Random Thoughts On Texas
Just when it looked like the wheels were coming off of the IZOD IndyCar Series; lo and behold they go out and run a great race. Everything looked like there was potential for disaster heading into the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway. There was still infighting behind the scenes complete with eighth grade-like finger pointing. The series was coming off of one of its biggest duds in years at Belle Isle. Then you had the drivers saying they didn’t want to be at the first 1.5 mile oval since that ill-fated day at Las Vegas, amidst rumors that this would be the last trip that the series makes to Texas Motor Speedway. Top that off with the decision to strip cars of downforce, put it back then remove some – kept drivers, teams and fans confused as to what was going on with INDYCAR.
When the race was delayed due to injuries to an event worker when the pre-race stage fell on him – it looked like the night was being set up as another fiasco like last week. Then two of the cars on the grid – the cars of Simona de Silvestro and Rubens Barrichello – curiously couldn’t even get fired to take the green flag. It certainly gave all appearances as being “one of those nights”.
But when the green flag finally fell, a great race suddenly came out of nowhere. An old goat like me can appreciate the type of racing we had on Saturday night. To use a phrase used many times this past weekend – they put the driver back into the cars. Drivers had to actually use discretion on when to lift and how to go about saving the tires so that they would still be there at the end of a long run. No longer were drivers in control of high downforce machines that allowed them to go flat-out and never lift throughout an entire lap. Now they were forced to make decisions and judgments on how far to push the cars beyond their limits.
Personally, I was very happy to see Justin Wilson win on Saturday night. He is genuinely one of the nicest guys in the paddock and it’s good to see him bounce back from two forgettable years at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing that came to a merciful end when he fractured his back last year at Mid-Ohio. It’s nice to see good things happen to nice people. I also have to admit I was happy to see Graham Rahal not win. I would never wish contact with the wall on anyone, but I wasn’t disappointed when he brushed it just enough to lose the lead with two laps to go.
Graham Rahal is a good ambassador for the series and has done quite a bit of charity work – especially for the Wheldon family. But some of his actions, comments and demeanor have rubbed me the wrong way lately. There’s nothing I can put my finger on really – there’s just an air of smugness about him. I will commend him for facing the music as soon as he got out of the car and taking full responsibility for his mishap. Maybe this bit of adversity will make him a little more appealing in the coming races.
TV Coverage: As usual, I thought the NBC Sports Network did a stellar job with their coverage. I’ve never been a huge fan of Tommy Kendall, but I thought he did a nice job filling in for Wally Dallenbach. Their pre-race show was excellent. Although I miss Lindy Thackston’s presence on the telecast, I think that Townsend Bell does a tremendous job with his driver insight.
For those that have been bashing Bob Jenkins, you are about to get your wish after this season. He is retiring in order to help his wife deal with some health issues. Although he may not be perfect, Bob Jenkins will be tough to replace. He has a warmth about him that comes across to viewers and there are few people that have as much passion for IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 than Bob. He attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1960 and has been hooked ever since. Like many of the old-time announcers in sports, his familiar voice has been a constant over the years and it is one that I will miss. I will enjoy listening to Bob for the rest of the season. Don’t be surprised if you read more praises from me throughout this summer directed toward Bob Jenkins.
Chevy woes continue: Things have certainly turned south for the bow-tie brand since qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. I was on the bury Honda bandwagon, when they were embarrassed at Long Beach, but whether or not it is a direct result of “turbogate” – Honda has gotten its act together. Not only did they win their third straight race, they occupied the first two rows during qualifying at Texas. After engine adjustments are allowed later this month, it’ll be interesting to see what Chevy can do to resurrect the momentum they had in the first four events.
Penske problems continue also: I’m not sure you can label a team having a problem when it places all three of its cars in the top-eight, but when you won the first four races as well as the first four poles of the season – its tough to step back and watch other teams celebrate. Late in the race, Helio Castroneves was challenging for the win before he dropped like a stone to finish seventh and one lap down. Will Power was leading when he made an obvious move on Tony Kanaan that effectively ended Kanaan’s night. I don’t know if Power had enough car under him to win, but it sure seemed like Kanaan did before being taken out by Power. Fortunately, Beaux Barfield had the backbone to penalize the leader late in the race with a drive-through penalty. Power finished eighth. Ryan Briscoe held on for his life for third place, as he gave Team Penske its best finish of the night.
Give a nod to Hildebrand: Although John Barnes has irked a lot of fans (including me) for his behavior in attempting to oust Randy Bernard, the anger should not be carried through to his team. In my opinion, JR Hildebrand had one of the best drives of the night – coming from the back of the pack to finish fifth. This wasn’t any fluke of a clever pit strategy. He passed these cars in earnest – on a night when the driver made the difference. That made up for the embarrassment on Friday when the National Guard car was out-qualified by the lone Lotus in the field.
All in all: It was a good race minus the pack racing we’ve seen in years past at Texas. The cars were spaced out enough, but there was still good racing. The DW12 was redeemed after that debacle at Belle Isle a week earlier. The looks of the car are growing on some, but I’m still not a fan of its aesthetics. But as far as its raceability – consider me a big fan. Six of the seven races this car has raced in have been great races. I was glad to see that it can race as well on an oval as it can on the road and street courses. I want aero-kits next year to have some diversity on the grid, but that’s another rant for another day.
It was good to see the Penske/Ganassi stranglehold on this season finally get broken. I think most would have thought that whenever it was broken, it would have been at the hands of Andretti Autosport or KV Racing Technology – not Dale Coyne Racing. But it was good to see Dale Coyne get his second win in four seasons after going twenty-five years without a win.
And as I said earlier, after such a great race that we saw Saturday night, it was refreshing to see Justin Wilson back in Victory Lane. I’ve always been a big fan of his and Saturday night just made it much more so.