Sunday, June 9, 2013

Texas

Just going with a one-word title this week because, really, what's bigger than Texas? So 'nuff said about that.

The race? Weeeeellll, it was...OK. There were some great moments to the race and some great stuff on the track, and I especially liked how the cars would fall off during stints and the lap times were absolutely all over the place. The drivers wanted to drive and, well, they got it.

Still, there just seemed to be something missing, which is all right. I'm enough of a realist (and race fan) that I don't need a pin-my-ears-back race every weekend. It was still an enjoyable race to watch, it's just that I didn't enjoy it as much as I did last year's race.

So anyway, on with it. Here's the Top 5 and a few notes:

Winner -- Helio Castroneves. Someone on Twitter said that this seemed like a mid-90s type of race, and I agree, especially given the fact that a Penske driver absolutely dominated the race. It just never seemed like Helio had the same struggles everyone else had, and when he had the lead he never let anyone get close to challenging him. This was vintage Penske...everyone was absolutely locked in yesterday, and the cream truly rose to the top.

We are two races away from the halfway point of the season, and Helio is doing what he does well, running consistent races and staying out of trouble. Three podiums and four Top 5 finishes, and in the 17 races since Texas last year he has finished outside of the Top 10 just twice. And on a historical note, it was the 28th win of his career, breaking a tie with Johnny Rutherford for 12th all-time. He has been solid in every discipline so far this season, is he on the way to his first title?

Runner-up -- Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR spent 35 laps in front of the field Saturday night and has to love where he is at this point of the season. Sitting in third place and just 27 points behind Castroneves (and five behind teammate Marco Andretti) in the points, he's had three finishes of 18th or worse -- but four podiums balances that out fairly well. He's now heading to Milwaukee, a track that he loves and his win there a year ago kickstarted his championship push.

Third place -- Tony Kanaan. TK had an interesting night as he was pretty much everywhere in the field, starting 13th and at one point falling a lap down. But at the end of the race he was the fastest car on the track and moved past Andretti late in the race to make it 2-for-2 in podium finishes on the ovals. Oh and look, there are three ovals coming up on the schedule!

Fourth place -- Ed Carpenter. Another guy who had an interesting night as he had to pit twice early under yellow when a crew member's glove got stuck on one of the pins used to adjust the front wings. Like Kanaan, Ed came on late and notched his best finish of the season. He is another guy who has to be crazy excited at the next three weeks.

Fifth place -- Marco Andretti. After just killing the field through the first 50-plus laps of the race, Bad Marco showed up and he had his first emotional meltdown of the season. Still, I'll give him a lot of props for holding it together and grinding out a Top 5, because I'm wondering if in the past he would've kept his head in it enough to post a finish like that. Like Castroneves, he's been hella consistent all season, with six finishes of P7 or better.

Look, consistency is what is going to win a championship. If the first seven races are any indication (and I think they are), no one is going to win a boatload of races. This isn't going to be a season where someone wins five, six or seven times. In fact I wonder when we may see that again with the depth this series has now. And if it does, it sure isn't going to happen this year.

So the driver holding up the big trophy and taking home the big check at Fontana in October will be the one who can make the most of every weekend and come home with solid finishes.

Other notes -- Actually, I could've highlighted all the way through eighth place as I was impressed with the next three finishers. At the beginning of the race I was thinking Dario Franchitti was just running a replay of a year ago, where he looked spooked and uncomfortable the whole day. Dario dropped like a stone at the drop of the green but rallied back for a sixth-place finish. Will Power, who started on the pole, led four laps and finished seventh, which means while he lost more ground on the points leaders he still put together a good run on an oval.

Josef Newgarden game home in eighth place and now has four Top 10 finishes on the season. A couple of things are significant: 1) he is finishing races and 2) he is competitive on a more consistent basis.

I was also impressed with James Jakes coming home in 12th. If you had to give a Most Improved award at this point of the season, Jakes would certainly be a finalist. He's got four finishes of P12 or better and stands 14th in points, and given the quagmire that is teammate Graham Rahal's season, it's a pretty admirable effort.

The oval portion of the schedule continues next week at the historic Milwaukee Mile. Kevin and I will be there again this year, and while I'm not part of the credentialed media, I will be on the ground and blogging on the festivities. If you are going to be there, hopefully we will run into each other!


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