From A Purist’s Viewpoint

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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.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “From A Purist’s Viewpoint”

  1. George, I grew up like you with the idea that the car was qualified at Indianapolis and not the driver but it always bugged me that that wasn’t necessarily true; remember when Mario would trot off to Monte Carlo in the ’70s someone else would qualify his car (which was usually one of the top five in speeds during the month) but when he came back to race he had to start at the back of the field. Sure, the car was in the race, but it certainly didn’t start where it was qualified. Nobody has ever been able to reckon that one out for me over these past forty years….

    • When Mike Hiss qualified the car for Mario in 1978; the car qualified, not Hiss. The rule clearly stated that in the case of a driver change, the car went to the back of the field. Mario nor Hiss qualified, the car did. It was the same for Mike Groff and Scott Goodyear in 1992. That was a clear part of the rule book. It was just an addendum to the rule of the car qualifying. – GP

  2. David Rinehart Says:

    Mark Miles is not a racer and could care less about what the fans want. One of these days he is going to look behind him and find nobody is following.

  3. Mike Silver Says:

    I agree George. I don’t like double points for a race nor do I like the overall points system. A driver finishing last shouldn’t get points. I like the old system of points to the top 12 only. Keep owner points for the others if you must, but limit driver points.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    It is worth pointing out that the Indy 500 has counted for more points than most other races on the Championship schedule for a majority of its history.

    Of course, there was a logic or “purity” to that. The 500 counted for more points than nearly every race because it was longer than nearly every race, and the number of points made available in earlier points systems increased or decreased proportionally with the race distance. The idea being, of course, that longer races require more effort and thus deserve more reward. When Indycar made all 500 mile races double points a few years back, it almost/kinda/sorta followed this logic. Double points for Sonoma does not follow it at all, it is simply an attempt to keep the championship in doubt for as long as possible in order to attract attention and viewers. For all the tone deafness in Miles’ words to Miller, I give him credit for being transparent about his reasons for keeping double points.

    Indy 500 qualifying has never been particularly simple, honestly, but the points aspect of the current system is much easier to understand than the qualifying rules I think. Each of the field of 33 earns 1 point inversely proportional to their qualifying position (ex. 1st – 33 pts, 14th – 20 pts, 32nd – 2 pts). Drivers in the Fast Nine earn additional points inversely proportional to their qualifying position (ex. 1st – 9 pts, 4th – 6 pts, 9th – 1 pt). The maximum number of qualifying points that can be scored is 42. That’s relatively simple.

    What is confusing is that the way these points were distributed changed between 2014 and 2016, apparently without announcement. In 2014, drivers earned non-Fast Nine points for their Saturday qualifying times, not the Sunday times that ultimately determined their starting position. In 2016, however, all points were awarded based on Sunday times, with Saturday’s qualifying determining only who made the Fast Nine.

    Ex.
    – In 2014, Helio scored 37 points in qualifying, 31 for his 3rd quick time on Saturday and 6 Fast Nine points for his 4th quick time on Sunday.
    – In 2016 he scored 26 points in qualifying, 25 for his 9th quick time on Sunday and 1 Fast Nine point for that same time.
    – Had the 2014 rules been in place in 2016, Helio would have scored 31 points in qualifying, 30 for his 4th quick time on Saturday and 1 Fast Nine point for his 9th quick time on Sunday.

  5. I think Indy being worth double points and having points for qualifying at Indy are both nice because they make drivers and teams who want to win a championship have to care about Indy. I also think if you’re going to have double points at Indy then there needs to be double points at the season finale. Otherwise the double points at Indy makes it much more likely someone is going to clinch the title early. So either double points for both, or no double points. Double points were obviously more fun when the season ended at Fontana than when it ends at Sonoma; but ending at Sonoma is always going to result in less than dramatic races so at least we have something.

  6. I voted for other. I would prefer points being awarded based on race distance. It is simply a greater accomplishment to complete a full race.
    I would tweak that a bit to also have points based on the number of entrants for each race. A race with 24 entrants would pay more points to win than a race with 21 entrants.
    Why would this matter? Suppose at the last race a driver in second place needs to be able to score one point more than is available to win in a field of 21. If the point system is such that a field of 22 or more would make enough points available, the car owner would enter another car so that the first driver would again have a chance to win the title. That makes the field bigger and given another driver the opportunity to race.

  7. Kids playing on your lawn again George?

  8. Ed Emmitt Says:

    You better be careful George that Mark guy may take away your credentials.The problem we have is a guy that never saw a race before he got this job.
    Then he gets a consultant group from Boston to tell him what to do.
    Heck, he could of called 10 race fans and get better results.

  9. Yannick Says:

    George, thanks for bringing up this topic. Double points are nothing else but an unnecessary gimmick. IndyCar introduced them for 500 mile races in a season when they felt that they needed to increase the importance of the few ovals they had left on the schedule then for the good cause of maintaining at least some sort of oval/road/street circuit parity. I was OK with that.
    Next, IndyCar was copying F1 when they introduced double points for the season finale. F1 has done away with that after the one season they tried that out. Still, IndyCar has kept it. And it has also kept the double points for the Indy 500 whilst the other 500 mile races got stripped off of their double points as there are now a few more oval races on the schedule than when the double points were first introduced.

    The double points need to go and every race should pay the same amount of points, regardless of venue and time slot on the schedule. However, I’m OK with Indy Qualifying paying points, too, because of the sheer amount of time that goes into it.

    Yet, Indy Qualifying has changed for the worse when they switched around what used to be Bump Day and Pole Day.
    Traditionally, the best prepared teams who came to Indy benefitted from Pole Day being the first day (or segment) of qualifying. That’s how it should be: you put in the fastest time right away, so you get the pole. Others can catch up later.
    I dislike the current qualifying format because everybody has to re-qualify on Sunday. I feel that is just not worth the risk on the drivers and cars. Taking those 4 laps at qualifying speed once should really be enough to put you on the starting grid. In 2010, Newman/Haas felt the same when they let the driver of their single car entry, Hideki Mutoh, just do 4 installation laps of sorts during the Fast 9 qualifying session and settled for 9th on the grid whilst they had been 7th (I think) in the session before.
    I remember the 11-11-11 system fondly from 2009. I feel they should split the on-track time available on Saturday evenly in 4 parts if there are more than 33 entries, and evenly in 3 parts when there are merely 33. That way, they could get the whole qualifying into 2 days. That would be much better than what IMS has got now as their Indy 500 qualifying.

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