Random Thoughts On Homestead
Sometimes, certain sporting events just don’t live up to all of the hype. The 2009 IndyCar Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to decide the championship did not fall into that category. They promised drama and they delivered. The race, in what amounted to a battle between three drivers, had so many twists and turns that it was hard to keep up with the many subplots.
From the drop of the green flag, it appeared that the race and the championship would be decided between the two Ganassi cars, as Ryan Briscoe fell back behind Ed Carpenter and settled into fourth. It looked like this would be a two-car Target fight. But then out of nowhere, Briscoe dispatched Carpenter to fourth and set his sights on the leading Ganassi duo. He was then able to get around an ill-handling Dario Franchitti and take second place. From that point on, the battle was between Briscoe and Scott Dixon for the rest of the day.
After the first set of pit stops, Briscoe took over the lead. In that stint from about lap 50 to 90, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more masterful display of driving than what was exhibited by Ryan Briscoe. He carved his way through the field as if they were standing still. His utilization of the high side was reminiscent of Sam Hornish and Tomas Scheckter. There were a couple of times when I was convinced that he would get too far up into the gray and stick it into the fence, but he obviously knew what he was doing.
Saturday was a frustrating day to be a Briscoe fan. He literally did all that he could do to overcome and eight point deficit to Dixon. In the end, it was not enough. As I said yesterday, this was not all about Dixon and Briscoe. Franchitti seemed to be the overlooked player in all of this, but ultimately he had the final say. Briscoe’s blunder at Motegi will haunt him throughout the upcoming offseason. All he can do is learn from it and build for next year.
It became readily apparent that Franchitti’s car was not going to keep pace with Briscoe and Dixon. Having two cars in the hunt as compared with only one from Team Penske, Ganassi split their fuel strategies to give at least one of their two cars the chance to win the championship, if not the race also. Dixon would be the hare while Franchitti would be the proverbial tortoise. And we all know how that story came out. The only way Franchitti’s strategy would have worked would be for the race to remain green throughout the race. That had not happened in the short history of the IRL. Well guess what…it happened.
Franchitti set out on a strategy to conserve fuel as his only hope to pull off this race. He managed to conserve enough fuel to make one less pit-stop than Briscoe and Dixon. No matter how off the pace he was, there was no way that Dixon and Briscoe could compensate for the additional time in the pits. It paid off as Dixon and Briscoe both pitted for a splash of fuel with less than eight laps to go. While pitting, Dario Franchitti surged ahead and held on to win the race and the championship. Briscoe would ultimately finish second and Dixon third. Briscoe would finish one point behind Dixon in the final point standings.
I have already read where some claim that this race was no different than Danica Patrick’s winning strategy at Motegi last spring. Well, I disagree. If this were Dario’s first and only win, I might say they had an argument. The difference is that Dario has won races. Lots of races. He also now has two championships under his belt. If you’ve won races the hard way, you are excused for stealing one through a fuel strategy. Had Ed Carpenter won at Kentucky, no one would say “Yeah, but” because he earned his way to the front through passing cars with sheer speed and talent – not waiting for cars to drop out for fuel. Danica has her one win and that’s fine, but don’t start cheapening Dario’s championship by comparing Saturday’s win with Danica’s sole trip to victory lane.
TV Coverage: As usual, Versus did a stellar job for all 200,000 viewers to see. It’s a shame that so few people get to watch the efforts of a tremendous group of talent at Versus. From a hardcore fan’s perspective, the Versus crew far exceeded my wildest hopes for what they might provide for fans this season. It’s what they do (or don’t do) for sponsors that have me worried for the future of their product.
But based on what they did this weekend, they earned an A+ in my book. Yes, it was unfortunate that almost every single pass for the lead was executed during commercials. But at least we got to see it in the little box to the left of the commercial. Yes, they ran the male enhancement product with the guy in the bad Santa suit more than the dreaded Izod commercial. But when they were on the air, their product was superb as it had been for practically all season. They also earned a star for breaking into the middle of a commercial break when Ryan Briscoe had one of his pit stops. ABC/ESPN would have just told us what we missed when they came back.
If I had to come up with a negative, it would be the silly lead-in shots when coming back from commercials. We would be watching the little commercial side-box and it would appear something was about to happen. Then when the telecast resumes, the graphically enhanced helmet and car is sitting there while they showed beach scenes of Miami and then a local hotel. Meanwhile, who knows what is happening at the track. They can show the Firestone and Honda logos while we’re still seeing the track can’t they?
Breast Cancer Awareness: There was plenty of pink at the track. Sarah Fisher did the best job promoting breast cancer awareness. She started her promotion a couple of months ago and really did a good job of keeping her pink car in the headlines for the past few weeks. Versus did a nice job of publicizing Sarah’s efforts as well as showing Firestone’s Al Speyer presenting a check to Sarah for $10,000 to be donated to the Susan G. Komen foundation. Versus also publicized the pink shirted IRL race officials and the pink checkered-flag. Where they dropped the ball was with Alex Lloyd’s car.
Lloyd’s car carried a special five digit number that fans could send a text to in order to make a donation for breast cancer. The number was mentioned in Friday’s mid-afternoon qualifying show, which unless you had the foresight to set your DVR, most people missed it. Unless I missed it, the number or Lloyd’s program was never mentioned throughout the race telecast.
Overall: You’ve got to tip your hat to Dario Franchitti and the entire No. 10 team. Contrary to the article I wrote this past Wednesday, they have now legitimized themselves. They had a spectacular season. When they realized they didn’t have the best car out there, they improvised and did what they had to do.
This was a race that I really didn’t want to see any coverage of other cars other than the three in the championship hunt. Versus pretty well played it that way.
With all of the off-track issues that have gone on and the boring oval races in the middle of the season along with total domination between two teams, it was still an exciting season overall and also a nail-biting race on Saturday. To have fourteen lead changes in the point standings throughout a seventeen race season is something that other racing series can only dream about. If other series had this kind of competitiveness, they wouldn’t have to fabricate excitement with chases and such.
In the coming days and weeks, I’ll take a closer look back at the season and analyze the good the bad and the boring. But for now, I’ll salute Dario Franchitti for a job well done. At age 36, I believe he is also the oldest IRL season champion in their short history. Who says this is a young man’s game?
* – Please note. This article will count as Monday’s article. I will return with another article on Wed Oct 14.