Just getting warmed up for my trip to Iowa next weekend with the title to this post. As loyal readers know, I always title my Iowa wrap-up Iowa! because 1) the race is all kind of awesome and 2) I was born in Davenport and my family goes back almost 200 years in the state. So I'm kind of a native.
Actually, if I had written this post this morning it could've been called Poco-No! given some of the turmoil going on this weekend. Of course, there was the Thursday story in which track principal Brandon Igdalsky tried to napalm his relationship with the IndyCar series (like he cares, more on that later) and then this morning we found out rookie Jack Hawksworth wouldn't be racing due to a heart contusion (!) he suffered in a practice crash.
Disappointing for him, for sure, but that's scary stuff, as was his crash that was measured at 100G's. Hope he's cleared in time for next weekend.
But as usual, the show trumped all, as the guys put on a race that made us forget about all of the crappy stuff.
While it wasn't chock full of the excitement many wanted (what, like 37 wrecked race cars? Now THAT'S exciting), it was some awesome pure racing, with strategy and talent coming to the forefront. If you look at the Top 5, with the exception of Carlos Munoz, whose ability to drive 2 1/2 mile ovals is beyond explanation, the other four drivers have probably made close to 500 open wheel starts. While I'm not sold on 500-mile races outside of Indy, it seems like the longer races go, the more talent and experience makes a difference.
Like Indy, and Texas, the race went on a long green to start, going a record 158 laps before Graham Rahal brought out the one -- and only -- caution of the day.
When Juan Pablo Montoya took the checkered flag about 30 minutes later, they had averaged 202 miles per hour, the fastest 500-mile race in open wheel history. Think about that, they covered 500 miles in just a shade under 2 1/2 hours. That's flying.
So let's go through the Top 5, and my obligatory comment about Will Power.
Winner: Juan Pablo Montoya. It's safe to say that JPM has answered any questions left about his desire and motivation, hasn't it? All of the sudden he's a title contender after going P3, P2, P7 and P1 in the last four races. I've always felt Juan gets in trouble when he gets impatient, but when he is patient and confident, and has a good car under him, he's one of the best on the planet. Also, huge props to him for going into the stands after the race and celebrating with the Colombians who had made the trip to Pocono to root him on.
Runner-up: Helio Castroveves. After the disaster that was Houston last weekend, Helio needed this one badly. Though he never led a lap all day, he was near the front throughout. With double points at stake, he pulled into a tie with Power for the top spot in the championship standings.
Third place: Carlos Munoz. Where does a 22-year-old who didn't grow up in this country and didn't see an oval until two years ago get the ability he has to drive superspeedways? Well one, he is truly fearless and two, he's just that talented. In three 2 1/2 mile oval races in his career, he's gone P2, P4 (both at Indy) and P3. Today marked his third podium and fourth Top 5 of the year, all from a guy who has run 13 races in his IndyCar career.
Fourth place: Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe is having a typical Briscoe-like season (for the most part), he consistently puts together Top 5-10 finishes and then pulls out a win somewhere along the way. Today he just missed out on the 29th podium of his career. I don't know if in the "new" IndyCar -- the competitive-as-hell version -- he could win a championship, but for the most part you know what you will get from him. And that's not a bad thing.
Fifth place: Scott Dixon. The Champ picked up his fifth Top 5 of the season, but his season sure feels a lot more disastrous than that, doesn't it? He moved up to eighth in the standings, which isn't THAT bad, but he has set the bar so high this year looks to be more of a train wreck than it really is.
Honorable mention: Tony Kanaan, Josef Newgarden and Mikhail Aleshin. TK and Josef went off-strategy in the last 100 miles of the race, and with a yellow it may have worked out for them, but in the end they ended up a handful of laps short and were forced to pit from the lead, finishing P11 an P8, respectively. Although given the season Newgarden has had, and his crash in qualifying Saturday, forcing him to start last, his team probably left with a bit of a smile on its face. Aleshin, meanwhile, ran a clean race and came home with another good finish. Race your hand if you saw this coming.
Will Power: You know, it's probably a good thing that Power is such a knucklehead and keeps running his way into stupid penalties, because if he hadn't, the championship chase would be incredibly boring. Today's drive through for blocking Helio Castroneves was his FIFTH of the season. I try and give the benefit of the doubt to everyone in this space, but he's turning into a clown with his dumb-ass decisions and his ridiculous explanations afterwards. Had he pushed HCN any further toward the bottom of the track, he would've punted him into the woods outside the backstretch, but his explanation was that he was letting Helio by. Then he proceeds to talk smack to the guys in the booth for criticizing him. Um, it's their job dude, and you are making their job pretty easy. I don't get it, he doesn't even seem to feel like he has a need to learn from his mistakes, and I have yet to hear him sincerely apologize for what he does. It's always someone else's fault. I can't root for a guy like that.
2015: And finally, of course because it's the IndyCar series, the future of the race is in doubt after Igdalsky said Thursday ticket sales were "scary" and he was thinking of trying to get out of the last year of the race's contract.
There are two sides to this coin, and in the sense of fairness I'll address them both. He is right when he says that IndyCar clamors for ovals yet no one supports them. That is true. (Well, half of it is crap because I have supported two of them each of the last two years and this year will support three) However, it's also his responsibility to do all he can to promote the race. While IndyCar does have a hand in that, it's also up to the venue to do their part. I don't see how racing is different from any other sport. It's not the job of the governing body to do the bulk of the promotion for an individual race. That's like saying the NBA is responsible for promoting and marketing the Bulls in Chicago. That's not the NBA's responsibility, it's on the Bulls. When I drive around here and see a billboard promoting the NASCAR races at Chicagoland Speedway, that wasn't NASCAR that put up those billboards, it was the track. To me this is no different. If people don't come out to the race, that's on the track, not the series. Do I think IndyCar should be more proactive and expect more from its tracks? Sure. Do I think they need to hold the track's hands? No. We are dealing with successful, multi-million dollar businesses here, that are being run by smart, well-educated people. They know what works and what doesn't.
I really get frustrated with the idea that any time a race fails, the blame fits on the shoulders of IndyCar. It also goes on the shoulders of people who are bad business partners. It's clear that Pocono didn't go all-out on the promotion of this race, and why should they? I've long contended in this space that IndyCar needs to work with business partners that are in this to be good business partners. Fortunately over the last few years they have found lots of them, and the core of the series should be built around that. That's just good business. If someone doesn't want to be a good business partner and doesn't want to help grow the series and their own individual race, I say screw them. That may lead to the not-so-Utopia-type of series we wish we had, where we race at places like Michigan, Phoenix, Chicagoland or Road America and everything is awesome like the 1990s again, where only 2-3 teams could win races and most oval races were won by a lap or more, but at least the hope is that IndyCar is working with people who don't crap on us all, either.
Points: As mentioned, Power and HCN are tied at the top with 446 points, while Simon Pagenaud is hanging in there in P3, 44 points behind. Montoya is fourth and lurking, 55 points back, while Ryan Hunter-Reay, who dropped out early with suspension problems, is P5 with 388 points.
Next week: Iowa! I'll be on the ground in Newton for Saturday night's race, and am excited about my first trip out there. Can't wait!