The Proverbial Can Of Worms
By the time you read this, the verdict of the jury may have already been announced. The announcement of the decision reached by the three-person panel to review the results of the MoveThatBlock.com 225 is due sometime Wednesday morning.
There is no way this is going to end well, no matter what the decision is. An already ugly situation got even worse after Newman/Haas Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing lodged a formal protest, appealing the results of the IZOD IndyCar Series race in New Hampshire two weekends ago.
I’m not blaming the two teams in question – especially Newman/Haas. They are hungry for their first victory since the 2008 season. If they are hungry, then their driver, Oriol Servia, is starving. He hasn’t won since winning a Champ Car race for Newman/Haas at Montreal in 2005. He is looking for his first IndyCar series win, and he truly feels he won the race – fair and square. It wasn’t his fault that the rulebook meant nothing.
No, it got ugly when Brian Barnhart announced last week that yesterday’s protest would only involve the top three cars. In fact, that’s when it got ridiculous.
Brian Barnhart is a very easy target, right now. Although I agree with most everything that has been said and written about him in the last ten days, this is not intended to be a piling-on session. That being said, I would like to hear someone explain the rationale of reviewing the top three finishers, while locking the wrecked cars behind them into the scoring of the previous lap.
In most other sports – if there is a bad call, the league or sanctioning body simply says; “Oops, we goofed. Sorry” before moving on to the next game or event. Racing is different because there are so many moving pieces. Right or wrong, sponsors have the potential to carry some weight in these situations. I’m not saying that happened here, but the potential is there. Plus, in racing there is one winner and a whole lot of losers. The victory is something very hard to come by and cannot be taken for granted. If technology can prove that someone else won a race that is in doubt, they should make sure to get it right.
The big problem is the murkiness of the IndyCar rulebook. Too many times, there is an “out” given to the Chief Steward in certain circumstances. I’ll throw out the disclaimer that I haven’t personally combed through the rulebook. But from what Kevin Lee said last night on Trackside, there are eighty-seven times that a scenario ends with “…or at the discretion of the Chief Steward.” That puts simply too much gray in a rulebook that is printed in black & white.
By “normal” racing rules, one would have thought that Oriol Servia and Scott Dixon passed Ryan Hunter-Reay before the start-finish line. The green flag waved briefly before the yellow flag was thrown prior to the cars crossing the line. But we’ve learned recently that there is nothing normal about the way the IndyCar rulebook reads.
There has been much talk that Brian Barnhart has outlived his usefulness as Chief Steward. I think Kevin Lee is being a little kind when he says that only a small percentage doesn’t care for Brian Barnhart in the role of Chief Steward. I think it’s much larger than he says. Whether or not Randy Bernard chooses to replace him remains to be seen. Unlike many, I don’t hate Brian Barnhart. I believe him to be a good man, but he has shown very questionable judgment at times. I think it’s safe to say that his future as Chief Steward is unclear.
What is clear, however, is that there needs to be a major revision to the IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook. It seems to be excessively vague and gives way too much latitude (read: power) to the Chief Steward to alter almost any scenario or outcome. Even the top drivers sound surprised every time a little known clause is exercised. There shouldn’t be that many surprises among the teams whenever the rulebook is pulled out.
Kevin Lee also reminded us last night how confused we fans were at Edmonton last year. I’ll admit, I knew nothing about a rule that didn’t allow the leader to choose his or her lane going into a corner. It seemed pretty natural that the leader could choose the inside line while defending his or her position. Not so, according to the current INDYCAR rulebook.
Whatever happens to Barnhart, I think Randy Bernard should appoint a committee to start ripping apart the current INDYCAR rulebook and start over for 2012. Get rid of the gray areas, where possible, and narrow the current latitude given to whoever is in the role of Chief Steward for 2012. That way, they can do their best to minimize the possibility of a repeat of the events of yesterday and today’s expected ruling. Randy Bernard and the IZOD IndyCar Series have made great strides in the past eighteen months. This was an unexpected setback. Like he has with other challenges, I expect Randy Bernard to analyze the problem and take steps to correct it.
Quite honestly, I don’t know how today’s ruling will come out. Logic says that there is not enough hard-nosed evidence to overturn the results ten days after the fact. On the other hand, I think that Newman/Haas has a legitimate gripe. Still, I’ll be surprised if the victory is taken away from Ryan Hunter-Reay and handed to Oriol Servia. I think that would open up a whole new can of worms on a situation that has already gotten too messy as it is. It’s probably best to close the book on New Hampshire, move on to Sonoma and immediately start on a new rulebook for 2012.
Shameless Plug: "One Take Only" video blog returns Thursday. John & I will trim it down and limit our discussion to the New Hampshire race and the fallout from the aftermath and today’s ruling. Check back tomorrow.
Update: INDYCAR has announced that the top 3 finishing positions of the New Hampshire race on Aug. 14 are upheld, after yesterday’s protest hearing.