Do The Big Teams Win Too Much?
More than ever, it seems that there is such a strong sentiment against a Penske or Ganassi car winning a race in the Verizon IndyCar Series, that some say it is turning people away from the series in general.
I can understand the hatred against one team or the other or even both, but why would that make anyone say they want to stop watching due to the dominance of these two teams – especially this season? Out of the ten races that have been run so far this season; there have been seven different winners among six different teams. Josef Newgarden and CFH Racing now have as many wins as Chip Ganassi Racing.
Do people not remember the 2009 season, when all but one race was won by either a Penske or Ganassi car? Dale Coyne and Justin Wilson broke up the “red car” party at Watkins Glen. Otherwise, it would have been a clean sweep between those two teams – and that was back when there were only two full-time drivers for Penske and Ganassi each.
My question is – do dynasties help or hurt the sport of auto racing?
In all honesty, I don’t know the answer to the question. I’m also probably not the best person to even comment on this, since I’m an admitted long-time fan of Team Penske.
Being a fan of one of those teams makes it interesting, because you want to beat the other team. I’ve been in a quandary the last couple of years, because I’m a big Tony Kanaan fan but not a Ganassi fan. I don’t hate Chip Ganassi Racing. I never have. But in a head-to-head competition against Penske, I’ll pull for the Penske driver almost every time. Kanaan’s presence on Ganassi’s team has changed my stance somewhat.
I notice that these fans that are clamoring for Penske and Ganassi to lose every weekend don’t seem to have the same disdain for Andretti Autosport. Perhaps it’s because they have such an erratic history of being up and down since Michael Andretti bought Team Green and moved them over from CART in 2003. They have won four championships and three Indianapolis 500’s in that time, but they have also experienced some dismal seasons as well – like the one they are currently going through.
But if you are not a fan of either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing, does that make IndyCar unwatchable? Penske and Ganassi cars have won five of the ten races this season. That means underdog teams have won the other five. To me, that’s a pretty good ratio.
I understand the argument for parity, but if a different team or driver won every week – does that dilute the product? If every team has one or two wins at the end of the season, does that mean that there is a deep and talented field or that races are so easy to win that anyone can do it?
Not everything in other sports translates that well to motorsports, but in this case – I think it does. Has it hurt the NFL that the New England Patriots have appeared in six of the past fourteen Super Bowls? How about when they won three Super Bowls in four seasons in the 2000’s? Colts fans didn’t like it, but the NFL did not seem to suffer a decline in ratings. For the decade of the seventies, practically all of the Super Bowls were won by three teams – the Dolphins, Cowboys and Steelers, with the Colts and Raiders thrown in for good measure. Both of these periods saw unprecedented growth for the NFL. I don’t recall many Jets fans saying football had gotten boring.
There is an argument that the dynasty of the New York Yankees and their twenty-seven World Series championships made baseball the National Pastime for decades. Although they still lay claim to that tagline, most would argue that football passed up baseball for that honor a long time ago.
Horse Racing was starving for a horse that won it all and finally got a Triple Crown winner for the first time in thirty-eight years. No one celebrates if three different horses win each leg of the Triple Crown. It’s parity, but it’s boring.
As I said, I get it if you root for the underdog. I was ecstatic to see Josef Newgarden and CFH Racing win. Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher taking on the big boys at Penske and Ganassi is an appealing story. If they win a few more times, it’ll be hard to call it an upset or to refer to them as underdogs.
CFH Racing is trying to do what all teams should be doing – trying to improve. If you are a fan of a second or third tier team, you should be expecting that team to do all it can to improve – not just make the grid and survive. Some teams will take the occasional step backwards. That’s understandable. In past years, it’s happened to Penske and Ganassi. The late nineties were nightmarish years for Marlboro Team Penske. The mid-2000’s were almost as bad for Ganassi. It’s happening now for Andretti.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing seems to have found their way out of their recent doldrums. Honda’s performance and James Hinchcliffe’s injury aside – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is having a decent season. I’d say Bryan Herta Autosport is probably pleased with their season, given the fact they have a very small budget and a rookie driver. KV Racing is having their typical up and down season. Sébastien Bourdais has been fast, but his rookie teammate Stefan Coletti has been all over the place – literally. I’d also say that Dale Coyne Racing and AJ Foyt Enterprises have been rthe biggest disappointments this season. Coyne has an excuse in his revolving door of drivers. The Foyt team has two good drivers, but they just can’t seem to get out of their own way.
Graham Rahal needs to win a race for Honda in dry weather. He has consistently been the fastest Honda all season. Either his new attitude has improved his performance, or his improved performance has given him a new attitude. Whatever the case, it’s a welcomed sight and I’d like to see him and his team rewarded with an earned victory – not a fluky one in the rain. Why? Because I’ve seen them improve. That’s what all teams should be doing.
I have no problem with Penske and Ganassi winning their share of the races. They are not lucking into them. They have worked the hardest and yes – they’ve spent a lot of money. But money doesn’t buy championships. Over the past couple of decades, I’ve seen owners richer than any current ones, spend money and underachieve. Bruce McCaw, John Menard and Kevin Kalkhoven all have or had more money than they could spend, yet their dreams all came up just a little short. McCaw won a few races. Menard won a couple of IRL championships, but no "500′. Kalkhoven won the 2013 Indianapolis 500, but hasn’t even sniffed a championship. They all had some measure of success, but not anything even close to Penske or Ganassi.
Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi are at the top of their game, not because they spent the most money – but because they worked harder and prepared better than anyone else. Over the past couple of years, I was fortunate enough to stand behind the Penske pits on two occasions during races – at Barber in 2013 and at NOLA this past April. I was able to witness, firsthand, the attention to detail that Roger Penske brings to his team. I got to see him direct small things like where to put a case of bottled water and a more proper way to line up a row of scooters – all while the race was going on, albeit under yellow.
People claim that Roger Penske is always in pursuit of the unfair advantage. In my opinion, his unfair advantage is in how prepared he and his teams show up at the race track each week. Their secret weapon is Roger Penske himself, and the way he approaches every aspect of his life – in the boardroom and at the track.
So personally, I don’t have a huge problem watching Penske or Ganassi win most of the time. Don’t fault them, fault the teams that don’t try to improve to be just like them. It’s easy to explain away mediocrity. It’s a lot tougher to sell it and even harder to get past it.
So, please tell me…are Penske and Ganassi ruining the Verizon IndyCar Series and making the races unwatchable by winning the majority of the races; or should the lesser teams try harder to narrow the gap and catch them, like CFH, Rahal and Schmidt are doing?
Please Note: This weekend, the Verizon IndyCar Series gets its first weekend off since Easter. Since it is also Father’s Day weekend, I am going to take a short break from here as well. I will not have a post here this Friday June 19th, nor Monday June 22nd. I will return here next Wednesday, June 24th. I wish all the fathers out there, including myself, a very Happy Father’s Day this Sunday. Please check back next Wednesday and enjoy the racing break. – GP