Random Thoughts On Kentucky
Although the last two races on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule were still won by a Penske or Ganassi car, you can’t say they were predictable. Last week’s race at Chicago featured a last-minute flip in the points, while last night’s race at Kentucky Speedway looked like the victory would go to a Panther Racing car, only to have a gamble by the team of Helio Castroneves pay off for, yet, another win by Team Penske.
Longtime readers of this site know that I am a fan of Helio Castroneves and Team Penske. I have already received e-mails with the basic tone of “I guess you’re happy”. My response? Not really.
I am not a fan of fuel mileage gambles for victory. Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to think that a car that spent the majority of the race running outside of the top ten has no business being in victory lane. It’s sort of a cheap and hollow feeling victory. But all drivers will take them…and celebrate them. It’s hard to win these things, no matter how you have to do it. When a multiple race winner along with being three-time Indianapolis 500 winner does it, you tend to cut them some slack. When that type of win is the only win on a driver’s resume, it tends to have an invisible asterisk beside it.
Still we as fans wonder what just happened, when a car comes out of nowhere to steal a victory. So before I get accused of being an Helio apologist, I’ll state for the record that near the end of the race, I was pulling for either Ed Carpenter, Dan Wheldon or Tony Kanaan to win. But since I am an Helio fan – if they couldn’t, I’m glad he did.
The race itself was entertaining, albeit not to the level of the Chicago race. It started out with a familiar site – a KV car into the wall. Then there was a scary moment when a three-car accident produced about five heavy hits as Ryan Briscoe and Simona de Silvestro both hit the outside retaining wall before crashing into the inside wall. Simona’s second hit was especially frightening as she hit the inside concrete wall head-on. Fortunately, none of the drivers seemed to be seriously injured.
The remainder of the race ran green which provided a lot of green-flag pit stops. With all cars, besides Helio, needing quick stops at the end; there was a lot of intrigue and a shuffling of the race and point standings. Will Power’s lead continues to shrink. It is now down to a mere seventeen points. Everyone keeps saying that Power will win one of the remaining ovals, but I just don’t see it. He’s never done it before. Why would we expect him to suddenly do it now, with so much at stake? He is a great road racer, but he is merely good on the ovals – not great. He may still win this championship, but it won’t be because he won an oval. He may do that next year, but he is still way too inexperienced to pull it off with a championship in the balance. If Power gets too aggressive in these last two oval races, he is liable to find himself in the fence and out of the points.
TV Coverage: I thought last evening was a sub-par effort from Versus. I was probably not in a pro-Versus mood when I flipped over and saw their lead-in programming before the race. Whacked-Out Sports does not lend a whole lot of credibility for Versus as the mainstream network that they hope to be someday. After watching football on many different channels all day, to watch a home video of someone swallowing a giant knife just didn’t tell me I had tuned in to a major channel.
Once the IndyCar programming began, the channel suddenly seemed good and familiar again. I was glad to see drivers like Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter get a lot of airtime on the pre-race show, which has been an area that Versus excels in. Lindy Thackston does an excellent job as host of IndyCar Central.
I couldn’t say the same for her performance as a pit lane reporter last night. Her interview with Takuma Sato, after his first lap shunt, was awkward and stilted. There were long pauses as they both seemed to struggle to find the right words. Her victory lane chase-down of Helio was also painful to watch and made for some bad television.
One thing that everyone at Versus failed to point out was – what happened to Hideki Mutoh? He started the race in fifth, but was quickly running in the twentieth spot before finally finishing seventeenth. That’s a pretty significant drop, yet it apparently escaped the eyes of the Versus crew.
On the bright side, I don’t think Robbie Buhl gets enough credit for being so objective in the booth about his own Dreyer & Reinbold team. It’s a very unusual thing to have a team owner in the booth every week. If I was a car owner watching my drivers incur huge repair bills, I don’t think I could contain myself as well as Buhl. He does a great job of keeping his duties separate.
Outside passing: Based on comments from the drivers involved, it sounds like Vitor Meira was to blame for causing the accident that involved not only himself, but Simona de Silvestro and Ryan Briscoe. It seems that Brian Barnhart told the slower cars to stay low to the inside thereby forcing the overtaking car to pass on the outside. Since when is the outside passing lane, the preferred racing line on an oval? I’m not a driver, but over the years it seems that I’ve witnessed a lot of classic passes being made by setting up a pass then darting down to the inside to complete it. Why should the leaders be forced to pass slower cars on the outside? That’s like posting a sign on the interstate that says “Slow cars – stay left”. It just seems to go against all racing logic.
All in all: The IZOD IndyCar Series race at Kentucky Speedway was entertaining and most of the night, it looked like the winner wouldn’t come from the usual cast of characters. But in the end, it was Helio Castroneves that came out of nowhere. The side-by-side racing wasn’t near as intense as Chicago, but that’s not such a bad thing. With Chicago going away, we need more tracks like Kentucky to stick around. I’m glad it’s not going anywhere.
*Note – There will be no post on Labor Day (Monday Sep 6). I will return on Wed Sep 8. Enjoy the holiday!