Yeah, I'm copying the same headline I used last year, but it certainly does it justice, doesn't it? As always, the bizarre followed IndyCar to Iowa this weekend, but this time it was certainly a good thing.
Like last week, we had it all, didn't we? A weather delay, outstanding racing and some shuffling at the top of the points standings. As is a 15DIM tradition, lets run through the top 5 and some other newsy things on the day.
*Winner: Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR has been the short track master this year, following up his win in Milwaukee with another great performance Saturday. Not only that, he is now second in the championship standings, just three points behind Will Power, who had another tough night. Overall he led just 15 laps, but was fast when he needed to be, pulling away from the field when he passed Scott Dixon with 13 laps to go. He now has five podiums on the season and has jumped five spots and gained 72 points on Power over the last two weeks.
*Runner-up: Marco Andretti. Marco sure seemed pretty pissed after the race. For all of the hollering he did on the radio and all of the adversity he had during the course of the night, a second is a pretty good result. Plus, he needed this one, because believe it or not this was his FIRST top 10 of the season.
*Tony Kanaan. He seems to be getting closer to breaking into the win column every week. A poor practice effort (although he did win a heat race) and a 10-spot grid penalty for an engine change pushed TK back to the 19th starting position and it was just a little too much to overcome. Still, he recorded thirds at Indy and Iowa to go along with a runner-up finish at Milwaukee and seems to be getting more consistent finishes. It's too bad that the oval portion of the schedule is over until September, because he has looked great on them.
*Scott Dixon. Dixie seemed to have the race in hand with about 15 laps to go and just started falling backwards. Still, he led 76 laps and after his sub-par performances the last two weeks at Texas and Milwaukee he's feeling pretty good about getting some good points and moving on to Toronto. If he falls short of a championship, the bad luck he encountered the last two weeks will haunt him, because he has been darn good the rest of the year.
*Simon Pagenaud. No one, and I mean NO ONE, told me Pagenaud was this good. I think given his experience with ovals he had a good showing on all of them and got progressively better each time out. Simon was super aggressive Saturday -- in a good way -- and looked very, very comfortable. A couple of things will have to go his way for it to happen, but he has an outstanding chance to win this year.
*Championship contenders kept falling by the wayside, starting before the green flag even fell when polesitter Dario Franchitti's motor blew up in fine fashion. For once he seemed pretty philosophical about it given it was the race motor they had used to win Indy. One good thing about his bad luck is it gave him time for a little side work, which I'll talk about later.
Then we had points leader Will Power involved in an accident with EJ Viso on lap 68, prompting a sequence in which Viso pointed to his head while grabbing his crotch, Will flashing the double birds (again) before finally seeing the replay and taking full responsibility for the crash, which was his fault. Oh yeah, he also dropped a "shit" in said interview, much to the delight of Twitter. Will is intense, but his interviews can be pretty entertaining. And if you watched the awesome IndyCar 36 that featured Helio Castroneves, his cranking up the radio to the song "California Love" is kind of hilarious.
If Will would come out of hiding on race weekends and hang with the fans a little more so they can see who he is, he could become a pretty popular guy.
Then on lap 197, James Hinchcliffe spun on his own and crashed into the turn 4 wall. Costly, because on a night were he could have made a big dent into Power's lead, he instead finishes 17th and drops to fifth in the standings.
*Heat races. Overall I thought they were well-received by the drivers and fans, but if they continue doing this at Iowa, I think there should be some tweaking. As some have mentioned, perhaps the heat winners (or even the top two) should move on to the final heat race which involved the top eight cars. Or put some money or a couple of points on the line so they have a little more incentive to race. Especially in the final heat, it didn't seem like some of the drivers were interested in pressing the issue at all, so maybe with a little more on the line they might try harder.
*Broadcast. I don't usually comment on the broadcast because when NBC Sports Network is involved we get a great show. But I thought Saturday they scored a major coup when they got Franchitti up to the both for a while. Like Dan Wheldon last year, Dario had some great info because he is an active driver, and I thought he was informative, funny, and worked with the crew well.
As I mentioned last week, it's obvious Dario has a good personality and when he lets his guard down he is very engaging and outgoing. I think that when his driving days are over (which will be in the next year or two) that a stint in the booth might be a great thing for him.
By the way, I had never heard Tommy Kendall before and I thought he did an excellent job and should be somehow kept on the broadcasts in some capacity. Between Jon Beekhuis' technical knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport, Townsend Bell's reporting in the pits and Kevin Lee's versatility, the NBCSN team is excellent. Kendall would fit right in.
*Yellow, yellow! It was a bit disappointing to see the race end under caution after Katherine Legge's spin with three laps left, but thankfully there have been few (if any) calls for a green/white/checker finish. As always it makes its way into the discussion when a race ends under yellow, but my plea to Beaux Barfield and Co. is this: don't even think about it!
A couple other things to note: Castroneves led the most laps (133) but fell back at the end and finished sixth...Simona de Silvestro scored a moral victory when she finished 14th, just six laps down. Lotus is going to put in to make some engine changes that hopefully will improve the engine's performance, and let's hope that means Simona's patience will be worth it...Ed Carpenter finished eighth but had the fastest lap of the race at 181.479 mph.
Crazy that the season has 1) passed the halfway point and 2) the run of racing five straight weeks is over. Everyone gets a much-needed rest before heading to Toronto in two weeks.
Update! According to this piece in Autosport.com Lotus has been given permission to make "performance-based upgrades". Good news for Simona!