A Tough Call To Make
Due to the unique circumstances surrounding the race that sort of happened this weekend, I will not do the usual “Random Thoughts” where I break down different parts of the weekend’s race and telecast that stood out to me. Instead, I will give my thoughts on the decision made by IndyCar to postpone the remainder of the race at Texas Motor Speedway until Saturday August 27th.
For those that don’t know, the Firestone 600 did not run on Saturday night. Heavy rains during the day and extremely high humidity during the evening combined to make drying the track impossible. I believe it. I live in the south, so I know what those thick humid nights are like.
They tried to get the race in yesterday. After a further delay due to a weeper in Turn Two, the engines finally fired and the cars rolled off the grid about thirty minutes later than scheduled.
For forty-three laps, there was good racing. The expected tire-degradation forced drivers to pit for tires sooner than they needed fuel. Ryan Hunter-Reay soared to the front to chase his pole-winning teammate Carlos Muñoz. His other two Andretti Autosport teammates, were not faring so well. Marco Andretti dropped like a stone, while Alexander Rossi was getting an education to what racing on a high-banked 1.5 mile oval was like.
Rossi actually charged to the front in the early stages, but as his tires went away – things got dicey for the newest Indianapolis 500 winner. Twice as he was coming out of Turn Four, his car got loose and it looked as if it were only a matter of time before the twenty-four year-old rookie would stuff it into the fence.
When I saw a crash beginning coming out of Turn Four on Lap 43, I assumed it was Rossi and he had collected someone else. Then as I watched, the crash went from bad to horrific. One car was upside down and was later slammed again into the outside wall along the front-stretch with the dreaded angle of cockpit-first. As the cars slid to a halt, I recognized that the car catching the worst of it was the bright-green Fuzzy’s car of Josef Newgarden. The other was the car of Conor Daly, who was uninjured.
My mind immediately rushed back to two other cockpit-first crashes that turned out deadly – Greg Moore and Dan Wheldon. This was certainly the worst crash I’ve seen since the crash at Las Vegas in the season finale when we lost Dan Wheldon.
Quite honestly, I feared the worst for Newgarden. I don’t claim to be best friends with Josef Newgarden, but I know him and he knows me. My heart sank for what seemed like an eternity until Paul Tracy announced that he saw both drivers moving around in the cockpit. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the Nashville native climb out of his car and stand, before having to sit on the track pavement as he received medical attention. Miraculously, Newgarden only suffered a fractured clavicle and a fracture in his right hand.
Daly rightfully accepted all blame for the incident and said it was a rookie mistake. I’m no driver, but replays show that Daly violated the oldest rule in oval racing – never turn right. Trying to correct his slide, Daly instinctively jerked the wheel to the right – something even grizzled veterans might do. When he did, the car went to the right and collected Newgarden.
Had this crash occurred twenty years ago without all of the safety advances, this crash probably would have had a more devastating outcome.
The more pleasant outcome of yesterday did nothing to silence the usual cast of characters who never pass up the opportunity of a tragedy or near-tragedy to climb on their predictable soapboxes. Before Newgarden had been strapped to the board and loaded onto a stretcher, there was the usual chirping from those that insist that canopies should have been made standard equipment on IndyCars five years ago.
That argument has grown tiresome. It’s easier said than done, as many have pointed out. I believe that IndyCar officials are looking into what type of protective device for use in the next generation car. But to listen to these loons, you get the idea that racing should be suspended until something can be done for these cars. Fortunately, cooler heads make these decisions.
I was also surprised to see comments from people I have the highest respect for, insisting that IndyCar should abandon the 1.5 mile ovals immediately. To their credit, one later returned to social media to say that his emotions had gotten the best of him.
As they tended to Newgarden and the scattered debris among the front-stretch, the SAFER Barrier was in need of repair. Teams tried to set pit strategy and have cars come in at various times under the extended yellow. It was all wasted energy as the rains came and the race was red-flagged on Lap 71. There was speculation whether the race would resume Sunday night or be carried over until Monday.
At 5:00 local time, IndyCar President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye and TMS President Eddie Gossage held a press conference where it was announced that the remainder of the race would be run on Saturday August 27th. The race will resume at Lap 72 and will be in the same order where the race was red-flagged. Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden would be eligible to rejoin the race, but would be almost thirty laps down.
The press conference was carried live on IndyCar’s Facebook page. The comments I saw flowing at the bottom of the screen were some of the most asinine comments I’ve ever seen. It really made me appreciate the intelligent people that come to this site. Immediately, the Legions of the Miserable came out in full-force. They criticized everything from the decision to run the race more than two months later, to the track and IndyCar management and blamed anyone within five miles of Texas Motor Speedway for all of the ills of the world.
Is this an ideal situation? No, but ideal situations were washed away with yesterdays downpour.
At the risk of sounding like an IndyCar apologist, I’m not sure what else could be done. The forecast for Monday was much like Saturday and Sunday. In fact, it’s been that way for the last several weeks in Texas. This was not just the case of taking time to let the track dry after a brief shower. Texas has had so much rain that it has no where to go. Plus, they are dealing with old asphalt at Texas. Old asphalt becomes more porous and that has been exacerbated by the use of NASCAR’s Air Titan. I don’t claim to be a civil engineer, but it made sense as Eddie Gossage was explaining it in yesterday’s press conference.
In short, this was not an issue that would likely resolve itself within the normal track-drying time frame.
There was also the issue of a few drivers that needed to already be airborne for Le Mans. That’s not really IndyCar’s concern, but there were big-moneyed programs tied to this and to IndyCar’s credit, they took that into consideration.
Then there was the most contentious issue of all – picking up the race at Lap 72. It seems that many fans want to just scrap what happened this weekend and start over in August. Jay Frye was emphatic in saying that the rulebook makes it very clear that the race will be resumed where it left off in this instance. Had the race carried over to Monday, it would have resumed at the same point and no one would say anything. Why would resuming it two and a half months later be any different?
That didn’t seem to matter to fans as they moaned that it wasn’t fair to Daly or Newgarden that they should be left out. If you follow that logic, is it fair to Carlos Muñoz to say his pole didn’t count and he has to re-qualify? That’s what you would have to do if you acted as if this weekend didn’t happen.
As unfortunate as it is that Daly and Newgarden crashed, is it fair to give them a do-over? Alexander Rossi is seventeen points behind Newgarden in the championship hunt. Do you think he wants to let Newgarden back in the race? No and he shouldn’t. This would be his chance to move up to fourth in points, or whatever respective position they are in come late August. It’s bad luck, but no one ever said racing was fair.
Speaking of Rossi, he probably feels his quick hands kept him out of the wall yesterday and he’s probably right. It’s quite an accomplishment on his part that he made it to Lap 71. Would it be fair to say that none of that counted, just because two of the most popular drivers would be thirty laps down if they chose to race in August? For the record, I think both should run the race in August. If Newgarden and Helio are still separated by only twelve points and Helio goes out on Lap 100, while Newgarden goes the distance – Newgarden takes Helio’s place in the standings. Every point counts, so of course they should both run.
Would it be a better show if IndyCar pretended this weekend never took place? Of course, but that would be unfair and a violation of the rulebook. If you don’t follow the rulebook, why even have one? If you don’t like the rule, change it going forward. But it is what was in place when the race was rescheduled, so that’s what you do. In my opinion, it’s a moot point that is not even up for debate.
This was a tough call to make, but I think IndyCar and Eddie Gossage worked together to come up with the best solution under strange set of circumstances.
And one more thing…those that were complaining about IndyCar management being worse today than ever, have no clue what they are talking about. I am not a fan of Mark Miles, but if you’ll notice – this season, Jay Frye has been the face and voice of IndyCar. In my opinion, he is the strongest leader of CART, Champ Car, the IRL or the Verizon IndyCar Series. He has a good head on his shoulders and he gets things done. If fans will give him a chance and Mark Miles allows him to do his job, he can take this series to levels that fans only dreamed of.
So, I am very disappointed that there was very little racing to be discussing today. But there are many bright sides to it. First of all, it gives us a second race in August. Previously, the race at Pocono was the only IndyCar race scheduled for the month of August. That should also add more pressure to the championship fight that late in the season. It will give Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly a chance to improve on their last place finishes at Texas, which is what they would have had the race continued to the halfway point before the rains came.
Best of all, we are bickering and debating what should and shouldn’t happen today rather than mourning the loss of another IndyCar driver. Yesterday’s crash could have been so much worse. Get well soon, Josef!