Random Thoughts On Iowa
When Marco Andretti made what turned out to be the winning pass on Tony Kanaan, I think most of us had flashbacks to previous versions of the Andretti name. That quick and decisive move to the inside was reminiscent of a move that Michael Andretti perfected in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Marco Andretti throughout the years that were worthy of the last name he is sometimes burdened with. We’ve also seen too many lackluster performances that have tarnished that same name.
Although it is sometimes a curse that Marco will constantly be compared to the rest of the Andretti clan, there are also times that we’ve all thought that if his name were not Andretti, he would have been relegated to the sidelines long ago. Although it may or may not be fair to compare Marco to his famous father and legendary grandfather – the comparisons will be inevitable throughout his career.
If you consider years at his craft, then Marco has underachieved compared to his forefathers. This is Marco’s sixth full season in IndyCars, and Saturday night was only his second win, although he did score his first win in his rookie year – something Michael or Mario did not accomplish. But once the two older Andretti’s started winning, they did so with great regularity. But if you look at Marco’s age (24), he has scored victories earlier than the two most famous Andretti’s.
I’ve been very critical of Marco over the years, mainly because I didn’t see much desire from him to hone his craft. He seemed content to rest on his God-given ability. I may be dead wrong on that, but that’s the way it appeared to an outside observer like myself. But based on what I saw Saturday night, it looked as though he willed himself to that win. That is what we expected to see from Marco all along.
Things came too easy for Marco in that first season. His father’s team was still riding the wave of an Indianapolis 500 victory and a championship the previous year, all courtesy of Dan Wheldon. In 2006, he came within a couple of hundred feet of becoming the youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500. Then he won a race later that summer – perhaps the beneficiary of a well-timed spin by teammate Bryan Herta. Great things were expected, but they never materialized – not until Saturday night.
It takes some a lot longer to grow up than others. Although Marco has been around for over half a decade, he is still younger than most rookies in the field. If winning becomes a habit for Marco, we can chalk up his previous underachievements to growing pains. I’m not ready to anoint Marco as the next great Andretti – not yet anyway. But if he can start putting together several performances like he did Saturday night, I’ll be willing to concede that he was a late bloomer. Personally, I hope he can. The IZOD IndyCar Series desperately needs for Marco to become a star.
The race itself: Lost in all of my rambling about Marco was the outstanding race that we witnessed at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night. As Dan Wheldon kept saying; “This is what makes IndyCar so great”. As good as Indianapolis and Milwaukee were, I would say that this was the best race of the season, so far. Indy was good just because it was Indy and it featured those last thirty-five laps that set up that unforgettable finish. But people tend to forget that there was a lull where it looked like it was nothing more than a battle between the two Target cars. Milwaukee was a great race, but it was overshadowed by an embarrassingly sparse crowd, controversies and an ill-timed whine in victory lane.
Iowa had a sellout crowd that seemed to enjoy every minute they were there. The crowd seemed to be an educated crowd that understood everything they were watching – which was more than I could say from some of the crowds that attended the Nashville race over the years. I think had Saturday night’s race been a parade, the crowd would still have enjoyed it. But they were treated to a great race that showcased great driving skills and featured lots of passing for the lead – especially towards the end. Best of all, no one was low on fuel at the end.
Dario jumped from sixth to first in just a matter of laps. Pole sitter Takuma Sato was strong all night, before the Turn Two wall grabbed him as it did many drivers. Franchitti made everyone think it was going to be Dario and everyone else, but at the end he faded to fifth and was not a factor in the closing laps. Of course, he didn’t need to be. Will Power, his main competitor for the championship, collided with Charlie Kimball in the pits, forcing a change of front-wings. He was lucky to stay on the lead lap. Then, like so many others, Power found the Turn Two wall. Unlike the others though, he backed into it with probably the hardest crash of the night.
It was no surprise to hear that Power sustained a concussion from the crash. All you had to do was listen to the Versus interview after the crash. He sounded like he was talking in slow-motion as he slurred his words and let an S-Bomb drop on live television. He is now trailing Franchitti by twenty points. Hopefully, he’ll be cleared to be back in the car in two weeks at Toronto.
From all appearances, they did things the right way in Iowa. For the past few years, I’ve always said that if I were to go to a third race in a season, it would be Kentucky. After what I saw on Saturday night, I think Iowa may have jumped up to number three. Scheduling conflicts and low budgets will keep me home for the rest of this season, but I’m seriously thinking of adding Iowa to my schedule next year.
TV Coverage: For the most part, I thought Versus did a very good job Saturday night. They were on the air for five hours with the Firestone Indy Lights race, then an extended pre-race show, the race and finally many post-race interviews. Kevin Lee did another excellent job splitting duties as host of IndyCar central and one of three pit-reporters. I still think it is ridiculous that Kevin has to wear a suit while sitting outside at a racetrack. At least it was cool in Iowa; in fact sometimes it looked downright cold. Regardless of the conditions, though – a suit does not belong on pit road. Lighten up NBC.
One negative that does warrant mentioning was the pit-walk with Robin Miller and Dan Wheldon. It sounded good in theory and seems to work well in Formula One coverage, but they needed a little better coordination with whoever was directing the camera shots. Too many times, they accidentally cut away to the one that was in the process of grabbing the next interview. Then at the end, Kevin Lee was talking over both of them as they suddenly cut to a commercial. It was all way too awkward and is still a work in progress.
Kudos Kanaan: I thought Tony Kanaan was going to give me my first predicted win of the year, but it was not to be as Marco put on a clinic on how to pass for the win with seven laps to go.
Kanaan would have had a gripe had he chosen to discuss a possible chop from Marco, but he was a good sport and recognized that Marco was going for the win. Kanaan took the high road and was very sincere in congratulating Marco and seemed genuinely happy for his old team. After being unceremoniously dumped by AA last fall, and then being the target of some pointed comments by Marco last spring; no one would have blamed Kanaan for being a little distant sharing the podium with Marco. Instead, he just seems ready to put it behind him and move forward. Good for him.
All in all: It was a great race, simple as that. Not only that, it was a great event. The IZOD IndyCar Series needed that. The crowd looked full and festive on television. There were some spectacular crashes; if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. There were some unusual twists and turns and it never got boring. The drivers put on a good show and it was a very entertaining evening.
The series takes a well-deserved break this weekend, then heads to another stint of road/street courses; the first being the streets of Toronto. Michael Andretti used to rule at this track back in the nineties. Maybe some of his magic will rub off some and Marco can start a streak of his own. If Will Power is cleared to drive, he may have something to say about that.