Good News/Bad News
As we get closer to the opening practice of the IZOD IndyCar Series just two weeks from today, news is coming in at a pretty rapid pace. Not only will drivers be named to the few remaining seats left in the next couple of weeks, but also more new rules may keep popping up in the next few days.
On Wednesday, two more rule changes were announced. One made me very happy, the other – not so much. On the positive side, the IZOD IndyCar Series announced that the official starter will wait on all starts and re-starts at all races, before dropping the green flag. In recent years, drivers were allowed to speed up while still in turn three at most tracks. This brought very ugly, disjointed looking starts – especially at the Indianapolis 500. Regardless of how ragged they appeared, Brian Barnhart favored these kinds of starts because they presented less risk to drivers and equipment.
The new rule calls for the field to approach the starter’s stand at around 60 mph and the green flag will not wave until the front row is about 300 yards from the starting line. This was a very welcomed change to me – especially regarding the Indianapolis 500. I know I’m slightly biased, but in the past – there was no more dramatic moment in all of sports than seeing the eleven rows of three approaching the green flag. That sight has adorned book covers, posters and paintings for years. Then in recent years, Mr. Barnhart saw fit to deprive us of that special moment in order to ensure that there were no crashes on the first lap. It didn’t work.
For the past two years, there have been crashes on the opening lap. Last year, Tomas Scheckter collided with Davey Hamilton in turn two of the first lap. The year before that, Mario Moraes and Marco Andretti got together in the south chute. Anytime you have aggressive drivers going for the same piece of real estate, contact is likely to occur.
Don’t misunderstand me. I certainly don’t want a repeat of Stan Fox’s horrifying crash on the opening lap of the 1995 race or the melee that occurred at the start of that dreadful 1973 race, when Salt Walther’s car spun upside down spraying methanol over spectators after crashing into the catch fencing on the front-straightaway. None of us want that.
What we want is to see a thrilling battle as drivers fight for position to see who can lead going into the first turn – without incident. Yes, there is a greater chance for contact. But these drivers are advertised as the greatest in the world. Let’s see them earn that moniker.
Although I’m not a fan of the double-file re-starts, I’m glad that there will be a battle for the first turn on each re-start. This should provide much better racing than we’ve seen at Indy in recent years. Better racing is what we pay to see.
That was Wednesday’s good news. The bad news is that the “Lucky Dog” is coming to the IZOD IndyCar Series. For those fortunate enough to not know what that is, NASCAR contrived the Lucky Dog rule late in the 2003 season. In IndyCar when the yellow flag flies, the field is frozen at that moment. Good rule. In NASCAR when the yellow came out, drivers were inexplicably expected to race back to the starting line before their positions were frozen. For years, I always thought that was an accident waiting to happen. It almost did at New Hampshire. NASCAR decided to stop that practice immediately.
For some unknown reason, they decided to add a twist – they allowed the closest lapped driver to be waved around and join the lead lap at the back of the field. When Jacques Villeneuve won the 1995 Indianapolis 500 after being two laps down early in the race, he did so by earning his way back onto the lead lap. I attended that race and have watched it several times. For the life of me, I still don’t really know how he did it, but they say he did so I believe them. But one thing I can tell you – he didn’t have those laps handed to him as a Lucky Dog.
If I’m leading a race and I work for several laps to finally get around a driver to put him or her a lap down, why should that effort be for naught when the caution flag comes out. It makes no sense. Yes, sometimes yellows can ruin someone’s race if they just pitted under green, then the rest of the field gets to pit under yellow. But you know – that’s just part of racing. It always has been. Just as luck can put you a lap down, sometimes luck plays a role in getting that lap back – like it did in Villenueve’s case. But I have a real problem with that lap being handed back to a driver.
When we heard of the double-file re-starts a while back, several people warned that this was coming. In denial, I told myself that the Lucky Dog would never make its way into IndyCar. I was wrong. I just don’t understand why they’re doing it. I always laughed at NASCAR for having the Lucky Dog, and now IndyCar has it too. Like limiting each field to 26 cars, I have to ask – why?
What’s next – eliminating hydraulic jacks in favor of a jack-man to run around and jack up each side of the car? How about putting five lug nuts on each wheel instead of the one center lug. Maybe the crews will start making wing adjustments with sledgehammers. It seems that IndyCar is intent on adapting the NASCAR rulebook. At least when IndyCar claims they invented the SAFER barrier and HANS device, it’ll be true.
We’ve had three new rules introduced this week – capping each non-Indy field at 26, waving the green just as the cars approach the starting line and the Lucky Dog. I’m in favor of one and dislike two. In baseball, that would be a good average. I don’t expect to be on board with everything that the IZOD IndyCar Series comes up with. I don’t think anyone does. But I do wish they would explain their reasoning behind some of the new rules and not be so intent on duplicating the NASCAR rulebook.