Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio
Two weeks ago, I summed up the Toronto weekend with one word – exhausting. If I am to sum up yesterday’s win by Scott Dixon at Mid-Ohio in one word, that word would be – incredible. The fact that Dixon won a Verizon IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course isn’t incredible. After all, he had won two of the past three and four of the last seven going into the weekend – so he obviously knew his way around the place. But it’s the way he won yesterday’s race that makes this one so special.
After a spin in wet weather during qualifying, Scott Dixon had to start dead last yesterday on a track where passing is very difficult, to say the least. Sure, a timely yellow allowed the race to come to him – but that’s what separates great teams from good teams – they make the most out of every opportunity handed to them.
When Ryan Hunter-Reay spun on Lap 36, almost the entire field pitted – except for Scott Dixon. Due to their poor starting position, Dixon and race-strategist Mike Hull were forced to gamble – trading a full load of fuel for track position. Dixon led at the restart, but you figured his time was limited up front – at least I did. Surprisingly, he was able to set a quick pace and still save fuel. Once Dixon reassumed the lead after the final round of pit stops, the inevitable seemed incredible.
As good as Dixon is at Mid-Ohio, and other tracks for that matter, I never really gave him a prayer for even a top-five – much less a victory. Not at that track, when passing opportunities are so limited. But Dixon pulled it off, showing that not only is he one of the best in the business – but so is Mike Hull. In case you needed any further proof, Mike Hull showed that he is one of the cagiest minds in the paddock. Chip Ganassi knows this. That’s why he quickly yielded the floor to Hull during the post-race interview.
I’ve always enjoyed watching races at Mid-Ohio, although they generally aren’t very exciting. Lately, they’ve not been exciting at all. Even though yesterday’s race didn’t provide much edge-of-your-seat excitement; there were many wheel-to-wheel battles for position that could have led to disaster, but instead showcased the skill of the drivers involved to not lead to a crash. Then, there was Dixon’s drive. It was worth tuning in just to witness one of the most incredible drives to the front I’ve seen in quite a while. It was made even more incredible by the fact that he ran out of fuel just three-hundred yards past the finish line.
TV Coverage: Never in a million years did I ever think I would say this, but I missed Paul Tracy. As little as I cared for him throughout his driving career, I’ve become a big fan of his as a broadcaster. After him being in the booth for the past few races, his presence was missed this weekend. I enjoy David Hobbs on Formula One broadcasts, but not as much on IndyCar telecasts. I will say this – he did a much better job yesterday than he did at Iowa, when he seemed out of his element and appeared to have not done his homework. Except for continuing to say Castronevz for Helio’s last name, I had no issues with Dobbs – I just think I would have preferred PT in the booth.
I was also not thrilled to see Marty Snider return to the pits at the expense of Jon Beekhuis. Kelli Stavast seems to be getting more comfortable in this role and provided a good segment on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Graham Rahal out on maneuvers with the National Guard.
Finally, a Shout-Out: If you are a regular listener to Trackside, you’ve no doubt heard Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee practically beg winners of the ride in the Honda two-seater to start each race, to give them a shout-out. I’m not sure how long they’ve been asking for it, but I’d say it has been at least three years, maybe more.
Yesterday, they finally got their wish. The winner was a gentleman from Indianapolis. As they interviewed him in the car, he said he wanted to say hi to his wife and kids, and also to Curt and Kevin. I have an idea, he might get a little more airtime when they host their show tonight from 7-9 EDT.
Heartbreak for Newgarden: For those that don’t think that racing is a team sport, you needn’t look any further for proof than the last pit stop of the day for Josef Newgarden. No one controlled their own destiny more than Newgarden. He was fast all day. In the early stages, he was the only one to keep pace with Sébastien Bourdais. Then when Dixon was out front, Newgarden was right there with him. His team, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, knew that Dixon was trying to save fuel, so their strategy was to force Dixon to run faster than he wanted to and theoretically run him out of fuel.
We’ll never know if it would have worked. Dixon did have to pit on Lap 62, and Newgarden assumed the lead. For three laps, he checked out. Newgarden was driving a picture-perfect race – until he pitted on Lap 65. That’s where Newgarden’s dream of getting that elusive first win, turned into a nightmare.
At first glance, it appeared the right-rear tire-changer had stumbled and gotten himself tangled up in the air-hose. Newgarden’s car sat for what seemed like an eternity before the pit-stop was completed. Even after all the pit-stops cycled through, he had gone from first to sixth. It got worse.
A closer look revealed that the air-hose had been left out, forcing Newgarden to either run over it or maneuver around it, which would have put his car too far out from the fuel tank. Running over it caused the tension that jerked the tire-changer down. It also caused a drive-through penalty for running over pit equipment. Newgarden’s brilliant day was done. He finished twelfth.
The question is; why was the hose left out there in the first place? Is that not part of the duties of every crewmember, to make sure that there is nothing to impede their driver’s path?
I’ve read several say that explains the difference between the Penske’s and Ganassi’s of the world compared to everyone else. I understand that money and resources attracts the top talent – not just in drivers, but with crewmembers. But do you have to be paid top-dollar, before you won’t overlook the little things? It’s generally the little things that make the difference in success and failure – whether we’re talking racing, football or the business world. I’m a big fan of Sarah Fisher and her racing team, but what happened with that air-hose yesterday is inexcusable
To Newgarden’s credit, he was all class in his post-race interview. He blamed no one and seemingly laughed it off as one of those things that just happen. But you know the Nashville native was crushed on the inside, to see a podium finish and possible win snatched away due to someone’s bungling and incompetence. Newgarden is a free-agent after this season. If any seats open up, it’s things like what happened yesterday that may force Newgarden to jump from the small team that gave him his start. I’d like to see him stay at SFHR, but I couldn’t blame him if he left.
New Month for Kanaan: Tony Kanaan had a July to remember. Although he finished eleventh at Pocono, he ran up front all day before his team took a foolish gamble that backfired. Still, he proved to himself, his new employer and the fans that he was still to be considered one of the very best. He backed that up with three straight podium finishes to close out July.
Well, now it’s August. Kanaan was cautiously optimistic for yesterday’s race. He felt his third place qualifying result may have been artificially inflated due to the rain on Saturday. He felt his car was not very good in the dry conditions for Sunday. It didn’t matter. Kanaan was out after one turn. He may or may not have been taken out by Josef Newgarden. He may or may not have gotten into the curbing. Regardless, his spin triggered an opening lap melee that also took out Marco Andretti.
Now that his teammate, Scott Dixon, has won this season – I would personally like to see Kanaan get a win for his new employer also. If not, I hope he can put together a string like he had in July for the final three races.
Helio’s Implosion: I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve seen Helio Castroneves leading the points late in the season, only to suffer a late season implosion. If yesterday is any indication, we may be seeing another one unfold. That’s not always a knock on Helio or his mental toughness. At times, his team has let him down. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than bad luck.
Last season, his gearbox failed him twice in two days at the double-header in Houston. Yesterday, a throttle sensor went bad just as his engine was fired prior to the race. Castroneves was finally able to join the race, albeit four laps down. Little attrition in the race led to a nineteenth-place finish. All things considered, Helio is very lucky to be only four points out of the points lead, behind new leader Will Power.
The Unwanted Championship: It still seems as if this is a championship that nobody wants. Going into the weekend, I said that although many drivers were still mathematically alive – only four drivers had a real shot to win the championship; Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud. That’s still the case, but none of the four drivers had a good weekend.
I’ve already discussed Helio’s woes yesterday, but the other three had forgettable weekends. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a careless pit-lane speed violation that set him back, once he acknowledged the drive-through penalty. Then he had the spin in Turn Eleven on Lap 36. If you are in contention for a championship, you can’t have pit-lane speed violations. It’s careless mistakes like that that has kept Will Power within the reach of others. Had Power not had his multiple infractions and subsequent penalties, he would have a very comfortable lead. His carelessness has kept this championship interesting.
Speaking of Power, he had the best day of the contenders with a very unremarkable sixth-place finish. That’s how he was able to make up ground on Helio. Had Castroneves had a solid day, Power would probably be twenty to thirty points back today.
Simon Pagenaud was quiet for most of the day, like his other fellow championship contenders. He dealt with an ill-handling car all day and finished a very unremarkable ninth.
Surely someone will grab this championship by the neck and act like they want it. So far, it hasn’t happened. If things continue as they are, I’m afraid that the ultimate winner will have simply backed into it without actually doing anything to close the deal. By Fontana, the contenders may be driving to not lose the championship instead of trying to win it. That never turns out well.
All in All: As I said Friday, the recent racing at Mid-Ohio has been dull. The track configuration just doesn’t lend itself to a lot of passing. But yesterday’s race seemed to give us more passing than usual and was quite entertaining.
But the clinic that Scott Dixon put on was something to behold. I saw comments made after the race saying that any race that Dixon wins is boring. I disagree. He is just so smooth and tactical, that he makes it look effortless when his car is right. By going from last to first yesterday, I’d say his car was right. His drive was incredible!