Random Thoughts On Iowa
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!