Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Iowa! (Part 2)

Back today as promised! I got to watch the last 100 laps of the IndyCar race, as well as the last 50 laps of the Indy Lights race, so I have a little more perspective to offer. For the amount of material out there from Iowa I could probably go to a third post, the weekend was that good!

The Ed/Sage incident -- Watching it in person, I thought Ed blew the whole thing out of proportion and that it was just hard racing. And after seeing the replay I stand by that opinion. While I thought Sage took a couple of unnecessary chances, I still think Ed could've handled it much differently. At no point in their racing each other did I think either drivers health or life was in danger.

Screaming on the radio for a penalty, launching into a profanity-laced rant on pit road and then running straight to Race Control is flat-out bush league. Then to treat Sage like crap on the plane ride home was just childish.

Lots of people in and around IndyCar say Ed's a nice guy, but all I see is a hothead who goes off when the racing isn't done on his terms. And let's call a spade a spade -- Ed's a Hulman, he's never, ever sat in a race car with the bottom line being he needed to win a race or have a good result to keep his career going. That's where Sage is at, and he is been in that situation many times in the past as well. While I know that everyone who races at that level has worked hard to get there, it's not as easy for some as others.

I can relate to Sage a little. Growing up there was a time my family didn't have a lot of money, and on top of that I was teased and bullied a lot. When I got onto equal footing with these same people (mainly a court or ballfield), I played them hard. Be it a pickup game, practice or the real thing, I only really had one speed because I felt I always had something to prove. Some people didn't appreciate that, but I felt that was what I needed to do in order to compete, and, yes, win. I grew out of that as time went on, and am certainly not proud of some of my actions, but I won't apologize for it, either. Neither should Sage.

Bottom line, Ed Carpenter is a veteran driver and, more importantly, a car owner, and I think he needs to conduct himself in a more professional manner. It's obvious that Sage needs direction and coaching -- while I thought his driving for the most part was brilliant Saturday night, he has been a hazard to himself and others at other points during the season -- and it's up to the experienced drivers to help him.

The kid is only 20 years old, and young drivers at the highest levels tend to tear up a lot of equipment. Like Paul Tracy...in his first ride for Roger Penske at Michigan in 1991, he destroyed a car and broke his leg, and in his first 20 IndyCar starts he crashed out six times! I once read back in the day that PT's repair bill for the 1992 season was over $2 million. PT never lost his edge as a driver, but he certainly smoothed out the rough edges and became an absolute beast. Can Sage do the same thing? I hope so, he's a cool guy with a great backstory that we need more of in IndyCar racing.

Another one-day show -- I mentioned last week after Milwaukee that I thought the one-day aspect of the event led to an uptick in attendance, and given the crowd at Iowa on Saturday night I think that having qualifying and support races along with the main event made for more people in the seats.

It doesn't matter the situation, people want to feel like they get the most for their money. There was certainly a lot to see and do on Saturday, and everyone I encountered seemed pretty happy with their experience. On Saturday afternoon I found out my friend Kevin was at the race as the guest as a vendor, and during one of the cautions came up and hung out with us for a while.

Although he once came to the 500 with me, he isn't an IndyCar fan, but he said he was having a great time and was really into the race. Iowa is always a good show, and is a gorgeous place to be at night in the summer.

Montoya -- JPM's crash was a bit of a shock to me. I wasn't following him specifically, but he was in my field of vision and when his car pancaked the wall my first thought was: "Wait, did that really just happen?"

Can't do anything about equipment failures, and as the night went on, he wasn't the only one to have that problem as Turn 2 jumped up and bit several drivers. But what could've been a turnaround night for the rest of the field didn't lead to much as Helio Castroneves went backwards the last half of the race and Scott Dixon had mechanical problems as well, just as it seemed like he had gotten a good car underneath him.

In a short season, a driver has to count his lucky stars if he gets a "mulligan", and JPM definitely got one on Saturday night. He had a disastrous result and no one was able to take advantage, at least as far as he was concerned. Like I said last week, that's the kind of luck you need in your corner if you want to win a championship.

Rule 9.3.8 -- I was going to dedicate a full post to this but in the end think it is so insignificant that it doesn't deserve one.

IndyCar jumped the shark here, everyone lost their shit, put on their Fonzie jacket and skis and jumped into oblivion.




And no, I'm not talking about the series, I'm talking about the people on social media who absolutely went off the deep end about this. We should've seen this coming after Fontana, when the drivers said way too much after the race and were way too critical of the series, which they have been for as long as I remember.

You can read the deets here.

People, the sky isn't falling here. I don't see where anyone could possibly believe that the drivers, owners, etc. constantly airing their dirty laundry in the media does an ounce of good for the series. Plus, rule No. 1 is that you never criticize management. Let's be honest, IndyCar has one of the most negative and anti-management fanbase in all of sports, and most, if not all, of the reasons for that lie in the fact that everyone and anyone can criticize them without fear of repercussion. I feel that much of the damage done to the reputation of the series has been the constant sniping over the bow in the press between the powers that be, and also has created an Us vs. Them mentality that keeps things from getting done.

And, as my PR wife has told me before, it's important to do two things 1) control the message and 2) stay in front of the story. Any organization is smart in controlling the message, that's why these rules exist.

Besides, these kinds of rules exist in every sports league in the world. Here is one from the NBA Constitution and bylaws, section 35:

(c) If in the opinion of the Commissioner any act or conduct of a Player at or during an Exhibition, Regular Season, or Playoff Game has been prejudicial to or against the best interests of the Association or the game of basketball, the Commissioner shall impose upon such Player a fine not exceeding $50,000, or may order for a time the suspension of any such Player from any connection or duties with Exhibition, Regular Season, or Playoff Games, or he may order both such fine and suspension.
(d) The Commissioner shall have the power to suspend for a definite or indefinite period, or to impose a fine not exceeding $50,000, or inflict both such suspension and fine upon any Player who, in his opinion, (i) shall have made or caused to be made any statement having, or that was designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball or of the Association or of a Member, or (ii) shall have been guilty of conduct that does not conform to standards of morality or fair play, that does not comply at all times with all federal, state, and local laws, or that is prejudicial or
detrimental to the Association. 

There is also a section 35A which discusses the behavior of non-player personnel, like Mark Cuban, for example. In researching a potential post, I discovered that Major League Baseball has the same kind of language in their by-laws (in fact, being ejected from a game carries an automatic fine). Oh yeah, and my HR handbook has something in it as well.

Like always, people are thinking that they are trying to take the passion and excitement from the sport. I say, far from it. Drivers will still be able to express what they think, so long as they don't cross a certain line. I hope the drivers act like adults the rest of the season and continue to say what they do, and if they get fined for it, so be it. Then again, many in this group of will just stop talking to the media altogether, and they will get a lot of support for that. Which sucks.

I get drivers have concerns, and I fully agree with and support their desire to express their opinions, whether it be about safety, the series, sponsors...whatever. However, take the proper channels and do it the right way that is done in a positive manner for what helps everyone get on the same page and keep things moving forward.

I have been a part of the sports media for 15 years and I can guarantee not a single story I have written where one side criticizes the other has caused the side being criticized to act in a way the critical party wants them to. It doesn't happen. As I said about Robin Miller...Mark Miles seems like a reasonable individual. If someone wants the story, why don't they just call up Miles' admin and schedule a time to swing by and talk? 

One other criticism I want to address...people say the drivers go to the series about safety issues and the series doesn't listen. My answer to that? Other than James Hinchcliffe's freak accident in May, how many accidents this season, no matter how violent, has the driver jumped out of the car and walked away?

The answer: all of them. Seems to me they are paying attention. 

OK, I'm done with that rant. Bottom line is that I don't understand how anyone feels like it is a positive thing for the drivers to be constantly harping on the series. At some point these guys just need to drive, and let everyone take care of what they are good at. Because despite what everyone wants to believe, if you look at attendance, revenues, sponsorship and TV numbers, the people taking care of that end are doing a pretty good job. Maybe they aren't doing things the way some want them to or in the timetable they want them to, but if you don't think the series is on better footing now than three years ago, you are delusional.

As I said to Patti Nolen at the Milwaukee race -- if the fanbase of any sport, not to mention the drivers or owners, were responsible for running their sport or series, it would be bankrupt by mid-season. Oh wait, didn't the owners already bankrupt a series before? Maybe it is a good thing when the grown-ups take over.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Iowa!

As longtime readers of this site know, I add the exclamation point to the title of the Iowa race given the long history my family has in the state, and how cool it is to be a part of that heritage. I was born in Davenport and while I only called Iowa home for five years, my family's lineage in the state goes back well over a century, so it will always be a special place for me.

And we can throw a few exclamation points out there for it being such a great race! With the weather being so nice and other races on the slate (more on that later), lots of people showed up and made it for a great environment. I love this racetrack for a lot of reasons, and it was in full song on Saturday in a lot of ways.

I have so much to talk about, I'm splitting this post into two entries, with the second coming tomorrow. We've got lots to cover, don't we? Let's spend today talking about the Top 10 and rock the hot takes tomorrow.

Winner -- Ryan Hunter-Reay. Or I could also say...Andretti Autosport, which put a driver in Victory Lane for the SIXTH straight year, with RHR making it two straight and three overall. Hunter-Reay never got to the point all race until he beat Josef Newgarden out of the pits with 37 laps to go and held off the field in a couple of late restarts. The victory breaks a 13-month string without a win and is just the third Top 5 in that span. It's just been a lost season for him, but it's a good way to start building up for 2016.

Runner-up -- Josef Newgarden. For the second straight week, Newgarden was the class of the field but came away empty in search of his first oval victory in the IndyCar Series. He now is first in the series in laps led on the season and is moving his career into beast mode.

Third place -- Sage Karam. Lots has been said about Sage's aggressive driving (more on that later as well) but overall I thought he did a fantastic job on a track that he'd never raced an IndyCar on before. Did he get a little loose at the end? Sure, but I'd rather see a guy go after it than say after the race they had a "fifth or sixth-place car". He's 20, and is racing in a way he sees fit to continue his racing career. The racing world is full of great drivers who tore up a bunch of equipment at the beginning of their careers. He's no different.

Fourth place -- Graham Rahal. Probably the drive of the night, in my opinion. A screwed up gearbox that couldn't get out of sixth gear might have been the least of his problems as he lost two laps early to another issue. Once he was back on the lead lap -- and then when he took tires during the last caution period -- Graham was an absolute rocket. It was crazy to see the way he overtook and put away cars when he had the new set of kicks on at the end of the race. Oh, and by the way, look who is second in points?!?!?

Fifth pace -- Carlos Munoz. It's an oval, and one that AA has had success...sound familiar? Contrary to his road racing roots, Carlos loves fast ovals where he can drive hard and take chances. And it seems like the faster the track, the more that attitude works for him.

So outside of RHR, can we call the rest of the Top 5 "The Future"? There was some serious young talent at the front of the field Saturday night. I could get used to it...how about you?

Sixth place -- Ed Carpenter. Once again, Ed distracts people from a well-driven race thanks to another post-race hissy (more on that later too). I understand heat-of-the-moment things, but personally I find the need to confront someone every time you think you are done wrong completely unprofessional. It makes for good theater if you are the type of person who needs drama to be a racing fan, but to me it comes across as a total "Born on Third" mentality from someone who should know to conduct himself better.

Seventh place -- Marco Andretti. Marco took tires late and I thought he would follow Graham to the front, but his charge fizzled out fairly quickly. Still, I am really impressed with Marco and his consistency this season. He is still the only driver who has completed every lap this year and with some good luck he could finish the season in the Top 5 in points. After all, he's only 45 points behind second place Rahal.

Eighth place -- Ryan Briscoe. After seeing his last two races end with his car on a hook and having to call his wife from the infield care center, an event-free evening was what Briscoe really needed. I'm not sure if he is in the car for the last three races -- someone help me out here -- but if he is he has podium finishes at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in the past, and could be another guy who could finish the season on a positive note.

Ninth place -- Sebastien Bourdais. Started 24th and finished ninth is all you need to know about Seb's drive. The biggest mover in the field -- again -- he was just too far back and the pit strategy didn't fall into place the way they needed it to. Still, Bourdais has done some impressive work on the ovals the last few weeks.

Tenth place -- Will Power. Really? The best a Penske car could do Saturday night was 10th? After qualifying all four cars in the top six positions, EVERYBODY on that team went backwards from the drop, starting with points leader Juan Pablo Montoya having a suspension failure and smacking the wall just 10 laps in. Helio Castroneves finished 11th and Simon Pagenaud finished 14th.

Speaking of JPM -- His DFL could've delivered a huge blow to his championship hopes, but Scott Dixon, who at the start of the night was second in points, had a mechanical issue that left him 37 laps down at the end. That meant Dixon only got six points closer, so Juan dodged a huge bullet as Rahal is now in second but 42 points back.

Justin Wilson -- I'm starting to figure out, or at least developing a theory, as to why Michael Andretti put him in a completely unsponsored car for the last few races, and possibly the rest of the season. Wilson has long had a reputation as a fantastic test driver, so if a team is looking ahead to 2016, wouldn't it make sense to put a guy like him in the car and let him help you figure stuff out? Though he has had some bad luck in each of the last two races, when Wilson has been on he has been fantastic in race trim.

OK, so we're halfway there for this week. Look for part two sometime tomorrow!

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Wild Day at The Mile

Finally getting home and digesting the race a little bit, and let me first say, that was one of the crazier races I've seen in quite some time!

(Editor's note: If you scroll down on this blog you will see that I have made a couple of editing changes. I've had a change of heart -- I love IndyCar and love this little blog too much to let it go. Sorry for the drama, although I still think Robin Miller is a clown and I will be hitting the "unfollow" button on Twitter a lot in the coming days and weeks.)

But anyway, there were advantages and disadvantages to being at The Mile on Sunday. The advantage was that there was a lot of good racing that hopefully those of you who watched it on TV got to see some of (the race is on my DVR, I'll watch it tomorrow night), but the disadvantage was that there were so many crazy strategies going on it was a little hard to keep track of who was coming and who was going!

Lots of big name and big team drivers spent the day riding around in the midfield until several made some hay in the final 50 laps. Most of that was due to taking tires after the final yellow when Justin Wilson's motor expired with 27 laps to go, as 10 teams laid out four fresh Firestones and took a gamble that paid off.

Either way, Sebastian Bourdais drove one hell of a race. In the era that we currently reside, it's so rare to see one car and driver just absolutely demolish a field like SeaBass did on Sunday. The last yellow just made the race look closer than it actually was. Kind of like how a football team is down 42-14 with five minutes to go and scores a couple of late touchdowns to make it look respectable.

So let's go through the Top 10 and a few other things:

Winner -- Sebastian Bourdais. Seb channeled his Champ Car form on Sunday, and while I normally don't like it when one driver (or in this case, two, but more on that later) dominates a race, when someone puts on a performance this special, it's really a lot of fun. Seb could do pretty much whatever he wanted over the final half of the race, and I will be interested to see how many cars he passed on track, because every time I looked at him it seemed like he was going around someone.

This was his first win on an oval since he came back to IndyCar, and a good win for a good guy. A few years ago, do you think we would've said that? But seriously, he's really one of the good guys of the series.

2nd place -- Helio Castroneves. Kevin and I were listening to qualifying as we were driving up and I was a little shocked to hear of the snafu that Team Penske pulled off to send Helio to the back of the field. Last to second is a pretty good drive, don't you think? I feel like these next two weeks are crucial to the championship hunt...anything can happen on short tracks, and with Iowa and Pocono the only remaining ovals, things can change in a hurry.

3rd place -- Graham Rahal. This has gone on long enough to say that Graham is -- finally -- for real. Now sitting third in points, GH is having a breakout year and driving with a ton of confidence. Of course, there was some whining about him on Twitter, because everyone likes to whine about him on Twitter, but let's be honest, he's putting up results.

4th place -- Juan Pablo Montoya. JPM was one of those who seem to spend a lot of the day running around in 10th place or so but was able to end up with a respectable finish. Which given the points implications was huge. While the day didn't always totally go his way, he leaves MKE with a bigger lead over Scott Dixon than when they arrived this weekend, and right now that's all he really needs to worry about.

5th place -- Josef Newgarden. I think the bar has officially been raised for Josef, because I felt like with the car he had that his result should've been better. Winning the pole and dominating the first half of the race, and eventually leading 109 laps, he is officially moved into badass territory and is now on the short list of guys who can be considered a contender week in and week out.

6th place -- Tony Kanaan. Just a really quiet day for TK. I was a little surprised to see he only led three laps given he had one of the more uneventful days in the field and mostly ran near the front, but it was a pretty workman-like day overall for TK. Look for him to be super motivated at Iowa on Saturday night -- he dominated last year's race only to have it pretty much stolen from him at the end.

7th place -- Scott Dixon. Another guy who hung out in the middle of the field for most of the day, and the argument can be made that 7th place still is the middle of the field. He's 54 points behind Montoya for the championship, and finishing ahead of JPM -- preferably way ahead -- from here on out has to be his priority.

8th place -- Marco Andretti. See Dixon, Scott. Marco is in the hunt a lot more than he used to be, especially on ovals, but needs to put it all together one of these days and get the monkey off his back that Graham Rahal handed him a couple of weeks ago. Marco is the only driver to have completed every lap this season, which to me lends a lot to his maturation process.

9th place -- Simon Pagenaud. Simon's improvement of eight spots over his starting position was third best in the field behind Castroneves (22 places) and Bourdais (10) but he didn't have as much fun as those guys did. He's going the wrong way in the standings and needs to fix that fast.

10th place -- Ed Carpenter. This is where I get a bit brutal for a minute. For a guy whose sole focus is ovals, he has been awful this season, and I'm beginning to wonder where his head's at. For the record, I think he is a fantastic owner, and will win the Indy 500 in that capacity someday. But as a driver he fails to take any accountability for his on-track actions, something that if one of his employees did I'm guessing he wouldn't tolerate. I also think he showed very little class and sportsmanship early in the race, when he was near DFL and Newgarden pulled up to put him a lap down. He held Newgarden, his teammate, up for close to 15 laps, which allowed Ryan Briscoe to keep Josef in his sights.

I'm all for battling to stay on the lead lap, but when you fall a mile behind just 12-13 miles into the race, you get the hell out of the way and figure it out. Your problems aren't their problems.

18th place -- Justin Wilson. I'm adding a couple of names to this list as notables, and Wilson is one of them. I thought he drove a fantastic race yesterday until his mechanical issues (and a long pit stop) at the end.

22nd place -- Will Power. The champ's title defense took a huge hit (as did the SAFER barrier, as you can see in the photo) when Briscoe spun out ahead of him on Lap 131. He's now 70 points behind Montoya, and while he's been known to make up points in a hurry --  as he's done in years' past -- Montoya is a little too good to make stupid mistakes to let him back into it. After everything going his way last year, the luck has turned a little, which shows how  many things need to go right to win a title.


One day show -- The qualify/race in one day idea is something I've floated in this space before, and I think it led to the improved attendance at the race. Good weather helped too. It's simple: people want their money's worth, and if you give them more activities to watch, they will make it worth their while to go. I know the team's hate it, but when you are begging for fans you give them what they want.

Track walk -- Another cool item this year was the chance for fans to walk the track after the race, and a couple hundred of us took advantage. Walking the track was both fun and historic for me, and it should be a staple at oval tracks during the season. Props also go out to Takuma Sato, who came over and spent several minutes signing autographs for fans.

Hinch -- It was good to see The Mayor at the track again, and as you can tell by this photo with Kevin, appears to be in very good form. He was in a hurry to get somewhere but was nice enough to stop and pose. I asked him how he felt (over the roar of the Indy Lights race) and he gave me a huge nod and a thumbs up. Awesome.

Can The Mile be saved? -- After every Milwaukee race, the speculation arises as to whether or not enough had been done to bring the race back another year. My answer is: I sure hope so!

It's a favorite track with the drivers and it has so much history that it would be missed by a lot of people if it weren't on the schedule. Having now gone to the race the last four years, I've seen the crowds grow and the infield become busier with more people, activity and sponsor activation. It would be such a shame to see it go away now.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Indy!

Remember a few days ago when I said that the IndyCar series was one race day away from redemption? Well, it's safe to say they got it Sunday. Once again, when it mattered, the series got its act together and put on an amazing show.

In year four of the DW12 era, and the first using the new aero kits, the drivers put on a performance for the ages. I don't know if I can put what happened today into words, but I'll try!

Let's roll through the Top 10 finishers, and I'll throw my thoughts on a couple of other topics as always.

Winner: Juan Pablo Montoya. I can't believe it! I finally correctly picked a winner! Actually, two of my predictions came true, as I said there would be more lead changes than last year, which there were by a count of 37-34.

Anyway, I felt like JPM came into the month with a lot of confidence, having already won a race and holding the lead in points. My faith was tested when he only mustered a 15th-place starting position in qualifying, then was only 12th-fastest on Carb Day. And to make matters worse, he dropped to 30th place when he needed a new rear wing after contact with Simona de Silvestro. Which, by the way, happened before the field had even completed one lap under green.

But in a drive that was eerily similar to that of Dario Franchitti's 28th-to-win run in 2012, JPM just started digging, making adjustments on every stop and driving completely angry. Unlike us mere mortals, where driving angry leads to bad things, when JPM is in that mode he makes magic happen. It wasn't easy, on a Twitter chat hosted by the AP's Jenna Fryer, I asked how many times he had to make wing adjustments and when he felt like the car had come to him.

Here was his reply: "Every stop except the last one. Car came to me 1 stop from the end."

As the race came down to the final stretches, when it mattered, he was the bravest driver on the track and finally took the lead for good when he passed Will Power with two laps to go. That's what he does.

One thing I noticed after the race was how this win is a big deal for him. I didn't feel that way when he won his first 500 in 2000. Back then, the race was just a stepping stone for him to Formula 1, just like it was for Jacques Villeneuve five years earlier. This time, he was genuinely excited to win. Getting older helps, but up until 2000, racing had come really, really easy for him. In the 15 years since, it hasn't, and he rolled into Victory Lane a very humble champion.

I think this win will change many people's opinion about him, and while he isn't going to be as beloved a champion as other drivers, he can now be considered an Indy 500 legend, and though he has run the race only three times, it fits. When you consider the fact he has won in IndyCars, F1, NASCAR and endurance racing, he might be one of the better all-around drivers of this era.

Runner-up: Will Power. Overall this was Will's best 500 of his career, as before Sunday his best finish was fifth and he has only been in the Top 10 three times in seven races. He drove a solid, mistake-free race, just got beat by a better car and driver. But if he keeps driving like this he will win Indy someday.

Third: Charlie Kimball. What a great run by Charlie. Though he pretty much got freight trained when he had the chance to run on the point, he was well into the mix at the end. If his car had been a little better he would've been set up to make a run for the win. Mid-race he was really moving, as he posted the race's top lap (226.712) at the race's halfway point.

Fourth: Scott Dixon. The class car and driver who was the dominant driver through the race's first 150 laps. But as longtime watchers of the 500 know, the driver who dominates a lot of the race doesn't always win. I didn't hear what Dixie had to say about the final 50 laps, but before that he could do almost anything he wanted with his car. Though he led a race-high 84 laps, just six came in the final 125 miles.

In all, the top four finished within 1.02 seconds. Think about that, after 500 miles and 185 minutes of racing, that's all that separated the top four finishers. Awesome.

Fifth: Graham Rahal. His impressive driving continues as he was first in class with the Hondas. I think he had resigned himself to the fact that they just didn't have the speed to contend for the win but came away with enough points to sit fifth in the standings, just seven points out of third.

Sixth: Marco Andretti. Like Rahal, it was kind of a ho-hum day for him. Though he was never out of the Top 10 once he broke into it, he never was able to push to the front, either. Still, it was his sixth Top-6 finish in 10 appearances at Indy. Let that sink in a bit, Sunday was Marco's tenth Indy 500! And he is still only 28! He still has plenty of time to win one, and I think he will. One more note, it was also the 70th start by an Andretti at Indy (Mario 29, Michael 16, John 12, Marco 10, Jeff 3).

Seventh: Helio Castroneves. The quest for win No. 4 continues. Helio is another guy who just didn't have it Sunday, he only led for two laps and seemed to disappear for long stretches of the race.

Eighth: JR Hildebrand. If no other opportunities present themselves in racing for a while, though they should, Hildebrand can make a pretty good living just one-offing at Indy (he ran the Angie's List GP too). Once again, he drove well, and finished higher than teammates Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter.

Ninth: Josef Newgarden. Started ninth, finished ninth, ran around ninth place all day. On the good side, it was a career-best finish for Josef at Indy, on the bad side, his CFH Racing team destroyed three perfectly good race cars while finishing P8, P9 and P30 (Ed Carpenter) on the day. Time to just load up the hauler and head to Detroit.

Tenth: Simon Pagenaud. I thought for the first 480 miles or so that Simon ran a brilliant race. He took what the car gave him, ran up front (eight times for 35 laps) and looked to be ready to contend for the win, only to have equipment issues that forced a late pit stop. He remarked at the Victory Banquet that he'd like to drive for Team Penske until he is as old as both Montoya and Castroneves -- 40. If he does that he will win a 500 between now and then.

A couple of extras...

13th place: Ryan Briscoe. All things considered, Ryan ran the type of race that was expected of him when Sam Schmidt brought him in to drive James Hinchcliffe's car. After being clipped and spun out during the opening lap incident between Sage Karam and Takuma Sato, Briscoe got the car restarted, stayed on the lead lap and quietly started moving up, and in the end had improved 18 spots over his starting position. The sad fact of racing is that there are only so many seats for so many drivers, and oftentimes Briscoe loses the game of musical chairs, but more often than not, when you give him a car he does well in it.

26th place: Tony Kanaan. As usual, the loudest cheers of the day were for TK, and over a quarter millions hearts broke along with his when he crashed in Turn 3 with 50 laps to go. In the early going, TK was the one that had something for Dixon, and having only needed four turns at the front to lead 30 laps, he had a very hooked up car. If he had been in the mix in the closing laps, that would've taken the drama absolutely sky-high.

Chevy vs. Honda. Chevy, Sharpie. No doubt Chevy has held the upper hand all season, but it was to the extreme at Indy, with eight of the first 10 finishers driving under its banner. Of the two Hondas, one was driven by a driver absolutely on fire now (Rahal) and the other was by a guy who has the "going fast at Indy" in his DNA.

American drivers. Five of the top 10 and seven of the top 15 cars were piloted by American drivers. Not too shabby.

Youth not served. But speaking of YOUNG American drivers, it was a tough day for both Sage Karam and Conor Daly. Daly's day was over before it even started as he didn't even take the green flag after experiencing engine problems, while Karam's race lasted all of about 10 seconds after he was involved in a first turn incident with Sato. Not his fault at all, but the toughest lesson you can possibly learn is that it is possible to lose a 500-mile race on the first lap. Unfortunate for both of them, but they move on to drive another day.

I could go on forever about what I saw Sunday, but I must say, the thing that was the most fun for me was having Matt and Kevin along for the race. Matt started coming with me in 2011 -- what a great year to start, right? -- while Kevin attended the race for the first time. It was such an enjoyable day for me, and I'm already excited thinking about next year!






Saturday, May 23, 2015

Day Before the 500 Recap

Earlier this week, I was having a hard time trying to decide whether to attend Legends Day at the Speedway or head out to Lucas Oil Raceway for the 70th annual Day (formerly Night) Before the 500 festivities. Since it is Kevin's first trip down for the race weekend, I left it up to him, and he decided he wanted to see some racing.

So after arriving at my sister's house in Elwood at about 2 a.m. -- Kevin had graduated from 8th grade on Friday night -- we were up at 9 to make drive down to LOR. It wasn't too bad of a trip, traffic was nothing compared to what it will be on Sunday, and we breezed down there in about an hour.

I ended up getting the pit pass tickets for both of us, which include admission to the grounds and a green wristband so that we could enter the pits. In the end, we were glad we got those, but more on that later.

Believe it or not, Saturday was my first trip ever to Lucas Oil Raceway. Back when I lived in Indy in the early 1990s, I'd watch the racing out there on ESPN, and while I kept saying over and over I should go out there, I never did.

Needless to say, I was really impressed with the facility. The grandstands are very nice and from pretty much everywhere you have a nice view all the way around the track. There is a grassy hill in Turn 1 that looks like it offers some pretty nice sight lines, but we didn't make it over there.

We arrived just in time for USAC Silver Crown qualifying. That race was going to be wedged in between two Mazda Road to Indy races, the USF2000 Freedom 75 and the Pro Mazda Freedom 90. Though I love the noise of open wheel cars, there is just something about that throaty roar that comes from a Silver Crown, or even a stock car. There is just so much power behind it.

We sat in the grandstands for the USF2000 race, which was won by Jake Eidson, who turns 20 years old on Sunday. There wasn't much racing up front as Eidson won flag to flag (in fact, all three races had that same result), but there was some good racing going on in the pack, and Eidson was fun to watch because he was so smooth working his way through traffic.

Nico Jamin finished second and kept that all important points lead, while Aaron Telitz was third to put two Americans on the podium.

Then it was on to the Silver Crown race, where Tanner Swanson was without peer, winning the pole and leading every lap to win by 16 seconds over his brother Kody. Both Swansons were on top of their game as they were the only two drivers on the lead lap at the end.

Also in the field was Jarrett Andretti (here's his car), who was there with his dad, IndyCar and NASCAR veteran John, in his pit, as well as his grandpa, Aldo. No sign of Mario or Michael...darn it. The third-generation driver finished 11th.

What was really fun about that race is that Kevin and I watched it from the pit wall. When we first went into the pits we saw some other people with green wristbands standing behind a yellow line, so we parked there too. But as the race was starting I saw some other people walking towards the pit wall, so we headed there too. Ask for forgiveness instead of permission, right? Nobody seemed to mind too much, which means a green wristband is a little like flying first class, they pretty much let you do whatever you want.

(Yes, that's a Wedding Singer reference, in case you were wondering)

We ended up standing next to Eddie Sachs, Jr., whose No. 25 car driven by Davey Ray dropped out early with engine problems. I didn't know that he owned a team, so that was kind of interesting.

Once the race got going I got a good laugh out of this picture of Kevin. He has "the pose" of a car owner or a crew chief going, doesn't he? All he needs is a headset and a stopwatch. That is where his interests lie...so maybe someday! Actually, with this pose he kind of reminds me of Roger Penske!

After the Silver Crown race ended, the day started to drag a bit. With the USF2000 race going green the entire way, and the Silver Crown race having just a quick caution early on, we were way ahead of time, and it was going to be about an hour before the Pro Mazda race began.

Kev was getting a little bored and wanted to go home, but I gave him a nudge to stick it out, and he said at the end of the day the Pro Mazda race was his favorite. Good thing!

In that race, Weiron Tan jumped out to an early lead and never looked back to pick up his third win in the series. Will Owen was second while Neil Alberico was third. With Tan doing work up front, most of the good racing was back in the field as several drivers had some great battles, and there was even some three-wide racing in places. Good stuff!

We watched that race from the stands, but they opened the gate near the start/finish line and fans started moving onto the track, so we just followed the crowd and got a front-row view for the post-race celebration. 

All-in-all it was a really fun day. We got to see some racing and get some up-close action, and it definitely whetted our appetites for the big race!

No doubt that it will more than likely be on our schedule next year as well. It should be on yours too!

Below are the starts and first laps of each race!

USF2000


Silver Crown


Pro Mazda

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Five Fearless Indy 500 Predictions

Is it almost here? Is it really almost here? Can you tell I'm getting excited?

My weekend starts to get busy soon, so I guess that means I am the first one out of the gate with a few Indy 500 predictions. Here we go!

*Like the last three years, the race will be wide open. Which means, there are probably a dozen drivers who can win. Actually, it might be closer to half the field. Don't believe me? Look at the current IndyCar points standings, there is a lot of talent there with a lot of great past performances at the Speedway.

That said, I'm picking Juan Pablo Montoya to win the 2015 Indianapolis 500. As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, I typically don't like to go with the obvious choice, which in this case is Scott Dixon, because I can't recall the last time a "favorite" going into the race actually won. While the guys who have won the last few races could hardly be called darkhorses, I'd say if you look at the last four winners (Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay), you'd find reasons why on race morning they were a little off the radar.

That's where Montoya resides as well, thanks to his awful qualifying effort Sunday that put him 14th on the grid. But don't forget, Hunter-Reay won from the 19th starting position last year, while Franchitti started 16th in 2012 and fell to as low as 28th early in the race. But Montoya had a good shot at winning last year, and has his open wheel chops back, as evidenced by the fact he already has a win and is leading the points this season. Plus, his swagger and confidence is there too, and when he has that going for him he is tough to beat.

*If you are looking for darkhorses, here are two of them. Justin Wilson and JR Hildebrand. Wilson, who has three top-7 finishes in the last five years, has the best car of us career under him. Prior to qualifying sixth on Sunday, he had never before started the race in the first three rows. Hildebrand came one turn from winning in 2011 and had a big redemption moment last year when he ran well and eventually finished 10th.

*Graham Rahal will finish on the podium. He's on the list of my favorites to win, but given his last victory in the series came six years ago, he's not high on that list. It's not the back-to-back, runner-up finished the last two races that have impressed me, it's the way he's gone about them, working his way up the field and then driving at the utmost level of his abilities at the end of both of them. He could change a lot of opinions about him on Sunday, including mine.

*Starting 23rd, Sage Karam will be the race's biggest mover. He showed what he is capable of last year when he dashed from 31st starting position into the Top 5 before coming home ninth, and his qualifying effort aside, he's had a good month where he has finished near the top of the speed charts. While road courses are still a challenge for him, he's shown all the way up the Road to Indy ladder that he loves ovals. In fact, his finish at Indy last year marks the only time in his open wheel career that he didn't finish on the podium. Scary good, isn't he?

*Final prediction(s): 40 lead changes, a race average above 180 mph. OK, so six fearless predictions. Like the last three years, no doubt the lead will switch hands a lot, with most of those changes coming on track. While we won't approach the record of 68 from two years ago, there will be more than the 34 from last year. One trend on ovals over the last few years in the IndyCar series is that there are a lot of long green runs, and we've had green runs of over 130 laps in 2013 and last year's race went clean and green for the first 149 circuits. It should be crazy.

So there you have it. Over the last couple of years I've been about 50/50 with my predictions, but I know I nailed them this time! It should be a good race, and hopefully the finish of the 500 fortnight goes better than the beginning. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@15daysinmay) for race day updates. Just a warning, I have an iPhone 6 now and am not afraid to use it!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Perspective

Daily crashes, cars getting airborne and flipping over, drivers suffering traumatic injuries, safety being called into question, people pointing fingers...did I wake up and it was the (supposedly epic) 1990s again?

In all seriousness, I've been struggling to come up with a post these last few days. Part if it is because, in full disclosure, I spent most of the weekend in downtown Chicago helping Darcy with a big trade show and missed all of qualifying. And part of it is because I have so many mixed feelings abut the events of the last few days that I wasn't sure where to begin...or end.

Part of me wants to show my usual objectivity -- or my attempt at it -- part of me wants to go off on an anger-filled rant, though I'm not sure where to direct it, while the rest of me just wants to say "eff it", go off the grid, circle the wagons and focus on enjoying the race.

It's a conundrum, which became even worse when my favorite driver, James Hinchcliffe, was critically injured in a crash that, as details emerged, had put his life in grave danger. Thankfully, the Holmatro Safety team is the best in the world in what they do, and Hinch woke up this morning and will be able to race again someday.

That was just the topper to a stretch that saw three other drivers get upside down, which along with the weather threw qualifying into a tizzy while bringing along the expected bad PR, both in the regular and social media circles. It's just been a bad month, and that makes me angry because I hate like hell seeing the sport -- and especially the race -- that I love so much being dragged through the mud. And what raises my ire even more is that instead of coming together in defense of our sport and our race, people, as usual, are turning against it and joining the masses in criticism.

Look, I'm not going to gloss over what has happened over the last few days, or try and minimize it. The problem with the Chevy aero kit is a big one and needs to be fixed...fast! But the fact of the matter is...this is racing! It's a constant battle against physics, and sometimes physics pushes back. You can try to figure out every scenario, but you will never figure them all out.

Despite the rantings of armchair engineers, physicists and rocket scientists that reside on the internet, there is no easy answer. Want proof? Read this Facebook post from a racing engineer that explains the challenges engineers face designing suspension pieces like the ones that injured Hinch.

Eventually, they figure it out. Remember back in 2012-13 where the DW12 was coming off the ground when it made contact with the wall? Remember this crash?




Or this one? I saw it happen right in front of us.


Funny how just a little while after the second incident, Dallara had figured out the problem and fixed it. But it took time. You can criticize IndyCar, or Chevrolet, or whoever as much as you like for what has been happening, but races are never going to be 100 percent safe, cars are still going to flip over, parts, no matter how well built and engineered, are still going to break, and drivers are still going to get hurt. I could post videos all day that show the evolution of the safety designs in race cars. That's how this game works.

What we have to realize, and remember, is that IndyCar pushes the limit more than any other form of motorsports. Sunday's race will be the fastest race on the fastest racetrack in the world. Think about it: in no other race on the planet do cars race each other wheel to wheel at 225 mph, with concrete walls just a few yards away. Hands down, the Indy 500 is the most dangerous race there is. And when stuff goes wrong, it really goes wrong. There aren't sand traps to catch wayward cars, or runoff areas, and a "big one" would be tragic instead of the restrictor plate circuses where cars bounce off each other like pinballs and everyone gets out OK, and then people get into a made-for-TV fight with each other. In my opinion, this is as close to pure racing as you can get.

There is risk to this, people. Lots of it, and the men and women who bravely squad up and strap into those cars accept it. Why we all love the 500 is because it is a hard, hard race, because if it weren't it would just be another race on the circuit. The 500 is compelling because it's human beings taking themselves to the furthest limits of their abilities, it's scary and it's intense and is real-life drama played out on a 2 1/2-mile strip of asphalt. There is a reason that it's still the biggest race in the world, and it always will be.

I mean, to paraphrase Allen Iverson..."we're talking about crashes". Crashes where four of the five drivers involved have walked away from, and the other was a victim of a freak occurrence after a 125G impact.  The wrecks may have been spectacular, or "terrifying" as the media has been saying, but Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Pippa Mann and Ed Carpenter will all be racing on Sunday. Hinch may not be racing, but a generation ago he wouldn't even still be alive.

I'm not trying to downplay what has happened, because I can't. When I was 12 I was in the stands on Pole Day in 1982 when Tom Carnegie came on the PA and said "We regret to inform you of the death of Gordon Smiley". It was one of the worst feelings I've ever felt, and when they started qualifying a few hours later, it just felt so...empty. In hindsight they should've cancelled qualifying and had everyone come back the next day, but, like with so many other things that have changed over the years, things went on.

So every race day, heck any day I go to the Speedway, I say a prayer for everyone involved, and that none of us will ever have to experience something like that again. But I'm also a realist, and know that when you go to the edge of human existence, sometimes you go too far. As people, we aren't built for this, but somehow very intelligent people have designed things that make it possible, things that have saved the lives of every driver in the field at one point or another in their careers.

It's been a trying few days but I think IndyCar has done its best to make decisions based on the information they had in front of them, and they are trying to make decisions with everyone's best intentions in mind. Just because you don't agree with those decisions doesn't mean they were wrong. And for the people that are criticizing them at every turn, my question to you is this: if you had been in the hot seat, what would your decisions have been?

Another paraphrased quote, this time from former minor league All-Star center fielder Mike Massaro: "I thought I knew everything...then I got here and realized I didn't know shit". Only a fool would think that they do. They have the jobs they have for a reason, and no, none of us could do their jobs, despite what we might think.

So as the track is dark for a few days, let's sit back and take a deep breath. The world isn't going to end, everyone is still OK, and all of these problems will get figured out. Control what you can control.

Always remember, we are always one day away from redemption. Instead of looking back, let's look forward. Sunday is the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, a day that most of us live all year for. By all accounts, it is shaping up to once again be a wide-open race that anyone can win. So when we wake up on Sunday morning let's just hope for a fast, clean race where the best driver wins and everyone drives home safely.

And, oh yeah, no rain.