Random Thoughts On Iowa

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I think it’s safe to say that yesterday’s Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway did not go as planned. For a while, it looked as if Josef Newgarden was turning loose another beatdown of the field – just like he did in 2016. But on Lap 256, he was passed by James Hinchcliffe – who had been lurking in second place for most of the day. Once Hinchcliffe got passed, he opened up a five-second lead on Newgarden as The Mayor of Hinchtown was administering his own beatdown.

Hinchcliffe was seemingly coasting to victory, when Takuma Sato and Ed Carpenter made contact with six laps remaining. The result was a bit of debris in Turn Two, but a whole lot of questions being asked after the race ended under caution with James Hinchcliffe taking the checkered flag.

It seems that Race Control said that the pits would be open and they were headed to a restart (I refuse to use the term “green-white-checkered”). Because of this, Robert Wickens and Newgarden dove into the pits for fresh tires thinking they could slice through the field on new rubber on a restart. But as the white flag was waved with the yellow flag, the final lap was only a formality. Those that gambled on new tires threw away podium finishes in the process.

Was this race a snoozer? In the last fifty laps or so it wasn’t, but many fans were not impressed with Newgarden being so hooked up compared to the rest of the field. But one thing I noticed was that unlike Texas, cars were able to pass other cars without any problem. Sunday was just a day that you either hit the setup or you missed it. Hinchcliffe, Newgarden and a few others hit it. Those that didn’t were way off the pace and fighting all day just to stay on the lead lap.

Not only was James Hinchcliffe a surprise winner on Sunday, but the top championship contenders all had rough days. Points leader Scott Dixon was pretty much an afterthought all day as he finished an unremarkable twelfth. Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay entered the day tied for second in points. Rossi had a forgettable ninth-place finish, while Hunter-Reay had a disastrous day and finished nineteenth. Although Newgarden was justifiably frustrated over his fourth-place finish yesterday, he still took advantage to move up to second in points, thirty-three points behind Dixon.

In the end however, the day belonged to James Hinchcliffe. This was no fluky win. Hinchcliffe had the best car on the track yesterday and he showed it. Newgarden made the best with what he had, but his car’s performance fell off at the end of each stint. Hinchcliffe had the more consistent car throughout the day.

This was a popular win throughout the paddock and with fans. After the disappointment of getting bumped from the Indianapolis 500 less than two months ago, many drivers and teams would have just thrown in the towel on the season. This says a lot about Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the No.5 team, James Hinchcliffe as a driver and Hinchcliffe as a person. They put the disappointment of May behind them and have used it as motivation for the rest of the season going forward.

TV Coverage: I thought NBCSN did a very good job of coverage over the weekend. Saturday’s qualifying show gave us almost a “pre-race” show with interviews with drivers out of the car before qualifying. Then they had qualifying, which takes no time at all on a 7/8ths-mile oval, and post-qualifying interviews. Overall, it was a ninety-minute show.

Their coverage on Sunday was also very good. I really prefer Jon Beekhuis over Marty Snider as a pit reporter, Kevin Lee is a pro with a sense of humor, Robin Miller is Robin Miller and Katie Hargitt has vastly improved this season. Together, they seem to have good chemistry among themselves as well as with those in the booth. The on-air talent that we see each week is why I think fans like NBC’s coverage so much.

Robin Miller had an excellent feature on the dark days of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s career over a decade ago, and how far he has come since those times when his career had seemingly come to a stop.

I also noticed that with about 100 laps to go, Townsend Bell pointed out that Newgarden’s car tended to fade near the end of a stint. He pointed out that the last part of the race could get very interesting if Hinchcliffe was still there. He was and it did.

Night Race? I think on four separate occasions on yesterday’s broadcast, I heard announcers and drivers refer to the race as happening tonight…as in, “when we race tonight”. The green flag fell just after 1:30 pm local time. I don’t think there is any way possible to construe that as nighttime.

Perhaps they were taking a cue from Robin Miller who reported during the race that track management was doing their best to insure that this race be run on Saturday night next year (as it should).

What’cha Cookin’? While this is not my favorite segment ever, the one yesterday featuring Josef Newgarden was the best one yet. This is a not-so-great feature sponsored by Butterball. I love the fact that sponsors are getting creative, but this one just needed a little more thinking through.

But I will say this. This is the first of these three so far, that have actually made me hungry to watch the food being prepared. Newgarden made turkey-burgers, which I’ll admit – I don’t eat. But he put in enough ingredients, mostly barbeque sauce, to disguise the fact that it is a burger made of ground turkey. Kevin Lee liked it enough to give it his first “10” of the season.

It does seem ironic that the only driver that carries Butterball on his car (Ryan Hunter-Reay), has earned the lowest score of the season, so far.

Where did he come from? No, I’m not talking about Newgarden’s shock when James Hinchcliffe passed him on Lap 256. I’m talking about Spencer Pigot.

For the most part, Pigot’s first full-time season has been a bust. The first half of the season, Pigot had seven finishes of fifteenth or worse, with a best finish of tenth at Belle Isle. But the second half has started off much better. Pigot had a season-high finish of eighth two weeks ago at Road America. Prior to yesterday, Pigot’s career-best finish was seventh at Mid-Ohio in 2016. Yesterday was his first podium, when he finished second.

Some could argue that his podium was a result of Newgarden and Wickens pitting for tires at the end. But Pigot was up at the front all day after qualifying a disappointing eighteenth. Besides, racing is full of “ifs, buts and what-ifs”. Those two pulled off willingly, gambled and lost. Pigot didn’t pull off and was rewarded.

Now let’s see if Pigot can keep this newfound momentum going at Toronto next week and throughout the second half of the season.

The Confusion: With six laps to go, James Hinchcliffe seemingly had yesterday’s race in hand. Then, Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato made contact. They both continued, but there was some debris in Turn Two. For six laps under caution, the field ran behind the pace car until the race was over.

The problem was, apparently someone in Race Control told crews that there would be a restart. That information caused Josef Newgarden and Robert Wickens, who were running second and third respectively, to pit for new tires, thinking they would be able to run down the leaders in two laps. But the green flag never came. Newgarden and Wickens finished fourth and fifth.

After the race, Jay Frye explained that teams were told it was the intention to go green with two laps remaining – but never guaranteed it.

Some have said that they should have thrown the red flag. I don’t and never will like that tactic, but I do think IndyCar had time to restart the race. Slowing down the pace car sounds simple, but those cars need to maintain a certain speed or they either bog down or overheat. Still, it seems that six laps – even on a short oval – is long enough to pick up debris and restart the race.

All in All: Although Josef Newgarden dominated a race that he looked certain to win – he didn’t. That’s what makes racing so intriguing and always has – even going back to 1912 and Ralph DePalma.

But there is no way you could call yesterday’s race a parade, although many have already. Did you see all of the passing that took place? I saw a report last night that said 955 passes took place in yesterday’s race. Cars seemed to have no problem overtaking cars that they were approaching. So don’t blame the disparity in speeds on the new aero kit; blame it on some team’s inability to find the setup and some drivers that are unable to figure this car’s quirks on ovals.

I was entertained from my den on a hot Sunday afternoon in early July, and I was watching race cars compete. Maybe I’m just too easy to please, but I enjoyed the Iowa Corn 300. I just hope Robin Miller is right and it will take place on a Saturday night.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Iowa”

  1. You had a sense all day that when Hinchcliffe got to Newgarden he would get by him. Newgarden used traffic well to keep distance. A lot of newer fans may never have seen a dirt track race. Yesterday’s race reminded me of one

  2. S0CSeven Says:

    Talk about REFRESHING! I may be wrong but I don ‘t think I heard the dreaded words ‘saving fuel’ or ‘saving the tires’ the whole race.

    Just flat out racing. Imagine that.

  3. Indy needs a couple more tracks like this. At a minimum.

    There were no guarantees that the debris was going to be cleared up and the track go green before the last six laps were over. Those who came in to pit chose to take the risk and it did not work. The winner and the others who stayed out took the chance that they could hang on if the race went green. They chose wisely. That is racing! I’m glad Indycar didn’t try to manufacture the ending. Perhaps race control should not give opinions, and if they do the teams need to take them as an estimate.

  4. This will be a negative post, sorry. Indycar and this broadcast were not good yesterday. A couple of things I hated, the use of the nauseating slide job reference to the NASCAR race last year, it’s already old guys. Also the fact that they kept saying the lights were out on the pace car, are these guys looking at the race at all? It was a huge failure on the broadcast team, even more than the race control taking 3 laps to even start picking a piece of win up. An 8 lap caution that ended the race for that?

    Also, Pigot is having a JR Hilderbrand type of a season and that’s not great. Best finish of 10th before this? I can’t see ECR renewing him this year. Pigot has never really impressed me….

    I hate to be negative but this was yet another race where I expected George’s opening line today to be “while there wasn’t much excitement in yesterday’s race, there were still storylines that were compelling” or whatever. Getting to be too many of those races lately…..

    • Yeah, you’ve voiced your displeasure about Spencer Pigot’s ongoing employment several times now (even though he’s yet to complete a single full-time season, and I think there’s ample evidence now that ECR is less than top-line equipment nearly everywhere but Indy and maybe the short ovals)…

      As for the length of the last caution, the yellow flag came out on lap 294. That lap and the next (at a bare minimum) are basically required to get the cars slowed down and collected behind the pace car, before the safety truck can be scrambled to pick up the debris. At this point, there are but five laps left. Even at reduced pace car speeds (say, 50 MPH…I’m not sure an IndyCar can even idle in 1st gear much slower than that), a lap under caution goes by in about a minute, or a little less. The safety crew didn’t just have to leave its parking spot, pick up a single piece of debris and then return to its parking spot (a process that itself should take at an absolute minimum, about 90 seconds), they also had to scan the entire Turn 2 and backstraight area for other debris (even a small shard of carbon fiber can cause a flat tire…not what you’re looking for a 180 MPH with a wall close by). So, what we’re talking about now is that from the time the cars are getting bunched behind the pace car, there is about 5 TOTAL minutes for the safety crew to do what they need to do (a 2-3 minute task, as outlined above), then get reset (a minute task, because, remember, they have to drive all the way back around the track and get back into position), and ONLY THEN can they turn the lights out on the pace car and try to restart. From the moment the yellow lights came on, there was never any chance that there would be more than 2 laps of green at the end, and that would only have been achievable by throwing a red flag or adding laps. Unfortunate timing, but a green flag finish was just not gonna happen, unless IndyCar changed their procedures on the spot (again, in a literal 5 minute window between the yellow and the checkers).

      To each his own here, but while there were only essentially two lead changes all day, there were literally over 900 passes logged for position yesterday, according to IndyCar’s timing and scoring. You didn’t care for this?

      • On Pigot, I mean, a 10th place is all he had to show so far? That’s not good. There are not a lot of chances in this sport to show yourself, Pigot has had plenty of time to do so. I do think he seems like a good guy and I hope he can turn it around.

        I know there were many passes but when TV struggles to show it, what does it do for bringing fans in? That is the perspective that I have used here. I was a bit critical but this season, I think it is warranted.

        • Actually, Spencer’s last five finishes this season are now: 10th, 23rd (car broke), 11th, 8th, 2nd (and not an entirely flukey 2nd, either, he ran in the top-10 from basically like lap 20 until the end, with a huge chunk of that in the top-5). Seems to me like things are starting to come good.

          Mostly, I’m just confused by why anybody would expect a whole lot more than the handful of top-10 finishes that we saw out of Spencer before this season (5 top-10s in 22 total starts, pre-2018). Doesn’t running as a part time driver (which was all he ever had before 2018) for a team that has only had sporadic success on road courses (ECR hasn’t scored a road course podium since Watkins Glen 2016, and no driver other than Josef Newgarden has scored a podium for the team since Luca Filippi scored one for CFH at Toronto back in 2015) and only one career oval start (before 2018, Spencer’s only IndyCar oval start was at Indy in 2017, for Juncos in the team’s very first IndyCar start) sound like a pretty high level of difficulty to show instantaneous success? People talk all the time about how it takes some time for like 99% of drivers more than a single season to really understand the car and get comfortable, so why should a guy who’s been a solid midpacker in limited starts over two seasons get “the hook” forever before he even gets a single chance to race on nearly a third of the tracks on the schedule? Anybody who watched him in the MRTI could see he was talented (finishing 2nd-2nd-4th-1st-1st in his five years’ worth of MRTI championships), but almost nobody steps into an IndyCar and finds success in their first few starts. Just for sake of comparison, looking at the defending Series champion’s first 22 starts (again, that’s the number of IndyCar starts Spencer Pigot had before this season), Josef Newgarden had scored one LESS top-10 through those 22 races than Spencer Pigot did. Should Josef have gotten chucked out of a car because he didn’t win races right away?

  5. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Made the trek out to Iowa and was very pleasantly surprised overall. The track is doing a great job with engagement and it was a fun atmosphere. Full sun, and reasonably warm temps with a nice breeze all weekend made it very tolerable and not blast-furnace hot which I’m told has been a problem (and I can imagine so) in the past.

    As far as the race, in person, it was frenetic. I usually pride myself in tracking not just leaders, but also mid-pack who are either gaining spots or losing them. I can’t recall more than maybe 10 laps where the field was single file with no passing somewhere on the track. The action is non-stop, even with such a long green flag run. The never-ending torrent of laps and passing made it difficult to follow more than a few cars, which made it exciting to watch car numbers slowly creep up the scoring pylon.

    At one point, I was down to just following which cars were actually on the lead lap. Before the first yellow, NEW was starting to hunt down SAT who was in 4th at the time. Crazy fun race in person, and I can’t wait to go back again (maybe even at night).

    PS the pork chop on a stick was beyond delicious and everyone was incredibly friendly. Thanks IOWA!

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Yes, those pork chops on a stick will give George’s beloved breaded tenderloins a run for their money!

  6. Shyam Cherupalla Says:

    Its good statistics balance out. Josef Newgarden had a couple of gift wins, one that comes to my mind is the Alabama or mid ohio when Power was leading with 10 laps to go he got a flat and Newgarden won being there at the right time.

    Anyway lot of the issue under yellow can be taken out of the hands of Indycar if the pits are open under yellow, then Indycar’s only decision is to clean up the track and look to go green. In the open pits scenario the cars would have pitted as soon as it turned yellow ( those who wanted to pit). All they have to do is come up with a yellow speed limiter (so the safety aspect is taken care of) and pits will be open. I’m very disappointed that Indycar is not even willing to look at this option. I’m not sure this confusing would have been resolved but it will resolve drivers’ dilemma of when to pit or not and the lucky dog winner scenario.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I was frustrated by Race Control’s communication, or lack thereof, at the end, but have absolutely no complaints about the rest of the race. There was plenty of action, plenty of passing, and an exciting battle for the win. Iowa has been around the top of my list of long trip races to attend for some time and this race only made me want to go more.

    On Race Control, I do not think they ought to be in the business of “maybe”, they need to clearly indicate whether they intend to restart or not. I understand that it was not an easy call, but they should have made the call one way or another and stuck to it, whether that was sealing the win for Hinchcliffe with a yellow or employing a red flag to get one last restart.

  8. I was thrilled that Hinch won the race, but was looking forward to a two lap rush to the finish. It is so good to see Jon back on the broadcast. His technical expertise (and how he presents it) is much appreciated.

    As for the turkey recipe face off, I would like to have tasted Pagenaud’s stuffed tomatoes with a good French wine of course.

  9. People have the right to like what they like, but if you consider yourself a racing fan and didn’t enjoy what you saw yesterday….I think it’s time to find a new spectator sport to follow. That race was a thrill!

  10. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Bizarre ending but I found the race to be quite entertaining from green to checkers. Sure, the leader was walking away for most of the race but he was having to deal with lots of traffic and seemed to always have someone within relative striking distance ready to pounce if he made a mistake. And behind the leaders there was action everywhere all the time, seemed like there was always a pair going two-wide in the turns which is something we don’t see at Phoenix, and I recall seeing both three-wide and four-wide down the front stretch.

    It was an enjoyable race for me and in my opinion if people are claiming that was a snoozer then I agree that maybe they need to find a new sport to watch.

  11. “I think it’s time to find a new spectator sport to follow.”
    with only a 0.31 TV rating (0.38 last year), someone
    is following this advice.

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