withstand a lot of damage, while protecting its most valuable cargo – the driver. Get well soon, Mikhail!
An Extra Passenger: When Tony Kanaan climbed out of the car to kiss his wife, Lauren – many took note that he also kissed her belly, leading many – my wife included – to speculate that the Kanaan’s may be expecting. As it turns out, Susan was right. Curt Cavin later confirmed on Twitter Saturday night, that the Kanaan’s are expecting their first child in January. Congratulations Tony and Lauren.
A Bridesmaid Again: When Helio Castroneves came up short in the championship battle on Saturday night, it marked the fourth time that the popular Brazilian had finished second in the championship. Most drivers would love to have that kind of problem.
Castroneves just completed his fifteenth full season with Team Penske. Although Rick Mears drove for The Captain for fifteen seasons, his first season was part-time. Assuming Helio returns to Team Penske next season, he will have entered exclusive territory. No driver in the history of Team Penske’s IndyCar program, which dates back to 1968, has driven any part of sixteen seasons for Roger Penske.
Helio Castroneves will turn forty before next year’s running of the Indianapolis 500. One wonders how many more opportunities Helio will get to reach that elusive championship, before Father Time raises his ugly head. He will get more opportunities for a championship and a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory, but at some point his skills will erode. It happens to everyone. But if Helio decided to hang up his helmet after Saturday night, his resume is plenty complete in my book.
All in All: Like many of the races we’ve seen this season, this race did not have me on the edge of my seat – but I did not doze off either, even with the late hour. I really like the tradition of a three-wide start for all the 500-milers. Seeing those cars coming toward the line in rows of three with the lights glistening off of them, is a beautiful sight. I think the fact that all three races with a three-wide start came off without incident speaks well to the ability of these drivers.
There was not a ton of side-by-side action, but this was not a parade either. There was some decent racing throughout the night. Surprisingly, although everyone, myself included, was predicting heavy attrition there was not a single mechanical failure for the entire five-hundred miles. That’s impressive, even though it eliminated the “unexpected” wild-card factor in the results.
In all honesty, I think Saturday night’s race was fairly reflective of this entire IndyCar season. There were flashes of brilliance and a few bone-headed moments combined with very solid and reliable racing that may not have been enthralling to some, but was satisfying nonetheless.
So now we settle into the long offseason. Never before, have I awakened on Labor Day without looking forward to an upcoming IndyCar race – but that is what happened this morning. Admittedly, it’s an odd feeling. But we’ll get through it. We always do. There are a lot of unexpected storylines that unfold every offseason. It’s just that few offseasons start with three weeks remaining in summer.