Random Thoughts On Texas
Apparently, the divide within the Verizon IndyCar Series is much deeper than I thought. Either that or my definition of a good race has veered from that of most IndyCar fans of today. Last week, I was slammed for being negative in my description of the races at Belle Isle and double-headers in general.
Saturday night, I watched the Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway. I was very entertained and was thinking to myself that this is more like it; only to get on social media after the race and see that most considered the race a snoozer.
How could that be? Did we all watch the same race? Do I now live in the bizarro world, where up is down and George Costanza says the opposite of whatever comes to his mind?
I saw where one person said that “Detroit in the rain was more entertaining than Texas” and “tire management just doesn’t do it for me” and that if “this is TMS, give us COTA (Circuit of the Americas in Austin)”. Another said, “Typical IndyCar. Take a great race like Texas and ruin it. I’m done”.
Then there was one that was apparently unhappy that Scott Dixon won by saying “Boring driver wins boring race”.
Finally, there was the wrap-up of “IndyCar at Texas Motor Speedway today is a NASCAR race without contact and way more extreme tire drop-off. Either you’re entertained by that, or you get flamed by the faithful.”
I’m not pointing out these quotes to flame anyone. In fact, the majority of them were made by someone, whose opinion I respect and I consider him a friend. And to be fair – he was one of the few that didn’t flame me for stating my opinions of the Detroit races last weekend.
I’m merely doing it to demonstrate the divide that exists today among what fans are looking for in a race.
To me, Saturday night’s race was pretty close to what I like in motorsports. There was an array of downforce choices that teams and drivers had to make. Tire management did play a major part in planning their strategy. Some drivers were overruled by their teams in what they thought would be the best choice – including winning driver Scott Dixon, who would have preferred a lower downforce setting.
Why is tire management so boring? It’s part of the overall strategy. Those that went with less downforce saw their tires go away in the latter portions of their stint. That explains how pole-sitter Will Power was four laps down at the end of the race. Of course, this was greatly exaggerated by the fact there was only one caution period for the night – for debris on Lap 84.
That brings up another point that I found so appealing about Saturday night’s race – there were no crashes, nor pack racing. There was just good, hard racing. As close as some of the racing was, the drivers raced each other cleanly. During the post-race show, they all emphasized how much respect they all have for each other – even Juan Montoya, who is not known for being warm-and-fuzzy with his fellow competitors.
If you were looking for spectacular crashes that were worthy for SportsCenter, you were watching the wrong race. If you wanted to see hard, but clean, racing all around the track throughout the night – this was the race for you.
It started out with Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves running side-by-side for several laps. Many times, I held my breath as they looked like they may touch. They didn’t. It was the same with Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe later in the race. There were battles like that all around the track throughout the night.
Two or three times, Kanaan made bold passes for the lead. Although it wasn’t like the record-setting multiple lead changes we saw at Indianapolis a couple of years ago; there were fourteen lead changes among nine drivers. Most of the leaders were actual contenders and did not lead simply as a result of the cycling of pit stops.
Towards the end, things stabilized up front. The only late-race drama that had the potential to unfold never materialized. Marco Andretti was on a fuel-saving strategy to make one less stop than Dixon would have to make. It didn’t pan out, because Marco used up his tires in the process. Marco finished fifth and was lucky to remain on the lead lap.
Scott Dixon won comfortably over teammate Tony Kanaan, who came in second – 7.8 seconds behind. Helio Castroneves came in third, in front of points-leader Juan Montoya. Andretti’s fifth place finish was the highest for a Honda; who did manage to place five cars in the Top-Ten, albeit mostly in the bottom half.
TV Coverage: I thought that NBCSN’s pre-race coverage was outstanding. There weren’t cheerleading segments for the series, but some very insightful interviews instead.
Although some considered it morbid, I thought that Robin Miller’s interview with AJ Foyt regarding his mortality was frank and refreshingly candid. Instead of tearing up when discussing his brush with death, AJ was his typical self in bluntly saying none of us have a say-so in when it’s time to go. He laughed it off. He also revealed that he is still very weak, but would still lay somebody out if he had to. Foyt also did not mince words when he said that Honda was out to lunch with their aero-package.
I was not as thrilled about NBCSN during their race-coverage. It’s not their fault, but Brian Till and Townsend Bell sound too much alike. I can’t tell who is saying what. I’m not sure that really matters, so long as it’s getting said, but I found it a little confusing. I did think that the “bet” between Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy got a little tiresome. Tracy had predicted the choice for higher downforce would be the correct one, while Bell said he would opt for less downforce had he been driving. Tracy ended up with the correct call, but they carried their little private contest to the point of being almost important as the race itself. That’s what happens when announcers think they are as big as the event itself – as in the case of Darrell Waltrip.
Unless I missed it, the NBCSN crew failed to ever mention what the lone caution of the night was for. I had to look it up on Twitter for the Official IndyCar page to tell me that it was for debris on the front stretch.
I also wish that Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider would lose the NASCAR jargon. In IndyCar, understeer is referred to as “push”. NASCAR calls the same condition as the car being “tight”. Whenever I hear the word “tight” I always have to stop and think what that means. When I hear “push”, it’s automatic. It’s the same thing with the trucks that carry the cars. IndyCar has transporters. NASCAR has haulers. Leave “tight” and “hauler” for the NASCAR side of their motorsports coverage.
They had a lot of time to fill at the end of their coverage window. I thought they did a good job of giving us insightful interviews and timely replays during the twenty minutes or so of down time.
All in all, I would give their complete coverage a B, but only because of their pre-race and post-race coverage.
Surprise Appearance: Apparently, we at home were not the only one surprised by the person chosen to give the command to start engines. Teams and drivers seemed genuinely shocked at a video of James Hinchcliffe standing in his home. He talked freely and openly about his accident and the support he has gotten; even joking that he hasn’t been getting a lot of action lately, before saying “Drivers, Start Your Engines!” It was a very neat moment and was a good way to start things off.
Why the Delay? Not only did NBCSN never tell us the reason for the caution on Lap 84 (debris), they also failed to mention why it took thirteen laps to go back to green. A random shot of a sweeper in Turn Three told me they were taking the opportunity to sweep the track, but nothing was mentioned about that ever. Does it really take thirteen laps to sweep the turns?
Pippa Performance: Was Pippa Mann really in this race? She was, but you’d never know it by NBCSN. Other than a shot of Tony Kanaan putting her a lap down early in the race, there was not a single mention of her all night.
From what I could see following the scroll at the top of my screen, she drove a very solid race. She started twenty-second and finished seventeenth. I saw her as high as fourteenth, but that could have been a result of pit stop cycling. She did sit as high as a legitimate sixteenth for most of the race.
Most importantly, she finished and brought the car home in one piece. Although she technically started at Texas in 2013, her car caught fire at the end of the first lap and her evening was done. She tweeted after the race that she had learned a ton throughout the night and she hoped for another chance later in the season. I would hope that Dale Coyne could put her in the car for some or all of the upcoming ovals at Fontana, Iowa, Milwaukee and Pocono. I think she’s earned a couple of more shots.
Super-sub Tandem: It looks like Sam Schmidt may have found a good one-two punch until James Hinchcliffe is fit to return. Conor Daly performed well at Detroit last weekend and Ryan Briscoe has done an outstanding job at Indianapolis and Texas, where he finished eighth after starting nineteenth. Briscoe was very racy throughout the night.
Daly has already been confirmed for this weekend at Toronto, while Briscoe will be at Le Mans driving for Corvette. I don’t know if it will work out where Briscoe drives the ovals and Daly drives street and road courses, or if Briscoe’s sports cars commitments limit him too much. But between the two of them, the No.5 car of James Hinchcliffe has been in good hands.
No Answers: It seems that the biggest losers in the transitions to oval kits have been CFH Racing and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden both had bad crashes at Indianapolis and were completely lost this weekend at Texas. I’m no engineer, but they are the only Chevy team that has struggled with their oval package. Some would say KV has, but their drivers are not exactly suited for ovals, so it’s hard to judge them. They need to figure out something fast, because there are four more ovals coming up in the next two months.
Although Andretti Autosport has lagged behind the Rahal and Schmidt teams in their development of the Honda aero kit; Ryan Hunter-Reay has lagged behind even his fellow Andretti teammates. He is having a horrible season that looks to only get worse. One thing I’ve noticed about Hunter-Reay is that when things aren’t going well, he can become his own worst enemy. Remember his legendary brooding in a Vision or Foyt car? That’s the RHR we are seeing now. Most things in life improve with an attitude adjustment. I would think that racing is no different.
Was That a Joke? If you watched Saturday night’s race live, you probably saw the ad for Sunoco’s new fragrance Burnt Rubber. I actually Googled it, to learn that it s a fragrance that has been advertised in NASCAR. I guess that shows how much I watch NASCAR.
This ad featured Graham Rahal and a blonde woman who may or may not be his fiancée Courtney Force – it was hard to tell. Whoever it was seemed to enjoy sniffing Graham Rahal’s driving suit, while snooping around in his motor coach. She looked happy to see Graham get out of the shower.
The whole thing seemed a little creepy and I wasn’t sure if this was an actual product or some type of spoof marketing for IndyCar. Whatever the case, I sort of scratched my head every time I saw it.
All in All: One of the things that make the Verizon IndyCar Series so appealing is the diversity of its tracks. Temporary street circuits, natural terrain road courses, giant superspeedways, intermediate ovals and short ovals make up the schedule. There is something there for everyone. While many loved what we saw at Detroit last week, Saturday night’s race was more of my cup of tea.
Unless you were looking for death-defying crashes or pack racing, this race had it all. There was magnificent driving skill on display that made outstanding look ordinary. Multiple strategies were implemented and it was interesting to see which one would work. No matter what strategy was tried, tire management had to be taken into account before anything else would work.
In the end, the Ganassi team made all the right calls, as their full-time drivers finished first, second and seventh. The points race of those chasing Juan Montoya also tightened up, setting the stage for an interesting summer.