Random Thoughts On Texas

The Firestone 550K at Texas Motor Speedway was a vast improvement over last year’s race, even though it didn’t have quite the pack racing they used to have several years ago – but that may not be a bad thing. With so many close calls with some wheels actually touching and others nearly touching, the side by side racing was tense enough. There was certainly more passing than last year’s race, especially toward the front.

Danica Patrick certainly deserves credit for driving an excellent race. I am not a Danica fan, but she is due some praise after her drive Saturday night. This is one of the few top finishes she has had, that I felt like she actually earned. Most, if not all, of her good finishes she essentially backed into before Saturday night – but not this none. She started eighth, fell back a couple of positions and then started carving her way up through the field. When I saw her pass Scott Dixon during the first stint, I began to take note. Apparently, she and her crew have made up from her blasting them at Indianapolis. They gave her a good car and she responded with it, holding her own with eventual winner Ryan Briscoe before settling for second place. It’s amazing how good results on the track can bring smiles to everyone associated with a team.

Now, she has to mend fences with the 7-Eleven team, after she came down on teammate Tony Kanaan as he was trying to pass her. Kanaan had to get out of the throttle and lost several positions in the process. He was none too kind when speaking of the move after the race – saying basically “what goes around, comes around”.

Of course, the sidebar to Danica’s “amazing” second place finish is that Ryan Briscoe won it. Fortunately, the Versus crew didn’t focus too much on Danica’s drive after the race, and gave Briscoe his moment. Of course, during the race – it was the Danica show. I understand that there are some fans who only tune in to watch Danica, but please…there were other spirited drives out there.

For one, there was Vitor Meira who started nineteenth and steadily moved up through the field to run as high as ninth, that I saw. Yet, they never mentioned him or showed his car until the latter stages of the race when Bob Jenkins finally acknowledged his good run.

All of Danica’s teammates at Andretti Autosport had good runs too, especially Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter –Reay who started thirteenth and twenty-fourth respectively. Kanaan finished sixth and Hunter-Reay finished seventh. Marco Andretti also had a good run, overcoming a botched pit stop where he lost his right-rear tire. He finished third for the second race in six days.

The expensive woes for KV Racing Technologies continued as Takuma Sato and Mario Moraes each had damaged racecars before the night was out.  EJ Viso was the only KV driver to finish, but was never a factor. KV is spending all of their time and money repairing damaged racecars.

TV Coverage: Overall, I thought Versus did a nice job. I like Lindy Thackston in the role of host for their pre-race show. Jon Beikhus did a good piece on the planning for different scenarios that goes on at Target Chip Ganassi. The guys in the booth were their usual stellar-self, while the pit reporters did a good job also.

The only gaffe that comes to mind was when Lindy tried to interview Clive Howell with Will Power’s team. It got awkward quickly when he wouldn’t talk to her at that moment.

Fire response: Without a doubt, the scariest moment of the night was when Simona de Silvestro slapped the wall and then had her car engulfed in flames. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a fire like that in an IndyCar race. Apparently, it has been a while since anyone on the Holmatro Safety Crew has seen a fire like that either.

Make no mistake, I think that they are the best in the business. Normally, their response is swift and efficient. However, they looked lost and hesitant as they encountered the burning Dallara of de Silvestro. It was as if they had never gone over the possibility that they may come across a driver stuck inside of a burning car.

In what seemed like an eternity, they sort of looked at each other like they were hoping that the other was going to do something. All the while, Simona was struggling to get out before becoming overtaken by the growing flames. Although she was wearing fire-retardent equipment, I was afraid she would inhale the flames. Even the guys in the booth started screaming “C’mon guys – get her out of there”. Finally, they were able to literally yank her out of the cockpit.

It seems a minor miracle that all she suffered was a burn on her right hand. Her spirit hardly seemed shaken as she proclaimed calmly in a later interview that she would be back at Iowa, which is the next race in two weeks. There seems to be much that can be learned on several fronts from this accident. The IZOD IndyCar Series needs to minimize the chances of a fire like that ever happening again; but if it does – the Holmatro Safety Crew should make sure they are better prepared for it. Everyone got lucky this time.

All in all: It was a pretty good race. There was enough side-by-side racing to keep things interesting, but the cars spread out some over the long stints to not make things insane. The Versus crew did a good job in showing the montage of Tony Kanaan’s wild ride through the field. You had to feel for Sarah Fisher again. After Jay Howard failed to get the Service Central car into the field at Indy, they were the first car out Saturday night. Sarah’s team needs some good fortune on the track, in order to make things a little easier financially off of it. At least both cars left Texas in one piece.

Alex Lloyd gave the Boy Scouts of America car a great run, despite a bad pit stop where he couldn’t fit his Dallara into the pit box. He fought his way back and brought his Dale Coyne entry home in eighth place, while his teammate Milka Duno mysteriously disappeared early and was credited with finishing twenty-third. Hmm…

Other than Simona’s scary brush with fire, it was a relatively clean race. The other incidents were minor – although you might have a tough time convincing Helio Castroneves or Bertrand Baguette of that. Ryan Briscoe did what he needed to do to start turning his disappointing season around. I’m not sure what it says that every time there are whispers that Briscoe’s job may be in jeopardy; Briscoe responds with a win to silence the speculation. It’s good that he doesn’t succumb to pressure, but why does he keep putting himself in these situations? He is a good driver and by all accounts – a really great guy. I hope he can continue this momentum for the second half of the season and seriously battle for the championship

Yes the Penske/Ganassi stranglehold on ovals continues; but Andretti Autosport seems to be closing the gap – in race trim anyway. I predict that in the oval races we have left in the IZOD IndyCar Series season; a non-Penske/Ganassi car will win an oval and break the streak of fifty-plus oval wins by these two teams.

So, now we have a new points leader – as Dario Franchitti has dislodged Will Power from the top of the standings. Things are certainly tightening up amongst the five drivers on the top-two teams. As we approach the halfway mark of the season, it will be interesting to watch those five drivers jockey for position, while seeing if any driver for another team can ease themselves into contention. It should be an interesting summer.

George Phillips

Please  note – There will be no post on Monday June 7. Now that May is behind us, I’ll return to posting every Mon-Wed-Fri, with additional posts on race weekends. I will return on Wednesday June 9 – GP.


22 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Texas”

  1. Travis R Says:

    I gotta admit, I was yelling at the TV during Simona’s fire. I am sure those folks will be reevaluating their fire procedures after that one. When the first guy ran up with the hose and then stood there helplessly when nothing came out, I knew it wasn’t going to be good. I’m glad Simona’s relatively OK.

    I was also wondering what happened to Milka – absolutely nothing was said. It seems that Versus is pretty much taking an “just ignore her and she’ll go away” stance with Milka.

    It was good to see that the safety regulations worked when Alex Tagliani’s fuel guy went for a quick ride on the end of the fuel hose. I’m sure he’s happy for that helmet.

    Overall, I really enjoyed the race – lots of side-by-side action. I think the aero improvements and the push-to-pass stuff have been a big help. There were definitely a lot of good runs – Danica, Pink Lloyd, Vitor, and Scheckter. It was also interesting to see how so many people managed to recover from bad pit stops. The Andretti cars all did pretty well, which seems to indicate that team is getting things turned around after a disasterous year last year.

  2. Jim Bob Says:

    The starts are awful in this series.

    Start putting the leader to the back of the pack and they will improve in a hurry. Or maybe we only punish the Sam Schmidt’s and Bobby Rahal’s of the world, and the big boy teams and full-timers have a different set of rules. That is what it looks like in this sport.

    You’d think these so-called “professional” race drivers would know how to properly start a oval race. I guess all of their training in road racing series didn’t teach them that.

    Way too many pit road mistakes. Racing action was just “OK”. Best race of 2010 and much better the last 2 Texas races. But still lacking and nowhere near where it used to be. And the Texas fans seem to have noticed. Small crowd (for Texas standards) last night. I would guess we have lost about 30-40 K of crowd in the past few years. Which puts it on par with the rest of America and their “love” of Indy Cars.

    I am sure going head-to-head with Nationwide didn’t help the ratings (not that they were going to be any good anyway).

    How much longer will KV be able to run 3 cars? They might not have 3 cars total in their stable by the middle of the year. The 3 ride-buyers better open up their checkbooks again and help the boys.

    I think Sarah’s 7 year old car is about out of life. Wonder if she will get into Howard’s brand new car for Iowa? Still pissed her brand new car was such a pig. If that was a big team, that problem would have already been taken care of.

    Really good run by RHR. Too bad we might not see him again in that car. I guess winning a race and being the best car on your team doesn’t mean as much with some folks as it used to. At least he’ll look good on those IZOD commercials, even if he is sitting on the couch watching the race at home like us.

    • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

      “How much longer will KV be able to run 3 cars? They might not have 3 cars total in their stable by the middle of the year. The 3 ride-buyers better open up their checkbooks again and help the boys.”

      Pretty obvious that something clearly snapped on Sato’s front right – I wouldn’t put that down to him at all.
      Other than the Simona incident, I thought it was a very good race. Are you sure your expectations of constant wheel-to-wheel racing and passing are, maybe, just a tad too high..?

      • It was right rear, visible and confirmed by Sato in his interview.

        Some flamer who used to post here has pointed out the series of recent non-contact rear suspension failures. Add another one to the list.

  3. Jim Bob Says:


    Not saying we need “constant wheel-to-wheel racing”. We all know these road racers don’t want to do that and some of them arent’ capable of doing it either without doing something stupid. Barnhart and company have made it that we won’t ever see that again at Texas (with the rules and the tires and the specs they have regulated).

    And I realize that many of the fans that watch now weren’t watching the IRL races at Texas back in the day, but we rarely saw “Talladega” racing there. The one race in 2000 gets blown out of proportion, as something that happened all the time, lap after lap after lap. It was the anomoly.

    But what we did see, are cars pulling up on the high side and executing passes without the help of some rinky-dink “Push to Block” system we have now. As Dixon said last night, you pull up to the high side now and mostly just stay there and don’t move. Can’t get by cars up there like you used to. Without that high side ability, Sam Hornish would have likely never won a race at Texas.

    Was the racing action good last night? Yes. Especially compared to the early season road/street racing snoozers and Kansas and Indy being pretty dull. But Texas is not the race it used to be. Not as exciting. “Clean Air” means way too much and much more then it used to. Texas was a handling track last night (which Andretti showed; as they got it right). Texas was never a handling track in the early days of the IRL. Is that good or bad? That’s up to you.

    Where was the crowd last night? I guess some of those folks also aren’t as into the racing at Texas anymore either.

    • You’re going to be shocked, but I actually agree with a lot of what you said. The starts/restarts are a sham. I’m even OK with doing a “jump once and you get your spot back, jump twice and you’re going to the back”, instead of going to the back the first time. Briscoe jumped both starts equally last night, and they let the second one go. What a joke. Restarts at Indy were awful, with the leader almost always getting a jump on the field in the north chute and people back in the pack going two-wide through turn 4 (which would then bottle up the field behind them), and never were there any penalties for any of that. Awful. How’s about we put the restart cone (after, of course, instituting a restart cone in the first place) about 200 yards before the S/F line, regardless of what track we’re on?

      Blocking’s out of control, penalties at Indy notwithstanding (and there should have been more there, though I think Graham shouldn’t have been penalized for the Wheldon “block”, but he also got away with throwing one on Dario when Dario came up to lap him, so…that’s a wash). That blocking crap is going to turn into something bad, and soon, if the League doesn’t get its arms around it right now.

      Passing’s not as easy on the mile and a halfs as it used to be. I’m of a mixed mind about that. On the one hand, the Handford-type stuff is not appealing to me, because that doesn’t take much skill to pull off. On the other hand, just being able to perform passes on inferior cars needs to be possible, even if it’s a fight for the lead. That situation has improved by a good margin since last year, but there’s room for improvement. I fear that it’ll stay much like this until the new car, but I hope that the League is looking into it.

      • I agree with you both on the restarts, but surely there has to be an easier way to manage the system rather than just passing a cone or something?

        How about a line across track exiting the final turn? Up until that point a driver would have to hold a tight speed limit (100mph?) and can only be let loose once they’re across the line.
        It would at least go someway to curing ambiguity and may tighten up the field on restarts at least a little.

      • Jim Bob Says:


        On the starts/restarts:

        There is no reason why the pace car leaves in turn 3 and turns the field over to the field.

        These drivers have proven they cannot properly start a oval race. The starts are ugly, strung out and look very amatuerish.

        Keep the pace car on the track until pit entrance in turn 4. Keep the speeds down and let em’ go coming TO the green flag at S/F. Starts would be better and fairer and more exciting to watch for the fans.

        If the pole sitter jumps the start as badly as Briscoe and Helio did the past 2 races, he goes to the back. No questions asked. No “redo’s” for them. You get one chance to get it right. You take off before you are supposed to, you lose your spot. You are the pace setter of the race. You try and cheat and you can go back with Milka and the backmarkers and enjoy racing back there.

        You do that ONE time to a pole sitter, and I betcha the problem ends in a hurry.

        These drivers know Barnhart has no balls (especially if you drive for Penske/Ganassi/AA) and know they will face no penalty. They know they will only wave off 1 start and will get the green automatically on the 2nd try. Its BS. Start treating EVERYONE the same (if its blocking for SSM or Rahal, its blocking for Penske or Danica).

        Get the lapped cars the hell out of the way on late race restarts (50 laps to go and fewer) and maybe even think about double-file restarts (for those same last 50 laps only).

        This is supposed to be about ENTERTAINMENT. We have to remember that. The same 2 teams have won every oval race for the last 3 or 4 years. The specs aren’t going to change until 2012. They are likely going to continue to win every oval race until then. Lets liven up the event then. Penske and Ganassi are likely still going to win, no matter what you do. But, lets make restarts more interesting for them. Lets make them work a little harder then they have to now. Lets put on a good show for the fans in the stands and the fans on TV.

      • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

        I believe double-filed restarts were discussed at some point over the weekend – it may be a future consideration yet.

      • I’m sure that the reason that they have the pace car pull off in turn one is to avoid any Scott Goodyear moments, but that’s dumb. Anybody who passes the pace car (whether it’s the fault of a slow pace car driver or not) deserves any penalty he gets.

        I’m not sold on NASCAR-esque double file restarts, because I think that doing a half-dozen of those with IndyCars in a single race is an invitation to tear up bundles of equipment, but the “getting lapped cars out of the way” thing is a no-brainer. I swear that CART/ChampCar did that for a year or two, maybe around ’06-’07, and it was great. Simplifies things for the fans (you’re not trying to figure out who’s a lap down) and it improves the show. That should be instituted, like, by next week, but that was my opinion after Kansas as well. There comes a time when you have to do a little balancing act between “show” and “maintaining rigid control of the percieved ‘integrity’ of the sport”. This is one of those things that should tilt toward “show”, because nobody cares about the integrity of this part of the sport (by that I mean, the leader getting to benefit from putting lapped cars between himself and 2nd). We’re not talking about Green-White-Checkers here (which IndyCar should never, ever do) or inverted fields or fields determined by random draw or having the winner of the 500 drink Brazilian milk (laced with Brazilian coffee!), we’re talking about simplifying restarts. Simple is good.

        I rail on and on about things that could/should be fixed immediately and things that can’t. Starts and restarts can be fixed immediately, simply by writing a new rule and enforcing it. Or, by simply enforcing existing rules.

      • Right now a Hanford device type solution is impossible thanks to the limited horsepower and a mighty rev-limiter that prevents the cars from converting a tow into the kind of sustainable momentum that would get them around.

  4. The safety crews–usually so reliable–screwed the pooch this time. I hope there’s a review of procedures, both with the technology and the crew, because of this ridiculously pathetic event.

    I wouldn’t blame the driver’s for the restarts–they’ll take any edge they can get. And it’s on Barnhart to enforce discipline on the starts, but he won’t. So now maybe it’s on Bernard…

    And now that I’ve complained, back to my goal of only being positive about the IIRS because there’s plenty of complainers. I thought it was a good race with plenty of side-by-side and overtaking. Good to see Daniker have a good run. Good race by RHR and Marco. Good burnout by Briscoe Inferno. I like the night racing too.

  5. Milkda “finished” 23rd… well the crawler listed her as OUT atleast.

    and for Versus not mentioning any reason, it’s probably better they don’t – since there often isn’t a reason, besides car getting parked. the versus crew seems like nice people, and if they can’t say anything nice (Milka parking), better to not saying anything at all…

    And they dindn’t exactly scream while Sim as “burning”, but their voices got quite a serious tone – i reckon they didn’t want to be sitting there, watching someone burn up anymore than the tv viewers did…

    common practice in europe i think to not show closeups of a big crash/burn until they know driver is ok.

  6. At least they didn’t show Simona’s burning car, say “there’s a car on fire!” and then fade away to commercials the way SpeedTV did at the Monaco Grand Prix.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I don’t know how good or bad the race looked on television, but I certainly enjoyed it at the track. I’d estimate the crowd at about 70,000-75,000, seemed down slightly from the past two years. This is what I noticed.

    The positives:
    – I got to meet my all-time favorite driver ever, Al Unser Jr. One of the best surprises and best racing experiences of my life.
    – Plenty of passing (though not much for the lead). It wasn’t easy, especially with all the blocking, but it was possible.
    – The cars didn’t string out as much or as quickly as they did last year.
    – Good for Briscoe, he should have won last year’s race. If not for that questionable caution he would likely have lapped everyone but Marco.
    – It took Danica long enough to drive aggressive. If she continues to do so, she’ll continue to be a factor.
    – Good race for Hunter-Reay, if his crew could have just figured out oval qualifying, he might be better off in the championship. Hopefully he’s not about to go on vacation…
    – For the second year in a row, the best drive of the race goes to Marco Andretti.
    In last year’s dud, Marco was the only driver willing to run the high line and make things happen. He lost positions in the pits and on restarts, but his car was better than anyone but Briscoe’s once the pack dissipated and he wasn’t afraid to lose momentum when his passing attempts didn’t work.
    This year, he again worked the high line better than anyone and had a car that was pretty good in traffic. He might have won had a late caution bunched up the leaders.
    His off-track demeanor and the Unser fan in me tell me I shouldn’t be a fan, but he’s just so darn entertaining on the track.
    – I mention again that I met Al Unser Jr. because it was awesome.

    The negatives:
    – I guess Barnhart rolled up the black flag after Indy because drivers were blocking all over the place. I lost count of the number of times a driver had a good run going into a turn only to be squeezed up or down the track and lose momentum (and often, a position or two).
    – I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said about the safety crew’s poor handling of Simona’s fire. Very scary moment, the crowd was relieved to see her giving an interview on the video board.
    – Starts and restarts… While it’s good that they showed they were willing to wave off a start and restart, things won’t get better until the league starts penalizing guys for jumping the gun. The driver’s won’t police themselves here, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to in my opinion.
    I think having the pace car lead them to the front straight before green might help as well, I don’t understand why they continue to start and restart in turn 3.
    – Moronic Moraes is not going to shake that nickname if he continues driving like that.
    – The heat was bearable when the sun went down, but at qualifying and before the race it was tough even on this native Texan. Friend of mine had to be treated for heat-related illness on Friday.

  8. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    From the moment the safety crew arrived on scene which was relatively quickly, it was 20 plus seconds before anyone even brought a fire extinguisher to the car. By that time, Simona’s shoulder had nearly been dislocated by the crewperson who was desperately attempting to disloge her from the car at that point…. I do not know what the proceedure is in this situation, but at least two of those crewpersons should have immediately been out of that vehicle and soaking her with hand held extingushers. The truck hose should be a secondary measure used to contain the vehicle fire. I am not a big tin top fan, but I do not think I have ever seen a NASCAR safety crew person/s approach a crashed vehicle without an extinguisher in his or her hand.

  9. I’m happy to see that restarts are starting to get widespread attention… in the current climate attention might actually mean a change on the track!

    The solution is simple: 1) Pace car earns its name and sets the fields pace until pit in. 2) One or more speed cameras approaching the start finish line and a designated speed window for the leader. If the leader’s speed is higher or lower than the window limits at any camera he receives a 10 second stop and go penalty. 3) Any car that puts a nose oustide of the inner edge of the wheels of the car in front of him/her prior to a green flag waving gets a 10 second stop and go penalty.

    All they really need are simple rules that have zero grey areas. As long as it is obvious when a rule is broken and the penalties are severe the problem will be solved.

    The current method of “a cone stuck in the fence” is a joke. First of all, if they are going to restart in the short chute then lets pull the bricks out of Indy and relocate them on the north side of the track. Second, it is about as advanced as using a frisbee for first base and a tree trunk for second. If you want to be a top level professional sport, act like it. The neighborhood kids can use a cone as a restart point when racing their big wheels and powerwheels. I expect something a little more advanced from the “fastest drivers in the world”.

  10. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    “If you want to be a top level professional sport, act like it. The neighborhood kids can use a cone as a restart point when racing their big wheels and powerwheels. I expect something a little more advanced from the “fastest drivers in the world”.”

    Absolutely spot-on.

  11. George, Ernesto Viso was 5th before the last pitstop, all by his own merit (no crazy pitstop strategies). Sure he was never about to win the race, but isn’t being 5th on an oval good enough for a KV car not to say he “was never a factor”?

  12. Today, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a forty
    foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.
    I know this is entirely off topic but I had
    to share it with someone!

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