Random Thoughts On Long Beach
Cynics will say that yesterday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was a boring race because there was only one yellow and the only pass for the lead all day took place in the pits. I will counter that it was a clean and exciting race throughout the day for that final spot on the podium.
The cynics will say that there is nothing exciting about Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing finishing ahead of the two Team Penske cars of Helio Castroneves and Juan Montoya, respectively. I will counter that three different winners from three different teams in the first three races is very exciting – especially when you consider that everything we saw from St. Petersburg would indicate that Team Penske was going to dominate the season.
The Verizon IndyCar Series needed a race like this. After the carnage we witnessed at St. Petersburg and the poor driving that was on display at NOLA, a clean race in front of packed stands in a huge market is exactly what the doctor ordered.
It now seems that order has been restored in the IndyCar universe. Suddenly, it seems that the drivers have realized that they can no longer get away with banging these cars against each other. Gabby Chaves, Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato at the very end may have been the only drivers to suffer damage to the front or rear of the cars. There may have been more, but that’s all my feeble brain can recall at the moment. That’s a good thing, since spare parts are still very scarce in these early days of the aero kits.
While it’s true that Scott Dixon’s pass for the lead took place on Lap Thirty as Helio Castroneves was held up in the pits by traffic; there was a lot of good racing going on behind the two of them for third place. Juan Montoya and Simon Pagenaud had a very spirited battle for the final ten laps of the race. In the waning laps, Tony Kanaan and Sébastien Bourdais looked as if they may be ready to pounce in case the two Penske teammates took each other out. In the end, it was Montoya and Pagenaud finishing third and fourth, as Kanaan and Bourdais finished fifth and sixth.
Nashvillian Josef Newgarden finished seventh after running fifth for most of the day. By finishing eighth, Marco Andretti was the highest finishing Honda – underscoring the problems that the Japanese manufacturer has faced in the first three races. Carlos Muñoz and Sebastian Saavedra rounded out the Top Ten.
Casual fans tuning in may not have been sitting on the edge of their seats, but this was one for the die-hards. That’s not a bad thing because we’re important too. While new fans are vital for the future of this sport, you need to keep the die-hards happy. We are the ones that have sustained this sport through the years and are the ones keeping it going. We need to be entertained also.
And that’s what this race was – entertaining. I have used that word before to describe races and have been told that my definition of entertaining was off-base. That may be, but since I was the one entertained – I’m the one that can use it.
TV Coverage: Although I’m partial to the NBCSN crew, I wouldn’t say this was their finest race weekend. Brian Till is OK at best, as a race announcer. I think he does a better job as a pit reporter. In the qualifying show, I got the feeling that Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy had been told to disagree a lot with each other to add spice. The result was a lot of arguing that seemed contrived and manufactured. If there are dissenting views, that’s great – but don’t argue on the air and take opposite sides for entertainment value. I can get that on any current reality TV show.
I don’t know if there is any pecking order among the pit reporters at NBCSN, but Kevin Lee is the consummate professional. He is pleasant, but not giddy – and he always gets to the facts. If he is not already, he should be the No.1 pit reporter. I’ve really grown to like Kelli Stavast, but her microphone was going in and out a couple of times. As is the case with Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast comes across as very likable
Unlike Lee and Stavast, there is something very unlikable about Marty Snider. Last week at NOLA, we were in the pits during the entire race and saw all three pit reporters as they worked. Susan and I both observed the behavior of all three, when they were off-camera and interacting with the crew that follows them. Lee and Stavast seemed to get along with their crew very well on and off-camera. When the camera was on, Snider would flash a smile. But when it was off, he seemed gruff, arrogant and aloof. I’ll be glad when the NBC portion of the NASCAR schedule starts up and Snider will give way to Jon Beekhuis, who really brings a nice technical slant to the broadcast.
I was sorry to hear that Paul Tracy will not be in the booth next week at Barber. As brash and controversial as he was in his driving days, I’ve really grown to like PT as an analyst. I’m not sure if this is one conflict or if Tracy is not yet full-time. But he needs to be. Dan Wheldon was great in the booth the summer after he won Indianapolis and showed us that he had a future after racing. Tragically, that didn’t pan out. But Tracy has been a very pleasant surprise. NBCSN should try to get him into the booth as much as possible.
A New Low: I’ve been chastised over the years, for my criticism of some of the bad renditions of our National Anthem we have had to endure. Our good friend, Pressdog, has been one of the most vocal about me and others who feel the need to comment.
To me, the National Anthem is important and should be treated with respect. I’m not saying it has to be solemn or played completely straight. But if you are going to stylize it, it had better be good and you need to have the talent to back it up.
Yesterday’s rendition by James Maslow may have been the worst I’ve ever heard. Not just the worst before an IndyCar race – the worst I’ve ever heard anywhere. It was painful to listen to.
When I tweeted out how horrible I thought it was, Pressdog tweaked my nose by saying if I had the stones, I should get up there and sing it. My response was that I had not been asked, but I would do it and would do it much better than (Maslow).
Someone else asked if I ever liked any rendition? The answer is yes. I’ve complimented many of the performers that IndyCar has had that have done a good job. In fact, about an hour before the race telecast started yesterday – I heard one of the most soul-stirring renditions you will ever hear. Our Nashville Predators were playing at the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday. Their longtime performer, Jim Cornelison, performed the National Anthem as only he can. If you want to get a quick dose of goose bumps, check out this video of him performing the National Anthem at Soldier Field on the ten-year anniversary of 9-11.
Few performers can match his talent, but few could be as bad as James Maslow was. He is supposedly a professional singer. I believe most amateurs would far surpass that effort we endured yesterday.
A Blessing in Disguise: Dale Coyne does things different than most owners. After several stable seasons with Justin Wilson, he put Francesco Dracone in the No.19 for four races. Then this past Friday, we learned that the funding that Carlos Huertas had for the No.18 car fell through. If Dracone wasn’t enough of a curious choice, Coyne announced that Rocky Moran, Jr. would be in the No.18 car at Long Beach.
Moran, Jr. is thirty-five years old and has not driven any type of an open-wheel car since 2005 – and had never raced an Indy car before. In Friday’s first practice, Moran, Jr. was still 1.3 seconds faster than Dracone, which demonstrates just how off the pace Dracone is. In the second practice, Moran,Jr crashed with Carlos Muñoz. Although Moran didn’t know it at the time, his thumb was broken – effectively ending his weekend.
Enter Conor Daly. Fans have been clamoring for Daly to be in a car. He is the son of Derek Daly and the stepson of IMS President Doug Boles. He has one IndyCar start – the 2013 Indianapolis 500, when he drove a second car for AJ Foyt. It has been frustrating to see the young and very talented driver be left on the sidelines due to a lack of funding – while drivers like Dracone and others are running simply because they bring a big check.
But the break in the thumb of Rocky Moran, Jr. turned out to be the break that Conor Daly needed. He had one practice on Saturday morning, before qualifying a car he had never driven before, with a borrowed seat that didn’t fit him. Daly showed everyone what most already knew. The kid’s got talent. He took what has been a slow car this season, with minimal seat time and brought it home, moving up four spots to finish seventeenth in the process. In the meantime, his teammate Dracone finished four spots behind him, two laps down.
Daly is rumored to be in line for Sam Schmidt’s third car at Indianapolis, which would be a good one-off ride for him. Hopefully, his exposure to Long Beach will finally lead to more opportunities this season and a full-time IndyCar ride for next year.
Lime-Green Sunglasses: OK, I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy – but what is it with the lime green sunglasses? Juan Montoya and Scott Dixon made sure they were prominently displayed in interviews and on the podium. It seems as though I saw someone else with them, but again – this feeble brain fails me.
I’m assuming that some eyewear company is paying a hefty price for them to look ridiculous wearing them. Let’s hope so. I’d hate to think that this was a sudden coincidence of similar bad taste.
Giving Credit When Due: Most know that I am not a Sebastian Saavedra fan. After he ditched Bryan Herta’s Indy Lights team years ago in mid-season, I’ve never liked the guy. I took great pleasure in seeing teammate Pippa Mann qualify as a rookie for the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, while the full-time Saavedra couldn’t make it into the field.
When it looked as if he was going to be sitting on the sidelines for 2015, I considered it good-riddance.
After it was announced that Sage Karam was out of the No.8 car for Chip Ganassi at Long Beach and Saavedra was in, I just figured that Ganassi had gone from one destructive driver to another.
But I couldn’t help but be impressed with Saavedra’s performance yesterday. He had not driven a car since last August and had never driven either of the new aero kits. Yet, he qualified eleventh and finished tenth. He was racy all day and kept his nose clean in the process. It makes me think that under that unlikable exterior, there may be a talented driver after all. Good for him!
Bad Day For Power: While Will Power was fast in practice, he got caught in the pits when the red flag came out in the first round of qualifying. He was relegated to starting eighteenth in yesterday’s race. His race went from bad to worse when he got caught behind a slowed Luca Filippi entering the pits. In a moment of confusion, Power stalled the car. He finished twentieth and dropped to sixth in the points standings – thirty-nine points behind points-leader Juan Montoya.
To Power’s credit, he took full responsibility for the mess he’s in. He could have blamed his crew or Filippi or anyone else for that matter. Instead, he manned up and said the whole thing was on him. You’ve got to like someone who does that.
Gray-Beards Excel: Being very long-in-the-tooth myself, it’s very comforting to check the points standings and see that the Top-Three are either approaching or already past the age of forty. Points leader Juan Montoya is the baby of the Top-Three. He’ll turn forty in September. Helio Castroneves sits second in points and will turn forty this May. Third place Tony Kanaan turned forty this past New Year’s Eve. Scott Dixon is fourth and is a mere babe who will turn thirty-five this summer. Who said this was a young man’s game?
Good-Luck Charm: Scott Dixon had gotten his season off to a slow start. After finishing fifteenth at St. Petersburg, he followed up with a very forgettable eleventh place finish at NOLA. He asked his wife, Emma Davies Dixon, to come out to Long Beach to change his fortunes and bring him some good luck.
It obviously worked, as Dixon won the race easily. For many reasons, I think if I were Scott Dixon – I would have Emma attend every race weekend from here on out.
All in All: The race was a good show for the fans in attendance. The fans of southern California certainly turn out for this race, and yesterday was no exception. It was good that they weren’t treated to the series of yellow-flags that the fans in New Orleans got for their inaugural event.
The IndyCar drivers showed that they do know how to race hard, but race cleanly with each other. Now let’s hope they can continue to keep things clean heading to Barber and into the month of May.