Random Thoughts On New Hampshire
So, on to more trivial matters…The IZOD IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio last week was a snooze fest. Yesterday’s MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 was anything but. This was a bizarre race. It was strange from the very beginning; all the way back to a Thursday practice with no track activity on Friday. Then, those of us on Twitter saw that the start of the race had been moved up to account for the threat of rain. And then the race started.
By the time a green-flag lap had been completed, there were three cars behind the wall with damage. The cars of Mike Conway and Graham Rahal never completed a single lap. Helio Castroneves spun in the exact spot on the ensuing restart and suffered suspension damage. He returned to the track twelve laps down and out of contention.
When things finally got going, Dario Franchitti completely checked out. Before the yellow flag waved for rain on Lap Seventy-Five, it seemed that the only drama was whether or not Franchitti would lap the entire field. How things would change later on.
Shortly after the rain let up and the race went back to green on Lap 107, the yellow waved again – this time due to a crash that found Tony Kanaan upside down, and Marco Andretti and Tomas Scheckter out of the race. I could never really decide who was at fault. To me, it looked as if Kanaan and Scheckter both converged onto Marco who was caught in the middle – but I’m really not sure whom to blame. It doesn’t matter, because they all were OK but out of the race. Not only did Kanaan end up on his hat, his crash caused a Port-a-Potty to turn over. Fortunately, no one was using it at the time.
After the mess on the track was cleaned up, a drama-free race at the front became much more interesting. From where I sat (in my living room), it appeared that Dario Franchitti veered over into Takuma Sato on the restart. Dario said differently, as did Sato, but I don’t think either of them had watched the replay closely. Whatever the case, Dario was turned around and slapped the inside wall on the front straightaway. His day was done.
Suddenly, the race at New Hampshire, Will Power and the entire season had new life. Franchitti held a commanding sixty-two point edge over Power coming into yesterday’s race. At one point, it looked as if that would grow significantly by the day’s end. But then Franchitti was out and Will Power did his best to seize the opportunity. Power worked his way up. At one point, he even led before the pit stops cycled through. Even then, he was running as high as fourth and looked like he was going to close a lot of the gap to Franchitti.
Most of the race after Franchitti’s exit was led by Ryan Hunter-Reay. That was no fluke. He had qualified fifth and was quick most of the weekend. He was leading when the yellow flag waved again on Lap 205. After riding around in the rain for several laps, it was announced that they would be going green with just a handful of laps remaining, although it was clear from all of the drivers that it was still raining and the track was still very wet. It didn’t matter.
Michael Andretti was furious. His driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was poised to win his first race of the season and give Andretti Autosport its third win of a very inconsistent season. Will Power and Tim Cindric were more furious. They pleaded their case to not go back to green – not in those conditions. It didn’t matter. Apparently all of the drivers on track begged to not go back to green. It didn’t matter.
The green flag fell along with Will Power’s hopes to gain ground on Franchitti. As Danica Patrick eased on her throttle, the slick conditions put her car into a slow spin. Will Power spun around in the melee where he was facing backwards. Ana Beatriz nudged him into the path of Ed Carpenter who speared Power just before Power backed hard into the inside wall. The front straightaway was chaos.
Thinking he had just lost any chance to make up ground on Franchitti, Will Power eventually jumped out of his car and marched toward the garage area. He was stopped by the massive Chief of Security, Charles Burns, and was pointed towards his pit and Tim Cindric. A well-timed ABC camera shot caught Will Power giving a double-barreled one-finger salute towards Race Control, clearly aimed at Brian Barnhart for making the wrong decision to restart the race in the rain.
In the process of the restart, Oriol Servia had gotten past Hunter-Reay before the race was eventually red-flagged. Confusion and indecision reigned. ABC didn’t know what was going on. The drivers and teams didn’t know what was going on. Brian Barnhart and Race Control didn’t know what was going on. Finally, the decision was announced that the calamitous restart never happened, they would revert to the running order just before the aborted restart and the race was over. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the winner. More importantly, Will Power would keep his fifth place finish and the points that go along with it to close the gap to only forty-seven points behind Dario Franchitti.
The aftermath: I suppose it was the right call, unless you’re an Oriol Servia fan. It was certainly the wrong call to ever restart the race. I’m not overly thrilled with the idea of reverting to the last lap, but I really don’t know of a better or more equitable way to satisfy this.
Brian Barnhart made a mistake – a big mistake. This, in a long line of big mistakes and a history of inconsistencies. To his credit, he owned up to it on ABC and then in the post-race press conference. He didn’t try to lay the blame on anyone else. He said that he made the call and he realized quickly that he had goofed. He tried to make the best of a bad situation by giving the points and positions back to those that had suffered due to his mistake.
Brian Barnhart is an easy target right now – especially to those of us who sit in anonymity behind our keyboards in the sanctity of our living rooms, hundreds of miles from the track. He has a hard job and it’s very easy to second-guess someone after the fact
That being said, I’m not sure that Barnhart will or should be back next year. Robin Miller made a good point on Wind Tunnel last night when he said that a Chief Steward should be a former driver. Barnhart is a former mechanic. I can see him finishing out the season, and then being quietly shifted somewhere else within the organization. There are just too many instances over the years where Race Control is the main factor in determining the outcome of races or championships. I don’t remember hearing the name of Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach being mentioned with much frequency at all during his tenure at CART. No matter what the sport, anytime the officials are interjected into the discussion determining the outcome of an event – it’s not a good thing.
TV Coverage: Given the circumstances, I thought ABC did a very good job. It was not their decision to scuttle the pre-race show that had been planned. They adjusted on the fly and rolled pretty well with it.
It was good to see and hear Gary Gerould back on the broadcast after several years, as he subbed for Vince Welsh who was at Watkins Glen for the NASCAR race. Gerould flubbed a couple of early pit stops, but recovered nicely with some good and in-depth driver interviews. I’ve missed his presence.
I was a little surprised that there was no mention of ABC securing the Indianapolis 500 through 2018 – at least, I never heard it mentioned. It makes a little more sense after Randy Bernard explained that he had heard “rumors” that NBC would not guarantee that the 500 wouldn’t be moved to NBC Sports Network (the channel currently known as Versus) or that the race wouldn’t be moved to Saturday. If that was truly the case, then I applaud the decision to remain with ABC – although I certainly questioned the move when it was announced last Wednesday.
No Pippa: A bad weekend for Pippa Mann got progressively worse, until she wound up in a local hospital with a sore back and a withdrawn car. Pippa spun twice in Thursday’s practice. The first session, she spun and hit nothing. The second session, she spun again – this time doing slight damage to her car. On Saturday, she smacked the wall hard and limped to a stretcher. She was in a local hospital while the field was being qualified.
I was looking forward to seeing her race on a short oval. This can’t be good for her confidence after she had a promising run in the Indianapolis 500. I’m hoping everything is still a “go” for her to race at Kentucky and Las Vegas at the end of the season. She’s a good driver and needs something to give her confidence a boost.
The crowd (or lack thereof): I agree with New Hampshire Motor Speedway President Jerry Gappens that 30,000 is better than it looks in a facility that seats 90,000. That’s good, because it looked terrible on television. I saw bigger looking crowds for IndyCar practice at Nashville Superspeedway on Fridays. The stands at New Hampshire are much bigger than Milwaukee, but the shots on television certainly gave the impression of a smaller crowd at New Hampshire than at Milwaukee. Apparently, the track has until September 1 before deciding to have INDYCAR return in 2012.
The Double-Bird: As mentioned, Will Power treated ABC viewers to a double-bird salute to Brian Barnhart. Apparently, the normally mild-mannered Power went absolutely ballistic after he got out of his car. The shot of him with both middle fingers in the air with a crazed look on his face is priceless.
The question remains…will he or should he be penalized for such an act? I’ve spoken to some that laughed at it when it happened, but think that such an act cannot go without a penalty. Others, like Robin Miller, think that Randy Bernard should pay the fine for all the publicity the incident has garnered for the series. Roger Penske told ESPN: “…if Will gets fined or penalized, I’ll pay for it. I’m not worried about what he said or did."
Personally, I don’t think Power should be penalized – this time. He is not a loose cannon that has a history of running his mouth. He simply demonstrated the level of passion he has for the sport. We fans have been clamoring for drivers to step out of their corporate persona and show us that they are human. Well, Power showed us he’s human. His emotions got the best of him. I say, given the circumstances – let it ride. Now, if he does it again – that’s a different story. Warn him, let him know that this will not be tolerated again, let him know the consequences of a similar occurrence and let it go.
All in all: It was a bizarre ending to a strange weekend. The first of the race was disjointed with no green flag laps for a while. Then Dario Franchitti looked like he was going to have his way with the field. When he crashed at the halfway point, there was a lot of good racing for position, at the front and throughout the field.
Looking back, the remaining ten laps should have been run under yellow and RHR declared the winner. That would have given us the same running order that we ultimately ended up with. Instead, we got the same results surrounded in controversy, with a lot of torn up race cars. Ultimately, this decision may end up costing Brian Barnhart his job.