Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Just Because I Feel Like Blogging

I know, not the most catchy of titles, but I've already used words like "musings" and never want to use "potpourri". I could have gone with "potent potables" like on the SNL Jeopardy skits, but whatever.

I'm in a little of a pissy mood, so this has no rhyme or reason. Still, please don't use that as a reason to temper your enjoyment of this piece.

Here we go:

* We are now 6.3 percent of the way through the season (I looked it up) and one comment I have heard about race winners or drivers who had outstanding finishes is that they "didn't turn a wheel wrong all weekend". You know what? In today's IndyCar, that's exactly what it takes to win. From here on out, it should just be assumed.

AJ Allmendinger's comment after Barber that the series is as competitive as it's ever been got a lot of traction, and for good reason. He wasn't wrong.

Seriously. With the competition as close as it is now, one wrong move or one mistake can really screw you over. It only takes being off by a half-second to put you back in the field in qualifying, or a poor decision can cost you during the race. The margin for error is just so small anymore, which is good, because that's where parity comes from.

Like last weekend at Long Beach. A Foyt, Rahal and Coyne car all on the podium at one time? I think we should get used to wacky stuff like that. When it all sorts out the majority of the races will still be won and podiums still be captured by Penske, Ganassi or Andretti drivers, but this won't be the only weekend of the year where we see what we saw at Long Beach.

* Penske will win its share of races and podiums...you would think Will Power sure hopes so. I really, really didn't see this coming. First, that it has been a year since he has won and second that he has started the season P16, P5 and P16 in the opening stretch of the season. In each of the last three years he has at least two wins in the first four races...and in 2012 he had three.

I know both of his P16 finishes are someone else's fault. There isn't anything you can do when a car drives over the top of you or someone sends their car out of the pits too early. But the point is that Power cannot afford that, he needs to do well on twisties. His deficiency on ovals isn't overstated given his one oval podium and one win came on the same day in Texas two years ago.

While he is only 37 points back -- which is a deficit he could probably make up in a doubleheader weekend this summer -- he has seven drivers in front of him. I once asked a pro golfer (ahem, Tiger Woods, ahem...but I'm not name dropping!) what concerned him more: how far he was out of the lead or how many people stood between him and the lead?

His answer? Both. Because he had no control over the other guys. He could throw out a good score but the only way he gains on the field is if others falter. If EVERYONE falters. He needs a lot to happen, and let's not forget the fact that there are other drivers behind him, such as James Hinchcliffe, who will probably move forward in the standings too.

It's three races in, and of course you can't cede the title to anyone, but you could sure make your life difficult in these three weeks, and he has.

* Now, I'm not just picking on WP. While it is great to see Takuma Sato in P2, Marco Andretti in P4 and Justin Wilson in P5 in the standings (hence the great parity), there are a lot of drivers who need to stop some bleeding big-time in both Sao Paulo and Indy.

Hinch is one of them. As sharp as he was the first week (didn't turn a wheel wrong, after all) he has had it go south the last two. If you look at drivers who have won titles in the past, they all get one mulligan...maybe two. If that's the case, he has used his up and needs to go on a pretty big run over the next couple of months. I'd have to say he needs to win next weekend at Brazil or at Indy to get back into this thing.

I'd probably say the same about guys like Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud as well. Dario Franchitti? At 20th in points and a staggering 55 ducats behind leader Helio Castroneves, he hasn't given up, but we'd need to see some dominance that we haven't seen from him in a while.

Like I said...it's not just about piling up points, it's passing others. This isn't old-school IndyCar, passing 19 drivers in the standings isn't as easy as it might have once been.

* I brushed over Marco's name a few paragraphs ago and I have one question...who IS this guy? Has he ever been fourth in points after three races? I'm guessing no, but he has shown so much growth and maturity since the beginning of the season. We'll see what happens when, or if, he experiences some adversity this season, but from what we've seen so far this is the new normal for Marco.

It's tough to say if it's the driver coach or just a new attitude or whatever. In the end I believe it was just a bunch of soul searching that led him to the conclusion: hey, I'm a competitor, I hate losing, and I am missing an incredible opportunity here.

As a competitive person myself, if I were Marco and I put on the performance he did last year while one teammate was winning the championship and the other had a breakout season, I'd be embarrassed. There is no reason he shouldn't be in the same category as his teammates, and I think he's realized that.

I was 25 once, I get it. He had an easy path to get here and maybe he took it for granted for a while. We all get our stuff together sooner or later, and I think he's done that. If I had to pick a favorite to win the 500 right here, right now, Marco would probably be it.

* Dozens of paragraphs in and a myriad of subjects later, and I'm finally getting to the 500. One more week until May, peeps! Yeah, I know we have a little time to wait once the calendar crosses over into the greatest month of the year, but May 1 is close enough.

First of all, let's talk about the car count. It seems like there was a bit of concern over the last few days as that number has floated around in the high-20s somewhere, but a little action happened on that front when Michel Jourdain signed to run with Rahal Letterman Lanigan this week which brings us to an even 30.

That follows on the heels of rumors that people like Jacques Lazier, Townsend Bell and Pippa Mann (make it happen!) have the funding in place and are looking for a perfect fit.

But then I heard another name today that was seriously interesting: 1996 winner Buddy Lazier. Really? It would be crazy to think it but a photo floated around on Twitter today of Jean Alesi's chassis at the Dallara factory in Speedway with Buddy's name on the side.

If it happens, that would be a serious upset of major porportions. A guy who hasn't driven the 500 in five years getting a ride out of the blue?

Probably not the sexiest get of the year among the drivers who have helmet in hand, but if you read my post from two years ago, why not? Five top-five finishes shows the guy knows how to get around the place, and if you are a lower budget team with no thoughts of winning he makes sense as he has 500 experience and has brought the car home in one piece each of the last four times he's raced here.

Plus you get a little boost by having a former winner in your car. I was lucky enough to run into him in the garage area last year and he said he had something in the works a year ago but nothing came through. So we'll see what is going on with that one.

As far as total count goes, I know we will get to 33, we always do. Some teams like Ed Carpenter Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing or even Sam Schmidt Motorsports might say they are tapped out already, but something with one of those teams seems to always come through.

With enough chassis and engines out there for more than 33, the question is just how far the funding will go for us to see some bumping action. Hopefully we get a couple, because despite having spent the entire qualifying weekend at the track last year I wasn't upset by not having any bumping, but I am in the minority and I want to see everyone go home happy.

* Final thought: ABC is bringing in Lindsay Czarniak as the host for the 500 is a great move. She has lots of experience as a racing broadcaster so kudos to ABC for that. They then counter that with the move of adding Eddie Cheever in the booth to join Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear.

Good lord. I can't think of a single person who liked him the first time in the booth, and I would take a random guess that if you polled most race fans he is the least popular Indy 500 winner in history. Of all the former racers who are out there you couldn't find one that would actually add something to the broadcast?

Note to ABC (and as an extension ESPN): we are getting seriously spoiled on NBCSN, you really need to do better than that!

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