Random Thoughts On Iowa

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Even if you didn’t care for the outcome of the Iowa Corn Indy 300, you had to come away knowing you had just seen a thrilling ending to a very exciting race. Over the years, I’ve made it quite clear that Tony Kanaan is one of my favorite drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Since I’m a blogger and not a journalist, I have the freedom to say who I cheer for. I was obviously pulling for Tony Kanaan to get his first win since winning the 2013 Indianapolis 500 and his first victory driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. That’s not to say I don’t like race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, but you pull for your favorites.

Last week, Tony Kanaan left Pocono extremely frustrated because his team let him down due to a botched fuel strategy. Saturday night, Kanaan dominated the race – leading a total of 247 laps. The problem was, he didn’t lead the last two. During the last caution period, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal all came in on Lap 284 and put on fresh tires for the final sprint to the finish. The green flag came back out on Lap 292. Those with fresh tires began to blow by those that had not pitted for fresh rubber. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

When Ryan Hunter-Reay passed Kanaan on Lap 298, you knew that Kanaan had nothing for him and was going to come up short again. Hunter-Reay won the race and Newgarden finished second after starting twenty-first. Instead of battling for the race win, as expected – Ganassi teammates Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon settled for third and forth respectively. When they climbed out of the car, all they could do was shrug at each other and think of what could have been.

Unlike at Pocono, Kanaan knew his team had made the right call to not pit. You don’t relinquish the lead that late in the race. It was just the way things fell. Quite honestly, I had no idea that fresh tires would make that much difference. Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting, was hardly mentioned on the telecast. I never would have made such a move with so few laps remaining. That explains why I’m sitting on my couch during races instead of sitting on someone’s pit box, calling strategy.

Aside from the finish, this was a great race. There were side-by-side battles for position all over the track. A battle for eighth between James Hinchcliffe and Simon Pagenaud was just as enthralling as the battle up front between Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves. These types of battles went on all night.

This race had a little bit of everything; great racing, drama and emotion, weather delays and a nail-biting finish. Iowa Speedway provided the fans everything that is good about short-track oval racing.

Regardless of the outcome, those last few laps were thrilling. I wasn’t even on the edge of my seat – I was standing up as I saw Hunter-Reay and Newgarden carve their way through the field in just a handful of laps. When it was over, I essentially collapsed back onto my couch. Had Kanaan won, I would have done the same thing. The adrenaline was flowing and I was exhausted afterwards. If there was any doubt, this is why we all watch IndyCar racing.

TV Coverage:  Leigh Diffey was back anchoring Saturday night’s broadcast, and did an excellent job – as usual.

For the third weekend in a row, I will also sing Paul Tracy’s praises. I was never much of a PT fan when he was driving. He was brash, and it came across to me as almost a contrived act. He has retired now, and I’ll admit I was not thrilled when it was announced he would be in the NBCSN booth for a few races this season. I assumed he would bring his outrageous act to the booth and try to inflame everyone.

I was dead wrong! Paul Tracy has been the biggest breath of fresh air in the IndyCar TV booth since Bobby Unser. He brings wit, insight, personality and a perspective we haven’t heard in quite a while. Saturday night, Tracy had a perfect opportunity to take a swipe at Roger Penske and the team he drove for in the nineties that eventually fired him. Instead, he was graciously humble and praised The Captain for the great opportunity that he was given.

In all honesty, I think that this humble version of Paul Tracy is his real personality and the outrageous version is a character that he created. This is a much more likeable PT than we saw on-track in his career. I would vote for NBCSN moving Wally Dallenbach, Jr. over to their NASCAR coverage next year and bring Paul Tracy into the IndyCar booth full-time next season. He’s that good and he has proven he deserves it.

Jon Beekhuis and Kevin Lee both did great jobs as pit reporters. Kevin Lee asks very good questions and is quick on his feet in follow-up questioning. I would like to see Kelli Stavast loosen up a bit. She still comes across as a tad bit nervous. I keep saying it, but I’ll say it again – as good a job that Jon Beekhuis does in the pits, he does a much better job in the booth. My ideal NBCSN booth for 2015 would be Leigh Diffey (or Bob Varsha) alongside Jon Beekhuis and Paul Tracy.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the evening was David Hobbs in the booth. He is usually hilarious and gives a good perspective from his many years in many forms of racing. Instead, he gave the impression that he had not been following the Verizon IndyCar season much at all. When he did mention something, it sounded as if he was reading from the Media Guide instead of pulling something out of his head. He brought nothing to the table and just reiterated what his colleagues had just said.

Most annoying though, was his continued mispronunciation of “Castroneves” throughout the night. It was more like Castronevz; or that Helio’s last name was actually the plural form of Castroneve. Helio is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and has been driving Indy cars since 1998. I’m thinking Hobbs should have a better handle on how to pronounce his last name, by now.

Kimball Livery:  I’m sure it’s at the sponsor’s request, but I really don’t care for Charlie Kimball’s new livery that has been on the car since Houston. First of all, it looks way too much like the car of Carlos Muñoz. It is also an ugly shade of green. I thought his blue with orange trim that he had in the early part of this season was one of the best looking liveries in the paddock, aside from reminding me of the dreaded Florida Gators.

Here’s hoping that this is a temporary livery for some new version of their product and Kimball will be getting back to the more familiar blue & orange in the near future.

Busy Hands: I found it fascinating to watch the in-car camera view from Ed Carpenter’s car. Paul Tracy kept pointing out little signs that demonstrated how poorly Carpenter’s car was handling. Carpenter was very busy making adjustments throughout every lap on his steering wheel, which has become the electronic control center of the car. He was flipping this switch, and turning that knob, while holding down another switch. Oh, and by the way – he was also steering the car trying to thread his way through traffic. If you can’t multitask, you won’t be able to make it as an IndyCar driver in today’s world.

No Rhythm:  Shortly after the start of the race, the yellow came out for raindrops. As it started to rain harder, the red flag eventually came out. The drivers sat in their cars for twenty-six minutes on pit lane while they dried the track. Once they re-started the engines, it seemed the cars rode around behind the pace car for way too long. When they finally brought out the green flag on Lap 48, it lasted about five seconds as Mikhail Aleshin spun coming up to speed coming out of Turn Four and he collected Takuma Sato. That cleanup lasted until Lap 62. By that time, there was no rhythm to the race whatsoever.

From the start of the race up until that point, it seemed few thought that the race would go the distance, with the bad weather looming. Most were planning for a race to Lap 151 – just one lap past the halfway point. It wasn’t until after the restart on Lap 62 that the race settled in and developed any kind of rhythm. Once it did, it was very entertaining.

AJ, Part II:  After Aleshin and Sato got together, it was brought to our attention that the same two had tangled in Houston just two weeks earlier. When Sato’s car-owner AJ Foyt was interviewed again Saturday night, one couldn’t help but wonder if he would go on another profanity-laced tirade – just as he had done in Houston. He got the same message across that there were a bunch of idiots out there, but he cleaned it up to pass the television censors.

You hope that AJ can go on forever, if for no other reason than to spice up the TV broadcast.

Good for Iowa:  I read where our friend Pressdog said that locals that stayed away due to the threat of weather should have their Iowan cards revoked. He was there, so he had a much better perspective than I did, but the crowd looked good on television. I saw some empty seats, but I’ll yield to the Iowan that was on site.

It’s a shame that some stayed away. They missed a great event. Most of the Verizon Indy Car races we’ve watched at Iowa Speedway have been very entertaining, but this year’s race may have been my favorite. The cars put on a good show and all of the reports I read from those in attendance made it sound like it was a great event.

I’ve always said that this track was on my short list to attend in the near future. All Saturday night’s race did was make me want to go even more. Maybe next year?

All in All:  To be brief – I loved this race. Anyone who watched Saturday night’s race from start to finish and said they didn’t like it, just needs to pack their bags and go find another sport. To date, this has been my favorite race of the season – and my guy lost the race in the last two laps! And to use one of my overused words – it was enjoyable.

It also reinforced why ovals are important to the Verizon IndyCar Series and why more need to be added to the schedule. Ryan Hunter-Reay has won on two ovals this season and a natural terrain road course, and is now up to third in points. In order to be a contender for the championship in this series, you need to win at both.

Only thirty-two points separate Helio Castroneves and Hunter-Reay. Will Power sits only nine behind Helio. Throw in Simon Pagenaud who is fifty behind Castroneves, and it is shaping up to be quite an interesting points race heading down the stretch. This coming weekend, the series heads to Toronto for the last of the three double-header weekends. There will be a lot of points up for grabs. It’ll be interesting to see how different things look a week from today.

But getting back to the Iowa Corn Indy 300, you couldn’t ask for much improvement – except for a bigger crowd. Those that say the on-track product in this series is sub-par, are just looking for something to complain about. I would stack what we saw on Saturday night, up against the best that any other racing series has to offer. Saturday night’s race would win, hands down!

George Phillips

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14 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Iowa”

  1. This was another typical race at the Iowa Speedway, EXCELLENT! From a television viewers perspective this race had everything right going for it. David Hobbs is a terrific announcer and as for Paul Tracy, well, George you hit it. PT is terrific and what he says about the race and what is going on is something you can take to the bank.
    As for the attendance at Iowa, I don’t know if it is the sole responsibility of the track promoter of if the VICS should take some of the fault. I am not going to blame the rain because I understand that down the road the AAA Iowa Cubs had a sellout of 10,000.

  2. sejarzo Says:

    If I were running Iowa Speedway, I’d be doing whatever I could to convince Andersen to return the support series so Saturday gets back to a full day of activity (as it was in 2011 and 2012)…and the series to get the race on ABC on some Saturday night where it wouldn’t go up against NASCAR. There’s no better race on the current schedule to attract either the casual or crossover fan.

    • Ditto this. I know that Dan Anderson has said that he envisions the Road to Indy as having two ovals per year for USF2000, three for Pro Mazda, and four for Lights (I think those are his numbers, but maybe it was 1/2/3), but they all work just about perfectly at Iowa (the 2011 weekend at Iowa was awesome; I sat in Turn 1 with Pressdog and watched Josef Newgarden take everybody to school). If it were me, they’d all three run at Iowa and Milwaukee, USF2000 and Pro Mazda would also run at IRP for the Night Before show, and Lights would run at Indy (Freedom 100), Pocono, Texas and Fontana. That’s the proper proportion for the ladder, IMO.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    An excellent race by any standard, and a shining example of why it would be nice to have more short ovals on the schedule. Indycar’s short oval show puts on great racing at impressive speeds, which makes me look forward to Milwaukee all the more.

    On David Hobbs, I posted this on here after last year’s Milwaukee broadcast:
    “Hobbs did not add much to the broadcast beyond his name and likable demeanor, and would probably have been roasted if his name was Scott Goodyear. However, he was a guest, and he’s David Hobbs… we all like him and his accent.”
    That about sums it for Iowa on Saturday too. Hobbs was affable as always, and had a handful of entertaining things to say, but it appeared he did not much homework. In fairness, covering Indycar is not his “day job”, but after Steve Matchett’s well-informed turns in the Indycar booth, I think we’re expecting more.

    Now I didn’t find Hobbs consistent mispronunciation of Castroneves to be any worse than Diffey referring to “Honder” engines, Tony Kanaan’s consistent (and admitted) use of “Curt Calvin”, or Sam Posey’s “Mary-Oh” Andretti. Yes, it’s wrong and kinda annoying, but I know it is hard to avoid tripping over an accent. At least Hobbs wasn’t stumbling about like Harry Caray trying to pronounce Fernando Valenzuela’s name.

  4. I think the weather spooked off a lot of the walk-up. The whole county was in a tornado watch, and that had to have an impact. Plus everyone was tweeting TERRIFYING weather alerts and photos and the weather people here were losing their shit. Given the fact that Iowa Speedway (or any track that I can think of) doesn’t sell out for any race (including NASCAR), I believe more and more people are going to a day-of decision on if they are going to attend. I’ve said this many times, but I think the ticket value (as in what you get for what you pay) isn’t right at Iowa Speedway. Easy to say the race is awesome and it’s great … and it was … when you watch it on TV at home and don’t part with $60 per, plus food and beverage (does not include paddock access), to watch ONE race.

  5. Iowa was a really good race. Personally I really enjoyed Hobbs on the broadcast. I would like to see Varsha, Matchett, and Hobbs reunited with Paul Tracy added to the Indycar broadcasts. As for why it was a good race, I think the fact it had a fair number of cautions was incredibly important. If there had only been one caution, than Kanaan would have lapped everyone up to like 4th place and it would have been Pocono: Short Track Edition. Instead the cautions kept the field close and allowed Montoya to get back on the lead lap, which in turn led to some great racing. I do not support phantom cautions or wrecking for the sake of wrecking, but other than hating NASCAR, I’m not sure why some Indycar fans get so excited about caution free races, because they’re typically not good races. I liked seeing RHR win, but Newgarden winning would have been even better. Hopefully he gets it done later in the season, perhaps Milwaukee? RHR and JPM title hopes looked dead, but with Will and Helio falling on the last restart both drivers remain alive for the title. Simon is probably toast as his oval performance just isn’t that good.

    Last point though, just because Iowa was good, doesn’t mean Richmond/Nashville/Gateway/Dover/Bristol (yes I saw someone say that on twitter) would be good races. Remember Iowa has progressive banking and is set up a bit differently than most other short tracks. I want more ovals, but I’d be very skeptical of some of the shorter tracks which are often brought up.

    • Ballyhoo Says:

      Newgarden winning would have been amazing. I liked the contrast between Iowa and the larger ovals. Quite exciting,

      I agree with you George that Jon needs to be back in the booth. I happened on a race from 2012 on my DVR and I thought his commentary was excellent. PT gets better with each race. Do miss Bob Varsha.

  6. I made a comment about that low attendance at the race Saturday night and most disagreed with me on another website. I understand the weather hazard but why not go hang out in your car and then come back for the second half of the race? If you already purchased tickets why in the hell would you stay home? If you were purchasing tickets at the door why would you not go and wait and see what the weather does? Most thunderstorms usually clear out by evening time. I think people are lazy distracted and fickle (just like the weather) and the slightest threat of weather will deter people from attending a great evening of entertainment.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I agree with you and the weather dudes don’t help because they typically make an otherwise ordinary weather event seem like we should begin building an ark. In Milwaukee we have the inside guy with his “Viper Radar” and then an outside guy or gal standing out on a street corner who will look up and say “yeah, it’s really coming down here. Back to you Biff”. I just use my weather rock. If it is wet, it’s raining. If it is white, it’s snowing. If it is gone, head for the basement.

  7. You did not know fresh rubber would make that big of a difference because NBC and ABC don’t ever care to provide an adequete timing and scoring graphics. Would they just mimic F1 already? I don’t care about MPH, give me time differentials and lap times, constantly.

    How does Carpenter not get a blocking penalty on the Montoya move? That block made Helio proud. The day Carpenter retires will be a happy day in my home.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      You must not be familiar with who Eddie’s step-daddy is, hmmm?

      • Sherman Nelson Says:

        That’s enough! Carpenter has proven himself and there was no link to the call and TG. Frankly, to be jealous of people like Ed and his family background is petty.

  8. Phil Kaiser Says:

    I mean, if everyone can complain about Verizon and Will Power….

  9. Brian McKay Says:

    I’m usually late to comment. I would love to hear Bob Varsha, Jon Beekhuis, and Paul Tracy in the booths at EVERY IndyCar race, on ONE television channel. Again NBCSN provided GOOD videography, good direction, and wonderful Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee, and Paul Tracy. I don’t care for unprepared Hobbs or for Diffey mispronouncing many English words and many proper names. Also, I miss the ‘Professor B’ prerecorded ‘tech talk’ segments.

    Incidentally, Special Ed threw a late-race block party then played dumb as Slick Willy has done for years. He should have known that JPM was nearing, AND I suppose that ECR’s spotter radioed, “inside, inside, inside.”

    By the way, I might enjoy being a spotter — as long as I don’t suffer a lightning strike.

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