No Contrived Finishes Here, Please

At times, I have found myself nervously drumming my fingers as I try to come up with a new topic to write about. Other times, my mind is on overload trying to choose between several potential storylines. This is one of those times.

The IZOD IndyCar Series is faced with its first bit of devastating news of the year, which is not even a week old. I’m talking about the potential loss of Firestone as the tire supplier to the series. This would be an unsettling development for many reasons. First and foremost, would be safety. Firestone has a keen understanding of the demands of these tire and chassis combinations. They have been successful in providing quality tires for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, short ovals and road/street courses.

I also hate to see such a storied name leave the series. Firestone won the inaugural 1911 race with Ray Harroun. Before 1967, they had won forty-three consecutive Indianapolis 500’s. After a twenty year hiatus, they returned in 1995 and promptly chased Goodyear out of both open-wheel series by 2000.

But that is not what I’m writing about. Many other IndyCar bloggers have already done a much better job than I could, articulating the harmful effects of Firestone’s departure for the last few days. Besides…what else could I write that hasn’t already been written? Instead, I’ve decided I’m going to write about something that caught my eye a few days ago.

This past Tuesday, I read a question in Curt Cavin’s Q & A that still perplexes me several days later. The reader was complaining that with all of the good things going on in the IZOD IndyCar Series, why couldn’t they do something about ending races under the yellow. The reader claims that there was a lot of momentum for this after the 2009 Texas race, but nothing had been done about it since. Fortunately, Curt quickly informed him that he knew of no momentum and he didn’t see any reason to do it.

I think I keep my ear fairly close to the ground regarding IndyCar, and I don’t recall any momentum whatsoever to do something about it following the 2009 Texas race.

Apparently, this fan has been watching just a wee bit too much NASCAR. When you look at all of the gimmicks that NASCAR has come up with in the past few years – the Chase For The Championship, double file restarts and the like – the one that I find most contrived is the green-white-checker finish. You know, where if a race finishes under a caution – they’ll extend the race to two more green flag laps to try and give the fans a finish under green.

I’m not really sure what a racing purist is, but I’m sure they are turned off by the green-white-checker concept. I consider myself a normal, everyday fan, yet I find myself very offended by such a gimmick. It insults my intelligience as a racing fan.The IZOD IndyCar Series doesn’t need a Chase to make the end of the season exciting and they don’t need a green-white-checker to make the end of a race exciting, either.

When did finishing under the yellow become so taboo? Is Dan Wheldon less of an Indianapolis 500 champion because his race finished under the yellow in 2005? What about Rick Mears? Is his 1988 Indy victory tarnished because it finished during a caution period? How about Dario Franchitti? Both of his victories finished under a yellow flag – in 2007 due to rain and 2010 for Mike Conway’s crash. Does he have an asterisk by his name? The answer to these questions are: no, no and no.

Yellow flags are as much a part of racing as speed, pit-stops and loud engines. Some were upset when they began using a pace car during the race at Indianapolis. Prior to 1979, the only time the pace car was used at Indianapolis was to start the race. If a yellow flag occurred, drivers were expected to maintain their distance from the car in front. Traditionalists were appalled when the field was allowed to pack up behind the pace car. Some considered that to be gimmicky. Imagine what they think about the green-white-checker idea.

As most know, I’m very much a traditionalist – especially when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. But the fact that the green-white-checker idea goes against tradition is not why I’m against it. It completely throws race strategy out the window. I caught flack for saying I wasn’t opposed to engine failures because it threw a wild-card into the race. But to plan on a race running for 200 miles and then suddenly find yourself having to stretch fuel for 210 miles or more, goes beyond a wild-card. Then it becomes luck of the draw.

Another factor to consider is the fact that these engines are more tempermental than NASCAR engines. NASCAR thinks nothing of shutting all of the cars down on the backstretch, while a late race crash is cleaned up. Then they fire ’em up, drive them around a couple of more laps and then let ’em go racing. It’s kind of hard to re-start twenty-six IndyCars on the backstretch when the hand-held starters are in the pits. When they do get started, it’s my understanding that an IndyCar engine requires quite a bit more warm-up time.

No, let’s leave the gimmicky finish to the racing series that thrives on gimmicks to satisfy their new-found fickle fans. I’ve always said that those new NASCAR fans that showed up ten years ago would eventually leave them as quickly as they found them. It’s coming to fruition as many of NASCAR’s fans are deserting them in droves. Let’s hope that the new momentum that is being created in the IZOD IndyCar Series will create a more loyal breed of fan.

Now, speaking of momentum and loyalty – just what is going on with Firestone, anyway?

George Phillips


17 Responses to “No Contrived Finishes Here, Please”

  1. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    I think another consideration is the sheer amount of accidents caused in NASCAR due to green/white chequer conditions. While not necessarily saying IndyCar drivers would take extra risk (they are faster, slightly less safe cars in my opinion), but the reality is (too) many NASCAR races become last minute crash-fests, because of green/white chequers.
    No thanks, I’d rather keep a yellow flag finish. You’re right – 200 miles should be just that, 200 miles.

  2. Nice post, George. Happy Friday!

    I consider the GWC a cheap gimmick. It’s racing. That means that sometimes someone’s going to blow the doors off everyone else. There’s enough whim and fate already in racing without having to contrive it. It smacks of manufactured drama. We don’t need it.

    On Firestone, it’s concerning, but there’s time still. I’d hate to see them leave, but they’ve done it before and the world didn’t end. Obviously, it’d be optimal if they stayed, but sponsors and manufacturers don’t stay forever. Maybe it’ll be a decade until the beancounters re-visit their racing program. In the meantime, I believe that we can and will find a quality replacement for them if need be. IndyCar will miss their activation, but new partners are coming along even now that will help fill that gap.

  3. Mike Silver Says:

    I aghree with you, George. A gwc finish is insulting to a real race fan’s intelligence. If you go to a race and demand a green flag finish, you are going for the wrong reason. Do I like yeallow finishes? No, buit I understand it’s part of racing. It happens sometimes. Do all baseball games end with a game-winning home run? Probably more end with strikeouts and weak grounders.

  4. My concern about yellows is more that they are inconsistantly called, and then when called, are of inconsistant length. So I would say forget green/white/checker, but work on reducing the number and length of yellows during a race. And that might be helped by introducing an in-car ignition system. (Maybe when they rip out the fuel knob, there would be a place for an ignition switch.)

    As for Firestone–wow–bad timing for this. Really bad. Besides the safety and reliability, this has to effect cost-containment on the new car if they leave. I wonder if they’ve just decided to get out of racing–or if there’s some big demand they want and this is a negotiation ploy?

  5. Savage Henry Says:

    I think that gwc finishes are intended as a way for NASCAR officials to gerrymander the races. It is also a way to have more crashes! I don’t really follow NASCAR, but I remember several races last year when there was a clear winner running away from the field and then some backmarker rubbed the wall in the last couple laps bringing out a yellow. We now have a gwc finish! What a coincidence!

    Then they have 3-4 gwc attempts with most excellent gratutious carnage which (surprise!) is perfect for the ESPN highlight reel. Then someone other than the guy who dominated the race ends up winning. Whoohoo! Just thinking about it makes me want to crush a beer can on my head.

    • BR!AN MCKAY Says:

      HA, HA, HA!
      Y’all have said it all. I can’t add anything insightful or clever.

      As you, I don’t really watch NASCAR, but I have admitted here b4 that for a few years I’ve tuned in to broadcasts when I expect that they’re nearing the finish, because I’m interested in how certain formers open-wheelers are doing.
      And like you, I’ve seen “a clear winner running away from the field and then some backmarker rubbed the wall in the last couple laps bringing out a yellow. … 3-4 gwc attempts with most excellent gratuitous carnage …Then someone other than the guy who dominated the race ends up winning.”

      I agree with George: “I’m against it. It completely throws race strategy out the window.”

      • Yep, what Brian said. Can’t really add much more other than to say that since the introduction of the G-W-C, my NASCAR watching has gone down by at least 75%, if not more. Who wants to watch a 3 1/2 hour race, 98% of which is rendered meaningless by something inconsequential that allows NASCAR to throw a yellow and then do a G-W-C (or, now, up to THREE G-W-Cs, which can routinely take 20-30 excruciating minutes to execute)? Not me. Sorry, NASCAR, but I’ll catch the highlights on Wind Tunnel.

  6. Of course it’s a gimmick. But an exciting one. I would only use it on ovals though. Local cautions can take care of road courses, but I would love to see it on ovals for the added excitement.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I think it was the 2008 Texas race that would have sparked any “momentum” for finding a way to finish all races under green, as that race ended under a caution caused by 2nd and 3rd places, Andretti and Hunter-Reay, getting together 6 laps from the finish. The 2009 Texas race did finish under green.

    I don’t recall much of an outcry against yellow flag finishes then, except from a few callers on the post-race radio show while I was driving back home from the race.

    NASCAR’s GWC rule too often makes for an absolute mess at the end of a race, it makes the drivers look like amateurs. Yellow-flag finishes do not usually bother me (maybe if the race is really close). Instead of addressing the finish, a potentially thrilling aspect of a race, Indycar needs to address the start, which is where their drivers look like amateurs and is something that should be guaranteed to thrill at every race.

    I do think it is fair to point out, though, that finishing under green-white checkers has happened before in Indycars

  8. Good column! I totally agree with your stand on avoiding contrivance and “gimmicks” in a misguided attempt to create interest in the series. I followed NASCAR during the 60’s (I was very p.o.’ed when the “Hemi” engine was banned because Petty was winning too much — how asinine . . . should we place some restrictions on Penske because he’s winning too much), and again later after the OW split (in the meantime, after I got out of the service, I had been a big follower of CART and the Indy 500), and back in the day I thought they had an exciting racing series with some interesting tradition. But since they instituted the gimmicks you mentioned under Brian France’s watch, coupled with their insistence upon maintaining a spec series that clings to archaic automotive technology, NASCAR has been losing it’s racing credibility, in my opinion.

    (Also in my opinion, the grandson of the NASCAR founder is an arrogant, elitist, mental lightweight — an interesting co-incidence that IndyCar’s own arrogant mental lightweight is also named Brian — who would be selling used cars somewhere if his last name wasn’t France).

    I would like to mention too that I am in agreement with “redd” on his comments above regarding “yellows” and an on-board ignition system . . . and, I sincerely hope the “tire” situation can be resolved in a manner that will not cause the progress of the series to be hindered in any way.

    By the way, sir, as I think I have mentioned before, I am a regular reader of your very thoughtful and well-written blog. And, in my opinion, you do yeoman service in selecting topics for discussion . . . most of them I find very interesting and informative. I am a fairly capable writer myself (probably my only real talent), and I know a good writer when I see one. When I am checking out the latest IndyCar news, you are usually my third stop after (read: Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett) and Curt Cavin’s Q&A.

    Keep up the good work.

  9. I don’t know, George… I agree with you quite strongly on the general sentiment of “No Gimmicks”. That’s an aspect of NASCAR I simply cannot stand, and it’s been my own personal peeve in any of the racing series long before I ever found your blog. Right down to the use of the term “gimmicks”, even.

    That said, I can make an argument for forcing the race finish under green. That can be argued as being a “purist” stance itself. You see, the potential problem is that yellow flag finishes in controversial atmospheres can be argued as contrived or manipulated, which would be it’s own sort of problem to deal with. It’s one that could potentially be quite incendiary, I fear. Hypothetical siutation: Someone’s running great in 2nd place, and the frontrunner is fading for whatever reason. Make the frontrunner either a favorite in the points, or someone with a “popular” story: Danica, or a new “Willy T. Ribbs” as an African American, or someone coming in younger than Marco… Big Al coming out of retirement… whatever. The second place runner is coming up, there’s 3 laps to go, and BANG!! Yellow flag. Debris. Or whatever. The “Favored” racer wins.

    How many people would come out of the woodwork to say the race was fixed? And alternately, what does the series do to keep any such pressure from being exerted on an official to prevent any such dishonesty to begin with? The questions alone, even if the finish was a natural, unmanipulated event, could get disruptive if someone – a fan, a disgruntled driver or owner, a sports writer, whatever – decided to mount a soapbox and start a crusade.

    You see the problem?

    Again, my initial answer to the question is the same as George’s: Keep away the gimmicks. I think the risk of that sort of situation arising is worth taking in order to avoid being manipulative via a GWC gimmick. But at the same time, I’d argue that this risk is one of the things folks should take into account when they consider the matter. It may not change your mind, but it should at least help inform your conclusion.

  10. George, I always said when the reigns were handed over to Brian France, he would run NASCAR into the ground. He does not have the saavy his dad or grandad had.
    Now if the Speedway would take back control of the pre-race festivities, maybe we could have the flow back the way it used to be years ago, for the Anthem,Prayer,Taps and “Back Home Again in Indiana”. Tv is great but it sometimes it can’t get out of it’s own way for the commercials.Long live INDY

  11. I just think a GWC takes away from a race being an actual competition. If a race is 200 miles or 300 or 500, the person who covers that distance first is the winner…plain and simple. Other sports go to extra time in the event of a tie, but ONLY a tie, not to appease the TV networks and fanbases. There are no ties in racing, so there is no need for extra laps.

    To me it is just manipulating the finish, and that sends you down the slope between competition and entertainment.

    Finishing under yellow is no different than a 10-0 game in baseball or a 20-point blowout in basketball. It’s a competition, and sometimes that’s just the way sports goes.

  12. George,

    Regarding “green-white-checker” finishes…..I’ll share a line from my best friend Dom. He’s a guy who loves the 500, respects open wheel, but by in large, isn’t a big race guy. Regardless, his view on this topic, when I brought it up to him over a a year ago……….”Why would Indycar ever do that? It’s real racing. Not the pro wrestling that Nascar is.”

    Take that as you will. I love it, and agree!


    South Bend, IN

  13. Most things are best left alone. If a race finishes under caution, so be it. Your entry says it all; those drivers that won under caution should not have their victories seen as anything less than a victory. If a team has the best car or runs the best strategy (or both), that team should be rewarded with a victory. Oh, and I sure hope Firestone isn’t gone for good.

  14. You want to see evidence of how the sham of GWC finsishes would affect INdycar? Insert a GWC into the race between Little Al and Emmo back in the day. Little Al and Emmo touch, Unser goes into the wall, Fittipaldi continues, but wait….Now we make everyone pack up behind Emmo for a GWC re-start. Is there damage to Emmo’s car? Does he have enough fuel to run the additional laps? I’m sorry, but that is NOT what the racing “Gods” had in mind.

  15. In Formula 1, if the safety car is on the track on the last lap, it enters the pits to let cars rush in order to the finish line. It’s a way of having a full-speed ending without extending the race past the official duration.

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