Thursday, April 3, 2014

St. Pete's In The Books

So what did everyone think of yesterday's race? Overall I thought it was pretty solid, with some good passing, a nice, long green run and very little controversy.

Well, there is one that some will be talking about for a couple of days. With just over 30 laps to go in the 110-lap event, race leader Will Power inexplicably slowed, causing a backup in the field and sending Jack Hawksworth (who was having a great run in his first IndyCar race) into Marco Andretti, knocking both out of the race.

With the new rules on restarts (which I don't completely understand fully, I'll admit), this may not be the last time something like this happens. Since the leader can no longer just take off coming out of the last corner, which led to some ugly restarts in the past, some might resort to a bit of gamesmanship to give them some sort of advantage. Perhaps that needs to be addressed in the form of a minimum speed coming to the green, but I'll leave that to Derrick Walker.

So, as always here at 15DIM, let's run through the Top 5 and some other odds and ends.

Winner: Will Power. You don't say? The way he picked up from where he left off in 2013 (winning three of the final five races), it seems like he didn't have an off-season. Outside of surrendering the lead when he pitted, WP led from Lap 30 (when he took the lead from polesitter Takuma Sato) on in registering his 20th win in IndyCar (he also won twice in Champ Car). It's pretty simple...when it comes to a road or street course, you can't let this guy get to the point, because in that situation he is one of the best front runners in the business.

Runner-up: Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR seemed pretty pumped after the race, and as he said afterwards, you can't go wrong piling up points early in the season. With the ovals and twisties worth almost the same amount of points this year, you have to do two things: be consistent and show up for the 500-milers. The main thing is to just get off to a good start. When RHR won the title two years ago, he finished third here. Last year? P18, one of nine races in which he finished 18th or worse, which is how a guy with two wins and six total podiums finishes seventh in points.

Third: Helio Castroneves. Helio put on a happy face, but didn't seem all that pleased with his finish, no doubt a little miffed at his teammate for his shenanigans on the restart. Still, he begins his quest to put a heartbreaking finish to the season behind him by picking up a podium finish in the opener. Remember how I said last year that the street race doubleheaders put the championship on a tee for Will Power? The more I think about it, the more ovals do the same for Helio this year.

Fourth/fifth: Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud. I'm lumping the two of these guys together because I have pretty much the same thing to say for both of them, as they had pretty quiet days where they ran near the front and kept their noses clean. The Champ's day was pretty ho-hum, while Simon made a nice jump up from his 14th-place starting position.

Notables: Josef Newgarden had one of the better drives of the race, starting last in P22 and moving up to P9 by the end of the day. He was probably one of the faster cars on the track by the end of the race...Mikhail Aleshin was the highest-finishing rookie, coming home P12...What happened to Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe? Rahal had a great start to the race, quickly moving up 12 spots, then just stalled out and started going backwards before finishing P14. Hinch ran last all day (the result of what appears to be some sort of electronics gremlin) and was out of it from the drop of the green, and only moved up to his P19 finishing position via attrition. Of course, given his feast-or-famine results of last year, he will probably win at Long Beach in two weeks.

JPM: Juan Pablo Montoya's return to IndyCar was a bit (to some) underwhelming, but being realistic, his 15th place finish sounds about right. Despite his talent, he still has a lot of work to do, not only in learning the car, but stepping up to the competition level. It's a little tougher this time around.

TV broadcast: I thought Allen Bestwick was tremendous. Though he referred to himself as being "new to IndyCar", he seemed like he did his prep work and was on point all day. I think he really impressed everyone in the series (and lots of fans too) when he showed up for spring training at Barber to learn as much as he could.

I'm not a fan of Scott Goodyear's, but he seemed a little better yesterday. He's been in the booth for so long but just has never seemed like he ever said what he wanted to say, if that makes sense. I thought his focus on Newgarden and his technical explainations for driving lines and passing techniques near the end of the race was tremendous. His game seemed a little raised with Bestwick at his side.

I'm still not sure quite what Eddie Cheever provides to the broadcast, and I think that he and Goodyear do get in each others' way sometimes. But he did provide an interesting moment when he admitted to Goodyear that he doesn't like talking about the Indy 500 with him because Cheever won and Goodyear had so many heartbreaking finishes.

So now it's on to Long Beach, one of the cornerstones of the series, and one of the most interesting of the street courses on the schedule. Not only that, it's a track where several drivers such as Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Juan Pablo Montoya and Nelson Piquet (F1) got their first career wins, and in two of the last three years, Mike Conway and Takuma Sato have picked up their first IndyCar wins as well. Long Beach is always full of surprises, and it looks like thanks to the folks of that great city it will be on the schedule for at least another three years.

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