Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thoughts from the Couch: Iowa

Not a true carbon copy of Milwaukee, but close enough for Ryan Hunter-Reay. It's clear Andretti Autosport has its act together on short ovals; too bad Iowa was the last one this year. And also too bad that's the last oval (presumably) until the end of the season (also presumably).

That’s three in a row for Hunter-Reay on such tracks, and each has had an element of rain. I guess RHR is IndyCar’s “mudder.”

I suppose Will Power has had enough of ovals for a while. Yes, E.J. Viso motioning for Power to look where he’s going is akin to Lindsay Lohan telling another starlet to get her life under control, but that’s twice Power has driven down on someone (a KV driver in both instances) on an oval. He’s not going to win any championships – or friends – doing that.

With title nemesis Dario Franchitti going out before the start of the race, Power missed a golden opportunity to build his points lead. He still has it, but just barely as both James Hinchcliffe (crash) and Scott Dixon (faded at end) saw their opportunities fade.

Although the pole car finishing last on an oval without completing a lap is not an unknown occurrence (Roberto Guerrero in 1992 and Scott Sharp in 2001 at Indianapolis come to mind), I’m not sure when the last time it’s happened due to a mechanical failure. Jerry Grant at Ontario in 1972? It’s probably happened since then, but my memory is foggy.

It was nice of Ryan Briscoe to take the high road on his wreck with Josef Newgarden. Then Newgarden intimated that Briscoe should have taken an even higher road – or lane – on the track. That’s at least twice this season that a dive-bomb move has blown up on the talented rookie.

Couple of other thoughts:

When does Simon Pagenaud get a call from a power team (like, say, Penske)?

When does NASCAR get wise to the fact that IndyCar has a good thing going in Iowa, come in and wave a Cup date under the noses of the owners/promoters so they drop IndyCar like a hot exhaust manifold? Precedent was set at Kentucky, which had strong crowds (even in the pre-unified IRL days) when the race had a consistent date in August. Then a Cup date materialized, and IndyCar was shoved around and eventually out.

I like Saturday night races, but  … Even without the rain, Iowa was supposed to start around 10 p.m. Eastern. Which guarantees no coverage in Sunday papers in the Eastern time zone (and probably in the Central time zone, outside of Iowa) and (maybe more importantly) no highlights on the 11 p.m. SportsCenter.

For all you Danica Patrick fans, SportsCenter did have quite a bit on her Nationwide race at Road America. Said race was won by Nelson Piquet Jr., who is sixth in the trucks series. Patrick was spun by Jacques Villeneuve, who was fighting with Max Papis. Sam Hornish Jr. finished fifth. So to be clear, Patrick, Piquet, Papis, Villeneuve and Hornish were all in a minor-league NASCAR race instead of at Iowa.

Here’s a crazy thought: Why not have a race on July 4 on the IMS road course to fill out the schedule? Call it the Indy-Pendence 50, making it a 50-lap race. Give free tickets to all who bought tickets to this year’s Indianapolis 500 or who have renewed for next year’s event.

Photo credit: Jim Haines/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thoughts from the Couch: Milwaukee

When I turned on Saturday’s telecast and saw that the clouds that had been following IndyCar racing had literally appeared above the track, I could only shake my head.

Fortunately, it was only a fairly brief shower, and the revived Milwaukee race had a nice showing – decent crowd and decent race. Too bad the last portion was booted in favor of a Nationwide race by ABC, but unfortunately that’s where the series is in the racing world right now in terms of viewers and interest.

A few thoughts:

Great job by Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe to secure a 1-3 finish for Michael Andretti. But why was Marco Andretti so far off the pace?

What’s happened to Team Penske’s oval program? Outside of Ryan Briscoe winning the pole at Indianapolis, it’s been pretty disappointing.

I’m still perplexed by the Scott Dixon penalty. Isn’t screwing up a start – which in my opinion is what Dixon did on the aborted restart – a penalty? If not, why not? And while I appreciate Beaux Barfield doing a post-race mea culpa, that’s a call you have to get right. The officiating crew presumably has all the camera angles and replays to make an informed decision. How does this work? Is someone monitoring the race in real time while someone else looks at footage to determine if a penalty is warranted? I realize that IndyCar can’t call a timeout like in an NFL game, but I would think there are better ways to manage situations like this.

Also, having Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear (or whoever is announcing) just guess at what the penalty might be leaves the audience more confused. Maybe IndyCar could take a page from Fox and have some sort of Mike Pereira type explain what’s going on.

Not sure if anyone has brought this up, but what about a second Milwaukee race this year to fill the hole in the schedule? That track used to have two races – one in June and one in August. 

Photo credit: Shawn Gritzmacher / Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Sunday, June 10, 2012

IndyCar Thoughts from the Couch: Texas

Had I drawn Justin Wilson’s name from a (10-gallon?) hat before Saturday’s race at Texas, I would not have been too excited. Shows what I know.

Dale Coyne Racing traces its roots back to 1984, when Dale Coyne himself was doing the driving. (According to my 1985 CART media guide, Coyne's first start was in 1984 at Mid-Ohio. The box score shows him finishing 14th in what's listed as a Dale Coyne Racing 1982 Eagle/Chevrolet. I wonder if this is the same car that Mike Mosley attempted to qualify for Dan Gurney for the 1982 Indianapolis 500.)

As an aside, someone needs to get Coyne some team gear to wear on the pit stand. Not that there was anything wrong with his shirt per se, but it reminded me of a dad coach who came late from the office and didn’t have time to change into his jersey before the game.

How Coyne has managed to answer the bell for so many years is one of those overlooked sources of amazement in IndyCar history. It would be interesting to figure out how many open-wheel teams (CART, IRL, etc.) have come and gone since he started.

Certainly Wilson benefited from Graham Rahal pancaking the wall late in the race. But like at Indianapolis, Wilson was at the front of the field most of the night. A nice upset win to break up the Penske-Ganassi train. I like Wilson’s demeanor and common-sense attitude. IndyCar should groom him as a possible steward (like Wally Dallenbach in CART) when his driving career is over.

Rahal himself took advantage of the spin and wreck of a dominant Scott Dixon. This was unbelievably uncharacteristic of Dixon, who could’ve taken a big bite out of Will Power’s points lead.

Speaking of Power, I thought his penalty for blocking Tony Kanaan was justified. I also liked the way it was handled – a review of the incident followed by quick application of the drive-through. Kudos to Power, who perhaps could’ve won the race, for admitting his mistake.

And also thanks to NBC Sports Network for broadcasting post-race interviews with the key players even though the race had gone past its allotted time.

Once again, the new cars raced very well on an oval – the packs were broken up, while managing tires, strategy and timing a pass all came into play. Good stuff, and just what was needed - for a lot of reasons.

Photo credit: Shawn Gritzmacher / Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

IndyCar Thought of the Day: Get Back on Track

The good feelings created by one of the most exciting Indianapolis 500s in recent years have crumbled like the Belle Isle course. (I’ll avoid a comment like race cars should drive on race tracks, not streets.) In the past 10 days or so we’ve had ill-advised tweets, a race that needs to go the patch-and-play route to (sort of) finish and an event (China) reportedly in danger of not happening.

What’s next, brick-eating frogs falling from the sky above the front stretch at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Anyway, here are a few thoughts:

Randy Bernard:  More leading, less tweeting. Unlike your past life in the PBR, there are no bulls in IndyCar, but there is plenty of bull, uh, well, you know. If you need more help on the racing business side of things, find it. Get it. Use it. And move forward. Take care of your business in a boardroom, not a chatroom.

The car owners: Raise your hands. Voice your concerns. Ask questions. Encourage a healthy dialogue. Be heard. Then … Follow. Support. Help. Manage. And move forward.

Anyone (mis)using Twitter: Maybe 140 characters are too many. Don’t let your fingers and thumbs get ahead of your brain. Any time you have to use a * symbol or something similar, rethink and retype.

Fans: Hang in there. I know you’ve heard this forever, and I understand being fed up with every time IndyCar seems to turn a corner it immediately drives into a tire barrier. The competition has been good this season (Detroit being the exception), and some new drivers are emerging who might begin toppling the usual suspects before the season’s over. Mope some, but try to hope more.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

View from the Couch: Detroit Grand Prix

Well, that certainly was a long day from the couch. Congratulations first of all to the fans who stuck this one out from Belle Isle, as well as the folks who repaired the track.

It’s hard to not see Sunday’s events as a black eye for the city of Detroit, the IndyCar Series, Roger Penske and others. Which is unfortunate because the event seemed to be coming together nicely with a lot of coverage in the local outlets.

During one of the interviews, I heard Penske describe the situation as a “bump in the road.” Actually more like a hole in the road, but whatever. Kudos to ABC, though, for talking to just about everybody during the red flag. (Well, except for Randy Bernard, who was ... where?)

I found it strange that race officials initially stopped the race at 45 laps instead of 46 laps, the distance that would’ve made it an official race. What if repairs could not have been made – what then? Considering that the next race is Saturday night in Texas, it seems like a restart on Monday would not be an option.

From a fairness standpoint, awarding the victory to Scott Dixon at that point would’ve made sense, seeing as how he led the entire race (and would lead the entire race after the final “shootout”).

Dixon’s triumph, his first of the year after three runner-up finishes, led a 1-2-3 finish for Honda. I assume this result, coming at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and on the heels of getting smoked at the Indianapolis 500, has the boys at the RenCen grinding their teeth.

Here’s the link to IndyCar’s news release on the race:

Photo credit: Jim Haines / Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Saturday, June 2, 2012

IndyCar Commentary: Detroit Radio Program Flames Grand Prix

With the Detroit Grand Prix back on the Izod IndyCar schedule for the first time in four years, I was curious how the event would be received by local media and fans.

Both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News have had quite a few stories over the past few days – the Free Press (the paper I get) devoting a full page in Thursday’s paper and nearly two full pages in Friday’s edition, which is a pretty large chunk of newshole these days.

Additionally, the local ABC affiliate had a one-hour preview show on Friday night and will have additional programming on Sunday, as well as the race telecast.

The “Valenti and Foster Show” on 97.1 FM, on the other hand, could not care less about the Detroit Grand Prix or IndyCar.

Valenti is Mike Valenti, who gained notoriety some years ago for going apoplectic on the air after his beloved Michigan State Spartans choked away a certain blowout victory against Notre Dame. (If you’re interested, I think his rant still lives on YouTube.) Foster is Terry Foster, a Detroit News sports writer who ostensibly was at Belle Isle writing stories.

During my drive home, I tuned in because I was curious if the Detroit Grand Prix would be discussed.

It was. Sort of.

The gist of the conversation I heard was that despite its return, nobody cared about the event. The only open-wheel drivers Valenti and his cohort for the day, Matt Dery, could name were Helio Castroneves (possibly because he’s in a banner ad on their station’s website), Alex Zanardi (at first they thought he was dead, then remembered he lost his legs in a crash), Dan Wheldon (because he was killed) and Greg Biffle (I have no idea why they thought he drove an IndyCar).

Mind you, this is ONE WEEK after what was considered one of the best Indianapolis 500s in recent years, and no one could come up with Dario Franchitti’s name.

Also, neither knew the name of the series, invoking the names CART and IRL at various points.

My first reaction was to chalk this up to the usual buffoonery that sports talk radio – especially big-market sports talk radio – is known for, which basically is if it’s not played with a ball or stick, it’s not worth talking about.

My second reaction was shame on the PR people for the various teams, the series and the event itself if no one reached out to this program to arrange interviews, either pre-recorded, remote or in the studio. Like it or not, “Valenti and Foster” is one of the key sports-talk shows in Detroit and helps set the agenda for what’s important in the Motor City.

The lesson is this: If left to their own devices, media outlets are likely to bash and ignore rather than dig up a story. The shame is that several Michigan-based stories were there for the taking. Roger Penske, of course, basically revived the race. Bryan Herta and Robbie Buhl, each of whom could add unique perspective as drivers and owners, have Michigan connections as well.

Frankly, just about every driver in the series is approachable and willing. But, again, if no one is coordinating efforts to open doors, they’re going to remain shut. Boarded up, even.

I hope to attend the Detroit Grand Prix in the future. The timing of the race – one week after attending the Indianapolis 500 – isn’t convenient for me (my wallet needs a break as much as anything), but my son is itching to go, so we’ll probably figure a way to make it happen.

And on my drive home Monday, maybe I’ll just keep the radio turned off.

Photo credit: Bret Kelley / Indianapolis Motor Speedway