It’s Time For Some Short-Trackin’
Whenever the IndyCar Series stops in Richmond, it’s like taking a step back into time into one of the old Saturday night bullrings. The Indy Racing League has been running at Richmond since the 2001 season. Except for those times when weather has interfered, it has always been a good show. This is one of those tracks that can become the great equalizer and break the Penske-Ganassi stronghold. I’ve said that for the last few races – but this time, I mean it.
At only three quarters of a mile, Richmond International Raceway is the shortest oval that the IndyCars race on. Things happen quickly there…sometimes, almost too quickly. Forgive the NASCAR analogy, but it’s like watching stock cars at Bristol. Before you can blink, they’ve just completed another lap. It is wide and relatively flat. A driver must always be anticipating what’s ahead in order to successfully weave their way through traffic. Even with only twenty cars entered, there will be plenty of traffic for cars to deal with.
Richmond offers the way racing should be. A driver cannot simply hold his or her foot down and turn left. Knowing when and when not to feather the throttle will be key to navigating the D-shaped oval Saturday night.
Notice that I didn’t say someone WOULD break into the win column besides one of the red cars, but Richmond offers more unpredictability than most ovals. One careless slip could put a Dixon or a Briscoe into the fence at any time. Then it could be just about anyone’s race. Two drivers that I will certainly be watching have had success at Richmond before – Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan.
It was this race last year that saw Tony Kanaan and Andretti-Green Racing make their last trip to victory lane. They both need a win badly…Kanaan, to stay alive in the championship hunt; AGR – just to show that they still can. Wheldon won here in 2004 but has had success every year he has been to Richmond – having finished in the top ten in every one of his starts there, including four top five finishes. Both of these drivers certainly know their way around this track.
Another driver to keep an eye on at all times at Richmond is Tomas Scheckter. The South African was a thrill a minute last week at Iowa. When he passed seven cars on the outside during the first lap last week, he served notice that he was back. I would look for more of the same from Scheckter on Saturday night.
One driver that I don’t expect a lot out of at Richmond, is Danica Patrick. She has been solid, at best, but not spectacular at Richmond. Her last two years were her best, placing sixth both times…yet, they were the type of races that saw her linger near mid-pack all night, handle her re-starts timidly and somehow end up near the top five without ever being considered a factor. I expect more of that from her this Saturday. Now that I’ve said that, I’m sure she’ll win.
One thing I am (almost) certain of…odds have it that one of the top four cars between the Penske and Ganassi stables, will almost certainly stumble at some point. This is a likely venue for that to happen. There are just too many landmines on this track for anyone to have a “perfect” race. I will also go out on a limb and predict that a Penske-Ganassi car will NOT win this race. Keep in mind that I also said that Paul Tracy would be a threat to win in AJ Foyt’s car at Milwaukee. That one didn’t work out too well for me.
Speaking of AJ Foyt, I will be curious to see how well Ryan Hunter-Reay does. We didn’t get to see much of him last week as he was collected in the spin of Robert Doornbos before the first lap was complete. They practiced well at Iowa and I’ll certainly be watching, but I’d be lying if I said I had a clue as to what to expect from him.
There are many interesting storylines going into Richmond. One unique twist of fate involves Jacques Lazier. He was the pole sitter at Richmond for 2001, yet in all likelihood, will probably start last Saturday night – based on his performance with Team 3G at Texas and Iowa. Dreyer & Reinbold are coming off of their best race of the season with Scheckter fishing sixth and rookie Mike Conway finishing eighth. It’ll be interesting to see if they can carry that momentum into Saturday night.
Then there is the all-important point battle. Ryan Briscoe still leads by three, but this week it is Dario Franchitti who is in second place. Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves do not lag far behind. Some or all of them need to stumble for the next bunch consisting of Danica, Wheldon and Kanaan to become factors again. Kanaan desperately needs a good finish, as does Marco…or their seasons could be over before the halfway point.
This is the final oval on the schedule until the IndyCars go to Kentucky on August 1. The next three events are street/road courses, which probably won’t get here soon enough for Justin Wilson. His excellent start to the season plummeted once his Dale Coyne team hit the ovals. Hopefully, he can salvage something Saturday night to give him momentum heading into a stint of road courses. He is a nice guy and a good driver who deserves better results than what he has gotten this year.
Whatever happens Saturday night, I’m sure it’ll be more enjoyable than some of the racing we have witnessed this season. A well-timed trip to a Saturday night bullring can heal a lot of the IRL’s woes.
On a personal note, there will not be an Oilpressure blog on Saturday morning. I have an unavoidable conflict Friday and Friday night, which will prevent me from writing anything for Saturday. I will, of course, watch the race Saturday night and will be here first thing Sunday morning with random thoughts on Richmond.
Enjoy the race!