Random Thoughts On Milwaukee
A couple of weeks ago, I drew the ire of more than a few when I said this was a championship that no one seemed to want. Of course, I was exaggerating at the time. Why would a driver not want to win the championship? But at that time, no one was emerging as a clear-cut front-runner. That is no longer the case.
With only two races remaining, Will Power has separated himself from the pack with a dominating performance yesterday, while winning the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250.
The pack itself has gotten smaller, also. Although he is still mathematically alive, Ryan Hunter-Reay pretty much saw his championship chances dry up when he suffered a suspension/drive-train problem on Lap 168. Simon Pagenaud slid into third place in points, but sits ninety-two points behind Power. Helio Castroneves had a very forgettable weekend and is now thirty-nine points out of first. It’s possible that Pagenaud can still win, but a lot of bad things have to happen to Power and Helio Castroneves and Pagenaud has to probably win one of the two remaining races. It’s a tall order, but it is still possible.
As far as yesterday’s race goes, it entertained me, but I’m a die-hard. It was not the most scintillating race that I’ve seen. If I knew very little about racing, I’m not sure I would have watched from start to finish. It’s a strange phenomenon on the ovals this year. Except for Iowa, every oval race this season has gone beyond the halfway point before the first caution period.
Let me make this clear…I am not saying I enjoy crashes in racing. But long drawn out green-flag stints can get a little monotonous. The cars spread out and the situation does not induce a lot of passing. Not only is it tough on drivers to go with no breaks, the teams have more pressure on them to get a green-flag pit stop done properly. It’s also even a little tough on fans. At this year’s Indianapolis 500, when the first 150 laps were run caution-free; I never dared leave my seat to make a quick restroom run or to get a bite to eat. In the first half of yesterday’s race; I was afraid to run into the kitchen, for fear I may miss something.
Last year, I was chastised for claiming that the DW-12 must be way too easy to drive. I’m not saying that I could jump in and get one up to speed, but for these talented drivers – I still wonder how much of a challenge they are. Otherwise, I think we would have seen more than one caution yesterday, which was for a rookie brushing the Turn Four wall. Most of these drivers did not look like they had their hands full yesterday.
But that is not to take away from the performance of Will Power and Team Penske. They gave him a car that was far superior to the others and he drove it masterfully. Tony Kanaan and Juan Montoya gave him something to think about at various times of the race. Other than that, Power was never threatened.
From qualifying on the pole, to leading 229 laps including the one that mattered – Will Power completely dominated and showed everyone that he is serious about taking charge in this title hunt. He has come a long way from the driver that, at one time, was considered very vulnerable on ovals. I always felt like his win at Texas in 2011 should have an asterisk by it because it was really only half of a race. But he looked strong at Fontana last season and was outstanding yesterday as he won his first short oval. His resume is now looking more and more complete. A championship appears to be in his near future, which would leave only one gap in his growing legacy – a win in the Indianapolis 500.
TV Coverage: NBCSN may be a victim of their own success. Week in and week out, they do such an excellent job that it is now expected. When they first came on the scene, they were head-and-shoulders above what we had grown accustomed to over on ABC/ESPN. Now, when they maintain that excellence – it no longer seems extraordinary. That is even more the case now that ESPN has closed the gap by placing Allen Bestwick in the booth and trying to vastly improve their broadcasts.
That’s a long way of saying that NBCSN did it’s usual good job. There was nothing that I thought was outstanding or horrible. Maybe I should pop in a tape from 2005 and watch a Todd Harris IndyCar broadcast to make me appreciate how far the broadcasts have come.
The Crowd: For a few days leading up to the Milwaukee IndyFest, it sounded like there was going to be a massive increase from last year. Moving the race to mid-August meant that the race would follow on the heels of the Wisconsin State Fair, which ended last week.
I kept hearing how the weather was cooperating perfectly, the attractions and activities were bigger and better and that this was a resurgence in the making. It may have been, but for the life of me – I couldn’t tell that the stands held any more people than last year’s race. I may be wrong, but the stands looked fairly sparse to me. I know Andretti Sports Marketing has worked very hard to create an affordable family oriented festival-like atmosphere with the sole purpose of drawing more people to the track.
At some point, Michael Andretti will throw his hands up in the air and decide it’s no longer worth it. As it was with Pocono, which is two hours from New York City and Philadelphia – surely there are enough IndyCar fans in those markets to make the trek to Pocono. The Milwaukee Mile sits pretty close to downtown Milwaukee. If that can’t draw enough people – Chicago is a straight shot down I-94. I would guess that Indianapolis is only five hours away. The Midwest is the hotbed for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Why do so few in the Midwest show up for live races?
Next Year: Fortunately, it will be at least a year before Michael Andretti decides he’s had enough. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that the race and the event are already confirmed to return next season, again slotted in the mid-to-late August time period. That’s good for a lot of reasons. It allows the promoter (Andretti) more time to get more sponsors on board for next year. They can also take more time to examine what worked and what didn’t this year and perfect the entire event.
It also helps teams that are working on next year’s budgets and sponsorships to show potential sponsors what markets are already confirmed for next season, since the sanctioning body will probably not release next year’s schedule for quite a while, even though it used to come out before Labor Day every season. There’s nothing like a little limbo to help convince a sponsor to sign on.
Stability at Andretti Autosport: Although Ryan Hunter-Reay had a disastrous weekend on the track, it was announced yesterday morning that Hunter-Reay and primary sponsor DHL would be returning to Andretti Autosport through the 2017 season. It always promotes stability to have the defending Indianapolis 500 winner returning with the same team and colors the next year. Four times over the past decade, the defending 500 champion has not returned the next year with the same team for a variety of reasons. It’ll be good to see RHR in a yellow DHL car for at least three more seasons.
Joining Forces: Probably the biggest news coming out of Milwaukee was Saturday’s announcement that Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing would be joining forces to form a two-car team known as CFH Racing. This will be a win-win for all involved. SFHR co-owner Wink Hartman says that one-car teams are going the way of the dinosaur. He’s right. In this day and age, teams need at least two cars to gather and share data. The only question is whether they will run the Chevy engine that Ed Carpenter has been running for the past three years, or will they be going with the Honda that Sarah Fisher has been associated with since she started her own team in 2008. I’ve heard speculation either way that make good cases for both; but it’s just that – speculation. Stay tuned.
All in all: There were a lot of reasons to call yesterday’s race “boring”. There was only one yellow, which made the field get strung out. There were nine lead changes among only four drivers, with Power leading 229 of 250. That spells total domination, which spells low ratings.
But for a die-hard IndyCar fan, you had to marvel at the transformation that Will Power has undergone from Pocono to today. The brain-fades and wild-eyed stares have been replaced by a focus that is as determined as I’ve seen for a while. Will Power started the season strong, then wandered off into la-la land for a few months. But he is back and took a huge step this weekend towards earning his first championship and only the second for Team Penske in almost a decade. I don’t see him allowing any brain-fades to cloud his focus over the next two races. He seems to want it now.