What’s The Problem At SFR?
I feel as if I should throw out a disclaimer that I started to not write about this, because all involved are fan-favorites, myself included. Some will accuse me of kicking someone while they are down or doing a “hack-job” as one commenter posted about me at one point last season. Please understand that I get no real joy out of writing this, but it is a topic that I think needs exploring.
One of the unspoken subjects of the IZOD IndyCar Series season has been the disappearing act of Sarah Fisher Racing. Granted, this is still a part-time effort this season, but things appear to be stuck in reverse at SFR.
Things started out with such promise this season. The first race with Ed Carpenter in the seat of the Dollar General Dallara was the Indianapolis 500. Carpenter was fast all week leading up to Pole Day qualifying. For the second year in a row, Carpenter found himself in the top-nine of the new format. For two years running, Ed Carpenter started eighth for the Indianapolis 500. It appeared he had brought new life to Sarah Fisher’s team that had struggled mightily at Indianapolis the year before.
Unfortunately, Ed was not much of a factor on Race Day and finished a very quiet eleventh in the race. We all thought the team would be equally fast at Texas, but it was not to be. Ed finished eighteenth in the first of the two twins, and sixteenth in the second. Milwaukee found Carpenter struggling near the back of the field for most of the weekend, but he managed another sixteenth place finish. At Iowa, Carpenter almost cracked the top-ten with an eleventh place finish, ditto for the controversial race at New Hampshire. But in the road courses, it has been predictably bad – since neither team nor driver does particularly well on road/street courses. After three appearances on non-ovals, Carpenter had his best result last week – a twentieth place finish at Baltimore.
Sarah Fisher officially retired from the cockpit last fall, and is expecting her first child shortly. Those of us that have followed this sport for a while have always been impressed with how she handled herself both in and out of the car. We followed her as a young nineteen year-old racing for Derrick Walker in the fledgling IRL. We watched as she won the pole at Kentucky and booed as Eliseo Salazar criticized her driving and attacked the female gender as a whole. We tried to support every sponsor she courted in her never-ending search for sponsorship. We welcomed her back from her sabbatical as she attempted to run stock cars in the Winston West series. Finally, we cheered her on as she started her own team from scratch in order to prolong her struggling career.
Along the way, we somehow felt partially invested in Sarah. Having watched her grow up and witness her ups and downs, we felt that we knew her personally. When she started her own team, the common phrase was “she is doing it the right way”. Every move she and husband Andy O’Gara made seemed methodical and well thought out. Even when she announced her retirement from driving and named Ed Carpenter as her replacement, it seemed as though every angle had been thoroughly examined and planned out.
So why have the results been sub-par? Sarah appears to be happy with Carpenter’s efforts and their results and Ed speaks likewise of the team, but I wonder how that could be. As mentioned earlier, neither the team nor Ed Carpenter is comfortable on non-ovals – and that’s being kind. Would they have done better to seek out a driver with a more balanced resume? Has the team done their part to give Ed Carpenter a car that matches his talents on ovals? Is Dollar General content to be a mid-pack car on good days and a backmarker on others? Is it the car or the driver?
SFR is not going to make the trip to Motegi next week, which means there are only two races left in their season; Kentucky and Las Vegas – both ovals. Sarah and Ed have both done extremely well at Kentucky. For the past two seasons, Ed has finished second in the Commonwealth – coming within just a few inches of beating Ryan Briscoe to the line in 2009. He certainly knows his way around the track at Kentucky. If he is well off the pace at Kentucky, I think we’ll know that the problem doesn’t lie with the driver.
So if it is the team – why is that? Their primary Dallara is not one of the older, heavier versions that Simona de Silvestro is relegated to. Dollar General went out and bought SFR one of the newer, lighter versions just a couple of years ago. Andy O’Gara is certainly capable and qualified to put the right people in place to get the car set up right, so what exactly is the problem? This isn’t some trick question where I’ll divulge my opinion in the next paragraph – I really don’t know.
Although another driver has been considered the most popular driver in recent years, most true fans of this sport still consider Sarah Fisher to be the most popular among real racing fans – even though she no longer drives. Old-timers like myself still pull for AJ Foyt Racing out of respect for what the old man once was and a desire to see him on top just one more time. Fans also pull for Sarah Fisher Racing because we watched her grow up and blossom into a full-fledged businesswoman who has gone through her share of hard knocks. She has taken her lumps and persevered when others may have given up.
So, I’m not writing this out of meanness or to stir up controversy. I’m simply wondering why it’s not happening for Sarah and her team. Now that SFR appears to be on the cusp of fielding a car for a full season, we want to see her put those final pieces together and be competitive. It is frustrating and perplexing for us as fans to sit by and watch it not happen.