From A Purist’s Viewpoint
One might think that I’ve changed my opinion of IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, simply because I’ve said complimentary things about IndyCar President of Competition Jay Frye and the recent decisions of IndyCar’s upper management. On Monday, Robin Miller wrote an article on Racer.com that reinforced my original perception of Mr. Miles – one who is buried so deep within his bunker, that he has no idea what fans want. I also perceive him to be very stubborn. That is, when he’s convinced he’s right – rather than listening to fans and trying to understand why fans might be offering a different viewpoint, he digs in deeper to further uphold his stance on a topic.
In this particular case, that topic is one that has been one of my hot-buttons since it first surfaced in 2014 – double points for certain races.
Beginning in 2014, there were double points awarded for the three 500-mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana. In 2015-16, double points were awarded for the Indianapolis 500 and the season finale at Sonoma.
I didn’t like it when the double points were first announced prior to the 2014 season. I like it even less now. In the article, Miles refers to “the purists” in almost a scoffing manner – as if the opinions of purists don’t count. Mr. Miles had better rethink that stance. The purists of any sport lift up that sport as if it was sacred, and they take any rules change very seriously. Motorsports definitely have their purists, but so do most other sports. The one that comes to my mind first is baseball.
Most already know that I consider myself an IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 purist. I am reluctant to the slightest change – especially when it comes to the traditions of the “500”. If a change is proposed, there had better be a good reason for it. Change for safety’s sake is a good reason. Change for the sake of change is not a good reason.
For the life of me, I’ve never understood why IndyCar felt the need to tinker with the Indianapolis 500 qualifying format beginning in 2005. For longer than I’ve been alive, it was always the car that qualified and not the driver. A car was given three chances to qualify. Each chance started by taking the green flag at the start of the run. If the car exhausted those three chances, it was no longer eligible to qualify that year. Once a car was bumped out of the field, the car was not eligible to retry. If the driver wanted to be in the field, he had to look elsewhere if his team did not have a backup car.
I understand that put a crimp on the smaller teams and at times threatened to have a lower car count if no one could come up with another car. My thought was, so be it.
Beginning in 2005, Speedway officials adopted the 11-11-11 format. Only eleven cars qualified each day over a three-day period. After the eleventh car qualified each day, “bumping” began. Cars were allowed to be withdrawn or bumped and re-qualify, but they were only bumped out of that day’s grouping. They were allowed to come back the next qualifying day to try again for the next group of eleven. The fourth day was dedicated to bumping the slowest car, no matter where they were in the field. The idea was to generate more excitement each day. In my opinion, it didn’t.
In 2010, they adopted the Fast Nine Shootout, which was a two-day event. The Top Nine was locked in and everyone else battled for positions twenty-fourth to tenth. Then the Fast Nine would battle it out among each other to see who would win the pole. The next day would be to determine who would occupy positions thirty-three to twenty-fifth. It wasn’t great, but I actually thought it was better than the 11-11-11 system it replaced
Although it wasn’t great, at least it was somewhat easy to understand and explain. In 2014, Mark Miles introduced the convoluted system that is in place today. Qualifying is still a two-day event, but everyone qualifies on Saturday and then re-qualifies again on Sunday. The run for the pole is in mid-afternoon on Sunday and then the show is over by around 3:00. I’ve seen it run three times now and I’m still not sure how to explain the basic concept, much less the intricacies of it. There are a lot of points on the table, but I couldn’t begin to tell you who gets how many. All I know is that winning the pole pays about as much as winning one of the normal points-paying races on the schedule (I think). About the only good thing I can say about it is that we get a head-start getting home earlier on Sunday night.
After that gimmicky made-for-TV manufactured drama, everyone comes back a week later and runs for double points. One thing I always liked about the scoring system was that no matter how big the Indianapolis 500 was to fans and drivers, it still paid as many points to win at Iowa or Barber as it did to win the “500”. That all changed in 2014.
Now don’t think for a minute that I think IndyCar is gimmicky. Compared to what NASCAR looks like today, IndyCar is pure and pristine. I’m not really wild about the push-to-pass button. I would prefer that extra horsepower be made available to the driver at all times, but then I guess that runs into an engine reliability issue which means added costs – so I can live with it.
But I’m really opposed to the double points awarded at Indianapolis and any other track. Miles points out that had we not had double points that last year’s championship would have been decided at Watkins Glen, before the season finale at Sonoma. My question is…so what? It happens like that sometimes. When someone is as dominant as Simon Pagenuad was last season, that is bound to happen every now and then.
The last time it happened was in 2004, when Tony Kanaan had clinched the championship before the season ending race at Texas. Well, guess what – that race occurred on October 17 and was the third race after Labor Day. I watched it and I know a lot of others did too, even though it was run in the heart of the NFL season. And how did Tony Kanaan perform after having clinched the championship two weeks earlier and had nothing to race for? He finished second.
When you are dominant, you clinch early. This past NFL season, the New England Patriots clinched a playoff spot with one or two weeks to go. Did that ruin their viewership? I doubt it.
Awarding double points for certain races is nothing but contrived and artificial drama. What Miles didn’t say was that even with the double points, Pagenaud still almost clinched at Watkins Glen. That’s just how it happens sometimes.
I’m sure many will disagree with me and that’s fine. It doesn’t upset me in the least. But count me as one purist that wants to see the double points experiment to go away.